One of the most challenging parts of my new lifestyle is returning to the San Francisco Bay Area to change gear, check mail, catch up with friends, and plan my next adventure.
These activities aren’t the actual challenge, though. The real challenge is affording daily life in the Bay Area!
Without a house to sleep in or a kitchen to cook in, I can very easily blow my budget on $5 lattes, $50 dinners, and $150 hotel rooms.
Fortunately, my friends have been generous with their homes, offering me a few nights’ stay for free. I have also leveraged boat charters – sailing during the daytime, and then sleeping on the boat at night. OCSC has a great facility with free parking, showers, and a WIFI- and coffee-equipped clubroom.
I have also brought my volunteering efforts back home to the Bay. Through Help Exchange, I found a wonderful couple in Sonoma Valley who needed help with their 10-acre property. Even though I am just a local Bay Area resident and not a foreign traveller, this family was nice enough to invite me into their home for 10 days. And their property was fantastic! The main house sat near the top of the property and had a wrap-around porch that overlooked the barn, riding arena, four horse pastures, olive tree orchard, and several vegetable and wild flower gardens.
I worked on their property for 4-5 hours a day in exchange for a private room, three meals a day, and two cool dogs to keep me company!
I had three major projects:
First, I built wooden fences around four sapling mulberry trees in the horse pastures to protect the young trees from the horses. This project involved digging holes for the posts, setting the posts in concrete, staining the side rail boards, and finally screwing the side rails in place. When completed, the four enclosures looked great, and matched the main fences around the four pastures. (Each horse would have its own pasture and a mulberry tree to provide some shade during those hot Sonoma days.)
Second, I helped finish two berms and surrounding rock retaining wall. This project involved a lot of heavy lifting – whether I was moving dirt around to form the berm, or moving big rocks around to build the retaining wall. I also sifted through the dirt to remove medium-sized rocks, which I then transported via wheelbarrow to a drainage ditch that we were lining with rocks to prevent erosion.
Third, I did some basic gardening around various parts of the 10 acres. I used the gas-powered weed whacker to cut wild grass. I used a narrow shovel to dig up tough weeds and unwanted plants. And I mulched around the various fruit and olive trees, making sure each tree had a nice bowl-like skirt of mulch to hold water.
The arrangement was fantastic!
They treated me like one of the family. We enjoyed some great sunset dinners on the front porch and watched some exciting Euro Cup soccer games. We enjoyed some memorable events too – the shocking Brexit vote result and the arrival of the classic Triumph TR3 they had just purchased!
A typical day would go like this: I woke up at 7am for breakfast of granola, yogurt, blueberries, and coffee. I worked all morning to avoid the Sonoma heat, and hung up my gloves and boots by 1pm. I showered, and helped myself to lunch, which was usually leftovers from whatever fantastic dinner we had the previous night. Then I would venture out to explore the community of Glen Ellen. That usually meant visiting one or two local wineries, or hanging out at the Jack London Saloon for free popcorn and WIFI. I would rejoin the family around 7pm for a home-cooked meal on the front porch.
One day, I spent the afternoon at the Jack London State Park. What an amazing place to spend the day! The museum (contents and structure) are fascinating. There are short hikes to Jack London’s grave and to his dream “Wolf House” which unfortunately mostly burned down just before he was to move in. In the museum, I was struck by two quotes from Jack London:
1) "The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time. "
2) "Then the lure of adventure began to grip us. Why not start at once? We'd never be any younger, any of us."
These quotes remind me of why I have chosen to pursue my new lifestyle - chasing my dreams now, rather than saying "maybe someday..."
My time in Sonoma sped by. The work was hard, physical, and hot. I admit I was a bit sore each morning. I would rather be sore from working outdoors surrounded by horses, dogs, and gardens than sore from sitting in a cubicle for 12 hours a day.
I took a break around the Fourth of July weekend to do 5 days of sailing on the San Francisco Bay. I went out with club members and/or friends from July 1 to July 5, sailing in 25 knots of wind each day! Boats varied from the J24 (performance boat) to the Beneteau 37 (my favorite club boat) to the Hanse 385 (the brand new club boat). Thanks to each set of crew for bringing tasty snacks and a positive (and brave) attitude!
I returned to Glen Ellen ranch on Tuesday evening, July 5, to work a couple more days. True to form, the happy couple was sitting in the living room and greeted me with a glass of wine.