Discovering Friends Amongst Strangers

All it takes is a genuine smile and a glass of wine over a fire to find friends anywhere.

For every mile you go forward, your past drifts another mile away. It is the down fall of traveling I have found. I love new adventures and seeing things that I have always dreamt about, but the lifestyle also means that am isolating myself from my family, friends and familiar acquaintances. It means there are fewer and fewer people that know and understand my inside jokes. There are no longer “girls night out” while my husband stays home with the kids. It can be lonely. You miss the feel of good friends chatting into the depths of the night.

It makes it even worse for me. I do not make friends easily. I am anxious about new people and I feel awkward engaging in conversation or even approaching someone new. Not the best combination for a girl on the road. At times I wish I was instantly comfortable walking up to a new group of people and bonding. At other times, I enjoy the excuse of being awkward so I don’t have to even try. However, every so often, it feels natural. I just hoped that this would occur more with our new lifestyle.

Truth is: not very many full-time RV’rs or campers are all that comfortable with strangers either. We spent 3 weeks in Barstow and talked to a total of four different individuals LIVING at the RV park; each only once. I figured that in the RV community or even camping community, the physical boundaries that are reduced will increase the amount of socialization. Turns out, it is generally only with the people they already know. Strangers are still strangers, no matter where you are.

Yesterday, we traveled on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We had booked a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) for the next four nights in Coleville, California. The town itself is a mere 550 people but had a genuine charm that made you want to buy a small farmhouse and enjoy a simpler, kinder life. The KOA didn’t look like the standard ones you see on the website. It had charm and was smaller but with a unique individualization that was different from the cookie cutter KOAs we have stayed in recently.

When we got to our RV space, we quickly realized that our huge 43’ Fifth Wheel was going to have a almost impossible time making a tight turn into the spot. It was the making for a terrible ordeal. The site was on a slope and with a 90 degree turn to get in, we feared the worst. We also found that our huge RV was drawing attention from other campers and I am sure there were quite a few bets going on whether or not we would succeed. I decided to stay out of the truck why Dan figured out what to do because I have learned in the last couple months that the best thing I can do is to let him handle anything RV wise… especially driving it.

As I stood outside the RV on the road trying to look like I was devising some master parking plan, something crazy happened. People came up and talked to me. Yes, strangers decided to talk to me. This is one of the first times this has happened since we started off on our trip. In fact, most of the people we have communicated with is because we have initiated the conversation. However, this time the tables were turned and before you know it, I had found two guys that helped Dan (a thousand times more that I ever do) park the beast and we had a few invites to go over to their area for wine.

Such a simple invitation was such a refreshing feeling. In fact, over dinner we talked about our previous stays and how this was what we thought would happen everywhere we went; people wanting to meet and engage with strangers. Fellow travelers wanting to enjoy other’s company and swap stories over the campfire. But that never happened. Yesterday though, made the wait worth it.

After dinner, we headed over to the fire of our new aquaintances. As we came up, we were welcomed as if we had been friends for years. Talk was easy and the stories, ideas, and laughs flowed freely. The people were real. Humble. Kind. But most important: welcoming. It may be the best evening we have had at a campground so far.

Last night made me think a little differently about things. While I am generally very polite and nice, I may not be as welcoming as I can be. I always say hi but rarely do I put myself out there for conversations or friendships. It makes me wonder what responses I can get if I am the one who initiates real conversations instead of just pleasantries. There are so many potential friends hidden amongst the strangers in our lives. Maybe if we were just willing to tell them to come over for some wine, the world would be a different place.

On a side note: if you ever find yourself in Eastern California, check out the Meadowcliff Campground: Coleville/Walker KOA. The place is amazing in every way from the friendly owners to the gorgeous campground. It is by far my favorite KOA I have seen and will certainly be a future destination for our family.

Reflections of Barstow

Barstow is not the place I would want to spend any amount of time, but it did get me out to explore Southern California.

For the past three weeks, we have been stationary at a Marine Corps Logistics Base located in Barstow, CA. When we first arrived to the town of Barstow, my husband instantly looked at me and said “I am so sorry for bringing you here.” The streets were littered with garbage and neglected houses and buildings. Every block had at least one homeless person pushing a cart or holding up a sign. It seemed as though Barstow had been forgotten a long time ago. The town was dirty, run down and not on the safe side.

Dan had a contact job working out of Fort Irwin, an Army base located in the middle of nowhere about an hour outside of Barstow. It was four days on, three days off for three weeks, although there were quite a few days when the weather didn’t cooperate so he didn’t have to report. While we were not excited to be in Barstow, we were lucky enough to have the security of being on a base and we decided to make the most of our time there. IMG_0402

The first weekend we were there, we took off and went camping in Joshua Tree National Park for two nights. It was amazing. The first night we spent in the Colorado Desert on the south side of the park. With not a singe Joshua Tree in sight, we had a great time wandering the desert, hiking and exploring. IMG_0296

The second night was spent in Black Rock Canyon of the Northern part of Joshua Tree. It was a dense concentration of Joshua Trees and offered a lot of fun for the kids. In the park, we climbed the great granite boulders. The kids had no fear as they found small cracks within the rocks that kept them scaling higher and higher. I have never been afraid of heights, but watching my children ascend the rocks, I felt the fear of most people when they are out of their comfort zone. The kids are great being safe though and with our careful watch and guidance, we all made it back down without a scratch. The fear was certainly worth the views from the top!IMG_0367

A few days later, Dan had a day off so we decided to go to Big Bear City for the day. The town is a ski resort town located on a big lake and is pretty much the ideal place to be if you like the outdoors. We drove up Big Bear Mountain and explored life above the clouds. Just miles away from the  Mojave Desert, the forest brought with it a new sense of life and purpose. The pines create a canopy that allows just enough light in to highlight soft wildflowers that speckle the ground. The needles create a soft blanket beneath the trees, causing sound to be absorbed and making the area perfectly calm and tranquil. Evelyn and I dropped the boys off at the top of the mountain to ride down on their bikes while we explored some more and drove down to meet them at the bottom. IMG_0529

That weekend, we headed out to San Diego. I was fortunate to meet a couple amazing individuals from San Diego in Denver when I was training for my job with the VA and we have been in constant communication ever since. We spent the first night with Shannon and her husband Mike, catching up on life. Our other friend Abe, his wife Jane and daughter Lei came out that night and hung out making the night exciting and full of laughter. Being in the company of friends that were more like family instantly made being on the road feel not so foreign. The next couple of days we explored San Diego a little. We went to a dog beach on Ocean Beach (previous blog), and wandered. San Diego has terrible traffic and so many people so it can be quite overwhelming at times. However, watching the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash into the tall cliffs was refreshing and made me understand why so many people are willing to deal with the craziness of the city. Leaving was bittersweet since I feel as though there was so much more to explore and see. Also, I felt as though I was leaving my family again, even though I know it would not be the last time we see each other. I am still trying to talk them into buying an RV so we can all travel the country together. IMG_0411

When we got bak to Barstow, we immediately started planning out next trip out of the town. Big Bear City was so refreshing that it was no-brainer to go back and spend a full weekend there. We opted to camp to avoid having to pack up an RV and drive it up the mountain. Plus, camping offers a little more intimacy with nature and more adventure underneath the stars. We went on bike rides around the campsite, a hike along a mountain stream and built a squirrel house made of pinecones. Evelyn and I once again dropped the boys off at the top of the mountain for more intense biking while us girls enjoyed some ice cream shakes down in town. Just being there made the world feel small, calm, and peaceful. It is a place we will surely be back to visit. IMG_0666

Our last week in Barstow is best described as hot. The temperature was in the triple digits and the dust and wind made it almost unbearable. On Monday, I took the kids to Fort Irwin to escape the heat at the Army base’s splash pad and various parks. The base was a mini-oasis in the middle of the desert. The splash park was conveniently located right next to one of two Starbucks on base and the kids had a blast playing in the water and running around like crazy. On Tuesday we decided to make the RV look a little more like home by changing out some curtains and decorating the kids spaces with posters and stickers. The RV still looks quite bland, but it we are slowly making it our own and figuring out ways to modify it so it suits our needs better.

There was another family at the Marine base that we were staying at so the kids had three other kids their age to play with this entire time too. It was nice watching the kids all play together. They would run from RV to RV or hide off in the trees that line the park. Even on the hottest days, they would be out on their bikes or coloring with sidewalk chalk. They too were homeschooled so the kids instantly bonded. It also helped Alexander at times focus on his work so he could get back outside to play with his new friends. Leaving today was a bit sad knowing that they would most likely never see one another again, but we did exchange addresses so the kids can send postcards and maybe keep in touch.

We are currently on our way to June Lake in central California. As I sit here in the truck and reflect, I look out the window at an endless stretch of desert. A sign for Death Valley alerts me that we are a mere 121 miles away. Evelyn is fast asleep in the back while Alexander watches a movie on my Kindle. Barstow is in the rearview mirror. The past three weeks here have given us a taste of what life is like on the road, even if we were “stationed” in Barstow the entire time. It showed me that there is no excuse to just stay in and be miserable. There is beauty and adventure anywhere you go, even if you have to take a day trip to get there. I hope that I will never be back in Barstow again, but I am grateful that I was there and that I was able to experience Southern California these past few weeks.IMG_0540