This Fall was an interesting season for us. In an initial effort to scout out a place to live, we rented a VW Westfalia and explored towns and cities from Monterey to San Luis Obispo to Calistoga. We considered many types of homes and situations, including mobile home parks for people 55+. Our likes, wants and needs became more focussed, and we both realized a heightened impatience for stop lights and traffic congestion -likely influenced by living on a smallish Indonesian island for 2 years.

We ruled out living in the immediate Bay Area for this and other reasons, yet still desired to be close-ish to our loved ones there. My early first choice was SLO: smallish, energized college town; friendly people; healthy lifestyles; biking, walking and trekking-friendly; politically progressive; gorgeous surroundings; and close proximity to the ocean. But after exhausting our efforts there, we turned our camper van around and headed north to scout out the wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties.

We traded in our Westy for a motorhome that we named Lurch, and dedicated the month of November to living inside of him while continuing our search. Neither of us had ever stepped foot in one before. He was 24 feet long -4 feet longer than the one we signed up for, but had a better table / seat area, which came in handy as our research space. He had a surprisingly large and comfortable bed in back (and another large-but-claustophobic one above the cab), tv monitor, phone booth-sized shower, toilet, fridge; sink, stove, microwave, ample storage space, and a “slider” wall that extended the “living room” outward 2 extra feet with the touch of a button that gave plenty of room at night. He warmed up quickly, and we felt fortunate and appreciative for his comforts.

But it wasn’t all good. Lurch was a bear to park or turn around, and due to his width from side mirror to side mirror, there were many white-knuckle passages while on narrow country roads, or when passing big rigs. Early on we realized the obvious: Lurch made for a great home base but was not a practical or efficient way to see the rental homes scattered about the various small towns. So we hatched a new plan, and the next day I bussed and BARTed my way to SF where I retrieved our car and drove it back to the Calistoga RV park where we’d planted ourselves.

We were intrigued by the RV world, and began to learn the ropes of this lifestyle, which included rookie mistakes. Here’s a tip: make sure the valves are pushed in on the grey and black water tanks before twisting the cap off! We were intrigued by the varied types of trailers, busses and motorhomes parked around us, and didn’t know they could be that huge! We appreciated the sense of community and caravans that exists at the RV camps, and felt a minor kinship with these nomads, some of whom live in their campers all year(s) as they criss-cross the country. We met a lot of Snowbirds too: folks from Canada or up north, who follow the sun to the southern states during the winter.

We really enjoyed getting to know the towns and highways of Sonoma and Napa counties better, and had good take-aways from every town: In Cloverdale, the RV park shares space with a community hall. We slept there on 2 consecutive Saturday nights, during which time Mexican music wafted outside into the cold stary night. We finally decided to explore its origin and snuck in from the back to discover an amazing Quinceañera going on behind a long curtain. The proud honoree was now 15 years old, and this was her special day to shine. A large stage supported a very loud, full-out Mariachi orchestra, playing to a large crowd; We visited the town of Angwin up in the eastern hills, and saw it’s 7th Day Adventist roots; We spontaneously attended a live interview with -and short performance by- Elvis Costello at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville; In Healdsburg, we killed an hour once by walking around a beautiful hidden lake. It was Halloween, and every town we visited that day was full of good spirits; I spent half a day exploring the historic Railroad section of downtown Santa Rosa, and then, back at that RV camp, the proprietor gave us a nice floor lamp that someone had left behind -this would be our first piece of furniture for our new home.

We loved driving on the many stunning back roads and highways, especially through Anderson Valley on highway 128. Our very favorite town soon became Calistoga, but the tight housing situation was made worse by a devastating Lake County fire in September which clouded the rental prospects there. Fortunately we were the first responders to a posting for a newly-renovated rental home in the heart of town. The landlord gave us first dibs, and waited patiently with us for the mold test results a week later -which turned out to be in the middle range. Jen’s doctor gave us the option to live there -under a few conditions and further mold tests after 3 months. We jumped at the chance. If 3 months is all we get to experience life in Calistoga, so be it.

Suddenly, we were through with our house search, yet still had 2 weeks more of Lurch to use up. We pointed him south again, this time to where several groups of Jen’s family live, long-overdue for our visit. We took interesting back roads and quiet highways most of the way, past vast acres of oil wells, almond and olive trees, to Hesperia, Pasadena, Duarte, Oceanside, and Thousand Oaks. We slept in RV parks, Walmart parking lots and truck stops -which were especially interesting. We liked walking past the rows of these beautiful, slumbering behemoths at night, slanted tightly side by side by side, shiny and clean from the truck-wash, engines idling until late. One was carrying an F16 fighter jet from Tucson to Spokane.

We returned Lurch to his San Leandro roots 1,750 miles later. After so many hectic months and big decisions, we now felt able to relax a bit, and enjoy these days. And we felt the winds of positive change upon our smiling faces.


(These pictures hardly capture the beauty we experienced during our home search. But sometimes I just want to enjoy the scenery instead of capturing it with a camera).















1 Comment (+add yours?)

    May 17, 2017 @ 20:18:19

    Really nice photos, Matt!!! Glad you found a good place to settle for a while.


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