California for the Holidays

Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz, Livermore, San Francisco, Ventura, San Jose, Highway 1 (parts of)

Our first new home was Sanborn County Park just south of Saratoga. It is the closest commute for Gabrielle to Mountain View and its a nice quiet park with lots of deer, turkeys, newts and birds.

Gabrielle’s friend from Oak Park Tricia and her husband Damian live in Mountain View so we have been able to hang out with them several times! Our first night we went out for dinner, came back to their apartment, played some games and then the boys fell asleep on the couch next to each other!

Our second campground was Coyote Valley, located in the southeast of San Jose up in the foothills of the Coastal Mountains. It’s a newer campground with nice facilities. The campsites are spread out and one whole section was empty so I turned it into my disc golf practice area! There are some really great trails here that give you beautiful views of the valley. I saw a lot of wildlife here including many firsts like my bobcat encounter! After seeing me, the bobcat trotted the other way stopping now and then to look around. It might have been a juvenile just starting out on its own since you usually don’t see them in the middle of the day. 

For our Thanksgiving weekend we headed to Monterey Bay! This was our first visit to Santa Cruz and it certainly would not be our last… We parked at the Boardwalk and walked the beach and the famous wharf. It is the longest wooden wharf on the west coast at 2,745 feet! There are restaurants and shops, fishermen and benches for seal watching, even parking for the many custom classic cars that people drive to the beach to show off and hang out. It’s a whole culture in itself. We had Thanksgiving day lunch at a restaurant sitting next to the window overlooking the bay. Sea lions poked their heads up out of the waves as we ate. It was wonderful.

That night we headed to our campsite south of Santa Cruz along the Hwy 1 to Sunset State Beach. The whole campground sits on top a huge hill rising quickly above the beach below. Our campsite was a short walk from the top of the long set of stairs to walk to the beach. It really wasn’t that bad, especially since being that close to the cliffside yielded great sunset beach views. Due to the nature of our weekend on the road, we knew we weren’t going to have the time to make a big, classic Thanksgiving meal (plus, we had done that last year and wanted to switch it up). So instead, we’d picked up Boston Market carryout for Thanksgiving dinner which started the day early waiting in line for an hour… so worth it! Although we waited too long apparently to heat up our dinner since the campground host came knocking on our door yelling at us to turn off our generator because it was after quiet hours oops. HA, oh well, everything was already hot by that point anyway!

The next day aka Black Friday we headed back north on the 1 past Santa Cruz in search of the secret Shark Fin Cove! It’s not really a secret, but if you were to drive by quickly, you can’t see it from the highway (just a brief second, then it’s obscured by rocks) so it looks like just another parking lot for people looking to walk to the cliffs and look at the ocean view. However, in classic-Gabrielle fashion, she’d researched ahead of time the best hidden gems/beach coves, so we made a point to stop and walk down the steep path to check out the small cove…what a reward. It has since become one of our favorite places to return to in the recent months. 

Its namesake is a large rock formation rising up just off the beach in the triangular shape of a shark fin. The pure energy of the ocean in this cove is intoxicating – waves wrap around the rocks and ricochet in every direction so there is foam and spray and the sound of crashing water almost all around you. The waves are so forceful so that the beach closest to the ocean is soft, constantly being molded anew like clay in a potter’s hand, so that you sink down to your ankle when you get close. It is NOT recommended for swimming! That turbulence could take control of you. There’s a little tunnel cavern that has been eroded by the beach over time, and you can walk through and feel like you’re walking through a secret passageway to a whole different place, coming out right at the waves. 

We lingered in this magical spot for a few hours, having brought some beach chairs and snacks along. The confluence of the waves from every angle here is hypnotic, the crashing sounds so close to you all-encompassing. I found myself unable to look away at times, lost in thought.

We continued north and found ourselves coming up to a big sign for Highway 1 Brewing Company using the California highway symbol for their logo. So we had to of course make a pit stop! We had a nice flight of satisfying brews on their large back patio complete with the local blue scrub jays ready to grab any abandoned fries or chips they could find (definitely the prettiest bird of the the traditional “scavengers” like pigeons, grackles, and seagulls!). If you ever find yourself in this area, this is a cool spot with great looking food.

Our next stop was Pigeon Point Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse on the west coast. Built in 1871 and still in use, it stand 115 feet tall on a pivotal point on the coast to warn ships but mostly to take selfies with. There are some cabins you can rent on the peninsula, as well as a small gift shop/museum. The cliffs all around are beautifully adorned with lush ground cover leading to sharp rocks and waves below and lots of seals!

Sunset was upon us so we stopped at San Gregorio State Beach and walked out to bask in powerful color array against the ocean. We stayed for a while but they close the official parking lots at dusk and we eyed a spot on the cliff side just before the beach. There was one RV there and some cars of ppl still leaving from sunset. It’s called the South Coast on google maps and is honestly just a small dirt lot on top of a cliff right off the highway that isn’t regulated. Soooo a perfect overnight spot for RVs or camper vans! (Shhh, don’t tell). You wake up to the sounds of the ocean and walk out to the cliff with your coffee or tea and a chair to just relax. We have stayed here several times now as a nice in-between stop on our way to and from destinations.

Some good friends from Colorado, Jason & Cheryle, were going to be in San Fransisco for the day coming back from a cruise and we planned to have lunch with them. The driving from our South Cliff spot to downtown San Fransisco was, frankly speaking, QUITE the experience. Up and down large hills along the ocean, diving through a small tunnel to Pacifica, then merging with 280 in South San Fransisco before heading into to the city. It was all going pretty well with great views, but then I get off the highway into the tight urban streets packed with pedestrians, vehicles, street cars, buses, and potholes. And remember we are driving our 29 foot RV! When we had to merge in front of a street train…because the light rails go through car lanes and cars have to merge around and with them….and cars are zooming around us and honking and the light rail was still coming towards us….Gabrielle had to cover her eyes. Later, she claimed that it was the most stressful and nerve-wracking RV experience to-date, and she wasn’t even driving! HA! We did make it eventually squeezing into a street parking spot.  Don’t even get me started on the sharp, vertical hills that this city is known for. We decided it was the Sundancer’s last trip to downtown San Francisco.

After a great lunch we ventured over to a beer bar with Jason, Cheryle, and their friends from the city. A fun afternoon filled with hilarious stories of the cruise, new friends, old friends, and great beer trying made all the better by a cool, witty bartender who we all became instant friends with. As they headed off to the airport, we headed back south to Pacifica, a beach town just south of San Francisco.

Ended the night with a good dinner at Pacifica Brewing Co. Notable story: As tends to happen when Gabrielle is around, we got a free dessert out of the manager for some bad beers. Most of them were tasty though and we had a good time. There was a bowling alley next door, but after hearing there was an hour wait for a lane we hit the hay. 

The beginning of December brought us to Del Valle County Park campground just south of Livermore. The joke of this campground was that Gabrielle never saw it during the day! She would leave early to get to her morning meeting in Mountain View at 7:30 AM sharp, and not get home until after it was already dark. We only stayed there during the week while she worked, so by the time we’d come back from weekend adventures elsewhere on Sunday night, it would already be dark and she’d leave in the dark morning all over again! We’ll likely make it back to Del Valle this summer, and chances are she’ll finally get to see it in the light since evening daylight lasts so much longer in the warm seasons. Also this campground had no wifi and you had to hike 2 miles to get cell signal or drive 10 minutes up the hill toward town – sometimes great to get away and unplug, sometimes annoying when you’re trying to accomplish things. It was nice though, similar to Coyote Valley. Some days David would hike up with his lunch, backpacking chair and/or hammock and have a few hours of signal. There was a big reservoir with lots of pelicans and other water fowl.

One of the weekends in December we explored Livermore, the town closest to Del Valle Regional Park. We went Christmas shopping, stopped for coffee, got lobster rolls at a food truck, tried whiskey at a fully-stocked whiskey bar, and attended the Livermore Christmas parade with oh-so-may lights and abounding holiday cheer in everyone around us. We stood in front of a round fountain that all of the children wanted to climb on to see the parade better. 

While we were at Del Valle, we had a gasket bust that leaked out all of our engine coolant. #RVlifeproblems. Finding a place to work on RVs is tough enough already, even more so one that will work on the chassis side of things…and we needed one fast! Guess we had some holiday luck in that we found an RV repair shop in Fremont that would get us in the next week. Also lucky: There was a brand new campground just down the road called Dumbarton Quarry that is built right up on the East Bay near an old quarry. The commute for Gabrielle was better than Livermore – she doesn’t mind doing the longer commutes for a while, but she likes having breaks periods in between with shorter, less stop-and-go traffic commutes (I mean, who doesn’t?). David got in a couple of nice hikes here where you can see all the way up the bay to San Fransisco and Oakland. Again, lots of birds! 

Long story short, we got the RV fixed and the guy said we should try to find a more permanent home to help not having to drive as much for a while. So we began our search for a monthly lease at a private campground which is hard here because a lot of them are either way too $$$ or they don’t take RVs that are older than 10 years old… (our 1994 Winnebago is almost an antique lol). We’ve jokingly taken to calling this unfair exclusivity in campgrounds “RV ageism.” In the year and a half we’ve been living our nomad life in the Sundancer and in the myriad of states we’ve explored, California if the first place we’ve encountered this. There’s more to the story here, for sure, but I won’t get into that now. We had to submit photos of our RV on all sides for them to see if it’s aesthetically up to par and guarantee them it’s in good working order. We finally got accepted at Smithwoods RV Park in Felton starting on January 2nd!

We found an RV community next to a big park in the middle of Mountain View were Gabrielle worked and a 10 min walk to our friends Tricia & Damian’s apartment. We got the last spot on the street where it looks like a lot of these RVs have been posted up for years. After seeing a yard sign nearby saying “We support our RV neighbors” with a hashtag and QR code, we learned that this area near the park is units of people who had jobs in the area but could not afford to buy a home or even rent an apartment because of how expensive it is in Silicon Valley (or the Bay Area or just California in general). Here’s the website it directed us to:

It was a good, free place for the time being although with no electric hookup it meant no heat, so we just had to put on an extra layer in the evenings and have more snuggles with the kitty. Really not that bad – I mean, this is coastal California winters we’re talking about, they’re MILD compared to what we were used to in CO and IL. It was great for grabbing the train to SF! Plus, Gabrielle had her favorite commute to-date: Roll out of bed, throw on clothes and drive 7 minutes up the road to the morning meeting!

The weekend before Christmas we took the early train into San Fransisco for a full day in the famous Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. First stop should always be the amazing Boudin Bakery Cafe where they make their famous sourdough bread in hundreds of shapes and characters. They also have clam chowder and lobster bisque bread bowls that are mouthwatering.

The big attraction in Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 39 which has rides, shops, bars, restaurants, and an aquarium. It has two levels and it reminded us of an amusement park. On the end of the pier is a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge. Also lots of sea lions on the nearby floating docks. 

Another cool place along the wharf is the Musée Mécanique, a fascinating hybrid of an arcade and museum in which you could spend hours and hours and easily whittle away a whole bag of quarters. It is filled to the brim with a history of coin operated entertainment ranging from late 1800s antique hand crank music boxes to modern arcade games, to everything in between. You could just pick an era and play the games or watch the kind of entertainment people had in that era. Our favorite were the completing surprising series of death machines where you pay a coin to watch a show of puppets executing people! It was hilarious and also absurd to think how children from the turn of the century fed quarters to watch a puppet guillotine head chop, or another puppet getting hung from a noose. There were at least 6 of them…not to mention one with the title “opium den.” If you’re interested in seeing these videos, reach out to either of us and we’ll text them to you haha.

earby, Pier 45 houses some old ships that are now museums and you can explore through parts of them. Unfortunately it closed while we were inside the arcade so add it to the bucket list for next time. Onward towards San Francisco’s famous Ghirardelli Square, a personal bucket-list item of Gabrielle’s since college!

Gab has a soft spot for Ghirardelli because Jil’s family – one of her best friends from college – owned a condo in Chicago that sat right above the Ghirardelli across from the water tower on Pearson & Michigan Ave. The girls (and later David when he was accepted by the girls into the cool kids club) would go there every time they’d stay at the condo to get a free square of chocolate…and hey, if we walked by the storefront multiple times in a day, who’s counting squares?! ) And sometimes ice cream sundaes. Or shakes blended with caramel chocolate squares. I mean, we have been to Hershey, PA. It is incredible. But if we had to choose: Ghirardelli is superior chocolate. 

This beautiful square sits above a park overlooking the Bay in all its lit up glory. Better get in line for that famous sundae because it’s already formed daily when they open the doors. You can get all their varieties of chocolate, lots of sundaes, and our favorite that I mentioned before, the square shake.

It’s been so popular and busy they opened a 2nd ice cream and chocolate shop on the other end of the square! There are some other shops and restaurants here as well, including San Fransisco Brewing Co tucked away in a corner. We had some tasters and played on their badass, full length shuffleboard table! Both of us are pretty evenly matched at shuffleboard skills, so it just depends on which way the wind is blowing that night, haha.

We had a late night dinner reservation at the legitimately famous Scoma’s Restaurant on the Bay where we finally got to try THE local seafood dish of San Francisco: Dungeness crab! It was delightful. Gabrielle got the Lazy Man’s Cioppino, a kind of stew/gumbo with the crab (amongst other seafood) that originated in this neighborhood. It was equally delectable, and also very warming after being out in wind once the sun had set. 

It was an absolutely wonderful day, filled to the brim with memories and laughs. We were WIPED. Caught the train station out of the city at 12:05 AM and fell asleep on the train ride home.

Another weekend, we spent an evening in at Tricia and Damian’s building gingerbread houses, watching Jingle All the Way, having holiday drinks, and baking cookies. Well…Tricia baked cookies. Gabrielle helped where she could, and the boys just talked, drank their drinks, and at the fresh cookies. Tricia knocked it out of the park this year – she baked a TON of cookies from scratch so she could make little gift baskets for all of her coworkers, and ended up being able to make around 25 little boxes of around 5-10 cookies each. TWENTY FIVE! So glad I have this generous, amazing friend back in my life. If you’re reading this, Trish, LOVE YOU ❤

We knew we couldn’t afford to fly home for Christmas and Gabrielle was out of vacation time. So we took our 3 days, rented a car and drive down to Ventura to spend Christmas with Gabrielle’s brother Jake and his wife Allie! 

Did we mention they live across the street from the beach and have a nice pool and hot tub at their apartment?! It was three days of “sibling Christmas!” with a Christmas Day afternoon hike up a mountain, Grandma Lolly’s hilarious Christmas glasses that we wore on the hike and in the hot tub, dinner out in Ventura, boxes of presents sent from the midwest, cat toys, and bundt cakes! My parents sent us a dozen bundt cakes… SO MANY BUNT CAKES! So delicious. 

For the week leading up to New Years, we house-sat and cat-sat at Tricia & Damian’s place while they flew to Chicago for the week. We brought our cat Beaker with us to hang out with their cat, Bean! Let’s just say they coexisted with some separation at times…no cat fights, but some hissing . By the end of the week they would be okay being in close proximity to each other, but there was never any cuddling. It was good though and nice for us to have a little more space. We wouldn’t trade our Sundancer experience these past years for anything, but after living in it for so long you do start to miss and appreciate large indoor spaces. (Insert quote from Step Brothers “There’s so much room for ACTIVITIES!”)

The Great Standoff.

For New Year’s Eve we thought about going to San Francisco but decided that since we don’t have Elon Musk money, we should find something local. The night before New Year’s Eve, David just happened upon a website for San Jose area and found that the local amusement park was hosting a New Year’s Eve party with 6 hours in the park and fireworks! Tickets weren’t too bad so we thought why not? We like rollercoasters. 

If we as a couple had a middle name, pretty sure it would be Spontaneity. 

And so: California Great America for WinterFest NYE! Holiday music and dance shows, dazzling themed lights and decorations, spiked eggnog topped with a cookie pierced on the straw, NYE hats and noisemakers, cranberry chutney topped chicken fingers with french fries, arcading (in which Gabrielle played DDR for the first time since high school and finished scowling and claiming that the roll out pad she’d had at home to play was far superior lol), fireworks midway through the night, and…sprinkled in between it all….ROLLER COASTERS. The best was RailBlazer (quite Raging Bull in it’s style and feel, for all you Illinois people) with Flight Deck taking a close 2nd. 

It’s a good thing we each found a partner that loved roller coasters just as much as the other. 

I’ll let our ridiculous pictures from this night close out the post. 

Road Trip! From the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean

Annapolis, Bourbon Trail, Nashville, St. Genevieve, Fort Collins, Longmont, Las Vegas, Ventura

We had two weeks to get to our destination of Santa Cruz County in the San Francisco Bay area, for which Gabrielle would then have to report to her first day of work at the new Davey Resource Group project. Two weeks to cross the ENTIRE COUNTRY, you say?!

Challenge ACCEPTED.

Our first stop was to see Gabrielle’s college roommate Jil and her husband Derek at their new house in Annapolis, Maryland! They set us up right: First thing we did when we got there was hit the water for some stand-up paddle boarding out on the harbor while they kayaked alongside us. Their new home in Annapolis is situated perfectly, just down the block from the waterfront, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. We literally walked the kayaks and the SUPs down from their house – talk about prime location! It was the perfect and relaxing way to kick off a number of long driving days. Just what the doctor ordered : } We finished our night off with delicious fresh oysters at SOB aka Sailor Oyster Bar and some crab kisses.

A quick trip but so wonderful to see our two favorite doctors. Wish we could’ve stayed longer… but duty called to the West. So we closed this chapter on the East, said goodbye to the Atlantic (can you call the Chesapeake the Atlantic? Oh well, I’m going to) and pointed the Sundancer towards Kentucky.

Made a brief stop on the Bourbon Trail on our way to see friends in Nashville, but by the time we were planning it out a lot of the distilleries were already booked up. We did snag a reservation for a tasting seminar at Willett and a tour at Maker’s Mark! Since we had time to spare, we stopped in at Town Branch distilling, also home to the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel beer.

A little about bourbon that most people don’t know: There are 3 particular reasons why Kentucky is bourbon capital of the world. 1) The area allows the proper soil and climate for growing corn and other grains used to make bourbon. 2) The area has the proper water composition of minerals, like limestone, that are present in the water and good for the bourbon process. 3) The climate has temperature swings ideal for barrel aging whiskey as the liquid goes in and out of the wood. Additionally, bourbon has 3 rules to be called bourbon 1) made in the US 2) 51% corn mash 3) aged in virgin charred oak barrels.

Our final stop on the Bourbon trail was the most well-known name: Maker’s Mark! We got the full tour and tasting session plus we got to hand dip our own bottles! David picked the cask strength and Gabrielle picked the Maker’s 46. We wondered over the bar and got to try two versions of their wood finishing series FAE-01 & 02 that are their most expensive offerings.

We liked the grounds and property at Maker’s Mark better, but our favorite whiskey we tried was at Willett. David’s overall favorite was Willett’s Pot Still Reserve, Gabrielle’s the Willett Small Batch Rye.

Next stop after the Bourbon trail was Nashville! We stayed with Gab’s best Batavia bud Emma and her husband Stacy. Their back yard was big enough for us to pull the RV in and turn around! That was crazy. We got to finally have burgers and fries at GABBY’S, the joint that Emma had been telling Gabs about for years. SO. GOOD. A solid greasy spoon.

On the 2nd day, Emma and Gabrielle took a girls’ afternoon and took a creekside walk to chat, followed by a lovely little teashop stop for a hot brew. Meanwhile, the boys went to some Nashville Breweries (David wasn’t gonna stop in Nashville and NOT check out a craft brewery, let’s be honest). But then the girls joined the boys for the last stop, Jackalope Brewing. Good stuff! I guess we’ll keep them 😉

Ended our time in Nashville with an evening around the bonfire reunited with old friends from high school, Charissa and Carson!! It was wonderful to see them again. Talked about our days of youth and innocence long past, good ol’ Rockford Christian Camp days, life perspective that 30+ years has brought, old high school crushes, and on it goes. Love these people so much: Time and words with friends like these is usually filled with depth beyond a typical human conversation. AKA the best kinds. Always meaningful, often hilarious, undoubtedly treasured. 

On our way West from Nashville we stopped in Missouri and RV camped side-by-side with David’s parents in their RV. We spent the evening visiting with David’s cousin Rachel to meet her newborn son, Caiden! (Phil was there, too). Laurie & Chris surprised us to crash the party and we had a great night with a pot of chili, beers, desserts & a tiny tyke laying on the floor like who all deez peoples?!

And as we passed through Missouri the next day, we picked up David’s favorite hometown pizza and toasted raviolis, Imo’s! You gotta try them if you’re in St. Louis or Missouri.

Next stop on the Westward trek was good ol’ Fort Collins, Colorado, our home for most of the 2010s decade. And purely by chance…we were passing through at Halloween again, the same weekend we were in Colorado last year in the RV! Funny. Had a good couple days seeing our Apolonio’s crew: Friday night backyard Halloween barshed hang w/ a campfire (even the dogs dressed up! Be sure to note no less than 3 taco costumes by coincidence: 2 dogs and 1 human).

Grabbed another local fav, FoCo DoCo – or Fort Collins Donut Company – on Halloween morning. They have the best mini donuts, always hot and fresh, in lots of creative flavors! Spend the day at a couple more of our Ft Collins favorite spots, meeting up with various friends when they were free. It was great to see the Colorado fam again. And then on November 1st, we woke up to walk to Old Town for breakfast….and were greeted with a BLIZZARD! Classic. Once Halloween is over, the state decides: SKI SEASON HAS COMMENCED. It’s glorious.

We were lucky enough this year to see our good friends in Longmont, Jason & Cheryle, for 3 nights in a row! They drove up to Fort Collins 2 nights, and we drove to their place and had Raclette (a French style meal where you cook meats and cheeses on a hot plate in the middle) and game night. So fun!

Next up: Las Vegas baby! We have been before and since we only had one night, we walked most of the strip including our last volcano show at The Mirage : ( Had a blast finding some new stuff like the best $2 footlong hot dogs & an amazing and elegant 3-story bar that was a giant chandelier! Cool bfast spot in the morning and then a failed attempt at a hotel seminar for $$$ because they didn’t have room for our RV in their parking lot even though the guy who’d signed us up the night before told us there would be… Vegas is always full of surprises and bullshit.

Then….California!!! We finally made it to the endlessly beautiful Pacific ocean!

Our last stop – before we got up to the Bay area – on this ultimate of road trips was Ventura, CA to hang with Gabrielle’s brother and sister-in-law, Jake & Allie! It was amusing to watch our black cats, Nyx & Beaker, be awkward and vie for the special spots in the apartment. Like the bed or next to the warm Xbox! We went on a great bike ride along the beaches with their apartment’s e-bikes, on a windy day where the swells were HUGE and the surfers were out in full form. Another day we went on a hike up in Ojai and hit up some local breweries. Ventura is pretty cool and their wooden pier is one of the longest in Cali!

Our last night in Ventura, we all did a late afternoon beach walk and watched the moon rise over the pier. Founds some crazy weird and wild beach art, too. It was beautiful, eerie, and meticulously crafted.

We made it to Silicon Valley after traveling a total of 3,500 miles! (Don’t ask us how much it cost in gas money). It was a fantastic 2 weeks, and the perfect prologue to the start of our chapter in the San Francisco Bay.

Pennsylvania Part 3 – Autumn 2021

Altoona, Raystown Lake, Huntingdon, Pottsville, Towanda, Hills Creek SP, State College

Our final day in Pennsylvania we went to Penn State game

Back to Altoona! Like we said before, we stayed here for a while – under the walnut trees that pounded us with fresh walnuts in September and October! Check out the picture below with all of the walnuts covering the ground at our campsite, about the size of baseballs when they fall off the tree. They were so loud when they hit the roof! Those things would drop on the Sundancer with a huge BANG and would always make us jump before we remembered. It was a daily occurrence in the fall, kept us on our toes.

Early on at this campsite, we would occasionally do yoga or stretches at a grassy spot with bamboo shading it. One day in early fall, an especially large walnut dropped between our yoga mats, mere inches from our faces. It was quickly decided that outdoor yoga was quits for the season in the efforts of preventing painful lumps on the head or broken teeth/noses.

The campsite sat adjacent to a big cemetery on the side of the mountain, so it kind of became our daily evening walk spot. There’s a picture from it below. Also wanted to insert a picture of Gabrielle near the end of her time on the Pennsylvania project, cleaning off the resistograph that she hiked all over the place with for the summer and fall. It’s a drilling instrument that is designed to detect heart rot and weak points in wood – that thing was heavy! Quite an accomplishment, especially in some of the harder to reach places up steep mountainsides and through waist high brush. Even though she was physically exhausted by the end of almost every week, she still says the tough side of it was worth it for how great it made her feel getting stronger and was a nice change from sitting in an office for years.

There is a huge reservoir in the mountains east of Altoona called Raystown Lake. We spent our Labor Day weekend there camping at Seven Points Campground. Unfortunately the storms from hurricane Ida had just came through the area the week before and the lake was 15 feet above the fill line! Half the campsites were flooded, all boating was prohibited and the beach was entirely submerged. We made the best of it and had a lot of fun just chilling and walking around outside. When the Hamilton seniors came in their RV to camp with us near the end of September, the reservoir was back to normal levels and it was interesting to walk the same areas where all the water had been. We even got to swim at the beach on the last weekend of the Fall before it closed down for the season. Was just warm enough that the swim was refreshing. Also found a good outdoor BBQ joint near the entrance to Seven Points called the Backwoods Smoke Shack.

Photos below are a combo of our Labor Day weekend trip and weekend with David’s parents.

The end of September came and it was time for our big trip to North Carolina for Gabrielle’s cousin’s wedding! Since we were driving right by it and our national parks pass was about to expire, we drove through Shenandoah and camped overnight. It was an amazing experience driving the RV along the famous Skyline Drive. The next morning we woke up early to see the sunrise and Beaker saw his first deer! He was completely baffled and acted like a spaz, meowing all weird and trying to leap out the window:

We did a short hike down to Dark Hollow Falls that morning, which was one of the more intricate waterfalls we have come across on a hike out East.

We had a fantastic clear afternoon and followed by a beautiful and cool fall morning so everything was just…sublime. The pictures of Shenandoah really reflect the joy we were feeling in this mountain paradise nestled in Virginia.

Very glad we took the long way south.

And then…Brooks & Courtney’s wedding weekend in North Carolina! A fun-filled weekend with a small family get together on Thursday night, rehearsal dinner on Friday, and big wedding on Saturday. Got to spend quality time (and hilarity time) with family we don’t get to see very often on Gabrielle’s mom’s side. It was a total blast.

Not sure when our paths will cross with these North Carolina relatives again, but when they do… we look forward to it with gusto. Congratulations again to my cousin Brooks and my new cousin Courtney! Psyched to kick both your butts shreddin’ the slopes in Colorado sometime.

On our way back to Pennsylvania we took a brief detour to Asheville because why not? When your house has wheels and your home is the road…vacation is your life. Or life is your vacation. Either way.

Plus as prior Fort Collins residents and having frequented New Belgium of the West countless times, stopping at the New Belgium of the East was a must. We miss you, FoCo!!

Mom & Dad met us in Asheville for one last sandwich, flight, rehash of the shenanigans from night before, and then a parting of ways as they headed north to Chicago. They were the behind-the-scene stars of the weekend in charge of the grandparents care, logistics, and transportation. Grandma and Pap Pap couldn’t have made it to the wedding without them.

Best parents any girl could ask for.

David and I stuck around an extra day to explore just a little more. We of course did some more Asheville brewery hopping (I mean, our blog is named Hoppy Purpose for a reason…click the link at the top that says ‘What is a Hoppy Purpose?’ for more on that) intermingled with a delightful Indian buffet lunch and some shopping at cute stores in the downtown area. Would love to come back in the summer to do some backpacking, river tubing, and tour Biltmore House.

Our favorite was Sierra Nevada Brewery, which was SO cool. It’s a California-based brewery, and this location in Asheville is absolutely worth checking out. All over the brewery and grounds there is evidence of how they’ve invested in green, environmentally-conscious technology for their production – LEED certified architectural designs (Platinum level, the highest one!), recycled and upcycled raw materials, hops and produce and fruit gardens, runoff-displacing parking lot designs to discourage erosion…the list goes on and on. It’s so encouraging to see a large business put time and money into shrinking their carbon footprint! Innovative thinking and choices showing a genuine care for the Earth’s well-being are two things that will bring me back to spending money at a place.

And their beer was crisp, clean, and delicious. AND they have a baller back patio complete with a stage for concerts.

And now we can say we have officially been to Hillbilly Heaven! Little roadhouse bar we found on the way back while passing through West Virginia. Tasty wings, onion rings and fish n’ chips washed down with a frosty Yuegling Lager. We played some pool and watched some super random old movie involving Dracula and Billy the Kid…so pretty much exactly what you’d expect.

Also in October: Pottsville, PA – home of Yuengling! Not only is it America’s oldest brewery (continuously operating) but it is also America’s LARGEST craft brewery! On top of that, this was one of my favorite brewery tours I have ever been on. So much history!

The original brewery from 1831 is in the middle of town built into a hillside where they tunneled back 150 feet to create natural cellars for cold lagering. The tour led us through many tunnels and stairs going up to the many different levels of the brewhouse which had been replaced several times before they bought the former Stroh’s brewery in Tampa in 1999. From there, they opened a new large production facility down the road in 2001. The old dairy across the street now houses the tour center, gift shop & tasting room where we got unlimited 2 oz pours for an hour!

For the wrap-up of Gabrielle’s work project in Pennsylvania, we headed Northeast for a few weeks to basically the middle of nowhere. It was great! No, seriously…we love being in the middle of nowhere. Most of her work centered around a small town named Towanda up near the New York border, so that’s where we camped. It had some great scenic overlooks of the country side, creative and pretty damn good Halloween window art, and a couple cool dives we wandered into different nights.

On one of these such Friday nights, we walked into a place for drinks and stumbled across a fully decked out bar OVERFLOWING with the color pink. It was a breast cancer awareness party and fundraiser! All of the food, desserts, alcohol, apparel, koozies, gift bags, and everything else had been donated by locals and staff so that 100% of the proceeds from that night would go towards breast cancer research.

They named the event “Save the Rack” – clever, eh?

We were only gonna stay out for an hour and then ended up staying until 1 AM. Did pink animal cookie shots with whipped cream, entered the raffle and won a gift bag, ate a bunch of pink starburst that were scattered all over the bar (the best Starburst color that I always used to trade for when I was a kid!!) listed to some locals playing guitar, had strawberry daiquiris with pink umbrellas, sang a bunch of karaoke, made friends with all the bartenders and the bouncer. And the bouncer’s wife.

It was our favorite night in Towanda. Highly recommend the bar Towanda On The Rocks to anyone passing through. Great people. They made a BUNCH of money to put towards breast cancer research.

I also want to touch on how completely fantastic the fall colors were this Autumn and how lucky we were to be in Northern Pennsylvania at this time of year. The mountains aren’t quite as big as they are in the central PA Appalachians – they’re more like rolling hills with strong pastoral and farmland feels that weave in and out of Eastern forests. It’s quite wonderful, and I would consistently be pleasantly surprised while out working in coming across another breathtaking forest full of Autumn color or another sweeping vista with no cars in sight. I’ve shared some of my favorite “Fall-Feels” moments.

Oh, and came across the incredible Tunkhannock Viaduct quite randomly one morning and yelled aloud because I was totally not expecting it – the thing is ENORMOUS! Spanned the entire valley I was driving through. Had to stop and grab a pic of the historical marker and the cool story behind it.

Sometime during this time, Gabrielle got the call that she’d been waiting for…she’d been accepted to transfer into a DRG project out in California! That’s one of the cool things about Davey field work – you can make transfers to most anywhere in the country depending on where you want/need to go because the company has work in every region of the US. We’d had our eye on Cali for a while and for a number of reasons, and now we could finally pull the trigger to our next big adventure. ONWARD!

For our final weekend in Pennsylvania, we went to a Penn State football game at Beaver Stadium. It worked out really well that her last day of work fell on the Friday before a home game, and that home game they just happened to be playing the ILLINI, Gabrielle’s alma mater! So of course we had to go.

Little did we know that this game and entire day would be EPIC and set a record for the most amount of overtimes in a NCAA football game. Crazy!

The funny part about the whole thing is that it wasn’t that great of a game in terms of quality of football being played. By either team. But because of that, we got to watch the teams go back and forth, end zone to end zone, doing 2-point conversion attempts which is the new NCAA overtime rule. They went to the NINTH OVERTIME. It was wild. Back and forth, back and forth…entire teams on the sidelines just taking strolls. We were cracking up.

Anyway, spoiler alert: Illinois pulled off an upset in the 9th overtime and won, 20-18, which was most unexpected. The handful of other Illinois fans sitting way in front of me turned around and air high fived with me from 30 feet away as we celebrated, but for the most part the entire stadium was silent as the visiting team celebrated on the field. It felt simultaneously eerie and awesome!

We celebrated the Illini win at a (shocker) local craft beer bar. It was a cool one, darker lighting and set in the basement. All night, Penn State fans kept walking up to Gabrielle with her Illini hat on and congratulating her on the win with smiles, saying how happy they were that she’d made the trip out to their home stadium and that she picked a great day to come. It was a great night for sportsmanship and Big Ten camaraderie. And humanity, let’s throw humanity in there too.

Our waiter was great – after a couple conversations, he figured out that we were legit and then went and checked to see if they had any rare bottles in the back that we might be interested in cracking open……

Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA!!! One of these puppies even from the most recent year can be hard to find. The one they had was from 2015. OMG! We’ve had a lot of these over the years, but never one that was so old. This beer is the definition of a hop bomb and comes in at 18-20% ABV to boot. When it’s fresh it’s very resinous & bitter although sweet from that high of gravity. This one, aged in a standard cold box for 6 years, was like all the hop flavor and aroma had melted down into layers upon layers of decadence with a little heat. A unicorn of a beer for a unicorn of a football game…it was totally apropos.

This is the stuff of Hoppy Purpose legend. These are the kind of stories that make me yet again realize how rich David and I are in every way that matters. I wouldn’t change a thing about right now, and as I write this I am reminded again how grateful we are for this unconventional #nomadlife. It’s the freakin’ best.

Pennsylvania Part 2

Woodland, Clearfield, Quehanna Wild Area, Butler, St. Mary’s, DuBois, Brookville, Altoona, York, Gettsyburg

This continued adventure in Pennsylvania has really been a different experience for us. Not only are we staying in one place for longer period of time, we are also staying in nice campgrounds with lots of amenities thanks to Gabrielle’s company covering our campsite expense. When we traveled before, we would only stay at cheaper campsites when we needed to dump our tanks and refill our water tanks. Those nights were usually spent doing laundry, getting though a mountain of dishes that had built up, and enjoying long, hot showers while we could. Now that we are camping in full hook-up campsites all the time, we no longer have to think about conserving water as much and that is a huge plus! It’s also helped us appreciate the little things that we never used to fully appreciate when we lived in a house or apartment – endless water from the tap, plumbing for as much sewer as you could possibly use to flush “it” all away, power at any time of the day for lights, charging, cooking, cleaning, computer-ing, watching shows, etc…..

These are BLESSINGS, people! ^_^

The Sundancer has taught us lesson after lesson in being grateful. It’s been eye-opening, to say the least.

Another point to make is that staying in a campground for a week or two really lets you get to know your neighbors and the owners or staff of the campground. We have met so many nice and outgoing folks along the way. Usually old retirees with tiny dogs, but who’s counting?

Our favorite Pennsylvania campsite to-date has been Woodland Campground in Woodland, PA, about 2 hours Northeast of Pittsburgh. The owners, a couple named Mike & Lisa, lived above the office and were just the kindest, most friendly hosts. They were always going out their way to help people staying there with things like getting mail, delivering firewood directly to campsites by golf cart, or recommending places to visit around the area. They also had a little shop in their office with local artists’ paintings, pottery, and crafts for sale! Not to make this sound like a 5 star yelp review, but they do deserve it. What was really cool about the campground was that it was situated in a beautiful wooded area with a lake and lots of great trees. We also had a 1.5 mile hiking trail that wound around the campground and down into the woods along a creek. David got some good use out of this trail while we spent 3 weeks here! One time we even took our chairs down to the creek and literally set them up in the creek for an afternoon reading session, bare feet just hanging out in the flowing water.

Below are some pictures of this incredible “Indian Tree” that Woodland Campground had on their property – the Native Americans who lived here trained/coaxed/magic’d this tree into its unusual shape. We’d never seen anything like it!! Gabrielle wanted to walk over to it almost every time we strolled the property.

There is an 80 square mile area north of Clearfield, PA called the Quehanna Wild Area. Its boundaries create a perfect circle around an old nuclear reactor jet engine testing facility from the 50’s that has since been demolished with all radiation sites cleaned up. Mother nature has turned it into a beautiful lush forest where practically no one lives permanently, although we saw many scattered cabins. There are hundreds of miles of trails that loop all around and you can tent camp just about anywhere. We stayed next to a serene lake that was home to beavers, osprey, swallows, and apparently a den of copperhead snakes that some lady decided to tell us about multiple times. The main road runs through the heart of the area and takes you right by the largest stand of white birch trees in the entire Eastern US! We hiked along lakes and roaring streams, open prairies and dense Rhododendron forests.

Last but not least… did I mention there are a few hundred elk that live in this area?! Relocated from Colorado to repopulate the area, they are now flourishing. The Elk Country Visitor Center was really wonderful! Beautiful grounds, intricate displays and exhibits inside. We went to many viewing areas, drove the entire state highway that went through all the small towns that were in the elk territory but we never saw any! HA we found in retrospect that due to it being an unusually hot weekend, they were probably chilling in the shade somewhere out of sight. People were telling us they are just hanging out in their yards all the time and are always near the highway… it’s okay though, we’ve seen a lot of elk over the years as Coloradoans. (Shoutout to the Hamiltons *senior* and Elk Fest in Estes Park!)

Below are some pictures from our time in the Quehanna Wild Area. In true Gabrielle-&-David style, we passed by the only bar in the wild area and couldn’t resist. Most of the people in the bar were covered head to toe in mud/dust from a full day of ATVing or offroading. You could tell because their eyes were the only clean part, where they’d had goggles on. The picture of Gabrielle at the bar is when she’s observing a group of the mud-people doing pickle shots.

The Hamiltons came to RV camp with us over 4th of July weekend to celebrate our birthdays. We were staying at a KOA in DuBois that was in the back of a gated community surrounding a few lakes. They had two golf courses so David and his dad got to get a game of golf in! We found out that the Butler County fair, one of the largest in the state, was that weekend so we headed west to a local campground nearby. A classic, satisfying country 4th of July weekend complete with a school bus demolition derby, carnival rides & games, a petting zoo, fireworks, and all the terrible but oh-so-delicious carnival foods you could eat! On Friday we checked out a state park and then got to the fair just in time for lunch which was mini donuts, corndogs, lemon shake ups and smoked chicken. David’s mom watched the Draft Horse shows all day and the rest of us would come and go. Also explored downtown Butler, saw some shops and hit the local brewery for dinner.

A truly *gold* redneck find: Ring toss on knives. Whatever pocket knife or giant bowie knife you hook a ring on (they were stabbed point down into the display) you win that specific knife. No tradesies.

David won TWO! This carnival game was bumping the whole time, it was hard to get a spot to play.

The school bus demolition derby preceded the fireworks -none of us had ever seen anything like this, either. I would post the video of this if it didn’t take up so much data but go google it because it was hilarious!

Our birthdays are 8 days apart so we always have a birthday “week” of fun. We were still staying in DuBois and the options of places open on a Monday night for Gabrielle’s bday were limited but we found a craft beer bar in town that had crab legs! Also lots of delicious IPAs for David. Then we struck gold when we happened to try the restaurant at a local golf course up in the foothills north of town. The clubhouse and restaurant were situated at the top of a hill in a big valley so the views were excellent. Gabrielle decided crab dip was in order to continue our crab vibe (I mean, we are Cancers after all…). It was so picturesque and the food was so good we decided to return to it on David’s bday to play golf! Gabrielle makes the best pin tender.

One weekend, we took a ride up north to the town of St. Mary’s which is the home of this small but mighty old school brewery Straub Brewing. They make tasty crisp lagers of different types and also brew a nice IPA. We sat outside and played corn hole and tried one of their hard frozen slushys which I proceeded to knock over immediately onto the table. They gave us another one for free! After they closed we headed to what we thought was going to be dinner at an Italian restaurant… we walk into to find its 90’s night and only the bar was open. They had all the decorations out, walkmans, tamagotchis, polaroids, beer pong, shot specials, Nsync and Britney Spears playing on the boom box, it was hilarious. So we go up to the bar to see if we can get any food and I meet an interesting couple who are arguing whether they are going to get an in-ground trampoline or a hot tub for the bed of his pickup! So I stoked the fires a bit and told them they should build a zip-line from the trampoline that can go flying INTO the pickup hot tub so they can have both… and we were instantly friends. Now they want to buy me shots and take us to their Catholic Men’s Club bar across the street! It was a whole step into another world. We did not take pictures…

Our next stop took us west to Brookville where we stayed a week out in the woods at a small campground. We had a really nice day walking around the natural areas near us and we even saw our first Green Heron (bird nerds alert) that was fishing for frogs at the pond behind our campsite! SO COOL! After that first day, it rained almost the entire rest of the week. One night I (David) thought I had a good break in the storms to run the trash up to the dumpster. But then the clouds opened up and I had to take shelter in the shower house. The winds were blowing so hard I could barley keep the door closed. Then the lights went out. After 20 min or so I could head back down to the RV and the whole campground had lost power. There were tree limbs down all over. Luckily nothing hit us and the power came on the next morning. Crazy! We sat that night and watched the lighting shows by candlelight.

One afternoon, we walked the downtown area of Brookville. Of course it was raining. And of course the one brewery in town wasn’t open. We went in the town visitor center and the nice lady there let us use the bathroom and see the museum for free. Upstairs they had one of the biggest, most detailed model train set with the entire town laid out! So after pulling Gabrielle out of books stores and antique stores, we hit up a local distillery the lady at the visitors center recommended to us called Blackbird Distillery.

This place was fantastic! Best moonshine we have ever had. Found out it was Pennsylvania’s first legal distillery. They had so many flavors to try along with different proofs of shine, vodka, and a whiskey-like shine. Best part – they weren’t really keeping track of how many free samples we had had. Favorites would have to be the Root Beer, Chocolate Banana, and Apple Dumpling which was one of their cream liquors.

Back to Altoona —> Gabrielle’s project added a huge circuit last minute that she was assigned to cover back in Altoona. We found a wonderful campground just south of town where the owner, Nellie, was really sweet and always helped us find a spot to stay with her since we never really knew how long that was going to be. It turned out that there was a lot of circuits for Gabrielle in the Altoona area, so it was our longest rotation. It really did start to feel like a home for us. We stayed there for 2 and a half months other than the few weeks we were in York. We got to know all the places around town and David played disc golf at the 3 courses quite a lot. It’s an old railroad town in the foothills of the Appalachians and it’s fairly large. Altoona is famous for the Horseshoe Curve west of town where the railroad line makes a 200 degree bend through the mountains. Also, random fun fact: Boyer Candy Co. in Altoona is the creator of the “cup candy” concept and they have the original chocolate peanut butter cup in the country, predating Reese’s! It’s really, really good (we liked it better).

Since we had gotten settled into Gabrielle’s new role, we felt it was time to bring our cat Beaker on the road with us! Beaker had been living with Gabrielle’s parents for a year or so when we went to South America and onwards. We missed him and thought it wouldn’t be too much trouble turning him into an RV kitty, especially since we’d seen so many RV people with cats on the road while in Pennsylvania. It took some getting used to at first while he meowed a bunch as we drove…but now he’s doing great! Just sleeps all day anyways…so no real change from normal cat life, let’s be honest.

Some Beaker in the Sundancer pics from his first few months as a Kitty on the Road:

We LOVE having him back with us! We got the band back together (cue Blues Brother’s theme)

York, PA is a good sized city south of Harrisburg. The day we got there was the day of the State Fair but we just drove by since we had already done the Big Butler County Fair over the 4th of July with David’s parents. We checked out a couple local shops and a cool lil place called Collusion Brewing. This was one of those hidden gem breweries in a back alley past many amazing murals. Every beer we had was really delicious! On our way home we picked up food, it was pouring rain, and David got his whole left foot soaked from a huge puddle running out of the Chinese restaurant.

Gettysburg is only 45 minutes from York but unfortunately we only had enough time for a day trip with Gabrielle’s work schedule so we made the best of it! We drove the entire loop where most of the battles were fought. It was a sobering afternoon filled with history, imagery, and astonishment. You really can feel the ghosts through the vastness of it all… just imagining the thousands of soldiers that had been on the hills and fields in front of you is mind-blowing and sobering. We live in an entirely different era these days. Incredibly difficult to even imagine what that must have been like and the kind of desperation and fear they went through.

The visitors center had recently been remodeled to include a huge museum and theater, and I hope we can get back there someday to take the time and experience them.

**NOTE: I know we’re WAY behind in time on our blog posts, so thank you for your patience! While life has been crazy and much more fast-paced than normal this Fall, we still want to maintain this priceless record and electronic journal of our travels on the road. SO we are doing our due diligence to keep it in chronological order in the *hopes* that we will be up-to-date again someday soon 😀 It’s GONNA HAPPEN.

First month in Pennsylvania!

Pittsburgh, Lewistown, State College, Hershey, Greenwood Furnace SP, Black Moshannon SP, Codorus SP

Hello, Summer 2021 in Appalachian territory! Our first month living in central Pennsylvania is officially in the books.

New job? Check. State parks? Check. Fourth Anniversary celebration? Check. Family reunion? Check. Oh, it’s been a gas. 

Thus far, we are really enjoying our time here. To begin with, the scenery is outstanding. Dense and lush mountain forests, rolling grassy hillsides, sweeping valley views, and creeks and streams in every other turn of the trail. The quaint, friendly mountain towns are fun to wander through, and we have found locals to be receptive and quite enthusiastic to share things about their hometown if you show the slightest sliver of interest (sometimes overly enthusiastic, which is endearing). There’s also so much history in this region of Pennsylvania with all of the old coal mines, railroads, and huge iron furnaces from the 1800s around which entire communities were built. Plenty to explore! Just how we like it.

As some of you know, I (Gabrielle) got a job with the Davey Resource Group as a field technician working on a project based in central PA. It was a nice fit because we’ve been looking for a way to still make money while traveling and living in our RV, and the project team was excited for our unusual situation. Basically, we can just move right along with the project area as we cover new territory (usually people have to get hotels during the work week as the project area moves further from their homes). I follow the utility corridors – mainly power – and gather data for a variety of purposes. The project is slowly working its way Northwest towards Lake Erie as our team finishes each area. I’ve been pretty happy with the job and the experience so far. Yes, there are politics and logistical issues that can be frustrating…but who DOESN’T have those kind of issues at one point in their job? You focus on controlling what you can. Plus, the hard, physical exercise is welcome – getting to hike in the mountains, along hillsides, and through towns every workday is a plus by ALL standards. 

A few pics of my work truck, some areas that I’ve worked through, and some cool bug and animal encounters. I like to call them my “just another day at the office” shots. ❤

On our way out to Pennsylvania a month ago, we passed through Pittsburgh for the evening. We arrived at the perfect time of day, coming out of a tunnel onto the bridge over the Monongahela River at the golden hour. The whole downtown glowed in the late afternoon sunlight.

We stopped in for dinner and brews at Fat Head’s Saloon, a local brewery that David had tried at GABF one year. It ended up being a GREAT call: Beers were fresh and delicious, pub room vibe was chill with lots of laughs, bartender was friendly and goofy, onion rings were THE best we’ve have ever had (no joke).

Passed through Altoona, PA and stopped in at Boyer Candy Company, home to the famous Mallo Cup! Chocolate and soft marshmallow filling. It was a childhood favorite of Gabrielle’s, which she used to buy at Cracker Barrels as a kid. Boyer is the originator of the “cup candy,” which is now made famous because of the Reeses peanut butter cup. David found his new favorite candy at Boyer’s – the Clark Cup! It has crispy bits of peanut butter mixed in with the smooth peanut butter cup. Definitely trumped Reeses, in both of our opinions. Also, side note – you cannot beat the prices at Boyer. This chocolate was WAY cheaper than anything anywhere in Hershey…and just as good, if not arguably better.

This was our first campsite – Waterside! It was on the Juniata River, it was peaceful, and we were there for the penultimate 17-year CICADA emergence of Brood X. It was intense. They were everywhere. Not dangerous or biting, more just annoying because they were always underfoot and flying into you or dropping onto you from trees. The noise of the cicadas was so loud it borderline hurt our ears when we walked out of the RV. David said at one point it was like an all-day tornado siren going off.

One of the first weeks of Gabrielle’s training, we stayed in Greenwood Furnace State Park, a little outside of Lewistown, named after the huge furnace built in 1834 that forged iron until 1904. A beautiful remote spot, the only downside of which was that there were no cell phone signal for 10 minutes in any direction. Good hikes around the park, caught some crawdads in the creek, explored inside the furnaces, and came across a huge black water snake! 

It’s right in the middle of a huge Amish community near Belleville – lots of horse and buggies driving down the road. Interesting to see stables in parking lot at the grocery store for where they park their horses. We never did get around to buying fresh Amish food or farm goods. Something to do for next time we’re in Amish country.

Another night when we were eating dinner outside. we had a pleasant surprise visit by a momma and baby Eastern Screech-Owl! The baby was just chillin in this hollowed out part of a tree branch next to our campsite waiting for mom to bring back food. If we hadn’t seen the mom swoop in, we would have never known they were there because they were so silent.

We never stayed in State College, home of Penn State, but we did drive through several times and hit up 2 breweries there: VooDoo Brewing & Otto’s!

We celebrated our 4th anniversary on May 28th this year. You know how each anniversary has a corresponding substance or material? The well known ones are 50 (gold) and 25 (silver) but all the other numbers have things, too. 1st anniversary is paper, 2nd is cotton, etc. Well, the 4th is supposed to be fruit & flowers….but hell, we’re scratching that out and rewriting ours! Hamilton anniversary #4 = CHOCOLATE ANNIVERSARY.

Spent the weekend in Hershey, PA! Had an awesome day at Hersheypark riding roller coasters, playing carnival games, eating chocolate dipped pretzels and crab fries, riding more roller coasters, laughing at the ridiculous people watching, doing some drop rides, and then ending the day with the carousel and even more roller coasters. And it wouldn’t be a theme park day with the two of us if we didn’t get drenched by rain at least once! Every time. 

Side story: I don’t know how this started, but we began yelling “CHOCOLATE ANNIVERSARY!” at random points the entire day. Going up the first big drop on roller coasters, sitting eating snacks, in line with people all around us, in the rain getting soaked, having beers on park benches….yeah it definitely was a thing, and we got some laughs, a lot of weird looks, and even a kid that yelled back “YEAH, CHOCOLATE!”

A different day we spent at Chocolate World, which neighbors Hersheypark. It’s the largest Hershey’s chocolate store in the world, and also includes a coffee shop with cookie dough creations, a stand for ice cream shakes, a “big s’mores” shoppe where you can get s’mores the size of sandwiches, a giant faux jungle, and a complete bar with wine and beer and some food options. OH, and if that wasn’t enough they have a full-on indoor ride called Hershey Chocolate Factory that takes you through the whole chocolate making process from bean to bar. It’s reminiscent of Spaceship Earth at Epcot, and we thought it was really cool.

Another really serendipitous thing that happened is that we were there the weekend they opened a brand new restaurant just outside Hersheypark called ‘The Chocolatier’ in honor of Milton Hershey. We got to have lunch there literally the DAY they opened! They’ve designed the whole restaurant menu around having hints of cocoa and chocolate in every dish, even the entrees! David got a cuban with cocoa-rubbed pork, and Gabrielle got a burger with chocolate-dipped potato chips, bacon, and cheddar. We each got a different kind of chocolate martini to go with them, one with fresh cream and one without. Everything was phenomenal. 

Probably spent too much money on chocolate that weekend…? Worth it. #ChocolateAnniversary

Here a couple final pics from our anniversary weekend (seriously, we squeezed a LOT into that weekend) from the famous Hershey brewery Tröegs and a hike we did on our way back overlooking the Susquehanna River. It connected to the Appalachian Trail at one point and it was the first time either of us were officially on the AT! So sweet.

The following week we moved northwest to the Clearfield area, and stayed at state park that was pretty much a bog on a mountaintop! Black Moshannon State Park. Another really beautiful home base for relaxing weeknights, long woodsy walks, and a beach where we spent a whole afternoon playing water frisbee and laying in the sun and sand. 

And FINALLY….the Maxwell Family Reunion!! Gabrielle’s mom’s side of the family is from western PA, and just this past weekend we were lucky to be able to attend the big family reunion. They had it at Codorus State Park down south near the Maryland border. We got to see cousins, aunts, uncles, and family that she hadn’t seen in over a decade, some even since she was a little kid! And of course lots of kiddos and babies to throw in the mix. A fun day in the park with great potluck food, cold beer, pontoon boat rides, reminiscing about good memories back in thr day, and a campfire to end the night with roasted weenies. 

For those of you that couldn’t make it to the Maxwell reunion – you were definitely missed and there in spirit! There were plenty of great stories about reunions of old up at the Li’l Abner cabin. I mean, just the best corn on the cob ever.

The two of us often stop to savor this unique nomadic chapter of our life, as we know it won’t last forever. It’s a more steady and slow pace than how we traveled in the RV before, simply due to the nature of Gabrielle’s job…and that steady, slow pace has seeped into our day-to-day. I think both of us would say that it’s a good thing.  Reminiscent in many ways of that “buena vida” mindset we talked about back in Uruguay……

Our first month here has been soul food, in all honesty. There are things that happened in our lives behind these scenes that have been extremely hard to work through and process, and I know we both really needed this change. Is there anything better than living the life you love, and living it to the fullest? I think kids these days call that #LivingTheDream. We smile at each other a lot recently because, well, we are. 

That’s all for now. Got an evening thunderstorm and a book to look forward to, and maybe a glass of bourbon to accompany it. Peace out.

Galveston Island

Galveston, Jamaica Beach, Gavleston Island State Park, Bolivar Peninsula

Sorry for the delay on this one, folks! Our life has been much of a quantum flux since the New Year, with very little consistency and next to no travel in our Winnebago Sundancer, home base for our cherished #VANLIFE as nomadic adventurers. That will be changing now, as we start a whole new chapter heading to the East and into Appalachian territory.

But more on that later. (Soon, I promise!)

One of the few consistencies during this frustrating start to 2021 has been the support and love of our incredible families, and we are so thankful to have them in our lives. Listening, assisting, and cheering us on as we explore and fully realize the potential of our dreams, it has been a blessing to have that one certainty among the landslide of uncertainties.

Wanted to close the loop on our last adventure before this current hiatus: Galveston Island, TX! Bringing it back to the last few weeks of December and first week of January! We would definitely go back and spend more time there. Being winter on the Gulf Coast, we got our fair share of rainy days, but also had many beautiful warm days for our Christmas and New Year’s week!

Up early on the morning of December 24th, we randomly decided to stop in a nearby cafe to do a Christmas Eve breakfast. Little did we know this place was doing its soft opening that day and we were LITERALLY the first customers in the place. Initially weirded out as to why all the people in the restaurant were smiling and staring at us more intently than normal…!!….it turned out to be fantastic, top-notch breakfast cuisine across the board. I mean…just look at these mouthwatering photos:

And the best part? When we were stuffed and asked for the check, our waitress let us know that Santa was picking up all of the customer tabs that morning. Free delicious Christmas Eve breakfast, CHECK. Love it. It was a fun surprise and adrenaline boost to our morning.

We spent a relaxing Christmas Holiday at Jamaica Beach RV Park on the Southwest end of the island. It had your classic island/rasta decorations, a pirate & shark themed mini golf course, a pool, an indoor hot tub and more. Didn’t realize until the 2nd day that what we thought were tortoise statues in the middle of the mini golf course were actually LIVE Sulcata Tortoises, or African spurred tortoises. Not native to the area – the owners purchased them and they are residents of the RV park. Such a cool addition to the mini golf course! We went out and said hi to them every day.