Thursday, August 23, 2018

Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming!

Where do I start? It's been almost a year since I posted anything here. Blogs... what were those again? A lot has happened this year. Cathy and I have been actively searching for the ideal retirement community for a few years now. Utah, Idaho and Colorado were all contending states.  Durango, Colorado seemed to check more boxes for both of us than other towns. Disappointment was the mood after a house hunting trip to Durango last fall. Nothing in our target price range was even remotely appealing to either of us. A run-down rental used for pot growing operation outside of town? Ah, no. How about 1970 era electric heat with carpet, paint and fixtures still from 1970 and homemade rebar bars on all the windows and doors? Or 1000 square footer with no basement, no garage, built in the 1800s for half a million dollars? So disappointing.

A patio home that had been on the market for a long time, went off, then back on the market with a different listing agent, caught our attention. It was listed much higher than the range we were shopping in and much higher than we hoped to sell our NH house for. But it check all of the other right boxes. It was in town, immediate access to paved bike path system for Cathy and singletrack right out the back patio for me. While virtually no homes here have basements, the house did have a nice finished storage area above the garage and the garage was a little bigger than our NH garage. I could possibly squeeze essential bike shop equipment in there. We made an offer before even seeing the house to ensure it would not get sold out from under me while making a dedicated trip out to see and inspect the house. The offer was countered, and we accepted.

That was an easy decision to make. A much harder decision to make is when to relocate and severe the employment cord. At first, Cathy and I planned to work a while longer and use our new home as a vacation home. That turned out to be really hard to do. We were both really looking forward to a change. But it was financially too risky to lose all income and pay astronomical Obamacare premiums. That's when I approached my employer about working remotely less than full time. They were receptive to it! There is a high demand for my skillset in the marketplace right now, so that helped. There are no companies in Durango though that directly hire integrated circuit designers. Remote work cleared the path to putting our NH house on the market.

We listed with Remax agent Ed Bisson. Can't say enough good things about Ed. He had precise pulse of the market, knew what price to list our house and exactly how quickly it would sell. We had to move quickly though, as June is the month you can't miss. The listing hit MLS on Wednesday, and after open house that Sunday, we had multiple above asking price offers. Gulp. Ed said it would go down like that and it did. This was happening way too fast.

Leaving our NH home in better shape than when we bought it new.

Took four days for pending sign to go up
We had been paring our stuff down for a year in anticipation of an eventual move, but now we had to kick things into high gear. 34 years of marriage, essentially a four level house, well, that creates a very large multi-dimensional space to accumulate a lot of crap you really don't need to own anymore. We used FB sale pages, Craig's List, work classifieds, word of mouth, you name it. So frustrating. I sold two of my bikes, each that I had put more than $4000 into, for only $500-600 each. There were multiple Goodwill trips. Even on the eve of the move, we realized it still wasn't going to all fit on the truck and had to get rid of more stuff, stuff we really thought we needed.

So that gets to the moving experience. A colleague who self-moved cross-country once said it will be an experience you will never forget. I didn't really understand that comment at the time, but I do now. Don't think I will ever self-move again, even if I saved more than twice the $10,000 I think we saved by moving ourselves.

Loaded for Colorado. That trailer was wide, coupled with sloppy steering, made for white knuckle driving on narrow roads.
We rented Uhaul's second biggest box truck, a 20 footer. Plan was to pull an auto-hauler behind it with the Subaru on it and Cathy would follow with the Rav4. That's about 20,000 pounds of truck, cargo, trailer and SUV.  The truck had seen better days. The front-end was wicked janky. There was considerable play in the steering, so it was hard to keep it in the lane. When you hit a bump, it would shudder and takes 2-3 seconds to calm down. It felt like you had minimal control of the beast. That was before loading the truck and pulling another 7000# behind it.

After closing, the Hill Junkie convoy left for the west.  We made Youngstown, OH the first half day, as planned. Then Kansas City, KS the next day, after 14 continuous hours on the road. We stopped at Wilson Lake State Park just off Interstate 70 for a break on the third day. I got in a sweet ride on the MTB loop there and Cathy went for a walk in the park. Things were looking up, other than all the Google driving time estimates were actually about 1.3x longer with the truck and trailer.

Middle of Kansas, some great riding here

The 23mi Switchgrass MTB loop

Where the train started to go off the rails was on the fourth day, leaving from La Junta, CO to Durango through the mountains on state highways. We were heading up North La Veta Pass on Hwy 160 when I noticed the cab filling with acrid smoke. WTF. I looked in side view mirror to see a thick blue contrail in the wake of the truck. Holy freak out. No place to pull over but I had no choice. I shut the engine off, pop the hood expecting to see fire, but see nothing. I crawl underneath for a look. To my horror, the entire undercarriage with dripping with oil and it was falling on the exhaust, making the smoke. Did the engine blow the main bearing seal? I thought we were done right there. An hour from the nearest tiny town in middle of 100,000 acre recent burn area. Truck would get hauled somewhere that was not our house.

Unbelievable number of miles of this kind of driving through Colorado.
I had just topped the motor oil off before leaving for last leg of trip. I checked it there on side of road. It was still full. Despite how badly it looked. It wasn't blowing through oil a quart a minute. I had 6 quarts of my own oil with me for our cars, not quite the right viscosity, but could work in a pinch. I decided to try to get over the pass, then it was 45 miles downhill to Alamosa, the next town we pass through. Babying the truck over the pass seemed to work. Topping gas off in Alamosa, I checked the oil again. Still good. Dry underneath too. So what was going on?

We had a monster pass to go over next, Wolf Creek at nearly 11,000ft. Super steep too. I had extreme reservations about continuing, but we were so close. Heading up the pass, I noticed the longer we got into it, the louder the engine got and the slower we went. It sounded like maybe some kind of super loud cooler kicked in, maybe a transmission cooler? And a governor kicked in too, limiting speed to less than 25mph on state highway with 55mph speed limit. Lovely. Even the semi's hauling steel were passing us. I could smell burning oil, but at least the cab was not filling up with smoke like the first time. We made the top without a blue smoke contrail!

Next up was the stout climb out of Pagosa Springs. It's not a pass really. But something about it turned the oil leak back on. Smoke in cab, plume behind truck. I thought surely with only hour to go we were not going to make it. If only we could stay on the flat and level the rest of the way to Durango. Anybody that has driven Hwy 160 knows it is anything but flat and level!

Make it we did though. We got the car unloaded and the trailer unhitched at the Uhaul franchise, not saying anything about the oil leak yet. We had to get our cargo off the truck. The house was only 3-4mi away. What a difference without the trailer! Cathy had not yet even seen her new house, so I was anxious to get her reaction.

Th Uhaul made it. Common grounds landscaping in our 6-unit HOA is quite nice.

I was fortunate to get a couple helping hands from Animas City Movers to unload the truck. Great local company, great help. Took little over an hour to get everything off the truck. Stress level dropped a couple orders of magnitude. We were going to sleep in our new house after all!

The house had been vacant for most of a year and even had no electricity for four months (by accident, could have frozen the pipes). But everything was pretty much as expected.  It took two weeks to pack everything, it wasn't going to get unpacked in a day! We did get the master bed set up though and collapsed into sleep.

View from Lions Den Trail just steps off our patio

View from home office window

The house is exceptionally quiet. I anticipated this, as it is backed into a steep hill with nothing behind and actually embedded about 1.5 stories into the hill on the south side. Thus the master bedroom is essentially below grade. It should be quiet. Our six unit HOA is mostly retired folks. No rentals to kids from the college up the hill behind us.

While Cathy retired from work (she just turned 62), I have three weeks off before resuming work from my home office. It took a week to move and partially unpack. That leaves two weeks to play in paradise. It is just starting to sink in we're not on vacation this time. While the monsoonal weather pattern makes planning lengthy outdoor activities tricky and the air is smoky from distant fires most days, it still feels like its a dream. Pinch me so I know it's real!

I've been hitting tons of new terrain, both on the bike and on foot. I had hoped to get up to Crested Butte for a few days, but between new house work needed, temperamental weather and smoky air, I'll save CB trips for this fall when conditions should be more ideal. So much fun stuff to do right from the front door or short drive away.

Summit of El Diente, often ranked the 6th most difficult of 58 14ers to climb. Near Telluride, less than 2hrs away.

Black Bear Pass at 12,840ft. Looks like terrain from another planet. Near Silverton, just an hour north of Durango.

One observation I note daily is how crazy over cycling this town is. On a week day you see more people on bikes and more bikes on cars than you will at Kingdom Trails in Vermont on a Canadian national holiday weekend! The non-profit organization Trails 2000 oversees maintenance and construction of over 300 miles of trails around town. There are probably over 1000 miles of jeep routes in the San Juan mountains that I've barely touched. There are hundreds of 12,000-14,000ft peaks to hike in the area too.

Not the New Hampshire Hill Junkie basement, but this space in the garage will do.

A friend recently commented that me moving to Colorado is like an opioid addict getting a job in a Oxycontin factory. There is scary truth to that! I've already found myself binging on peaks and vert.

Going on two weeks here, I stepped on the scale, expecting to be disappointed from a four days of eating total crap food on the road. But exactly the opposite happened. I lost five pounds! I'm lower (at 155#) than anytime I was doing the hillclimb racing circuit. Will I become one of those wiry, leather skinned Coloradans? Time will tell.

It is just starting to sink in that a new chapter is beginning for Cathy and me. Maybe more so for Cathy than me. I haven't severed the tie with work and work colleagues yet, although I will see them much less frequently. One thing is certain though, the house is a keeper and we already can tell things are going to go well here.