Four years ago, October 29, 2012, we encountered one of our most surreal experiences. We ignored evacuation orders and stayed in our home in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey as Hurricane Sandy made landfall.
A 15-20 foot tall sea wall stretched along the coast in front of our house, protecting it from storm tides. Pillars elevated the main living space above the garage. In front of the garage, we put about 50 sand bags.
The forecast only called for about 65mph winds, and so we figured we would be fine. We had recently installed automatic aluminum shutters on all windows except the backside of our house. We believed the shutters could withstand at least 100mph winds. As long as the storm was within the forecasted range, we felt we were safe. However, just before landfall, the storm strengthened and made a turn for the worse. This brought a larger than expected sea level surge and wind speeds up to 110mph (45mph faster than forecasted).
By about 7pm when the forecasts got dramatically worse, we were beginning to regret our decision. However, we knew it was too late to leave at that point. The town was already flooding from the backside bay at high tide before the storm even made landfall.
The shutters blocked our view of the ocean, but we could peak our head out the side door to get a view of the rising ocean. We began to worry as we watched the entire ocean level rise to nearly the height of the sea wall. With the ocean level that high, the 10-15 foot waves rolling in poured right over the sea wall. The video below shows the waves crashing over the wall early in the storm. It got much worse later in the night, but we lost the footage.
Fortunately, the shutters kept us safe. However, it was a very long and loud night. The wind rattled the shutters, even bending the windows as it forced its way through the slats. We slept in the basement next to the garage to escape the noise. This was probably the least safest spot in the house, but the quietest as there were no windows facing the ocean. With no electric power, we did our best to ignore the hurricane. Eventually, we fell asleep.
We awoke the next morning to our most surreal morning ever. The side door by the garage had gravel from the front yard piled up against it. Ironically, the gravel probably added to the protection provided by the sand bags.
We stepped over the gravel and looked at the road at the end of our driveway. Normally, cars were driving up and down the shore. Instead, sand and debris covered the road. The unreality of it all began to sink in. With that much sand covering the road to our town, we were going to be on our own for a while.
The waves knocked down the fence to our backyard. The water also dragged all of the rocks, sand and pavers from our front landscaping to our backyard and pool. We had no power, and our cell phones didn’t work.
We began trudging through the sand covered road through town trying to make sense of it all. Houses were partially collapsed. Boats that had been in the bay were strewn across front yards all over town. When we reached Sea Bright by foot, the neighboring town a mile north, we were directed to turn back due to a gas leak.
We were without power for about the next 12 days. After a few days, we secured a generator, and a friend wired it to run some basics for our house. The roads were cleared within a few days and emergency supplies followed.
Lines at the gas stations near the shore were hours long when they eventually opened. It was a long two weeks waiting for power and for things to get somewhat back to normal. We were very fortunate that our house had minimal damage other than the landscaping and pool. Many were not so fortunate and would spend years dealing with rebuilding their home or business.
We survived hurricane Sandy. Our daughter soon went to work painting New Jersey maps with the slogan “I survived hurricane Sandy” to raise money for relief efforts. She donated all proceeds to Monmouth Beach School, our public school that was closed for six months to rebuild. She did the same for the Calaveras, CA fires in 2015. Her website (still under construction, kayliemichelledesigns.com) will provide a new platform for her to continue to paint to raise money for other causes in the future.
Hurricane sandy was the second costliest hurricane to ever strike the United States. It resulted in the death of over 200 people in 8 countries. Rebuilding was very hard on many families and businesses.
A few years later, after most of the shore had recovered, we said good bye to our New Jersey home and friends. We made the drive cross-country to our new condo in Encinitas, California (this time a few miles inland from the shore).
A camping and kitesurfing adventure in Punta San Carlos
Phenomenal sunsets! Incredible coastline! Punta San Carlos in Baja Mexico is gorgeous. It’s also a Mecca for outdoor adventure in the form of camping, mountain biking, surfing, kiteboarding, and paddle boarding. However, it’s definitely no luxury beachfront hotel resort with plush rooms and drinks at the swim-up pool bar.
A trip to Punta San Carlos involves driving eight hours south of the border in Baja Mexico. The last two hours are across 60km of a very rocky dirt road. When you arrive, you will need to set up a tent on an exposed windy and sunny cliff unless you have an RV. Either way, you have to truly love extreme sports to end up camping in Punta San Carlos.
You will be about three hours from any food, water and supplies so pack wisely. A hat, sunscreen, and deep blue rub were essential for this trip, among other things. You’ll also need to find a way to create some shade in this beautiful barren oceanfront desert cliff. Our jenky tarp set-up helped a little but was no match for the 25mph wind by the third day. We plan to improve our camping game next year with some fence posts to tie our shade to. We also want a Yetti cooler so the ice lasts longer than a few days.
Despite its proximity, it’s a different world from San Diego, though no less beautiful. Its a destination that can be ranked along with Fiji and Mauritius for perfect kitesurfing wave conditions. Summer is the best time to catch a perfect south swell with a side-offshore wind. It also has incredible mountain biking trails and stunning sunsets with ALL of the colors!
Perhaps the best part is that it’s almost free!
Gas and food were our only real costs. We devoured carne asada steaks and tacos cooked on our camping stove after two days of kitesurfing. We also enjoyed a few bottles of wine while we gazed at the amazing sky above the remote seaside cliff.
However, unless you are ready to embark on a serious off-road and extreme sport adventure in Baja Mexico, just enjoy these beautiful pictures that take you away to a better place.
Although, if you decide you have to go there but you don’t want to rough it, check out Solosports. For about $2700, they will fly you in directly from San Diego on a tiny plane for a week stay. They provide a tent camp, three cooked meals, private showers, internet access, a bar, lessons and gear for watersports and mountain biking.
When we think of vacation, we typically imagine a tropical beach with waves and a nice pool. However, once every year or two, we travel with our extended family on a cruise that is more geared towards sightseeing. Last year, we cruised the beautiful Norwegian Fjords and Iceland.
Cruising suits us just fine. For most of our family, cruising means casino time. A family that gambles together, stays together. We single-handedly kept the casino in business on this ship. Europeans just don’t seem to like to gamble like Americans. The casino on a Caribbean cruise out of Florida is packed liked a Ricky Martin concert. The Casino on a Norwegian cruise out of London is just the room that people pass through on their way to or from the dining hall or the entertainment theatre.
Cruising the Norwegian Fjords is a fascinating and beautiful exploration of Norway’s unique coastline. The Fjords are deep and narrow inlets along much of the coast of Norway that increase the coastline by about 10 times. There are over 1000 Fjords. Most are very sparsely populated with just a few clusters of houses here and there. Although there are a few fjords that are more populated and attract most of the tourism from the cruise ships.
For the short time you have at each Fjord, you will likely be hiking up a small mountain to reach an amazing view from the top. If you don’t like hiking, Bergen has a chair lift to the top of Mt. Fløyen if you’re willing to buy tickets and wait in a long line (we chose to hike).
Klaksvik, Faroe Islands
Our ship also stopped in Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland. It’s a modern city of 130k people that has been growing rapidly despite experiencing a financial crisis and depression in 2008-2010. We were able to explore the small city on foot. However, we took a taxi to the famous Blue Lagoon Hot springs just outside the city.
The Rubicon Trail is the Mecca of off-roading jeep adventures in North America. It sets the bar for which all other trails are judged by, not only for its difficulty but for its beauty. While the entire trail is only about 22 miles long and only about 10 of it are off-road, it runs through some of the most beautiful mountains and lakes in the country, finishing at Lake Tahoe.
With the right vehicle and crew, the trail can be completed in one day. However, it is far more fun to take the 3 day leisurely route. This allows for many stops to enjoy the views, swim in the lakes, have a drink at the “beer tree,” watch other jeeps attempt difficult maneuvers, and cook and sleep by a campfire in the great outdoors.
You don’t want to attempt this trail unprepared. A responsible attempt requires a high performance off-road vehicle with over $10k in after-market parts to lift the clearance and reinforce the entire bottom of the vehicle with steel plates to protect it as it slides over boulders. Fortunately we came prepared.
The off-road section of the trail begins at Loon Lake, a stunning lake with surprisingly clear blue water, not your typical brownish-green dirty looking lake. We drive past Loon Lake in awe, and the excitement really begins to kick in as we peer over our other shoulder down a steep hill to where hundreds of jeeps have gathered for a Labor Day jamboree called the Cantina on the Con near the beginning of the trail.
We stop briefly to air down our tires from 30 to 10 psi to gain maximum traction for the daunting trail. As we are airing down, a large truck that looks like it has been crushed by a wrecking ball crawls past us going the opposite direction towards home. We gawk at the shattered front windshield and twisted truck body and frame. Our excitement gets an adrenaline boost as our mind begins to process the potential danger we are embarking upon.
Sesar, our crew leader is an army veteran officer who owns a jeep shop called “The Chop Shop” and has about twenty years of experience off-roading. We know we are in good hands, but I still have to ask him – “What’s our chance of rolling the jeep on this trip?” “About 30%” he responds. With that, we buckle up and begin climbing across the first few boulders on the trail.
The trail starts off pretty intense. The first section is very narrow with lots of boulders and trees seemingly coming at you from every direction. I have no idea how far the jeep can lean before tipping over, so I grab on to the frame of the truck to brace myself, but Sesar warns me that my hands will get crushed if we roll the jeep. He instructs me how to cross my arms and lean toward the center in the event we roll. I comply but still wonder what will protect me from getting impaled by a protruding rock or branch when we roll. “Just don’t roll” I say. After a few minutes of rocking and climbing over the boulders at 0-3mph, the fear turns to excitement again. This is surprisingly fun! I now understand why Sesar does what he does.
We complete the first section of the trail and stop for a refreshment near the “beer tree,” on a huge granite slab called the granite bowl. We can see for miles in every direction as we toast to our adventure and soak in the incredible views. There are 13 of us in four jeeps, all four of which have been given the fullChop Shop upgrade.
After a refreshing break we load up and continue on to the Soup Bowl, a big boulder pile that regularly attracts crowds of weekend warriors looking to test their vehicle’s mettle. We continue on the trail for the rest of the day, stopping every 30 minutes or so to soak in the views, swap stories, and get to know each other better. We are all friends or family of Sesar, but we don’t all know each other before this trip.
As night falls, we drive in using our headlights to Buck Lake, our chosen campsite for the first night. We devour our first meal since breakfast by a campfire with plenty of wine and Crown Royale. However, it’s not until sunrise the next morning that we can fully appreciate the prime location of the rock slab we slept on for the night.
After coffee and breakfast, a few brave souls take a dip in the cold lake before we pack up and begin the next leg of the trip. It is here that Sesar passes the wheel over to me for my first real off-road driving experience. I am hesitant to drive at first because it looks like a stressful job. Kicking back and letting Sesar and his brother do all the driving had suited me just fine. However, within minutes of bouncing over a few boulders I’m having the time of my life. The Jeep is extremely user friendly and capable of handling the terrain.
He guides me from the ground with hand signals over boulders and between trees, all the while I’m watching his signals as much as I’m watching the road. My leg shakes a bit as I hold the brakes down as hard as I can while the jeep crawls down a steep 2-3 foot drop-off using downhill assist (cool technology). At this point, I’m more worried about his $70k jeep that I’m scraping against the boulders than I am about injuring myself. I have no idea how long I’m driving, but eventually we reach “Big Sluice,” a more difficult section of the trail, and Sesar decides it’s time for him to take over. At this point, I’m pretty content to hand over the wheel unscathed.
We continue our journey, stopping briefly for a few of our crew to backflip off the Rubicon River Bridge into a 3 foot deep stream, resulting in the only Injury of the trip (only a flesh wound). We then barbecue some carne Asada at Rubicon Springs before beginning the treacherous “Cadillac hill,” a steep 1-2 mile rocky incline with many cutbacks (not a good place to roll the jeep).
As if Cadillac Hill isn’t hard enough on its own, we spend two hours towing a stranded Land Cruiser up the hill. Their rear driveline was broken, a common occurrence for anyone attempting the trail without reinforcing the underside with steel protection. We knock on wood, grateful that we have made it this far without any problems.
Eventually, we make it to Observation Point at the top of Cadilllac Hill in time for a beautiful sunset and a meal cooked over an open flame. The next morning we complete the last 1.5 hours of the trail which leaves us at Lake Tahoe where we all high-5 and begin the drive home. While I’m not ready to buy a $70k jeep, I am excited to crash his annual jeep adventure next year: the Moab in Utah!
There’s so much to see and do within driving distance of our home in Southern California, so we decided to take a road trip to Northern California to check out Lodi’s wineries.
In 2015, Lodi was named wine region of the year by The Wine Enthusiast. While Lodi has been home to many vineyards since 1850, it only had about 8 wineries in 1993. Today, there are over 85 wineries in Lodi as the vineyards increasingly integrate downstream to make their own wine rather than sell their grapes to third parties. Lodi is best known for its red Zinfandels because those vines can handle the intense summer heat in the area. However, the wind that rips through the region in the summer cools the temperature dramatically at night allowing a wide variety of grapes and wines to be produced.
With wine tasting fees averaging just $5 at the vineyards or $10 downtown (usually waved with bottle purchase), it’s becoming a popular alternative to $15-$20 wine tasting fees in Napa and Sonoma. Lodi is not as scenic as Napa or Sonoma, but after your first hearty tasting pour you’ll begin to appreciate the charm of Lodi’s wineries and the Sacramento River delta that winds all around the area a few miles west of Lodi.
Food is hard to find at the vineyards, and so we recommend picking up sandwiches in town and enjoying a picnic over some wine at a vineyard. Michael David winery is probably the only winery there with a restaurant and market on site. They also have a beautiful pond, bocci ball courts, and plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy a picnic.
Several of the wineries also have tasting rooms downtown if you prefer the bar atmosphere. Jeremy’s and Van Ruitten are local favorites for their delicious reds, and Weibel is known for its affordable but tasty sparkling white wines. There’s also a cute farmer’s market downtown on Thursdays that starts around five, just as the wine tasting there ends.
We enjoyed the convenience of the downtown wineries, but we prefer to visit the wineries at their vineyards where it’s typically less crowded, more scenic, and the owners often share their stories and give special pours. Several of the wineries host live music concerts on the summer weekend nights for $10-$35. Bring some food, buy a bottle of wine on site, and enjoy great music. Jessie’s Grove hosted 900 people at their last summer concert and bonfire. Jessie’s also allows patrons to park their RV or tent camp in their grass field overnight during concerts. They also have a rich history with some old zin vines dating back to 1888.
We missed Jessie’s last summer concert and Michael David’s annual summer reggae show but had a blast listening to live country music at Abundance Vineyards for just $10 (kids were free and welcome). We also were charmed by the wine, people, and architecture at Abundance.
The most popular place to taste wine in the area is probably The Old Sugar Mill, a renovated sugar refinery from 1934 that hosts about 11 wineries from Northern California and is a local favorite for weddings and events. It’s actually in Clarksburg, about 45 minutes from Lodi, but it’s worth the visit if you are looking for a very social atmosphere.
Lodi’s wineries are also centrally located from other popular Northern California destinations – about a 2 hour drive from San Francisco, Yosemite Valley, Santa Cruz, or Tahoe and just 30 minutes from wind and water sports at Sherman Island. So next time your wine rack is running low, go LoCa.
My husband stumbled upon a beautiful melaleuca tree while traveling and hiking in Maui earlier this year and it got us thinking. Did you ever wonder what it is that makes people love to travel so much? When you can’t travel, do you find yourself gawking at colorful photos of beautiful beaches, trees, valleys and streams?
Traveling isn’t exactly comfortable. In fact it’s often very tiring and a lot of hard work, however at the same time it rejuvenates the spirit and seems to give meaning to life as you begin to realize that everything in nature is connected. Simply meeting new people in new places and empathizing with them strengthens those connections and improves health. Even western doctors encourage human contact to speed recovery in hospitals.
When you are stuck at home, have you ever noticed how much better you feel if you just go for a walk outside and get those endorphins flowing through your body, eliminating pain and stress almost instantly as you awe at the beauty of a tree or sky or smile at a family passing you on their bikes. Even just standing outside in the sun, your body begins to produce the vitamin D that it needs for healthy living.
Swimming or surfing in the salty ocean water full of minerals also has so many health benefits. It took me a while to understand why my husband would spend hours paddling on his surfboard to catch just 3 waves that lasted only seconds. However, I always knew he would come home happy.
We also recently began to appreciate the benefits of drinking pure natural water without contaminants. Water is the source of life, and the largest component of your body. Perhaps that is one reason we have always felt compelled to live by the water or why waterfront properties hold such premium value.
The beautiful trees, flowers, and plants that we stare at also have tremendous nutritional and healing powers. They provide the foundation of a healthy diet and are the source of many remedies used in both traditional eastern and modern western medicine.
People surround themselves in their homes with plants and flowers that look beautiful and emit odors that instantly bring peace and calm and purify the air. When we wake up and have our coffee, we also diffuse essential oils to elevate our mood and energy levels. People plant gardens outside their home for organic food nutrients as well as the mental peace that comes with bringing new life into the world simply by adding water to seeds and soil.
Perhaps this is why we love to travel so much and stare at beautiful photos. Nature gives in many ways, and traveling is a gateway to soak in nature’s gifts that foster a healthy life.