Friday, September 19, 2008

By the numbers

I apologize for the delay between posts. We jumped right into the job/house hunting and quickly put the trip behind us. We are so excited to be here and though nobody 'enjoys' trying to find a job in an over-populated city, it's nice to be able to actually unpack for a while. 

Before we left Richmond, we created a budget based on a 5,000-mile, 30-day trip. Throughout our trip, I kept a detailed account of what, when, and how much we spent, including gas prices and mileage. We ended up with 6,576 miles and 45 days, but our budget still wasn't far off. So here's our trip by the numbers, both predicted and actual. 

     budget $450                $5/meal x 30 days = $450
     actual  $534.49
Eating out:
     budget $240                $40/meal x 6 times = $240
     actual  $460.48
     budget $100                $10/night x 10 nights = $100
     actual  $123
    budget $100                 including museums, music shows, and nights on the town
    actual   $76.97
    budget $1400              $4.50/gal x 5,000 miles at 16 miles/gal = $1400
    actual  $1285.39
    budget $300              including NPP*, meals/gifts for friends, special occasions, oil changes
    actual  $316.81
    budget $2590
    actual  $2798.14

*National Park Pass, which allows us entry into any national park for the next year. Cost: $80 and it has already paid for itself. National parks are expensive without it! 

The first thing we noticed when we set out our budget was that the price of gas made up well over half of the total budget. At that time, gas was steadily rising with no prospect of anything different. Luck may have it, though, that the week we left the price of gas started to fall. So instead of averaging $4.50 as we were expecting, we averaged $3.86 (highest: $4.34 in Ut, lowest: $3.59 in Mo/Ka). We also guessed that with a full truck pulling a full trailer, we would get no more than 17 MPG, not counting the many mountain passes. It turns out that as long as you don't stop much, a trailer actually helps gas mileage. We averaged 19.10 MPG. That's how we managed to stay under the gas budget, even though we drove an extra 1,500 miles. 

And now that we look at our actual expenditure, the first thing we notice is that we did great, except for the amount we ate out. I don't have much of an excuse for that; we simply thought of it wrong before we left. We thought we'd just go out for a few big nights. Instead, we went out for many small meals. Sometimes because we just couldn't face another ham and cheese sandwich on the road, sometimes because we were in town on bikes and hungry, sometimes because we just couldn't stand the thought of cooking on a camp stove again. It's also harder to eat in every meal when you are staying with friends. Eating out is the culturally acceptable thing to do when you visit someone, so we ate out a lot. But we also knew that we could and still stay within our budget, because of our grace with gas prices and mileage. 

In order to make sure we got to do everything we wanted to do and be able to splurge every once in a while, we made sure to cut expenses where we could. The easiest place to do that was sleeping. The $123 covers 9 nights of camping at a paid camp site. The other 36 nights we either stayed with friends, slept in the truck, or camped for free in the middle of nowhere. 

So now we live in Seattle. We've been here 5 days now, just long enough to unpack half the trailer, take down the boat, bikes and skis, make a mess at Amy and Tom's house, visit 3 potential apartments, and each go to a job interview. 

As we get to know our new city and start to settle down, we will let you all know of the progress on the blog. But it may not be often (progress takes time, as we all know). Please keep in touch with us in the meantime through email and phone- we do miss the east coast and would really love to hear from you!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 45

This is just a quick post, but we just couldn't keep you in suspense any longer:

We are home. 

Though we budgeted for 30 days, we made it 45 and enjoyed every day of it. After some time in Portland and Olympia, today we drove in (and crossed on a ferry) into Seattle and arrived at Amy and Tom's house at about 4:00 this afternoon. It feels like the end of an era, but it also feels like the beginning of the rest of our lives. 

Tomorrow begins the dreaded job and house hunt, but we are surprisingly excited about starting this process. Something about living out of a truck for 6 weeks without any money coming in gets you excited about paying rent and getting a job. 

We have a much more detailed post on the way, we just wanted to share our exciting news.
 (and FYI: we are now 3 hours behind you, so when you check this at work in the morning and suddenly want to call us and celebrate, please refrain until at least noon)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Farming and building bikes

We woke up the next morning in Zion and decided it was time to go. Though we loved our time in the back country, all the red rocks were starting to look the same, and we were both very ready for a shower (our record for shower-less days: 8). Our next planned stop was Jackson, Wy. We figured we'd stop and camp somewhere in northern Utah to break up the 600 mile drive. Somewhere along the way though we decided not to stop and drove well into the night, finally camping just 2 hours from Jackson. 

Three years ago, John worked as a dog-sledder and then as a ski instructor in Jackson and hadn't been back since, so we wanted to make sure to stop through and see his old stomping grounds. We had a great time revisiting all of John's favorite spots, and I remembered bits and pieces of the town from my ski days. Highlights: Snake River Brewery (excellent adult beverages, Sidewinders (best pretzel in lower 48), Jackson Hole Disc golf course, and of course Pearl St Bagels. We let our belts out a notch after a stop through this town.

On Monday, September 1st, exactly one month after we left Richmond (in 102 degree heat), we drove through snow as we crossed the continental divide in the foothills of southern Montana. It was absolutely beautiful, but it made for a cold entrance into the northwest! 

For the last week (by far the longest we've stayed in one place), we've been hanging out in Missoula, Montana. Once again we are indebted to friends; we are staying with John's friend Luke and his wonderfully accommodating roommates. Missoula is an awesome town with a great sense of community and certainly a place I'd consider living (if it wasn't for the snow in September...and the rest of the year!). The best part--there are bike lanes on every road, and the majority of the population takes advantage of them. People bike everywhere. In fact, I think it's considered 'uncool' to drive. 

Just up the street from Luke's house there is a co-op farm, where you can trade volunteer time for vegetables. 

We went one sunny (and slightly less cold) morning and spent a few hours pulling, cleaning, and bundling leeks while learning tons about farming techniques and vegetable usages. 

At the end of the day, we had a bag full of tomatoes, leeks, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and apples for our work. It was so much fun, and immediately prompted us to look up similar co-ops in areas near Seattle. 

Later that same day, we headed into town (by bike, of course) to a shop called free-cycle. Luke had explained this place to us --a completely free bike shop-- but we didn't believe him; we just had to see it for ourselves. Sure enough, it's a non-profit that provides bikes, bike parts, and bike tools to anyone for no charge. Anyone can walk in and fix their bike or build a whole new one, but they have to do it themselves with instruction from volunteers. Part of the mission is teaching people to take care of their own bikes. So there are a few knowledgeable people hanging around that can point you in the right direction, but for the most part, it's up to you.

John was like a kid in a candy shop, so we mutually decided it would be a good opportunity to build me a road bike (so I can keep up with him on his new road bike). We spent the next two afternoons rustling through old bike parts, searching for the gems among the junk, and piecing together a bike. 

You might be thinking that, having seen a picture of our 'home', the last thing we need is more stuff to cart along with us. And this is a true thought. However, how can you pass up free bikes!?! I'm sure we can find somewhere in the trailer to put it... 

Missoula has been amazing, but it is just about time to move on. We are both anxious to get to our final destination and start the process of settling in. Another week or two and we'll be there. Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Outdoor Adventures, parts 2 and 3

Before we left the lake, we toured a houseboat (the most popular and seemingly best way to see the lake), just for fun. There are some pretty ridiculous house boats--with 4 full bedrooms, slides into the water, flat screen tvs, and hot tubs! It is definitely the way to travel.

Around 3:00 we headed out of town and straight to the Grand Canyon. The most 'touristy' side is the South Rim (that's where the new glass lookout is, if you've heard about that) so of course we headed to the North Rim, which is only 10 miles away as the crow flies, but it takes almost three hours to drive between the two.

We had a recommendation from Liz and Mike (our friends in flagstaff) on a great campsite, and we knew this part of the trip would be simple after our logistic-laden paddling trip, so we relaxed in the car and headed to the Rim. When we were about 25 miles down a dirt forest service road, at least an hour from the nearest store, we tuned back in and realized we had no water, and not much to eat for dinner. But we kept going anyway. Luckily, just down the road from our prospective campsite was a group on a mountain biking tour. So we sidled up to them and hesitantly asked for some water. We ended up staying for dinner and desert (delicious pasta and chicken/veggie stir fry then homemade brownies), chatting with a few from Seattle, and watching the sun set.

Our recommendation was spot-on; the campsite was amazing- we literally slept on the Rim of the Grand Canyon- and the bikers were the only other people we saw the whole time we were out there. The next morning we set off on a short mountain bike trip (the group had convinced us of its beauty the night before). Once again the recommendations came through, and we had a great ride on the North Rim Trail.

After a quick visit to the North Rim visitor's center and lodge for one more view (definitely not as good as from our campsite!) we headed off for part three of our backcountry visit: this one to Zion, National Park. We did not get there until well after dark, and got lucky finding a campsite inside the park. We knew little about the park, except that it came very highly recommended and the best thing to do was to "hike the narrows" so we went to the visitor's center the next morning, and inquired about the narrows.

Zion has been a national monument (and then park) since 1909, and in the last few decades has become one of the most popular national parks to visit. With over 3,000 visitors a day during the summer, and only 400 parking spots, the park service knew they had to take action. Instead of "paving paradise to put up a parking lot", they banned cars in the most popular sections and put in place a free, propane-fueled bus system (propane cuts down on both noise and fuel pollution).

The national park is made up of many canyons (a similar landscape to the grand canyon, mixed with the red rock of arches) with the Virgin river running through the most famous slot canyon, appropriately called the Narrows. A slot canyon is a very narrow canyon carved out by rain and flash floods until it is impressively deep.

We took the bus into the canyon as far as it went, until the canyon got too narrow for a bus, then walked down a paved path, until the canyon got too narrow for a path, and then continued into the Narrows, where the only way to go forward was through the Virgin river. We spent the next 5 hours or so hiking, jumping, wading, rock-hopping, and almost swimming up (and then back down) a very cold river that was between 1 and 6 feet deep, 20 feet across at it's widest, and had 1,000 ft cliffs on either side.

And those numbers just don't do it any justice. Once again we have run into the limitations of language, and are frustrated with the prospect of describing such a unique and magical place. So hopefully the pictures help illustrate it, but again we tell you-- go see it for yourself!!!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Outdoor adventures, part one.

I'm sorry it has been so long--this is the first time we have been in a place with any internet service since the last time we posted! We have done so much in that time, I don't know where to start. So I'm going to do this in several parts, hopefully make the task slightly less daunting.

When we last left you, we were in Flagstaff, Arizona, wondering what to do next. We wanted to stay in several national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Zion, a few days on Lake Powell, but we weren't sure the order in which we should do them, and most importantly, what we would do with Chaco. We still hadn't really decided by the time we left, so we just picked a place (Lake Powell it turned out), and took the dog with us!

Lake Powell straddles Utah and Arizona (they are in two different time zones right now, which is incredibly confusing) and is the 2nd largest man-made reservoir in the US. John Wesley Powell originally discovered the area, which was then a series of impressive canyons, and fought hard against the prospect of damming the Colorado to make it a lake. In fact, he was one of the earliest environmentalists in the country. In 1956, construction began to dam the river anyway and somebody thought it would be funny to name the lake after the man who didn't want it there.

Anyway, it is absolutely beautiful and we wanted to kayak on it. So we got to Page, Arizona in the afternoon on Saturday and tried to rent a second kayak (John bought a single 17' expedition kayak before we left Richmond, so we only needed one...). Our restrictions were a bit tough- we wanted something long so I could keep up with john, but it needed to be a sit-on-top and somewhat wide so Chaco could ride on it too. It took the whole afternoon to find one, and the one we found wasn't great, but it would float. The next step was seeing how Chaco would do. So we put his PFD on him, and got him in the back of the kayak....for about 3 minutes. Then he decided he didn't want to be there anymore, so he jumped out, thus flipping the kayak and sending me diving.

Skipping ahead a day, a dozen more tries, and many more frustrations....we are gracefully gliding through a canyon, Chaco sleeping peacefully between john's legs on the sit-on-top, while I am trying to read a map that bears no resemblance to the topography around us. The drought over the past decade has lowered the level of the lake by 30+ feet and drastically changed the shape of the shoreline. We never found the canyon we were actually looking for, and it seemed we were always paddling against the wind, but it was awesome. Bringing together a dessert landscape and a lake really creates a breathtaking view. Picture 500ft tall shear walls and spires colored every shade of red coming together with the lake's crystal clear water. What looks like the reflection of the cliffs above in reality is the rock receding beneath the lakes surface where it connects with the canyon floor some 400 ft below. There could not be a more unique beauty on the planet.

We spent three days on the lake. When we were by somewhat flat ground, Chaco would hop out and swim/run after us for a while, then get tired, and happily climb back into the boat. On the second day, a small storm left us stranded, unable to paddle against the whitecaps, until a pontoon full of Italians picked us up and towed us to a nearby marina. That allowed us to get back to our put-in the next day, just in time to take the rented kayak back and hit the road.

So that's part one. It was certainly the most eventful part, in fact at times it felt everything was working against us, but it was beautiful and exciting and a great arm workout. Stay tuned for the next round of outdoor adventures.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A little eye candy -pt one

Landscape Arch in Arches Nat Park

Here are a few pics for your viewing pleasure, more to come later as they are taken.

Chaco the Dog

The other arch

In the middle of Kansas, who'd have known.

One of the many vistas along the route

Balance Rock in Arches Nat Park (and the moon)

Giraffe at the St. Louis Zoo


One very old hairless Chimp

Polar bear

Sunset at Wilson Lake State Park in Kansas


Fishes swimming in the hippo tank


These dont all need a label do they???

Just checkin in

From the mountains to the desert (and back again?)

We woke up one morning at our campsite near Moab, and decided it was time to head to Arizona. So we called our friends, Liz and Mike, who live in flagstaff, and gave them less than 12 hours' warning of our arrival. Then we packed up, hopped in the truck, and headed on.

For the next six hours, we drive through desert- flat, hot, sandy, prickly desert- and then all of a sudden we start climbing, and it cools down, and trees get bigger, and it rains...Welcome to Flagstaff. The town is located near 7,000 feet; a beautiful oasis in the middle of the Arizona desert.

That was last Sunday. Monday, we got our bearings in Flagstaff-a morning bike ride into and around town; an afternoon hike in the nearby mountains. And all day, we were thoroughly impressed; this is a cool town. Tuesday morning we woke up, and decided to change scenery again, so we headed south to Phoenix (though we were distraught to be descending out of the cool air and back into the desert). Tuesday night we spent visiting with Chris and Megan (long-time roommates in Richmond, who left the same day we did three weeks ago). It was great to see them, if only briefly, and a bit strange to see the same furniture I've lived on for the last 2 1/2 years in a strange condo in Arizona!

When the weather report this morning casually mentioned it would be 107 degrees by 11:00, we quickly decided it was time to head back to the mountains (sorry Chris and Megan!). A quick stop in Sedona to check out the alleged 'vortex' (check out or look it up on wikipedia) and we were back to the cool air.

And the answer to everyone's big question: "what's the next step?" ---- we still don't know. Next on the list is the grand canyon, lake powell, and zion NP--we don't know when or in what order, but we'll certainly keep you posted.

Coming Soon: John is presently assembling a "picture post" to quench the thirst of those starving for visual support, so keep an eye out for that.