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Holland Haikus

August 17, 2017 Fun No Comments

The Netherlands has been good to us and we were sad to leave its beautiful countryside, its lovely people, and our unlimited wi-fi.

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One thing I am not sad to say goodbye to is the wind! I thought I had been on windy rides during Ironman training on the Pacific coast, during races, riding across Iowa. The Netherlands wins the wind war. To pass the time while riding into these punishing winds, I took to writing haikus.

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The wind in Holland
Relentless in its blowing
Makes cycling harder

One must love cycling
Enduring the Holland wind
How many more miles?

The hills are calling
At least there will be less wind
Suffer differently

Wide open spaces
Remind me of Iowa
With far more windmills

Windy Holland ride
A big help on the way out
A bitch coming back

Flat landscape seems nice
Windmills and canals and dikes
Motherfucking wind

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Even Greg got in on the action:

Equipment matters
The wind is nothing to me
Aerobars are friends

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Expenses: A Month Without Basecamp

August 14, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

July was an expensive month, to say the least. We’ll never come up with an official number; we paid cash for so many things and didn’t bother to get the “ticket” (receipt). We didn’t do any extracurricular activities like go to museums or rent boats and we need to eat regardless of whether we’re in our van or in paid lodging, so we were less worried about tracking that. Just for the sake of documentation, we ate all breakfasts in (other than one croissant and one coffee that Greg bought while walking the dog through town), we ate ~85% of our lunches in, and I’d say about 50% of our dinners in (we usually ate dinner at home 5 nights a week in San Mateo).

Our biggest expense by far was lodging. Without the van, we had to pay for a place to sleep since we left Greg’s sister’s house in North Carolina on July 6. The grand total for lodging was $2,305.46. We spent an additional $1028.31 in rental cars.

* pause while I collect myself to get over those numbers *

Ironically, the total is $3,333.77. The total number of miles driven across the United States was 3,333. Maybe 3 should be my new favorite number!

We expected to have from July 6 to July 22 without our rolling home, but the added expense for those nine days was really expensive. It is what it is: a sunk cost. Get over it.

July in Europe

Out of 11 different hotels/apartments, the average cost was $88.79. The most expensive place was a Sleep Inn hotel in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore (the night we dropped the van off) at $154.76. The least expensive was a small family-run Airbnb in Bad Breisig, Germany at $65.

As a friend on Facebook commented, it was something of a “sampler package” of different accommodations. All in all, it was quite enjoyable. We went from urban walk-up apartments to rural farmsteads, each time immersing ourselves in the environment that surrounded us. Miles was a trouper all along, going with the flow and adapting easily.

To try and cut down on costs, we rented the smallest vehicle possible to get all of our stuff in (Greg giving me the caveat that Miles might need to ride on my lap everywhere we go). We got this Kia Sportage to get from Frankfurt to Cologne, and not only did we fit it all in, there was ample room for Miles so that he didn’t have to ride on my lap. In all honesty, his preference is to ride on my lap, so he was a bit disappointed in Greg’s packing skills.

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Included:

  • XL dog crate
  • XL suitcase
  • L backpack
  • 2 M backpacks
  • M duffel bag
  • 2 road bikes
  • box of extra shit that we stuffed our bike boxes with for the plane ride
  • Booze & snacks

Needless to say, we are thrilled to be living in Basecamp. Even though we have much less overall space, there is a spot for everything we have and we’re really quite comfortable.

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Back with Basecamp

August 10, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

Greg found these decals that cover the Ford emblem, so now our van is called Basecamp. It works!

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After spending a full month apart, we were nervous and excited to see what awaited us when we were finally reunited at the Port of Antwerp. To recap: we had to drop the van at the Port of Baltimore on June 30 to be compliant with having it there five business days from the shipping date. It was supposed to take two weeks to cross the Atlantic, but we got word that our ship got bumped from the shipping order and it would be three weeks. A lot of rushing for no reason — BOOOO! In the end, we were able to pick the van up on July 31. Not ideal, but also nothing we could do.

So we kept paying for lodging, riding our bikes, and enjoying our time in Belgium.

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In addition to working with (and paying) a shipping company (and a TWIC), we worked with (and paid) a receiving company to take care of all the paperwork and whatnot, and our contact was wonderful. Thank you, Rita! It took almost three hours of waiting/worrying/driving/waiting/worrying, but Greg was finally able to go into the huge parking lot and drive Basecamp out of there.

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While G was getting the van, I took the opportunity to let Miles out of the car and walk him around the parking lot. When he heard/saw the van coming down the driveway, he jumped off the ground and pulled at his leash to chase it. He recognized his home!

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One of the things they make you do when you drop it off on the shipping end is remove the license plates. While Greg went to work re-attaching our California plates, I went to work looking things over. We were more than a little bit surprised and utterly delighted that everything was as we had left it. We had packed that thing to the gills and nothing was missing or damaged — most importantly G’s mountain bike.

We still had the rental car that needed to be returned to Cologne the next morning, so we caravanned from Antwerp back to Ophoven, Belgium, which is a waterfront locale that was near where we had stayed at one of our stops along the way. It got us closer to Cologne to drop the rental car the following morning, and gave us the perfect backdrop for our first night of wild camping in Europe.

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Let #vanlifeeurope begin!

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I Woke Up Like This

July 28, 2017 Fitness, Fun 1 Comment

Greg and I went out for a long bike ride on Wednesday. The route took us along the river and canals that run the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. We had to take a ferry across the canal at one point and I was chatting with another cyclist as we crossed. As we disembarked the ferry, he turned to me and said, “Let me be the first to welcome you to Holland.” Yay – another new country for me!

Welcome to Holland!

Welcome to Holland!

 

The bike trail that I had been riding on was paved and flat and glorious. You could see for miles around and the scenery was stunning. In all honesty, it looks like Iowa! I have several friends riding RAGBRAI this week and I felt like I was riding with them (except without 10,000 other cyclists and Mr. Pork Chop waiting in the next town).

Corn fields for miles

Corn fields for miles

 

And onion fields, which is more like central California

And onion fields, which is more like central California

 

As I was cruising down the path at a fast pace, a bee slammed into my face, just at the base of my left nostril. It hurt like a bitch! Instant stinging (surprise!) and my eyes were watering as I continued pedaling and rubbing my face to make sure I had gotten it off me and the stinger wasn’t still in there. I haven’t been stung by a bee since I was a young kid and I quickly remembered how not fun it was. The area didn’t swell up or become inflamed, so I forgot about it. I even forgot to mention it to Greg until later that evening. “Oh yeah, I got stung by a bee and it hurt like a bitch.”

The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. More beautiful scenery. A chat with (and assistance from) a lovely Belgian couple who helped navigate an unmarked detour. Sunny skies for the first time in a week.

This bridge was part of the detour

This bridge was part of the detour

 

I woke up this morning (today is Friday) looking like I’d had a stroke. Or that my attempts to look like Kylie Jenner didn’t turn out as intended.

don't hate me because i'm beautiful

don’t hate me because i’m beautiful

 

WTF, delayed-onset allergic reaction?!

I think you can kind of see the spot where the stinger entered if you look really closely under my left nostril, which is totally a place that I want people paying close attention to on any given day.

Just because it’s funny, I took the below picture first. I had to take a second picture in better lighting conditions (and with a slightly better expression) because this looks like a mug shot taken at 3 AM after a bar fight. My mouth is already crooked, and the puffy lip on the left side just exacerbates the whole thing.

inmate number 260717

inmate number 260717

 

So, as was the case with poison oak (which I was never allergic to as a kid), I guess that I have developed a mild allergy to bee stings in my old age. Good to know! I’m glad it’s just a mild allergy, because my reaction to poison oak is now violent. This doesn’t hurt or itch, so I guess I got off easy.

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Hurry Up and Wait

July 20, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

“Hurry up and wait” has been the motto of our adventure thus far.

We really had to rush to get to the east coast in six days, which was a timeline put upon us by U.S. Customs at the Port of Baltimore. The vehicle needed to be at the port five business days ahead of the ship date of July 8. Because of the Fourth of July holiday and the preceding weekend, that meant June 30. So we rushed those 3000 miles and got the van dropped off, only to have 10 days to hang out on the east coast before our flight to Germany.

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The Port of Baltimore * Packing quickly and choosing the wrong footwear * Greg and Miles in the James River (Richmond, VA) * Miles making sure G doesn’t get lost on a dirt path

After spending the weekend in Baltimore, we were fortunate to spend July 2-6 in Oak Ridge, NC with Greg’s sister’s family. We were also fortunate to be able to borrow a car from them, both of these things saving us several hundred dollars in lodging and car rentals. Thank you, Rhonda and Peter! Greg’s parents drove up from Asheville to visit with us there, saving us several additional hours in driving.

We spent July 7-10 in an AirBnB in Baltimore, buttoning up last minute things and preparing to say farewell to the United States.

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G entertaining his family in NC * Enjoying Dom Perignon in Baltimore * M fussing over Miles at the airport * G’s creative tagging of Miles’ crate

The timeline on the van was originally scheduled as two weeks at sea, arriving in Antwerp on July 22. We figured we would use the 11 days in Europe to acclimate a bit, sort out our visa situation, and catch up on work. We have accomplished two out of the three (the visa situation is still unsorted), but got word from the shipping company that our vessel was pushed back in the arrival order and it won’t come in until July 28. We won’t be able to get it until July 31 at the earliest.

*sigh*

It isn’t that we aren’t enjoying our time exploring new places and having room to spread out in the hotels and AirBnB apartments that we have rented. It’s that we’re paying a significant amount of money for lodging and car rentals while we wait for our self-contained rolling home. And we’re just a little bit bitter about having to rush out of California, only to spend another month waiting…

It’s out of our hands and we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing until our ship comes in. We go to bed when we are tired, we wake up when we’re rested. It’s nice not using alarm clocks! We are mixing it up by eating local fare and cooking at home. Oh, and swimming/biking/running — these are some of the things we do best!

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What’s Our Plan?

July 17, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

Probably the most common question we get is: Do you have a plan once you get over there?

The short answer: No.

In all honesty, the amount of planning and preparing and working and organizing that went in to just leaving California left absolutely no time for anything beyond that. As we left our home and started driving on that Saturday afternoon, we knew we’d stay in Tahoe that night, but that was as far as it went.

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From there, we gauged how far we thought we needed to go to get to the next place in order to make it to Kansas City by Tuesday. Once in KC, we gauged how far we needed to go to get to Baltimore by Friday. Once we got to Baltimore, we had a few days to relax a little bit on the get-farther-faster front, but still had so many hurdles in front of us related to getting Miles’ health certification, finding lodging until our flight departed on July 10, finding lodging for the first couple of nights in Frankfurt, more research on our long-term visas, and about a hundred other miscellaneous items that tend to pop up when you’re out of your comfort zone.

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Now that we’re on this side of the pond, let’s revisit the question: Do we have a plan?

The short answer: No.

We’re still researching a million things a day — where to buy groceries, what restaurant to eat at, where to go next as we make our way to Antwerp, how much is XYZ going to cost, safe cycling/running routes, what kind of tick is this, should we buy local SIM cards, can I have a new debit card sent to me because mine was hacked the day before we left — which is time consuming. We’re also working real/paid jobs, running/riding/swimming with Miles to get some exercise every day, and trying to live like normal people. We don’t know what normal is yet, and we’re trying to figure it out.

We’ve been staying in AirBnB apartments since we got to Germany and have had some really great luck in that regard. We’re dying to get our van off the ship, though we got some bad news that it might be delayed an extra week from what was originally quoted. Booooo. So while this is the new normal, it’s the new normal for now. We’ll have to figure it out again once we get back into the van.

I honestly can’t believe that we have been in Europe for only six days. NOT EVEN A WEEK. In some ways, the days are so long: we don’t speak the language and we don’t know where we’re going. At the same time, I can’t believe how fast the days are going. I look at the things that are left on my list for the day, only to find it’s way past my normal bed time of 10 PM.

Miles is handling the lack of plan remarkably well. As long as we’re all together, he’s fine. We started to get worried about a little bit of separation anxiety, just because there was so much change once we dropped the van off. But he has really adapted well and we’re never gone long enough on an errand or whatever to make him concerned about us not coming back.

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I’m trying to take a page from his book and just figure out the most important things everywhere we go: Feed me! Where’s the bathroom? Let’s play! Let’s sleep!

 

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I have more stories of our cross-country travels and things we’ve seen along the way. And I promise to provide an update on what our plan is once we get back in the van. This is part of the fun, right? Just taking it as it comes and going with it — as long as there’s booze and snacks!

 

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*Almost* Final Van Pics

July 14, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

The adventure is underway! And unless you follow me on Instagram, you may be thinking that we’ve been living in a half-built van. I assure you that we are not.

These pics were taken in April and so much has been done since then. But alas, here’s what it looked like at ~85% done:

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The back of the van now has a ladder on the left door for access to the roof rack, skylight, and solar panel.

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The garage is built to store two mountain bikes and two road bikes, each in a separate drawer that pulls out for access. On the far right wall is storage for four sets of skis (two downhill skis, two XC skis). There is a cubby beneath the skis for miscellaneous items like ski boots, cycling gear, hoses, etc. To the left of the bikes is where Miles’ crate goes, with an inflatable kayak nestled inside. Other miscellaneous gear gets tucked into the open spaces.

It’s not shown in this picture, but Greg built two storage bins just under the bed platform on the left. These bins hold ski poles, kayak paddles, and ski chairs. He’s done a great job of maximizing the space in the garage, which is complete with overhead lighting.

Also not shown, Greg affixed two rows of those over-the-door shoe pockets on the lower half of both doors. Perfect for small tools, cycling gear, shower supplies, etc. If you zoom in on the right side of the garage, you’ll see a water pump and hose that we use to wash the dog, any messy gear, and will be used for our showers. Yes, it is equipped with hot water. It isn’t there in the above picture, but Greg has since installed a clamp above the window on the right side to give us hands-free showering. There’s a pop-up “cubicle” for privacy (though it’s likely we’ll just shower in our bathing suits).

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This is the view from the sliding side door. The couch wasn’t finished when I took these pictures. Greg bought new leather captain’s chairs and ordered fabric that matches it for the couch. Greg did the carpentry on the couch frame and we had a local upholsterer make the cushions. The seat of the couch opens up for storage.

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We have storage in the space above the window that’s above the couch. This is open storage that we have put small bins in for holding stuff we access most often: dog bags and Chuck-It balls, head lamps, chargers, etc.IMG_1023

The new leather seats look so much better than these, and they are way more comfortable — except for the head rests. They’re too far back for actually resting your head if you’re driving. Greg also thinks the arm rests are too short, but we usually have a dog there acting as an arm rest anyway. Greg built a platform for Miles that puts him seat-level with us; otherwise, he’d be sitting on my lap the whole time. It’s sweet and I love him, but 80 pounds gets to be too much.

The battery pack and the inverter are underneath the seats. More on this in another post later (probably/hopefully). Greg installed the swivel seat bases, which really does make the “living room” feel spacious. Humor me. I realize that we are living in approximately 50 square feet and “spacious” is a relative term!

We ordered the van with the most basic trim packages, knowing we’d be swapping things out. Greg also took out the factory radio system shown in the above pic and installed a custom touch screen with Bluetooth integration to his phone and navigation programs.

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The kitchen features a two-burner gas stove and small sink, complete with soap dispenser (custom-installed, of course). That glass lid folds down to be flush with the countertop when not in use. Just below the sink/stove, there is a panel of switches with controls for lighting, a USB outlet, and on/off switches for the water pump and refrigerator.

The three drawers hold stuff like kitchen utensils, cookware, and a few tools. The cabinet under the sink has a custom-built garbage+recycling bin, the circuit panel for the switches, the on-demand water heater, and the water pump. Oh, and a fire extinguisher. On the floor behind the large wooden panel is our 40-gallon water tank and propane heater. Above the water tank is deep storage (our pantry), accessed through a trap door in the countertop.

Speaking of the countertop, it’s aluminum. We really wanted stainless steel, but getting it flush-cut to fit exactly proved to be too much work and/or expense, so we went with the next best option. I love how it turned out!

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Across from the sink/stove is an upper storage cupboard (probably for bathroom essentials), the refrigerator, a spice cabinet, and storage for the toilet. The toilet slides out of that little cubby and then slides back in to be out of sight and mind. Not shown, we also have a toaster oven that is bolted on top of the storage cabinet. Don’t worry — Greg took it apart to add fireproof insulation and it’s safe!

The vertical part of aluminum (that acts kind of like a backsplash) is actually the foot of the bed. We bought a queen size foam+latex mattress from IKEA and cut ~14″ off the foot of the bed, then cut that in half width-wise and had an upholsterer cover those two “cushions” with duck cloth. When it’s time for bed, we fold down the backsplash, place the cushions, and pull the bed linens over the cushions. When not in use for sleeping, one cushion is used for Miles’ platform in between us in the cockpit, and the bed turns into a seated lounge area with the other cushion and bed pillows as a back rest. You can see a little bit of how that works in the above picture, but I’ll get better photos when we get the van back.

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Our closets are next to the bed. Greg gets the far left one, I get the middle one, and we share the far right one for hanging clothes. Each cubby is equipped with a light (switch on the far right of the pic). The tambour doors slide up and down and look really sharp when they’re closed.

That’s it! I’ll get updated pictures (and hopefully a video tour) posted when I can. I do plan to post more of the in-progress photos and notes for others who are interested in seeing everything that went into this build-out. I know more people are interested in what we’re doing now as we travel, so it will be a balancing act. If you have any specific questions about what we’ve done, please post a comment and I’ll get back to you.

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This is a picture my mom took as we were getting ready to roll out of Lenox. Don’t look too closely, as both Miles and Greg are blinking. Ha!

While we had done a couple of quick recon missions over to the coast to test out the van, it definitely got the acid test when we headed out on a 3000+ mile adventure across the country. Things were packed in there haphazardly because we knew we’d be taking some stuff with us for the interim time between dropping it off in Baltimore and picking it up in Antwerp. Some things were thrown in there “just in case” and/or because we didn’t know what else to do with them. We packed along a lot of food items that we were either able to get through or give away on our journey.

Regardless of things being disorganized, we were able to avoid eating at restaurants, sleep comfortably for free, and get a feel for how things will be when we’re living vanlife full-time. We’ve been apart from the van for two weeks now and we are really missing it!

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Coast to Coast

We left our home in San Mateo, CA at 4:36 PM on Saturday, June 24. We traveled 3,333 miles across the United States and arrived in Baltimore on Friday, June 30 at 1:50 PM. 

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Day 1: San Mateo, CA > Tahoe City, CA (224 miles)
Day 2: Tahoe City > Stansbury Island on the Great Salt Lake (586 miles)
Day 3: Stansbury Island > Gothenburg, NE (744 miles)
Day 4: Gothenburg, NE > Lenox, IA > Olathe, KS > Kansas City, MO (514 miles)
Day 5: Kansas City, MO > Nashville, TN (568 miles)
Day 6: Nashville, TN > Asheville, NC > Oak Ridge, NC (480 miles)
Day 7: Oak Ridge, NC > Baltimore, MD (217 miles)

We did not take the most direct route, going out of our way several hundred miles to visit friends and family in Iowa, Kansas City, and North Carolina. When you’re going that many miles, a few more miles is no big deal, especially when it means seeing loved ones. There were also several short detours to find a swimming hole or park for us all to get a little exercise.

There were many meaningful goodbyes as we made our way east. It’s exciting knowing so many people are watching what we’re doing, cheering for us, and helping us make this dream happen. It has been a shit-ton of work, a lot of planning, a fair amount of money, and even a little stressful.

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The boys I have taken care of for nearly seven years gave me a four-leaf clover that they found in their backyard and had laminated to be the size of a credit card. It lives in my phone case, and I like to believe it brought good luck as we traveled across the country. Another friend’s boys gave us a compass, with 5-YO Emmett explaining, “It’s so you don’t get lost when you’re in Europe.” (Thatcher was far more interested in inspecting Greg’s carpentry.) We are sure to find our way with these talismans guiding us!

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We were disappointed to have to make the mad dash across the United States. We were working hard to meet a deadline for getting our van on the freighter in Baltimore. U.S. Customs requires that the vehicle be at the port five working days before the ship leaves. This worked MUCH to our disadvantage. The ship date is July 8, but because of the July 4 holiday and the weekend, that meant we had to have it there by 2 PM on Friday June 30. This really put us in a lot of pinches (and now has us in a lot of hurry-up-and-wait).

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Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers!

May 27, 2017 Fear, Freewheeling, Fun 1 Comment

We are nothing if not adventurous, Greg and I. Booze and snacks aside, I’d say that adventure is somewhat of a defining quality in our relationship. From running and kayaking (and faulty spray tans!) on our first date, to SCUBA diving the day before our wedding in Belize, to our triathlon escapades, to pretty much every trip in the van. Who am I kidding? Relaxing in our backyard hot tub turns into an adventure around here.

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10 years of adventure: 2003 – 2013

It’s something I really like about us. Greg has brought out the adventure in me, and I like myself more because of it. It requires one to have the “I’m up for anything” mentality, which is sometimes hard to come by. Finding happiness in being up for anything requires that you not let yourself attach too much expectation to the outcome. I think that’s where people get hung up.

Remember how fun this was? Me either.

Remember how fun this was? Me either.

I was feeling stale with things at the end of 2015. Everything seemed to be the same-old without any big prospects on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t looking to sign up for another Ironman or have kids or anything crazy like that. I was considering volunteer opportunities. I was considering learning a foreign language. I was considering looking for a new job.

I mentioned my feelings to Greg and he confessed to feeling the same way. I shared my ideas and he introduced another: taking a year off to travel. I paused and spent about 23 seconds to consider all of the possibilities before yelling, “AREYOUFUCKINGKIDDINGME?!?!? YESSSSSS!”

And then I remembered who I was dealing with. So I reined it in, like, “I mean, that would be fun. If you think so. I’d be game. I don’t know. I mean…”
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His first idea was to buy a boat and sail the Mediterranean, but we quickly abandoned that plan and opted for traveling around Europe in a new, custom-built (by him) campervan. He said it was something he’d been giving some thought to for a while. He was about to celebrate a milestone birthday and it might be a fun way to shake things up.  It would take a lot of work, a lot of planning, but could really be fun. I think I cried happy tears, then I started making lists.

The adventure has begun, as you have seen with the new van being built. We’re also riding the documentation roller coaster with having our birth certificates and marriage license apostilled, trying to finagle a long-term visa without a residence/address, getting all of our adventure gear over there (four bikes, four sets of skis, kayaks, necessary clothing/helmets for these sports, etc.), and making sure Miles has the appropriate authorization. We’ve said from the very beginning: If Miles doesn’t go, we don’t go.

And then there’s the adventure of what to do with the house while we’re gone — to rent or to sell? We’ve decided to rent and are working to find renters within our network (rather than the scary Craigslist universe). Things look promising after calling upon my Facebook network for help.

Everything is falling into place, as it tends to do when you research and plan like crazy. After more than a year of scheming, it feels surreal that it’s actually happening. We bought three one-way tickets to Germany today.

Here we go!
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