Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Departure and Arrival

We spent our last couple weeks in the US apart. Nick and Iris went to Houston to visit family while I returned to Bishop to make one last bit of cash and to pack up our bags. The work was surprisingly fun. The PACU nurses in Bishop are all incredible people with interesting lives and quirky personalities. After barely working for 2 months, this week straight of nearly 40 hours was pretty exhausting.

Time for your exam!

 I got in a bit of climbing, escaping the Bishop heat by driving up to higher altitudes. I spent a day at Hartley Springs trying to send everything before Keith- one of my favorite past times at which I don’t often succeed.  I managed to “flash” a problem called “I am a Beautiful Man” and then do the traverse into it in a couple goes which gave Keith the impetus to crush a reachy V8 right next to it.  I had to dig deep into my type-A competitive soul and follow Keith up the V8 by pulling off a tweaky mono. As I gingerly tugged I kept listening for a pulley pop which thankfully never manifested itself. Sometimes being ultra-competitive is a good thing, but sometimes I wish I was better at refraining from doing foolish things.

I spent another day at Rock Creek enjoying the reachy moderates with a new friend. I’d climbed with this gal before, but never just the two of us. I really enjoyed spending time with her, and felt a bit sad that I was just getting to know her mere days before I moved away. Fortunately, she enjoys Spanish limestone as much as we do and will no doubt come for a visit. 

The Fluke V8
Groove and Arete V4

I also managed to go on one last fabulous Sierra hike up to Lamarck lakes with my mom. The Sierra had finally gotten some snow during the month of May while we were in NC so the views were spectacular. I always enjoy hiking with my mom because she goes at a pace I like, and we have great conversations.
Lower Lamarck Lake

I missed my family immensely during these two weeks, but between work, play, and packing I managed to stay busy. We’d already whittled down our belongings to 12 medium sized boxes, but I had the arduous task of reducing it all into 4 large suitcases and 2 small ones that each weighed less than 50 lbs. This task involved lots of rearranging and shuffling and weighing of heavy bags. In the end, I didn’t have to get rid of much. My suitcase was loosely packed when I received an incredible package from Scarpa: a year’s worth of climbing and running shoes! Somehow, I managed to stuff way too many shoes into my suitcase by filling each shoe with small articles of clothing.

I also spent way too many nights enjoying Bishop’s new brewery: the Mountain Rambler. I had planned to keep my body on East Coast time to make the jet lag to Spain less severe, but I couldn’t resist the lure of dear friends and pitchers that the Brewery provided. At the end of my 2 weeks in Bishop the owner of the brewery, Joe, and I were on a first name basis. I highly recommend the bratwurst with beet sauerkraut and the coffee porter.

Mountain Rambler Brewery

For the drive to the airport in LA I had planned to rent a mini-van to haul all our luggage (6 suitcases, 3 bikes, and 2 crashpads). When I got to Enterprise I started in on my usual spiel fishing for a better deal or discount. Surprisingly, the agent told me they did have a special…on pick-up trucks. The sky was bright blue with no rain in the forecast so I went for it and asked for the smallest of the three. It was the biggest vehicle I’ve ever driven, but well worth the $100 I “saved.”

Like a boss!

My mom came with me to LA to spend a couple days with Iris and to drive the monster truck back to Bishop. We met Nick and Iris at an airport hotel fresh off their return flight from Houston. We enjoyed dinner at a BCD Tofu House which is pretty much the only thing I look forward to about LA. We went to Segundo beach one day and played for about 20 minutes in the surf before we realized our feet were covered in tar balls. The next day we saw on the news that they weren’t able to figure out where the tar balls were coming from, but had started a clean-up at Segundo Beach. It was so disgusting yet somehow seemed appropriate for LA. After sending my mom off in the truck we were stuck at the hotel without transportation and decided to spend our last American dollars on our last day in America at the hotel Denny’s. Apt, no?

Segundo Beach, LA - moments before we discovered our feet were covered with tar balls. 

Too much luggage!
We miraculously made it through airport check-in on Saturday morning without a hitch. They even offered to check our carry-on luggage for free, which left us with only 3 small bags as we navigated through 2 more airports. The flight to Montreal was a long 5 ½ hours and ended up running a few minutes late. We had 35 minutes until our next flight, and cut it frightfully close with a long wait to pass through customs and a mad sprint from one end of the terminal to the other. Our gates couldn’t have been farther apart and we wouldn’t have made it if Nick hadn’t put Iris on his shoulders as we ran. We were in sight of our gate when we heard the final boarding call. Strangely, they hadn’t given us seats together and despite my telling the stewardess that I didn’t mind not sitting with my four year old on the 7 hour red-eye flight she insisted in rearranging half the plane to seat us all together. We got 3 or 4 hours sleep before landing in Geneva and had a short wait before boarding our puddle jumper to Valencia.

I spent most of the short layover convincing myself that there was no way our luggage could have made it between the two planes during our mad dash in Montreal. Nick kept telling me to stop fretting over our luggage and sure enough, as we disembarked onto the tarmac in Valencia we looked over to see them unloading all our luggage, even the bikes and the car seat!  Hurray for Air Canada and Austrian Airlines! I’m ashamed to admit that our pile of luggage was at least half the luggage on the entire plane!  We slowly made our way to the rental car agency where we picked up our giant (by European standards) VW Caddy.  Iris and I passed out immediately while Nick drove the 2 hours from Valencia to Albarracin. Lest anyone get upset at my lack of concern for Nicholas’ driving prowess after 20+ hours of traveling, know we had already discussed this part of the trip and decided that in exchange for my holding Iris in my arms during the red-eye flight Nick got to sleep “undisturbed” (as much as is possible on an airplane) and I would get to pass out on the drive.  And yes, I stayed awake long enough to help him navigate through the city roundabouts and onto the highway.

As we approached Albarracin I stared at the flat expanse of wheat fields and blue sky and wondered if we’d made a mistake. I could have gotten this same view in Kansas or eastern Colorado. Soon, however, the road started to twist and drop and climb into the Sierra de Albarracin. Limestone cliffs appeared in front of us, and then, a castle wall. We rounded the final bend in the road to see the breathtaking town in all its evening glory. Medieval houses towered on the hillside above us and a trout-filled river paralleled the road just below us. We passed fields of bright orange poppies shaking their petals at us in the breeze. In about 2 minutes we had passed the village and were parked in the parking lot at the far side of town.

As we walked into the pedestrian only village I pulled up the mental map I’d retained from spending way too much time in LA “walking” these paths on Google Maps Streetview. In a couple minutes we stood before our door on Calle Santiago. Despite numerous email exchanges with our landlady we had yet to actually speak with her. I tentatively knocked on the door and hoped that she really existed and that our deposit money was really reserving this beautiful casa. The door opened and there was Isabel, in the flesh! We staggered around the 3 story sprawling house trying our best to understand Isabel’s fast lisped Castillian and to ask the most important questions. How does the stove work? Gas, use a lighter.  How do we pay the electric bill? It’s in Isabel’s name. We can send her a check. Where is the bakery? Look out the door. Its 2 doors away! She put on a pot of coffee and left us in our new home. We marveled at the views from various windows. After some brief confusion in which Iris thought she was getting the room that was obviously suited for us (a double bed instead of 2 twins) and the subsequent tantrum, we all settled into bed and slept fitfully for at least 12 hours.

I awoke the next day to the sounds of swallows and dozens of Spanish voices. I opened the living room’s double doors onto our tiny 2nd story balcony and looked down at what could only be described as a tour group staring up at the house next to ours! A classic example of Albarracin architecture, no doubt. After a week of living here I’ve grown accustomed to the sounds of the 11:00 tour that passes by our house. Fortunately, Spaniards begin their days quite late by American standards so these tours are in no danger of waking us up now that we’ve recovered from our jet lag.
One of the many tours passing by.

Rooftops of Albarracin

We’ve spent the last week exploring our tiny village, befriending the local kids, hiking the castle walls, conquering the nearby sandstone boulders, and mastering the schedules of the local market.  We’ve probably been drinking too much wine and eating too much bread, but we’ve got 51 more weeks to cultivate healthier habits. Just this morning (a Saturday) we “discovered” a sport crag when Nick looked out our living room window and saw 2 climbers ascending the limestone wall on the far side of town.  Iris has already learned a dozen Spanish words and enjoys using her favorite phrase “quieres jugar” (Do you want to play) on the children of locals and tourists alike. I’ve realized our village isn’t as isolated as we had feared and the closest decent sized town (Teruel) is only 35 minutes away. Our bigger city is Valencia and is only 2 hours away nestled against the Mediterranean.  The food is cheap, the people are friendly, the weather is ideal, and for our little gringo family, life is sweet.

Monday, May 11, 2015

¡Viva EspaƱa!

Trying to be on best behavior at the Spanish Consulate

We're moving to Spain! In fact, we just got the approval for our residency visas from the Spanish consulate last week.

 But we've been planning this move for months. We sold our house in January and one of the vehicles last month. We've pared down all our belongings to a few select things that travel well in a couple suitcases. And we've  been telling all our friends and co-workers about this big adventure.

 I feel like I get an interesting glance into a person's psyche based on how they respond to the simple statement "we're moving to Spain." Pretty much everyone is incredulous at first. And most are excited for us. Typical questions include "how long?" "what part of Spain?" and "what are you going to do?" It's this last question that strikes me as odd. What are we going to do? I struggle to articulate to people that I'll be doing what I always do, namely, enjoying life. We don't have a massive year-long agenda. It's not like planning a 10 day vacation.

Sometimes I realize the questioner doesn't mean what am I going to do day to day, but rather, what am I going to do for work? And when I tell them we've saved up with the intention of not working for at least a year they look baffled. Granted it's been primarily co-workers that do this. My climbing friends seem to intuitively understand that I'm a frugal person.
Inexpensive date option

 But the other folks- yikes! I've had to repeatedly explain that no, I'm not using money from our home sale to fund our adventure. No, I'm not tapping into our retirement accounts. We saved this money over the last couple years on top of maxing out our IRAs and work retirement plans.

And by moving to Spain, instead of vacationing there, we'll not spend any more money than we would by staying in the US: less, in fact. Life is fairly inexpensive in Spain compared to California. Long-term rentals are way cheaper than vacation rentals. And by not having a house or cars back in the States, we're not doubling up on expenses like rent, utilities, car insurance, etc. Because we don't have to worry about finding jobs we were able to rent a place in an inexpensive little village.
No SoCal rent prices here!

 Because we won't be working we can easily get around with only one car and our bikes. If we weren't such avid climbers we could get by without a car at all. And because we are renting a furnished apartment for a finite time we won't be tempted to fill it with all the junk Americans like to cram in their houses.
Did I mention I'll have a personal chef in Spain?

 Preschool will be free for my daughter. Healthcare is affordable. Gas is expensive, but typical vehicle fuel economy is roughly twice what it is in the US. All these things add up to save us a tremendous amount of money without any sacrifice on our parts. Win, win, I say.

Lately though, when people ask me why I'm moving to Spain, I just tell them my wine and olive budget was just getting to be so ridiculous here in the States that I couldn't afford not to move to Spain.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Since arriving in Boone, we have been keeping ourselves quite busy!  After arriving the cabin needed a bit of cleaning up.  Especially since we officially moved our junk show back across the country. Since about the fall when we finally decided to sell our Bishop house and really go for moving to Spain for the next year or perhaps more, we have been sorting, selling and thrifting all our stuff into smaller and smaller divisions until finally we came up with the vital items that we’d find highly useful in our Boone cabin or, things that are irreplaceable pieces of art that Jill and I have collected over the years from various travel destinations.  Instead of moving our items across the country for thousands of dollars in a rental truck we opted for the cheaper option of Southwest Airlines.  Southwest airlines might be my favorite airline in the country because they not only have some of the cheapest flights in the country, but also still allow a passenger check to large bags for no extra charge.  Combined with the US airways baggage policy that Jill took advantage of with her frequent flier miles, we ended up being able to check a total of 7 very large suitcases and managed to move almost everything of value from Bishop to Boone via airline travel.  The only real problem was getting all that luggage into the trusty silver bullet. Which we did without too much suffering.

 After the necessary sorting we went after the things we love most, getting outside in Boone when it’s not raining.  Jill, coming off strong from the last three weeks in Joe’s Valley, Utah, wanted to get after some personal projects at the Blowing Rock boulders.  Since I managed to pop a pulley in my right ring finger on the last day in Utah, I decided to run the trail that runs from the boulders all the way down into the Globe. My favorite thing about running is definitely not the running, but the sense of exploration that I get when I head out on a new trail. Out of all the hundreds of times that I bouldered in Blowing Rock, I never once ventured down this trail more than a few hundred yards. I was not let down. 

I decided to run about 3 miles downhill before turning around and heading back up the hill.  This seemed like a reasonable level of off the couch suffering based on my last 4 years of trail running in the Eastern Sierra.   This run ended up being one of the most beautiful runs I’ve ever been on in this area and I am surprised it took me so long to do it.  I guess a finger injury is really the only way to keep me off the boulders in Blowing Rock.  The trail started off pretty steep and junky until I made the initial drop to the creek which then lead me to a fairly smooth single track trail that followed the creek down the hill.  It had some beautiful waterfalls, the requisite log crossings and even a delicious spring to fill my water!

The next day we went for a walk with Jill's cousin, and Iris's little cousin Hawk and we happened across a porch swing with a terrific view of the surrounding mountains!