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 piƱon 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.

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.

Glacier National Park

If you avoid the throngs of tourists, this park offers truly stunning vistas. Driving up the Going to the Sun Highway is de rigueur for all tourists and we started early enough to avoid the worst of the traffic. It’s quite an amazing piece of road construction, a legacy of the Depression-era WPA program, that would never be built today. A mild case of vertigo made me think better of returning down the same road and we headed east. A good decision since we left the high-density tourist stops behind and discovered the open spaces on the east side of the park. Two million visitors a year and we managed to find a delightful, quiet place for picnic lunch with only one other group in the area. Tourists are so predictable that it becomes quite easy to avoid them and still enjoy the park. Net-net, Glacier was definitely worth the visit but, after two days, we’re ready to move on.

On the Road

So, is this our ‘new normal’? After two weeks, it certainly feels right and we have found ourselves using the term ‘home’ to describe the place where the trailer is currently hooked up. We have discovered that it is possible to live comfortably in a small RV and do productive work while traveling through some incredible scenery. For the immediate future, this is our life — high-tech vagabonds. We plot our itinerary a few weeks travel in advance with WiFi hotspots and cell coverage in mind for at least 80% of our stops.

Closing off now. Topics that might crop up in future entries:

  • RV envy — is bigger really better?
  • RV parks
  • Airstream trailers
  • Traveling vs. arriving — the ‘itchy feet’ syndrome
  • The ‘hitching-up’ ritual
  • Eating vegetarian and vegan in RV land
  • No more ‘flush-and-forget’
  • WiFi hotspots, cell phone service and virtual offices
  • Life on the road with pets
  • What is ‘Mojave Blue’?
  • Maintaining your financial life without snail mail
  • Do we really need all that stuff is our storage unit in Petaluma?