Thursday, June 30, 2016

ExplOregon: the Eastern Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway.

In early June we took a much-needed weekend away from the farm. Our official mission was Toketee Falls, but we'd soon learn that there was no shortage of beauty along the eastern portion of the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway! (Patrick's parents lived nearby when they were young and he grew up in Eugene, but he'd never visited this area of Oregon... Boy, did I hear about that the whole weekend - "I can't believe my parents never brought me here when I was little!" was uttered at Every. Single. Stop. along the byway.)

Every. Single. Stop.

Our first priority was a campsite for that beautiful, sunny weekend. Early Friday afternoon we made our way to Natural Bridge's first-come campground where we hoped to land the coveted #16 site by the river. Alas, that site was taken - actually, most sites were already taken - so we quickly secured a spot and set up while other hopeful campers searched in vain for available sites.

#13 for the win

From the campground you can walk to an interpretive trail to the Natural Bridge, so we did. The “bridge” isn’t terribly photogenic, but it is pretty awesome – an ancient lava tube formed a natural land bridge through which the mighty and majestic Upper Rogue River runs.

natural bridge #1 of 1

We still had some daylight after this brief walk, but instead of continuing a few miles along the Rogue Gorge Trail up to aptly named Rogue Gorge, we hopped in the car and headed north to grab firewood in Union Creek. To save time the next day, we decided to hit National Creek Falls while we were in the area. It was an excellent 40-foot introduction for what was to come…

waterfall #1 of 5

Back at camp we scarfed down a salad in the car to avoid the hoards of mosquitoes - I didn't even take a picture, that's how distracted I was - and enjoyed an otherwise quiet evening of a quick fire and bug-free reading from the safety of our tent.

Saturday morning we scarfed down breakfast in the car to avoid the hoards of mosquitoes - dear lord, they were awful! - and then headed north toward Toketee Falls. We attempted a few short walks in the Diamond Lake area to break up the drive but the trails weren't quite ready for prime time...

cleanup on aisle 12

... so we stopped at the lake and admired Mt Thielsen for about an hour.

stunning (and bug-free!) lunch spot

Continuing up the road, we stumbled upon Clearwater Falls...

#2 of 5

… which was also mosquito-riddled, but otherwise 29 feet of beautiful mossy cascades!

And then we stumbled upon Whitehorse Falls. At just 14 feet, it was simple, quiet, and serene.

#3 of 5

(At this point I actually read the map to make sure we didn’t just "stumble upon" - read: miss -  anything else coming up.)

Watson Falls was next on the route. Referred to by the Northwest Waterfall Survey as “arguably the best waterfall in the North Umpqua River basin," I can’t say I disagree – of the five we saw that weekend, this 293-foot cascade tumbling off a giant wall of basalt rock was by far the most spectacular to me.

#4 of 5

And finally, the long-awaited Toketee Falls, a two-tiered beauty totaling 113 feet…

#5 of 5

Photos simply don’t do it justice. It was the picturesque tropical paradise of solitude, even with the crowds at the viewpoint and the yahoos at the base attempting to climb the wet rock and dive into the pool. (But Watson Falls was still my favorite.)

There were a handful of folks at each of the stops before Toketee, and quite a few hiking the trail at Toketee, but the traffic didn't distract from the beauty at any of the stops.

On the other hand, Rogue Gorge, which we did finally get to, was packed. But still very pretty.

gorge #1 of 1

Back at the campsite that evening, the mosquitoes were just as bad as the prior night.Thanks to some DEET-free bug spray we found at Diamond Lake Resort, we toughed it out and enjoyed our first attempt at campfire-grilled cheese sandwiches with (pre-made) tomato soup.

much more of this in our future, please!

And then four sheriff cars rolled through the campground. A very nice officer came over to inform us that earlier that night, a transient barefoot man had attempted to assault a woman over at the Natural Bridge interpretive trail, and if we saw him we should call "someone." (He seriously said that. Never mind that our phones got no service in the hills - we'd certainly get right on calling "someone" if we saw the assaulter.)

So that was pretty awesome. But instead of constantly scanning our surroundings and worrying every time we hit the outhouse, we chose to think about pretty rhododendron flowers along the waterfall trails instead.

in bloom

Luckily for us, that seemed to ward off the barefoot assaulter; we didn't run into him all night.

Along the way back to the farm the next day, we stopped by Crater Lake National Park's visitor center to use the cleanest bathrooms ever, and were told by the surly cashier that there was no wi-fi available - she suggested it was "Mother Nature's way of saying we should unplug and enjoy the scenery."

Oh, lady, if only you knew...

Friday, June 3, 2016

"Professional housesitting," part two - helpful tips.

Our first "professional housesitting" blog featured FAQs and pros/cons of housesitting while traveling. Many of the "cons" I mentioned are not really "cons" in the grand scheme of things - and they are easily addressed by the tips below...

Once you've signed up for a housesitting web site, when responding to potential hosts the most obvious tip is to put yourself in the host's position. What characteristics would you want to see in a potential housesitter? How would you want your housesitter to treat your animals and possessions while you were gone?

That said, here are some specific tips...

Treat every opportunity like a job application. Your profile is your "resume"; your introductory email is your "cover letter." When reaching out to potential hosts, definitely be yourself, but also be professional and courteous. Include your phone number in your email. Respond to any of their follow-up emails as soon as possible. (Seriously! We lost out on a housesit gig because another couple sent a follow-up reply ONE HOUR before we did. It can get pretty cut-throat in the more desirable locations.)

And show the hosts that you've read their ad! Include their names in your greeting, mention their pets by name, comment or ask a question about something random in their photo gallery or posting. Attention to detail will go a long way.

Finally (and this is mostly for longer housesits), request an in-person visit, a Skype video conference, or at least a phone call - whatever is convenient for them and you. Many hosts will suggest this before signing you on, but if they don't, something as simple as a Skype video tour of their home could give pretty good insight into how they live and how you'd be living during your stay. And a phone call could indicate how high- or low-maintenance your hosts will be while they are gone (either of which are fine, as long as you are fine with it too).

We ended up not doing remote "interviews" for our last two housesits, mainly because we knew they were our last two housesits but also because we trusted our gut instinct by this point, and things worked out totally fine. But it's always a good practice.

Know yourself. Are you a neat freak, a cooking fanatic, an avid bicyclist, a digital nomad who needs reliable strong wifi? Do you love the city or the country? Can you spend days on end without getting out of your pajamas, or does the thought of that make you absolutely crazy?

It doesn't matter so much for 1-2 week stays, but if you're considering a longer housesit, make sure the experience will meet your needs. You might think you can go without {whatever routine or habit} for 6-8 weeks... Trust me, you'll regret it.

Be flexible on timing and location whenever possible. Look for opportunities along your general route or in your general geographic area of interest. Secure those housesits and plan around them. Long-term travelers should have no problem with this approach.

Related, if a host isn't sure about the end date, be sure you're flexible enough to accommodate this before applying. Few things are more stressful than having to scramble to find backup petsitters while you're out of town! Our Portland host ended up extending our housesit, but she made it clear from the start that this would be a possibility; we made it similarly clear that we were completely flexible in September and checked in with her periodically over the summer until she was able to confirm her return date. It worked out great all around.

Clarify expectations upon arrival. Some of our hosts have sent short novellas of instructions ahead of time, others have shot off three-sentence emails from the airport on their way out of town. Either way, it's great to have an hour or evening with your hosts to walk through their day-to-day routine. This is especially true when animals are involved, as it helps to get the animals acquainted with you while Mom and/or Dad are still there.

Also, some hosts are particular about what pots and pans they want you to use, or which dried goods are up for grabs, or how often to clean the cat litter, or whether you can use their local library card (which we highly recommend requesting!). Sometimes long distance is free; sometimes it's not and you'll need to track calls. Sometimes they want you to use a specific Netflix account. These are all good things to clarify before the hosts go out of town.

Send regular updates to your host. This is my own personal tip, which probably comes from years of IT project management... Our hosts felt guilty leaving their pets behind. To reassure them while they were gone, I would send a picture and quick update every few days. (The only exceptions were my Honolulu friends whose cat wouldn't come out of the closet the whole time we were there, and one of our hosts who had limited, expensive internet while they were gone.)

We also sent regular email updates to one host whose dog had a few leg issues (after calling her to get guidance, of course), and another host who had a pricey maintenance issue while they were out of town (just to let them know that the contractor's fix seemed to be working fine).

Daisy, a particularly shy kitty -
her owner was quite happy to get this photo update


So that's our $1.75 on housesitting. If you've tried housesitting while traveling, what other tips do you have? If you're interested in trying housesitting, what other questions do you have?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

"Professional housesitting," part one - FAQs and pros/cons.

Regular readers know that we got a small taste of housesitting in Melbourne and Honolulu back in 2014, and we recently spent the last eight months as "professional (unpaid) housesitters" around the Pacific Northwest. We got to explore new towns (Corvallis and Orcas Island here in the States, Sundre and Vernon up in Canada) as well as catch up on our previous hometown of Portland. Our housesits averaged 4-5 weeks, except Portland where we were able to stay for three months last summer.

It's only June but we're already starting to think about what to do post-November, and housesitting has come up as an opportunity once again. Over the months we've heard many questions about how this whole housesitting thing works so we thought we'd answer a few FAQs, share our perspective on housesitting pros and cons, and (for those who are interested) offer some tips to get started.

That's a lot for just one blog post, so here's part one - FAQs and pros/cons...

~~~~~ FAQs ~~~~~

How did you find opportunities? Our Honolulu and Sundre housesits were at friends' places. We found all of the others through For a small annual fee, you post your profile, housesitting preferences (length of stay, animal care experience, etc), a few references, and some pictures.

At that point you can search listings and message potential hosts who have posted ads describing their housesit opportunity. Hosts can also review profiles and reach out to you before they even post a listing - this is how we got our Portland gig.

awww... miss that sweet boy Rusty also allows you to set up notifications for postings in your geographic area of interest or general time frame, which is great because the sooner you reply to a posting, the better your chances.

(Trusted Housesitters is the other web site we're sort of familiar with... I honestly can't remember why we chose Housecarers over Trusted Housesitters at the time.)

Where are the opportunities? It seemed that most of the opportunities under were in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States, which was perfect for us. A quick scan of Trusted Housesitters indicates that they might have a slightly wider geographic area. Definitely do your research on this before signing up for one site or the other - or just cover your bases and sign up for both. The membership costs are pretty minuscule compared to the money you'll save in the long run.

How long are the opportunities? Durations range anywhere from a single weekend to 6 months or more, with many other options in between. Sometimes hosts indicate that they don't know when they'll be back - lucky them!

What were the general responsibilities? All responsibilities should be clearly laid out in the host's posting. Feeding pets, walking dogs, watering plants/gardens, putting out the trash and recycling... Not burning the house down... Enjoying local hikes, supporting neighborhood cafes, taking advantage of the host's ample reading library or music collection or home fitness center... Those simple tasks were common across all our housesits.

Other tasks vary by your experience or ability. Because of our previous farm experience, we cared for chickens during two housesits and helped with farm chores during another housesit. Some opportunities we've seen don't involve pets at all. Others we've seen require more significant garden or home care.

with chickens come eggs... so there's that!

Did you get paid? Nope. (See "cons" below.) One host gave us a few ample gift cards to local stores, and another host who required a bit more animal care offered to pay us a small stipend but given their enormous vegetable garden that we had full access to, we declined.

As an aside, there are paid housesitting gigs out there... if you know where to find them, please let us know!

~~~~~ Pros ~~~~~

You'll see more off-the-beaten-path places. Sure, we stayed in a thriving little neighborhood in Melbourne and a familiar neighborhood in Portland. But we also stayed in a quiet farmhouse in Corvallis and a quiet farmhouse in Sundre. And Vernon, British Columbia? Have you heard of this place?

Getting to and from successive housesits also took us through Montana, Calgary, Vancouver, Bellingham - places we've never been able to spend much time in the past.

Kootenai Falls suspension bridge - Libby, Montana

(But, that's something to consider - do you have transportation to get you places? Hosts may not be willing to pick you up, and once you get there, can you get around?)

You really live like the locals. We volunteered throughout the summer in Portland. We attended the annual Ukrainian Christmas party and junior league hockey games along with our neighbors in Vernon. We hiked almost all 38 miles of trails in Moran State Park on Orcas Island.

the west really IS the best

We shopped at thrift stores and farmer's markets, and sought out free events and good beer, everywhere we went. Basically, we transplanted how we lived in Portland for five years into each housesitting opportunity. It was awesome.

You can find longer-term opportunities, making leftovers a possibility. After living meal-to-meal for so long, believe me - this was HUGE. We froze pesto and berries in Portland. We dried heaps of tomatoes, apples, and pears in Corvallis. We made a surplus of wontons in Vernon. We enjoyed waffles for days and days on Orcas. HUGE.

wonton soup for you!

You get your pet fix without the long-term time and expense commitments of having a pet. We loved all our "temporary pets" - they all had their quirks, but they were all pretty sweet and we have fond memories of all of them. And? We were happy to have our freedom back when we left the housesit. (But we'd go back to each housesit in a heartbeat!)

You get to travel and settle down at the same time. Generally speaking, medium-term housesitting was a great way for us to take a breather and regroup after two years of international travel. It also gave us the dual benefit of roaming around and settling in for a few weeks, so it was a gentler transition back to a more sedentary lifestyle.

~~~~~ Cons ~~~~~

You still spend money. We got by on about $13/person/day while housesitting. (It doesn't sound like much on a day-to-day basis, but eight months equated to just under $6000, which is quite a bit when you are living off a travel budget with no income to replenish it!) We have no regrets about the money we've spent while housesitting but we definitely see that doing this long-term would be a much better arrangement for travelers who work from the road.

Locations can be isolating. This could be great if you're traveling solo while writing the next great American novel, but not-so-great if you crave social regular interaction. (Groceries and gas are also more expensive in the remote areas... just something to consider.)

It may not be as flexible as it sounds. Depending on the pet, you may not be able to get away for day or overnight trips - dogs have to be walked and fed, sometimes cats are on schedules too. And farm animals are definitely on a schedule!

We missed out on a few very intriguing hiking and sightseeing opportunities due to pet schedule limitations, but that's okay - they would've cost additional money, and now we have a reason to go back to those places someday.

It can be dreadfully boring at times. And I repeat: "Let's housesit in the mountains for the holidays!" "Seeing that part of Canada in the winter will be great!" "Getting snowed in, watching movies and reading books all day, hanging out in the hot tub - it'll be fun!" ... said no sane person ever.

I suppose it sounds awesome if you work 40+ hours a week, 50 weeks out of the year, but after one week of our five-week Vernon stay, I was done.

Your hosts' priorities may not match yours. Cleanliness, energy efficiency, recycling, how the hosts have equipped their kitchen... These have all been minor issues as we've gone from home to home.

For me, the cookware was the biggest challenge. We ended up traveling with multiple coffee pots and basic kitchen supplies, which took up more car space than one would expect!

~~~~~ Up Next ~~~~~

So there's some food for thought... Our next post will feature some tips for those of you considering this as a way to extend travel or just to see another part of your home state or country for a little while. If you've tried housesitting and have anything to add, please leave a comment!