August 2005

From the outset, I had planned on keeping a journal of the modest trek of Kathy and Gary Ebersole around the US. As with with everything else in our life in the last year, other events overwhelmed us and tonight is the first night I really felt like making a journal entry. I suppose one might call this a ‘blog’ but I’m not a blog reader so I really have no idea whether a journal and random observations from the road constitute a blog. Blog seems a bit trendy given the rather ‘retro’ spirit of our Airstream traveling rig so I shall use the decidedly anachronistic term ‘journal’ to describe my random postings (NOTE: My opinion of blogs changed and this has been re-posted to a blog formatted web site). My ego is sufficiently in check to realize that these ramblings are not particularly interesting so I expect the only readers to be friends and business associates who might ask “Whatever happened to Gary and Kathy?” or “What are you doing now, Gary?”.

How did we find ourselves sitting in a 25′ Airstream trailer in an RV park outside Glacier National Park? People who know us as confirmed denizens of the urban milieu might find our current status as full-time RVers somewhat out of character. The thought of joining the RV world was the furthest thing from our minds in September 2004. Had someone solicited my opinion of the RV community, I would no doubt have made some caustic comment about gas-guzzling road hogs poorly driven by geriatric drivers. At the time, I was working in a small, dysfunctional startup as interim VP of Marketing and Kathy had decided to take an early retirement package from the Federal Reserve Bank where she had worked for 20 years in information technology. We were getting ready to sell our house in the Marina District of San Francisco but we really had no plans beyond that. We were researching property to build a second home but I assumed I would continue working in the high-tech world and Kathy was exploring different ideas for a second career.

The odyssey really began when Kathy was diagnosed with stage IIIc breast cancer in mid-September 2004. Everything changed. At the outset, after you recover from the initial shock, you make a valiant attempt at maintaining a ‘normal’ life — working, continuing to exercise, proceeding with the decision to sell the house — but ‘normal’ was somebody else’s life, not ours. Four months of dose-dense chemotherapy followed by surgery, post-surgery recovery and then seven weeks of daily radiation therapy simply removes ‘normal’ from your vocabulary. I speak only as a spouse and care-giver during this time that nothing in my life has been more challenging than that nine-month period. I can only imagine how incredibly more difficult it was for Kathy.

In the midst of all this turmoil and Kathy’s declining health as a result of chemotherapy, we finished remodeling our house, sold it and moved to a loft south of Market in SF. As the coup de grâce, I was unceremoniously dismissed from the startup where I was working. January 2005 will go down in my personal history as a month I don’t ever want to repeat. I can also speak as an authority that being a care-giver to someone undergoing the kind of intensive treatment used for Kathy’s cancer does not align well with the demands of an executive role in a startup. Notwithstanding sincere expressions of unwavering support, in the end, it simply doesn’t work. Only Superman has the strength and energy to perform both roles well. Anybody who asserts otherwise is either a liar or a callous lout who has no concept of care-giving. Trust me, it’s not simply doing a few more household chores than usual.

Leaping forward several months, Kathy had completed her radiation treatment in early May and we had began to venture out in short road trips to investigate vacant land in Northern California. We still had not decided precisely what were going to do with our lives but we were exploring the idea of working with our son in small-scale real estate development. He had just received his Masters in Urban Planning with a Certificate in Real Estate Development from the University of Pennsylvania and had some interesting ideas in the area of sustainable or ‘green’ building. [NOTE: If you should happen to need a very good remodeling contractor and are concerned about conventional, environmentally-unfriendly construction methods, check him out at www.ebersolebuilders.com. This is more than just a shameless plug for Joshua — he really does great work.] I had not decided whether I was an unemployed high-tech executive, semi-retired or in career transition (I still haven’t decided …) but the real estate market was kind to us and high-tech began drifting south on my list of options. With Kathy drawing a small pension and our relatively modest lifestyle, we realized we actually had a few degrees more freedom in choosing our next path than we expected.

Our search for property became an exercise in futility. While the real estate gods favored us on the sell-side, it was definitely not a buyer’s market for property that could be readily developed. We must have looked at 40-50 pieces of land over two months and found nothing that was interesting or economically viable. We finally made an offer on property in Sonoma County over Memorial Day weekend and it was at that point driving back from Sonoma that we began thinking that it was time to get out of the market completely for six months or a year. I commented that if our offer was not accepted (fortunately, it wasn’t), maybe we should just buy a travel trailer, take the new truck we bought to use in our real estate development venture and tour the US until the real estate market cooled down. Kathy wholeheartedly agreed and, that night, I hit the Airstream Web site. Two weeks later we bought a new trailer …

Our touring ‘rig’ on the way to Glacier Park.

I should note that we had never slept a single night in an RV or travel trailer before buying the Airstream and may have spent a grand total of a half dozen days camping in the last 35 years (remember, we’re city people ..). Definitely an impulsive move but here we are — vagabonds with no permanent address except a mailbox at a UPS Store in San Rafael. We moved out of our loft, put everything in storage and are now living on the road in our Airstream trailer with two dogs and a cat.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that during the interval between buying our new trailer and hitting the road on August 12, I was persuaded by my friends at Paremus in London that I should become their new CEO? I explained to Richard Nicholson, Paremus CTO and co-founder, that I simply was not going to abandon our travel plans, suggesting perhaps we reconnect later in the year if they were still looking for a CEO. I finally agreed to visit their offices in London in late July to assess the situation. By the time I left Heathrow for San Francisco on Friday, I had agreed to take on the CEO assignment in a part-time, remote and virtual capacity. We are testing the limits of connectivity but it’s working better than I expected. Cellular coverage is amazingly good even with the wide open spaces in the Western US and you find WiFi hotspots at RV parks where you would least expect it (e.g. Wells, Nevada).

Where do we go from here? This first, four-week tour has us heading back to San Francisco for a few days in mid-September for doctors appointments, hair cuts and a few dinners at our favorite vegetarian restaurants. We’re off again for three months — tour route still TBD — but an extended stay in Santa Fe is probable while I head to London for a week in early October. We return again to SF for more follow-up doctors visits in mid-December. At that point, we need to make the final decision on moving to London where I will be able to focus full-time on working with the Paremus team. We are very much leaning in that direction since we already started the pets on their six-month rabies test required for them to enter the UK.