In the pipe, five by five


Status: Green

After a brief and annoying delay, this project is back on the rails. The house is imminently sold; I sign paperwork tomorrow and it closes in a week. My other milestones are 90% complete. I’m in good enough shape to start the trip, albeit I won’t be doing 80 mile days right off the bat, and I only need a few more pieces of gear before the rig is road ready.

The lingering of the house on the market afforded me some extra time to: exhale, finish the gear planning, and take my time to clean out the house. All that remains at this point is my last day at work, tomorrow: Nov. 2nd, clean out the house, organize my gear, plan the route for the first three days, and sell my vehicles. Anyone interested in purchasing a slightly abused ’96 Subaru Legacy Outback? How about a beast? (

The rain and cold of November in the northwest will make the first 6-8 weeks interesting. As I ride south each passing week should bring warmer weather, less rain, and more sand. I have to admit, there is something about riding south out of the cold, dark, damp Seattle winter with a middle finger held high palm facing forward that brings a smile to my face. Spite is a wonderful motivator. I’m very excited to get on the road. I feel a little like a runner who has been sitting in the blocks for several months; queued up and ready to go. I don’t think I could feel better about my preparation and planning to this point. I have intentionally avoided planning some of the tactical details of the trip to preserve spontaneity and adventure.

I’m currently planning on escaping on Nov. 14th.

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Seattle, Washington


Status: Yellow

August 16th 2007 marks two occasions. The demise of my prized mohawk; my reward for the long and arduous completion the house remodel and the first day the September 15th exodus has been pushed out.

Originally when I conjured, or stole … sorry Bill, the idea of riding my bicycle from Seattle to South America it was a five year plan. My financial circumstances at the time dictated how fast I could prepare for the trip, save the necessary funds, and fix the house to the point where it could be rented. Contrary to what people may tell you I am not a patient person. My plans are typically made a week in advance or a month for serious travel. The idea of five years of toil to achieve my goals grated on me for weeks on end.

At one point I decided I could not take it anymore and found another job with a salary increase that would allow me to cut my plan down to only two years. I would live lean; lunch for < $3 / day, dinner was cooked at home or $3 at the White Center taco truck, no purchases other than those working toward my primary goals were to be made. Two years of this, this I could do. Fortunately my company decided to offer a similar compensation package, which I did not expect. This was a great milestone. Everything seemed to be falling into place easily. I got working on the house remodel and started some more structured planning.

In October of 2006, I noticed a smell emanating from the basement. This was odd since my nose doesn’t pick up too many smells after the repetitive brutalizing and breaking I sustained at the hands of my god fearing Mormon roommates in college. If a smell is strong enough I tend to almost taste it rather than smell it. This was strong. My side sewer had collapsed and waste had backed up into my basement. This was definitely not part of the plan and threw a very disgusting monkey wrench into the works. After $400 of inspection by the organized crime … err plumbing company I was told that it could not be repaired because the collapse was too close to the chimney. It would have to be re-routed under the basement slab, down the driveway, along side the sidewalk, and connected up to the existing line. The cost of labor / parts / machinery was staggering; twenty-thousand dollars. If not for the overpowering stench my mouth would have dropped open. I decided to do it myself.

I’m very lucky to have a father who is skilled in several trades and professions. His latest profession is contruction. General Contractor. With his design assistance and many many hours of help, labor from numerous family and friends, and some timely money from my late Grandmother; I was able to remove 85 feet of concrete, dig 120 feet of trench, lay new line, and cover it all back up again. During this time the folks at Home Depot, which is only a few blocks away, became very familiar with me as I passed them on the way to the restroom.

Unfortunately when the basement floor was cut for the trenches, the oil lines from the tank to the furnace were severed. Since it’s a pumped system there was not a whole lot of spilled petroleum but I was without heat until it was repaired. When I got around to re-routing the oil supply lines in early March I was glad to have the heat back on. However, going through the Seattle winter without heat and not caring relatively too much about it, also helped show me that I, and Americans in general in my opinion, are very particular. Just as Tyler Durden said: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your [stupid] khakis.” I am not my circa 1950 oil furnace.

During December I managed to find a little time to take my spreadsheets, waterfall chart, and various notes and bit of research and organize them. The original concept was to save enough money for the trip, as well as enough to pay off one of my two mortgages and rent my house out. I aggregated my data and started making worksheets to calculate my savings, monthly outflow, estimated rental income and associated research, trip expenses, rental management expenses, taxes, insurance, and property appreciation. By the time I had completed the spreadsheet I had spent a total of 35 hours calculating and recalculating. Early on I found that I could not make positive cash flow on my house with the estimated rental income taking into account my expenses. Although a much cleaner monkey wrench than days past; this was one nonetheless.

I racked my brain trying to come up with a way to make my original concept work but in the end I could not. I also spent several hours determining the “soft factors” or intangible benefits and detriments to keeping the property. I weighed each item based on how important I though it was, created an inverse statement for each, added up the totals, and tried my best to create an objective conclusion to each section. I found this exercise very useful but also extremely stressful. The implications of the course of action I had concluded from my analysis was both exciting and devastatingly ominous. I had to fix up the house and sell it, and quickly. Rental was not a feasible option. Perhaps the most exciting part of this new plan was that the time line could be reeled in by an entire year. Sept 15th became my launch date and was added to the waterfall chart.

Over the course of the next 6 months I stopped doing almost anything other than going to the job, and working on the house. Several friends expressed their disdain for me abandoning them for months on end. I had to stop cycling to have enough energy to work my 40 hours at the job and sometimes 50-60 hours at home on the house. Wake, eat, bus, job, bus, work, home depot trip, home depot trip, home depot trip ad nauseam, work, eat, work sleep. Over time the house slowly transformed. All plumbing, supply and waste, was upgraded. I rewired the entire house sans ten feet of knob-and-tube in the attic, refinished ~1200 sqft of hardwood floors, replaced all mouldings, repainted, completely gutted and remodeled the kitchen and bathroom in luxurious style; at one point moving a short wall and re-routing vent piping and additional plumbing lines, and welded up and painted new hand railings outside to replace the aging galvanized plumbing pipe railings the previous owner had fashioned. Other projects included: 40 feet of trench and sump installation in the garage, patio excavation; drainage lines; and retaining wall construction in the backyard, downstairs door replacement, water heater replacement, installation of a 50A circuit in the garage, repainting of the front patio, residing of the front porch, refinishing; repainting; and hardware replacement of almost every door in the house, and a billion other small projects. I also had many other projects that I outsourced to contractors to get the house finished on time.

Completing the house remodel was a huge milestone. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. It was more challenging than obtaining my Eagle Scout award at 14 years old, more challenging than my two years of college in terms of effort (no I didn’t fail out), sans my career this project was likely the biggest I have ever undertaken. I can’t remember ever wanting anything as much as I want to make the ride south happen. It was this drive that gave me the discipline that I never knew I could rally. I could not have done it without countless hours of consulting and labor that my father provided me, and of labor and support from family and friends.

As a reward for finishing the house I asked my Realtor to cut my hair into a mohawk. A triumphant statement in defiance of the task I had just completed. I didn’t expect to keep it long but found it was actually the best hairstyle I had ever had, in my opinion anyway. There are times that it was cumbersome, such as when I was a paul bearer at my Grandmother’s funeral, but largely I found it extremely amusing.

The house went on the market in June of 2007. Plenty of time to sell, train for the trip, and complete the equipment checklist; or so I thought. The US housing market has been hit by a downturn but Seattle was largely reported as being fairly unaffected. That all started to change around, you guessed it, June of 2007. I priced the house at slightly below what I thought was reasonable considering the comparisons in the neighborhood. It sat for a couple weeks with few visitors. Over the next two months I dropped the price three times. I eventually ending up at $399,950; $30,050 below my initial asking price. Unfortunately the market is seeing houses sit for months at this point even when priced in the screamin-deal range that I have targeted.

Recursion sucks. Status: Yellow. With a standard closing time of 30 days, with each passing day onward from the 15th of August I push the September 15th exodus out another day. I selected the 15th largely for financial reasons but I found it also allowed me to miss the rainy seasons in Central America if my velocity estimations are correct.

It was time for the mohawk to go. I loved it so, but it had become inconvenient. I found I could not ask it to behave without the coaxing of the hair dryer. In addition I had found that as it grew longer my preparation methods had to change. I eventually settled on glue sticks as the best way to solidify it into my typical perpendicular statue of liberty position. That and at least two other products for the beginning and the end of the styling. That is the paradox of the mohawk. It requires a lot of maintenance for a hairstyle which is typically associated with those who do not buy in, or sell out if you will, to things such as beautification and the consumerism of hair products. I have to admit that aspect would have caused me to cut it much sooner if I hadn’t also discovered that women found it surprisingly attractive. That was not something I expected but certainly added to my amusement.

So with each passing day the schedule is pushed. Around October 1st I will start making other arrangements for the winter. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that but it’s nice to have options.

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Monteverde, Costa Rica


I’m often asked why I would ever want to take a trip like this one. One where I will be at the mercy of the people. A trip beset with hazards not often seen in the suburban jungles of Seattle. A trip that promises to be great and terrible. I say why not take a trip like this. A trip where you can see something new everyday. A trip where I can do something I love all day. A trip where I can take my time or challenge myself. But most of all a life with no desk. A primary goal in my life is to fill it with things that never get old. Things like amazing sunsets while lounging on the beach, incredible landscapes only appreciated on a slow moving vehicle like a bicycle, and the thrill of the wind in my face as I careen down hills and mountain passes. It is my dream that this trip will fulfill that part of me.

While in Monteverde Costa Rica in January of 2006, I had been talking to a friend and a particular quote came up: “To believe something and not to live it is dishonest.” – Mahatma Ghandhi. Now there are times in life when you hear things and don’t even think about them and other times where you have a deep sense of agreement and understanding with the statements. I do not have a indiscriminate view Ghandhi; or any other figures in history. It was the words, not who said it, that made me start scheming. Fixed on another subject as well as travel; the boredom of work and the exhaustion of it all. The pointlessness of a life chained to a desk. The awful drudgery of doing the same thing for the next 30 years. I have been working long hours in the tech industry for 10 years. I had just finished a project at work where I was working 85-106hrs/week for three months. It’s times like these that change your perspective drastically enough that spontaneous illuminations occur. Was this really to be the my life until retirement? Is this really what I want to do? I have always thought that having only one career in a lifetime would be a waste. What would it be like to look back on my life while in my later years and have never had any epic adventure; to never left the bindings of the desk and the pager; to have done only what was prescribed by normality and have never followed my dreams. The Costa Rican landscapes, people, climate, economy, gave me an example of what a large portion of the trip would be like. Suddenly it all seemed so demystified. This was possible, and this too was something I believed in.

This isn’t the first time I’ve attemped escape from the megacorp lifestyle. In the spring of 2004 I took a leave of absence from my job, remodeled my house, sold it, and moved to Oahu in late April. I had gotten a job working as a glassblower in a studio in Kapolei. I traveled out to meet the owner and check out the shop in February and found everything to be in order. I had visions of surfing, diving, and cycling the island; all while being able to blow glass whenever I wanted. Glassblowing had been a passion of mine for 5 years. The embracing orange glow of hot glass, the way glass can surprise you when you think all is lost, and the development of technical expertise is what I loved.

Over the next two months I took a leave of absence from my job and finished remodeling first house. My timing was perfect; right at the height of the Seattle housing bubble. The house sold in a week and I was Hawaii-bound.

Unfortunately I was not able to blow glass in Hawaii. When I arrived I found the shop was in disarray, all the assistants had quit the previous week, and the owner, Thomas, had been served with an eviction notice which required him to be out a week prior to my arrival. I was informed that we would need to move the shop to a new location after engineering and pouring a concrete pad where the equipment would rest. This was all a little disheartening to me at the time but I was upbeat. I was away from the shackles of IT, I was in Hawaii, and I was going to make the best of it. For the next couple days I organized the inventory, put glass in boxes and kept an accounting of everything to prepare for the move. It was truly mundane work; not how I had envisioned my first few days. Thomas spent his time writing a document to respond to the eviction notice which he continually told me, as if to convince himself, would only take 20 minutes. He would stay up all night in his office trying to finish this 20 minutes of work … for 2 days. My right eyebrow slowly raised inquisitively over these days.

On the third day I was informed that someone was coming by the shop to collect some items that had been borrowed some time ago. I was instructed that I should keep him from looking in the back room and was to keep that door closed at all times while visitors were in the shop. The oddity of this request peaked my curiosity. The aforementioned individual eventually came by the shop, picked up his furnace, and left uneventfully.

I was staying in a room in the studio which was little more than a couple of walls with a door. There were huge cracks in the corners of the structure that let sorties of mosquitoes enter as they pleased and exit once they were done gorging on my tender white Seattle skin.  This “room” had been offered to me as a cheap place to live.  The amenities included: A mattress on the floor, a canvas drop cloth which served as both my sheet; duvee; and mosquitoe deflector, a rickety desk and computer with internet access, and a distinct lack of bathroom in the building.  This was not the worst place I’ve ever slept but certainly doesn’t rank high on my list.  However staying in the shop did afford me some time to myself and allowed me to investigate things a little more closely.

That night I took a look at the back room. Thomas had mentioned to me that the contents of the room was largely ingredients for making glass color. There were various tubs of chemicals, small drums of liquids, and a large variety of oxides. A quick glance around the room and a particular container caught my eye. Methyl Ethyl Ketone, a solvent use for various cleaning applications, was a prominent item. I had never heard of this substance or many of the others there so I memorized the name of it and went upstairs to see what Google had to say. The search turned up all sort of applications, nothing all that interesting. I returned to the back room, opened tubs, and snooped around. Now this is not something I would normally do. I certainly never had done something like this before and did feel uncomfortable about it while I proceeded. It was my suspicion that somehow made this necessary; and I’m glad it had. I eventually uncovered bottles of Chloroform and Ether, bags of Amalgam, tablets of NaOH2, Acetone, Antifreeze, and of course the oxides commonly used in glass as a colorant. Each time I found something new I returned and added it to my search criteria upstairs. Each time I found the results more and more troubling. With each addition the results began to narrow to a set of pages all on the same topic: How to make Methamphetamine. It was as if all the air had been sucked out of my lungs. I could not believe what I had found. What was I to do? When you follow a dream sometimes get so caught up in the dream itself that reality takes a backseat.  Unfortunately the car collided and reality, not wearing a seatbelt, slammed into me.  The decision was of course obvious. I’m no prude but I could not work in a drug lab of this nature if nothing else for safety sake.

The next morning I confronted Thomas and told him I knew what the backroom was used for. He initial denied my statements as false but after a minute of me rattling off the list of solvents like a auctioneer and explaining what you are to do with them; he caved. Needless to say I quickly extracted myself from the situation.

This experience highlighted that things are almost never as they seem. The romance is often lost on reality but still takes center stage in your memories. When I’m left with only my memories and no longer able to create more I hope I will be glad for the flavor of my life introduced by my adventures. Even though my move to Hawaii was a total failure in terms of the goals I set out to achieve it was still one of the best experiences of my life. It pushed me out of a job I despised, taught me I wasn’t as tied down as I thought, and taught me I really didn’t need much to survive.

I intuit that many people that have never considered following their dreams because they feel tied down to their life. They are scared to do so and don’t quite comprehend how someone could do such a thing. They are also scared of failure more than they are excited by the prospect of success. I remember these feelings myself when I started preparing for my Hawaii move. Now I understand that most of these feelings are conjured; they are not real. All you have to do is make a plan and stick to it. If you fail, you may find that there is success in the failure and that the end result didn’t really matter anyway. It was the journey that made all the difference.

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