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!!!