And Another Year Slips By…

We are quickly approaching the five year anniversary of our arrival in Santa Fe (March 16, 2006). It appears we have adapted to the cold but sunny winters and fallen victim to the ‘Land of Entrapment’. I’m not terribly surprised that we are still here, just amazed at how quickly five years can disappear. I think we’ll stay awhile longer…;-).

2010 was a challenging year on the personal front. Kathy terminated treatment for her metastatic breast cancer since the chemotherapy was no longer working. The disease continues to progress with her treatment now focused on pain management and optimizing her quality of life. We have some travel planned over the next few months including a couple weeks in San Francisco in February and a week on an island in French Polynesia in March. A friend and neighbor here in Santa Fe recently took on the role of General Manager of the lovely Te Tiare beach resort and offered us a really great rate that makes if almost affordable.

I continue bootstrapping my latest startup, veloGraf Systems, as the chief (and only) developer of the front-end application while my young partner develops the more difficult back-end API service. I never expected to become a Ruby on Rails coder at my age but the development is moving along albeit more slowly than I had hoped. I find the complexity of modern application frameworks harder to absorb than I expected. Probably an age thing but I’m pretending it’s the software. If all goes well, early February should see the launch of the first phase of our social graph management service. It’s a consumer-focused service rather than the enterprise software product outlined in our rather dated web site.

Where have the last three years gone?

I started thinking about posting an update to our web site before the holidays. It has been over three years since I posted anything (just after construction started on our new house) and over four years since I started this “journal” to chronicle our travels to find a new home. Rather surprising to realize we are in the middle of our fourth Santa Fe winter, we built a house (I was the general contractor on our EcoNest) and I have already launched two high-tech startups. I’m winding down the first one (Knowledge Reef Systems) and my partner and I are ramping up veloGraf Systems as we speak.

Before posting, I decided that I really should take a couple of hours to “refactor” the web site to a blog form. Much easier to update and gets me out of coding HTML. Unfortunately, a few hours became most of Sunday evening and the better part of today. I am so bad at estimating projects, especially when it includes coming up to speed on new technology. But it’s done. Now all I need to do is backtrack over the last two years to fill in some of the gaps. Soon. At least it will be quick and easy to make posts. No excuse now…

An Epilogue to our Odyssey

On March 16 2006, we arrived in Santa Fe after spending a miserably wet winter in the San Francisco Bay Area. We quickly located a temporary rental house and began searching for land to build a home. Over the course of three months we looked at over 50 pieces of property ranging from over-priced lots in marginal areas near town to a charming six-acre piece of land on the Pecos River in the Anton Chico land grant. By early June, we had settled on a small parcel southeast of town with a killer view to the southwest. We dodged a bullet when the deal fell through because of a pending lawsuit by the title company since the building challenges would have been expensive to overcome. Our alternative turned out to be the right piece of property and the next stage of our journey is chronicled in the EcoNest section of our Web site.

It’s been a roller coaster ride over the last two years but we have absolutely no regrets about our decision to make our new life in Santa Fe. Even after six short months, it feels like home. Someone I met recently referred to New Mexico as the ‘Land of Entrapment’ (versus the official state motto — Land of Enchantment) and we have definitely been captured. The journey continues. After we finish building our house, I need to explore gainful employment again since I’m certainly not ready to retire.

Christmas Day 2005

Christmas may seem a rather odd day to make a journal entry but holidays are always quiet for us and it seems a good way to use the down time (last week was busy — see Paremus). After four months on the road, we’re back in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kathy was scheduled for a round of visitors with her doctors last week and routine follow up tests over the next two weeks. Quite comprehensive with a PET scan ordered by the chemotherapy oncologist while her surgeon prefers an MRI and a mammogram. She is feeling good and we anticipate positive outcomes from the tests.

We decided to put down stakes for several months both because I need to focus on raising venture capital for Paremus and RV travel in the West is somewhat limited in the winter unless you like Palm Springs, Phoenix or Tucson. Our opinion ranged from ‘yuck’ with respect to Palm Springs — see comments below — to ‘not-our-cup-of-tea’ for much of Arizona. If we leaned a bit more to the ‘roughing it’ style of trailer life (limited hookups, no WiFi, no cell service), we probably could have found something interesting in southern Arizona or New Mexico. However, we still like being connected.

We have parked the Airstream and taken a short-term apartment in San Rafael for a few weeks. We plan to rent a house for the next 4-5 months on the Peninsula while I chase venture capitalists and go back to work full-time with Paremus. After that, our plans a really depend on the outcome of my fund-raising efforts. We could end up in London as I mentioned in an early journal entry if the lead VCs are UK-based but it’s too soon to declare definitively where we will be mid-year. That said, we do plan to end up in Santa Fe at some time, maybe as early as May where Kathy will live while I long-distance commute to Paremus’ corporate offices. All very much TBD.

What have we learned on our four-month, 15,000-mile, 11-state odyssey?

  • We really can live small and simple. While it’s nice to spread out in a two-bedroom apartment, it seems absolutely spacious after living comfortably in a 25′ travel trailer and a large house would seem extravagant. When it’s time to build our house, we will definitely rely on ‘small-is-beautiful’ design principles.
  • We are definitely not ‘RV people’. The act, even some of the rituals, of traveling with your home behind you is enjoyable and offer opportunities to do things and visit places you simply can’t do otherwise. Ultimately you need to stop to hook up to civilized comforts such as water, electricity and waste disposal. With rare exceptions, such as remote state parks like Oliver Lee in New Mexico or Balmorhea in Texas, most RV parks are either depressing or odd. Even the luxury RV park in Palm Springs with the golf course didn’t quite feel right. ‘Real RVers’ love them and park their rigs in these places for months on end. For us, RV parks are necessary evils. A place to stop, empty the tanks, do the laundry and replenish the larder before we move on. Will we travel with our Airstream again? Absolutely. Difficult to say when but we do plan to explore the rest of the US and Canada someday and re-visit many of the places we enjoyed in the West.
  • As much as we have enjoyed living in San Francisco for the last 15 years and the Bay Area for over 21 years, it’s time to move on. It may be the gray, winter weather we are currently experiencing, perhaps the abysmal traffic or simply boredom with having lived in the same place for so long. I would guess it’s all of the above with the added desire for a bit of adventure. Moving to Santa Fe, London or even New York City (Paremus is focused on financial services) may be considered mundane by many but we find the thought of a new location rather exciting. Of course, as often happens with the best-laid plans, they may go awry and we’ll find ourselves settling down again in the Bay Area.

A few final closing notes about some interesting (good and bad) places we visited:

  • Bisbee, AZ: An odd little town next to a humongous open out mine that was closed 30 years ago. Charming in some respects but also depressing. Hasn’t made the real breakthrough as a high-end tourist stop. Hard to do so with a butt-ugly hole in the ground and huge piles of mining tailings. We did stay at a funky ‘trailer park’, the Shady Dell, with a collection of old aluminum trailers used as motel rooms. Not on the list but a fun place to visit.
  • Santa Fe, NM: Of all the places we visited, this seemed closest to a place we could seriously call home. Big skies, lots of sunshine, relaxed, manageable traffic, reasonable real estate prices. A tourist town, of course, but not obnoxiously so and very few ‘day-trippers’ that you find in Carmel. Cold in the winter. We need to determine if we are confirmed California ‘weather wimps’ or we can adjust to winter evenings with temperatures in the low double digits.
  • Taos, NM: Also an interesting little town. ‘Crunchier’ than Santa Fe and more remote. We like areas where piñon and juniper are the dominant vegetation. It’s on the list.
  • Marfa, TX: Charming little town in West Texas routinely covered by the NY Times. Quiet when we stopped for coffee. Surrounded by “miles and miles of Texas” as the Bob Wills song goes. Too remote to live in Marfa permanently since the nearest town is El Paso which has no obvious redeeming characteristics.
  • Palm Springs, CA: This whole area is on another planet. Completely lacking any character. Why do old people voluntarily barricade themselves behind gated walls in mind-numbingly boring, look-alike communities? I guess it’s the golf …
  • Southwest, USA: Absolutely grand, breathtaking vistas and stunning landscape diminished by the relentless encroachment of suburban sprawl everywhere. I suppose it’s a basic American right to be able to buy cheap, Chinese-made products in thoroughly unattractive stores but the ‘soft’ cost is high. Not only is there the well-understood economic displacement but the visual pollution is disheartening when the first thing you see approaching a small town is the soulless Wal-Mart box. Globalization. It’s hard to rant and rave against it when a large part of your working life has been marketing and selling products to ‘global’ enterprises but the downside becomes very real when you see the impacts firsthand. Off soapbox.

Heading West

I added several pics of the Shady Dell RV Park in Bisbee, Arizona, the saguaro cactus outside Tucson and Joshua trees near Palm Springs. As we headed back to California, we began to find ourselves in less scenic places and the urge to snap a few shots diminished.

The ‘Itchy Feet’ Syndrome — Traveling vs. Arriving

After almost three months of living life as nomads, we can reasonably conclude there are two types of people who inhabit RVs — serious travelers and those who can’t seem to resist putting down roots, even on a temporary basis. The latter will journey a few hundred miles from home and then park their expensive RVs for weeks. I can only hypothesize at what motivates them but running from below zero weather in Bemidji, Minnesota, seems a reasonable guess for many. I’m not certain I would stake out a claim in a shabby RV park in East Jesus, Texas, with my million dollar motor home but it must work for them. The couple from Dallas with a new Liberty Coach (probably $1.5 million) that had been parked for two months 325 miles from home struck me as odd but they seemed happy.

And then there are the rest of us. A couple of days in one place and we start to get the RV equivalent of ‘cabin fever’. The laundry is done, the larder is full of granola, oat bran and tofu, the refrigerator stocked with fresh vegetables and absolute boredom has set in. Once we decide to move on, there is almost a child-like, Christmas-morning sense of anticipation about rising early and going through the ritual of ‘hitching up’ and hitting the road. After the familiar drill — empty the waste tanks, disconnect the hoses and cables, put away the awning, raise the stabilizers, hitch up to the truck, hook up the equalizers and sway bar, attach the safety chains and electrical umbilical cord, check the lights, do a final check (Kathy handles the inside preparations for travel) — it’s extremely satisfying to pull away from the site and begin the journey to another destination we haven’t visited or one we are looking forward to seeing again. The process sounds rather tedious but we continue to enjoy this part of RV life after having done this 35-40 times in the last three months. It may seem as trite as ‘Travels with Charlie‘ but there is something uniquely American about this desire to see what is around the next bend and over the next hill. I’ll leave it to the social scientists to explain but it certainly keeps us interested.

Pictures, At Last

I hope to organize the picture section better when I sit down again for another update later this month. In the meantime, here are a few of our favorite pictures. To minimize the page download size, I have collected the pictures into separate pages. Sometimes thematically (national parks), often not. Oddly enough, I can’t find any pictures of a favorite location — Big Bend National Park. I either misplaced the images or simply failed to take the shots. Too bad. I guess we’ll have to return to fill out the album …

Oliver Lee State Park (Alamogordo, New Mexico)

It feels as if we have been in a time warp with the days passing in a pleasant, soft blur. It may be a travel truism but we often have to stop for a moment to recall the day of the week and where we were last week. In the last two months, we have driven over five thousand miles, visited seven states (well, eight if you think, as most Texan do, that one Texas is at least equivalent to two ‘regular’ states), toured at least seven national parks/monuments, enjoyed many lunches and ‘stretch’ breaks on quiet back roads and reveled in the splendor of simply stunning scenery. Tonight we are back at one of our favorite places, a little state park in the high desert of southern New Mexico. Striking landscape, incredible sunsets, warm days, cool evenings, wonderful night skies and the place is almost empty. The monster motor coaches are non-existent, apparently preferring creature comforts over beauty. We even have a neighbor in another Airstream which is quite unusual.

So how are we doing? Splendidly! Kathy is doing very well and this type of travel agrees with both of us. We have absolutely no regrets about the decision to undertake this odyssey. And it really is an odyssey since one of the primary objectives of our journey is to find the place where we will build our next home. We have discovered that we really enjoy quiet, even remote, places and that the high-intensity life we led in San Francisco is no longer as appealing as it was just a year ago. Invariably, after a few days in a large city, we look forward to heading back out into the hinterlands. I really don’t think we are inclined to become recluses but we have the good fortune to be able to choose a place to live where relentless traffic and super-sized everything (stores, SUVs, RVs, people) need not be a part of our daily routine. The search continues but lots of sunshine and a sense of visual spaciousness are key criteria in our search. We are still working on whether we can deal with cold winters since almost 20 years in California have made us confirmed weather wimps.

I’m also working on ideas for my post-Paremus, post-technology career. I’m not ready to retire but I have decided it’s time to pass the baton to another generation of startup executives. I certainly don’t feel old enough to retire but, after almost 30 years in this business, Paremus will probably be my last high-tech startup. I know, ‘famous last words’ but I’m serious this time, really …

A few highlights since we last posted:

National Parks: It was somewhat unplanned but we ended up visiting many of the major national parks and monuments in the West (Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, White Sands and Big Bend) with what seemed like hundreds of rented RVs full of Europeans dashing from park to park. When you see an RV labeled ‘Cruise America’ or ‘1-800-RV4RENT’, it’s an even bet that the driver speaks German or French. Nice, quiet travelers and I’m delighted to see them enjoying our parks while helping reduce our trade deficit. Our favorite parks — Big Bend and Capitol Reef. Really stunning vistas and not too many people. The former is quite remote and its harshness is almost breathtaking. Definitely an acquired taste since it’s not your typical park. On a positive note, its very remoteness means the usual tacky tourist joints simply don’t exist just outside the park entrance as they do with most national parks. Terlingua, Texas, is the western entrance to Big Bend and it’s definitely not even far enough up the scale to qualify as tacky. It’s simply a dumpy little West Texas town with a down-at-the-heels motel and RV park. Refreshing if you don’t need to spend much time there.

Texas: Texas deserves it’s own entry. Incredible variety. We came in through Pecos, stopped for coffee Marfa (remote and as charming as the NY Times article described) on the way to Big Bend, dashed over to San Antonio where I flew up to Denver for a sales call, spent a couple of days in Austin so we could have dinner with a friend and his wife, stocked up with groceries at the home of Whole Foods, headed back west through Hill Country, passing through El Paso (an unpleasant place) on the way to tonight’s stop. People in Texas are quite pleasant and I found myself striking up random conversations with people. Very out of character for me since I have spent years cultivating my curmudgeon persona but obviously there is something in the Texas water. Texas is probably not on our list of places to settle but it’s definitely an interesting place to visit. I don’t think it was the three-foot snake meandering through the luxury RV park in Kerrville that put me off Texas but the ‘Snakes of Texas’ book prominently displayed in the travel section of Barnes & Noble in San Antonio did give me pause for thought. Certainly not your typical California travel section with a surfeit of wine books.

That’s it for this entry. Look for another update in late November or early December. I need to prepare a fund-raising package for Paremus and start the process of speaking with VCs this month. This will consume a big chunk of my non-travel time and absorb most of my creative ‘juices’ (a startup business plan is inherently fictional since it’s a story that has not completely unfolded). My feelings of guilt (and I’m not Jewish or Catholic) precludes me from enjoying the pleasure of writing this journal when I have ‘serious’ work to complete. Delayed gratification and all that nonsense …

Grants Pass, Oregon

We spent the previous four days at a luxury RV park in Bend, Oregon. Quite nice but a bit boring being surrounded by class-A motorhomes whose owners polish their $250,000-$1,500,000 rigs daily with feather dusters. Somewhere between the stuffiness of this type of luxury RV park and several of the noisy, crowded and often down-at-the-heels KOA campgrounds we have visited is the ideal park for Airstream owners. And we are different breed of RVer. More on the Airstream world later. See if you can find us amongst the leviathans in this picture

Moses Lake, Washington

We made a short visit to this small farming community in Eastern Washington to visit Kathy’s brother and her 92-year old mother who resides in small facility for Alzheimer patients. Surprisingly good farmers market which filled our small larder and even smaller refrigerator. Regular grocery shopping and stopping at all roadside produce stands are part of the travel routine. It’s very difficult to dine out in most small towns when one of us (Kathy) is vegan and I’m vegetarian. Restaurants do make an effort but eating a plate of iceberg lettuce smothered in high-fat dressing and with a side order of high-carb potatoes does not constitute a proper, balanced vegetarian meal. I also tested the virtual office Wednesday morning by participating in my board meeting as Paremus CEO. Not really too much different than other telephonic board meetings I have attended.