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.