Home2008 JournalsContact Us

#20  Stateside:  December 9, 2008 - March 12, 2009 

 

Wild Winter Weather
    After suffering because our cold weather clothing was better suited to cycling than walking during our 2-week long retreat from the Balkans through Venice and Frankfurt to home, it was a joy to greet the Pacific Northwest's rare cold snap more successfully. Neither of us own a "proper" heavy winter coat but our Stateside stash of extra 'base layers' easily filled the gap.


1 shopping cart was for the food; 1 cart for the winter clothing.

We'd shivered for endless hours while walking in persistent breezes that sharpened the bite of cold December air in northern Europe but we were actually overheating in Portland when the temperatures dropped below freezing. It was sweet revenge to unzip several layers because I was too warm even when the temperatures were stuck in the 20's--quite a contrast to feeling defeated by those in the 30's a week before.

I was so successful at layering and sealing off heat-leaking gaps in my clothing cocoon that it was only when the wind chill was in the single digits that my many layers were just right.

We touched down at Portland's International Airport in 50 weather on a Tuesday and by Sunday it was snowing. Portland sees a bit of snow many winters, though the snow storms of '08 were exceptional events. Like other locals, we are accustomed to tempering our child-like delight with mature wisdom when the first flakes appear.

We all know to keep our gaze high and enjoy those luscious flakes in the air as they are likely to unceremoniously lose their wonder as they instantly become ordinary raindrops on the pavement. "Accumulation" is rarely used to describe snow in Portland whereas "a skiff" or "sticking on the grass but not the pavement" are more common reports. But this time it was different. This time the snow stuck, it accumulated, it piled up, it blew around, it drifted, it was coated with ice, and it attracted a slew of other descriptors as the snow days stacked up until they were weeks.


Snow accumulation is rare along Portland's waterfront.

Sixteen inches in the low lying land at almost sea level was the last report I heard at the end of 2 weeks of continuous white stuff, though more fell after that. Just amazing. Not an all time record-breaker, but I believe it was a record for snow fall in December and perhaps a 40 year record for a winter accumulation. Some of the snow piles around town survived for weeks after the record-breaking 2-3" of rain on January 1st. And even more amazing, snow was occasionally falling in the city until a few days before we left for Europe on March 12th.

For us, the scale tipped heavier to the "Fun" than the "Misery" side during the 2 week snow event. A furnace failure the first night added to the drama but fortunately it was repaired before the sun set on the second night. Ice again formed on the bedroom window as it does when the temperatures dip well below freezing. Many of our appointments were cancelled though we got to almost everywhere we wanted to go by walking. Our big loss was an afternoon Christmas party on the first day of snow when prudence won out over desire as we cancelled our rental car reservation because of the necessary freeway drive in an ill-equipped car.

But snow is much more fun than rain and the white coating brightened the days even under the regional specialty of persistently gray skies. And despite the second week of our weather event decimating our holiday dinner plans and the travel plans of many others, people were in surprisingly good cheer. The number of people out and about was of course way down as the few snow plows only attempted to clear the main thoroughfares, but the folks we encountered were patient and calm.

I met my 2 hour fitness walking goal all but 1 day and in doing so chatted with a number of strangers. One woman hoping to drag her suitcase through the snow to catch a bus asked to take my photo in case she was able to catch her flight to North Carolina--she wanted to show the folks back home how the locals where coping. Pedestrians often yielded their right of way to the few cars managing to pick-up any speed at all and in return motorists were obliging when a walker like me took to the packed surfaces on the roads. It was fun to walk down the middle of normally busy streets and know that I'd hear the approach of the rare car blocks before I needed to yield their roadway to them.

 


For a brief moment, Bill felt like a hobbled Egyptian camel.

"Got Cameled"

And like with many of our memorable events, a new phrase was coined to capture a new experience. "Cameled" popped out of his mouth as Bill barely saved himself from a face plant in the packed snow. It was in reference to seeing camels in Egypt with 1 leg hobbled so that they wouldn't run off. Bill unexpectedly "Got cameled" by his hiking boots when walking in the snow one evening.

The heavy duty hiking boots he bought in the same year as we visited Egypt, 2006, were making their snow debut when the lace hooks at the 2 boot tops locked-horns. He only had laced the boot tops part way up to increase his ankle mobility for the many miles of walking, but that left the hooks free to catch on each other. The metal lacing hooks briefly held his boots together mid-stride, causing him to spasmodically spin around and the hooks only disengaged as his lurching movement threatened to take him down. As I looked back in response to the muffled shrieks, Bill let out "I got cameled," and so it will always been known.

 

"Press on Regardless"

We don't really put ourselves in the "press on regardless" category as when touring we more often opt for comfort and caution rather than risking too long or too arduous of a day, but on home turf it is another matter and we become a little bolder.

We happily "pressed on regardless" for day outings in the snow. I reveled in the variety the snow introduced in my "walk to commute" routine. Walking 2 hours a day every day in same city can become tedious but it was all different in the snow.


The snow got deeper, and deeper, and deeper.

I tried shuffling like a skier down neighborhood slopes and experimented with a high-stepping, loping gait in the deep powder. Breaking the quarter of an inch of ice top-coating deep snow one morning required yet another accommodation as did the slicker surfaces the next. And the deep puddles that formed behind snow dams at street corners when the rains finally came required new tactics. We pressed on through the delightful onslaught of challenges to get to appointments, visit my mother, and to buy groceries. Aching quads, annoyed knees, and complaints from unfamiliar calf muscles all attested to the cross-training effects of walking for 2 weeks in the snow and ice.

Oh, and of course, I pressed-on wearing my sandals in the snow. I really had little choice as my feet must reflect a past-life as a Sherpa--they just can't tolerate shoes. I wore my hiking boots purchased in deference to Italian hiking guides in 2006 but had the familiar pains at the end of the first snow day that persisted for days afterwards. Goretex socks with felt inner soles, heavy wool socks, and my Vibram-soled Chacos held me in good stead for the winter siege. The soles on Bill's new hiking shoes gave him noticeably better traction in the ice than my sandals but I made up for my shortcomings by donning traction devices on 1 day and using my trekking poles many of the other days.

After the snow melted we pressed-on in a downpour to make the 25 mile roundtrip bike ride retrieve our 2 week accumulation of mail. We knew that weather-wise we'd selected a rotten day to ride as rain and wind was in the forecast with the winds peaking at 50 mph at the end of the day. But from a traffic standpoint New Year's Day was the perfect day to make our first bike ride in 5 weeks and the mail was surely piling up. We completed our 4 hour mission with a few other stops along the way while the winds were still peaking in the 20's. Only later did we learn that it was a record-breaking 3+" rainfall that day--more than half the monthly average--which qualified in my book for "pressing on regardless."  

 


Looking too much the part on the way to Goodwill.

Year-End Chores

The onerous-ness of our chores our first weeks home shrank as the snow piles grew. What was happening outdoors was far more captivating than anything indoors. Even the distress of jet lag recovery was moderated by the snow as our focus, like everyone else's, was back to the basics of living instead of taking on complex challenges. Appointments, errands, and other chores had to take weather-related closures and limitations into account. What we wanted gave-way to what could be done under the circumstances. And new solutions had to be found to old problems.

One rather arbitrary goal I didn't want to abandon was to deliver a load of donation items to Goodwill Industries before the end of the year. It was a bookkeeping issue--to get the donation entry on to our 2008 taxes rather than track the receipt for another year. But getting the bulky bean bag chair to the center was perplexing. We could haul the bags of clothing and shoes in sacks and backpacks but the chair was too bulky to hand-carry very far. A borrowed, light-duty shopping cart was barely able to contain the floppy furniture item which was then wrapped in our ponchos because of the rain. 

We felt triumphant that we could haul everything in one slow-paced walk to the donation center but realized that we now had transformed our look from that of outdoor adventurers to that of Portland's homeless. Most of the homeless have sturdier shopping carts 'borrowed' from supermarkets but the more successful ones protect their treasures from the rain like we had done. Bill's sister assured us (and herself) that the details of our garb would differentiate us from the street people but we weren't so sure.


But this is how the pro's in Portland do it.

We quickly learned that not everyone was clear as to our 'colors' when we headed out with the trademark plastic covered cart. My usual cheery greetings to passersby weren't returned with the familiar ease. This day blank-faced stares instead of smiles were the norm on the still snowy sidewalks. It was an unintentional but interesting social experiment especially as our reception flipped back to normal on our return trip home when the empty cart was folded up and the poncho covers were tucked into our packs.

 

Behind the Wheel Again

After all but the plow-built piles of snow cleared, we rented a car-share Zipcar for a day to do some postponed errands. This would be our first drive in car since returning to the States and we knew it would require extra alertness. We still vividly remembered our first visit home in 2002 and at being stunned at how difficult it was to be drivers again.

Those first years we were dismayed with our clumsiness with every transition: from not driving to driving; from riding loaded bikes to unloaded bikes and back again. As cyclists we became habituated to either loaded or unloaded and switching to the other state of being made it difficult to keep our bikes upright. Over the 8 years of touring that transition has become a simple matter and now we hardly notice a difference in our steadiness.


Barb behind the wheel in "Martell" the share-car Mini-Cooper.

As switching the loads on and off our bikes used to severely affect our bike handling, switching from being on a bike for 9 months to driving a car used to be very difficult. In fact, it was down right terrifying the first year or 2 as we dusted off our driving skills. Fortunately the shockiness of again getting behind the wheel had worn off and this year we could focus on the task of driving instead of our jitteriness. 

I did however burst out in laughter the first day I drove. We had rented a small, low to the ground Mini Cooper and were heading into Portland from Vancouver. As I approached the I-5 bridge I realized I was following the much more familiar bike route--a street route that would soon put us on the bridge sidewalk. I assume it was the well-worn-path we'd traveled so many times on our bikes that sucked me in but we wondered if the small profile of the Mini hadn't blurred the lines a little bit too. Fortunately the error was caught in time to turn onto the auto approach to the bridge before having to backtrack to undo the mistake.

 

Living Like Tourists At Home

Increasingly our time back home is spent more and more like our time abroad and not driving a car much is just one such example. The focus of our time is wildly different when at home than abroad as at home we are visiting with friends and family, obtaining health services, and purchasing replacement gear. When overseas, our focus is instead on pedaling and visiting museums. However it is the process, how we go about doing our daily activities, that feels increasingly similar whether we are at home or away.

Bill had to use the same trial-and-error process to access the internet Stateside this year as when were are abroad. We couldn't slip into the familiar service stream that we'd enjoyed when we left town, he had to start from scratch to "see what was out there." And just like when overseas, that meant not buying the right product the first time.

I quickly noticed that I was searching for "indoor picnic" spots in Portland and Vancouver just like I do overseas in the winter. The recent need of my gut to receive smaller meals meant that carrying a sack lunch was a better option than eating out and it was certainly cheaper and healthier. I rediscovered indoor public spaces where sitting on a bench or chair for a brief juice break was well tolerated and looked harder to find places where I could open up my sack lunch without being inappropriate.  Hours and hours out-and-about walking to appointments and shopping also meant that a more careful cataloging of public toilets on my usual routes was needed.

The commitment we made to walking for fitness when off the bike also contributed to blurring the differences in the texture of our time at home and overseas. Our overseas urban sightseeing now entails hours of walking, just like at home. Now we shun public transportation and beat the pavement with our feet regardless of which continent we are on. Fitness walking for transportation now means that the clothes we wear varies little from place to place. The need for breathable, wicking fibers is the same everywhere--it's the temperature not our location that drives our garment selection from day to day.

Being a walking commuter has also meant I use a city map in Portland and Vancouver far more than I did when I drove. Getting to appointments on time by foot requires more accurately knowing the distance involved and taking the familiar car route often wasn't the best choice. I invariably checked the city map the night before sequencing errands in a new order so as to get the best mix of total distance and scenic quality while minimizing the traffic noise experienced while walking.

And on foot at home or abroad, we always go out the door with a backpack partially filled with rain gear, snacks, and water. Increasingly, the camera goes with us each day at home like it does overseas. Of course we take fewer pictures at home but like when traveling, we just never know when something will trigger the longing to make an image enduring.

 

Electronic Challenges

Bill's usual string of electronic challenges was less taxing than most years. The new-in-2008 Dell laptop was repaired the day after we returned (and before the snow hit.) Our new HP back-up laptop, "Little Brother," was purchased a few days later at Costco and was up and running with few problems. Getting the 2 laptops to communicate as Bill demanded took a week of hair-tearing hard work on his part but hey, it was only a week, not a month. The brand new camera we sent home for repairs was indeed fixed and waiting for us. The time-sucking hardware and software problems that usually depleted Bill were melting away before the snows could do the same.

Internet access was the one certainty in the whole mix and we were flabbergasted to discover it wasn't a certainty--in fact, it wasn't even there. The pokey but free Metrofi wifi cloud that we had barely been shaded by when we left town last winter had disappeared. Bill looked for the familiar signal but it wasn't there. He hauled the newly repaired laptop to different positions hoping to catch the cloud but without success. His phone call to a neighbor short circuited the 'wait and see' plan that had  assumed it was a temporary hiccup. "Gone" he was told. Completely gone. Poof. Not there.

The race was on to find a non-contract based internet provider for the next 12 weeks. Bill used 3 different services in 2 weeks, finally settling on the new WiMAX service by Clear weeks before its official debut. It was an expensive bit of floundering but we wrote it off as "tourist tax" as we do equally annoying, seemingly unnecessary expenses when abroad.

 


Closing a chapter: life in the attic room.

"Oh By The Way..."

Not on the Calendar for This Year

Each year when we return to the States we always have several special projects in mind. This year simultaneously taking the 1st and 2nd terms of Italian was a high priority, as was taking a motorcycle license endorsement class. We don't have any plans for riding motorcycles but we'd like to have the skills to make them an option when we are in more remote areas. But each year there are unexpected challenges that rear-up and reorganize our priorities and our 2008-09 stay was no exception. This year the orderliness of our stay was blown to bits by needing to move.

When we downsized and moved out of our house in 2001, we split our remaining belongings between 2 locations: a studio apartment in Vancouver and the attic of Bill's family's home where his sister lived. Suddenly we needed to consolidate too much stuff to fit in either space. Suddenly we were on our bikes cruising the streets of Vancouver looking for a larger, though still inexpensive apartment, to hold us and all of our belongings. The rental market in our price range was tight, our timeline was compressed, and my anxiety level shot through the roof. Moving is one of those things I like to initiate with a calm interval of methodical culling of possessions but speed, not orderliness, would define this process.

Learning Curve

We moved up a surprisingly rapid learning curve as we searched for apartments. The first challenge was finding them as many more were for rent than suggested by looking in the Sunday paper; online; or in free, curbside booklets. We slowly discovered that complexes had units for rent even if there was no sign on the lawn or building.

The next discovery was of the "Tax Credit Properties" which have income caps below our income. A disappointing number of the new, attractive buildings in the Vancouver downtown core where we wanted to be had such income limits.

The biggest shock however was to be taken aside by a kind complex assistant manager to educate us as to how to screen complexes. We look for new lodging almost every night when overseas and our primary screening skill involves looking up. We look up at the windows on B&B's and small hotels to study the age and quality of the windows and the condition of the window coverings. Checking the windows and window coverings is a good general indicator of the level of upkeep delivered by the owners. But our Vancouver mentor told us to look down instead of up.

This assistant manager of this first complex we visited said to begin our evaluation of a property by locating the dumpsters and scanning for piles of beer cans. I found myself being downright embarrassed when taking her advice as I rolled up to the first complex and stopped my bike in front of a dumpster.  The thought "I can't believe I'm doing this" stiffened my body as I paused to examine the container and its larger environment even though my respectful distance would prevent me from being mistaken for a 'dumpster diver.' The first place barely passed the dumpster test: no piles of beer cans but pretty messy.

I then moved on to follow her second instruction, which was to slowly cruise the parking lot looking between the parked cars for used condoms and syringes. Yikes! No doubt our eyes bugged out at this instruction. But sure enough, after I moved on from the dumpster area at this apartment complex I found 2 condoms in the middle of the parking lot. Luckily there were no syringes, but we hurried out of the parking lot any way.

We were in a state of culture shock as we made our rounds past the dumpsters and through the parking lots at a series of Vancouver apartment complexes. Her tips were invaluable. We later learned that one place that had none of the markers for criminal activities but made us feel uneasy anyway was in the process of cleaning up their clientele. They had apparently just rid themselves of their last felon and were now working on moving out the second tier folks--felon groupies.


An unexpectedly large kitchen in our new budget-friendly apartment.

Our guardian angel/mentor knew from experience what to look for as at her complex they had reduced their annual police incident call from 1200 per year to 200. She spoke with pride that the crimes committed on her complex grounds had shifted from prostitution and drug dealing (hence the condoms and syringes) to mere domestic violence. We were aghast that domestic violence was measure of success.

Her formula for evaluating complexes worked like a charm however. The place she recommend passed with flying colors when Bill and I reconnected after splitting up to make our evaluations. Bill breezed up to me on his bike and reported he couldn't even find the dumpster, that it appeared that the complex had a very tidy trash compactor. My assessment matched his as the parking lot was spotless. Amazingly, the apartments in this complex were the same price as the place with 200 police incidents a year. And the place we eventually took also had a reassuringly neat parking lot and dumpster area. Our mentor was right in judging the area's apartments by the exterior care: the interior of the place we selected was as well maintained as the exterior and only had a couple of police visits a year.

We will be eternally grateful for that assistant manager who took us under her wing and concisely educated us as to how to select a budget apartment in Vancouver. Given we only are in the States a couple of months a year we didn't want to pay the premium for the more upscale, gated community she recommended for us. With her help we had completed "Mission Impossible": we'd located a quiet, safe, secure, and inexpensive apartment in an afternoon on our bikes. We returned the next day when the apartment rental office was open and sealed the deal on our new apartment after finally seeing the interior.

 


Bill loading up on our "pre-move" moving day.

Moving

Pre-Move
   
A week before "the big move" we rented a small van for a pre-move moving day. That was the day the hard to pack items were relocated.

   We picked up the awkward things from both locations to be hand carried  to the new apartment, things like the heavy pair of iron geese, the free-standing globe, the delicate silk flower, and the stone owl. Fluffy items like 4 sleeping bags and my giant exercise ball were also carted away so as not to create stacking problems inside the moving truck a week later.
    The pre-move also was a clever way to deal with our shortage of moving boxes as we unpacked many of the boxed items and hauled the emptied boxes back to be refilled.

Moving Day

The unanticipated move went as well as it could have. Our top priority was not lose track of items that needed to be on the plane to Frankfurt with us on March 12 and we succeeded at that. However, it had its stresses.

My wild estimate was that it would take 3 to 4 hours for our 3 friends to help us consolidate all of our belongings into 1 location using a 14' U-Haul truck. After 8 hours, they had to leave and the truck still wasn't unloaded. Worse yet, the apartment was absolutely packed to the gills and we were overdo to eat dinner.

Despite our fatigue, we struck upon a winning plan. We unloaded the last of the truck contents into the hallway outside of our 3rd floor apartment. That would allow us to move the truck out of the illegal parking spot in the disabled parking space which had required 1 person always be with the truck.

Next we cooked and ate a quick dinner with the door to the apartment open towards our many boxes of belongings in the hall. No one complained about them; no one bothered them. Then it was on to assemble the multiple pieces of our bed set into a single, more compact and functional unit. Putting the bed together freed up an unexpected amount of floor space which allowed dragging more furniture into the bedroom. Stashing small items under the low bed also absorbed some of the excess. Suddenly we had enough space in the apartment to scoot the outcast-looking boxes through our front door and we could finally go to bed.


Our old folding garden cart was a winner on both moving days.

One one hand it was a fright that the following day was fully booked with appointments--appointments made months before while still in Europe. It was terrible not be have time to put some order into the mess and yet our bodies were so strained from all the lifting of the day before--even though we did none of the heavy work--that it was best to just walk away.

The Days After

One of the horrors of this relocation was not having time to further downsize our stash before the move but to instead have to do it afterwards. So, as we unpacked many things stored in boxes for 8 years, we began the process of confrontation.

One shock as we opened boxes was how much of our stuff was worn-out. Many of our extra towels in storage were ragged around the edges, the extra sheets were pitifully thin, several kitchen pots needed replacing, and the vacuum cleaner was on its last legs. As I was caught-up in the repulsion of it, Bill remembered both parts of the story. In anticipation of beginning our traveling life, we stopped replacing things like the linens and the vacuum cleaner. We decided that we'd absolutely minimize the purchase of new items during our last few years in town and make-do with the degraded quality of material things around us. Economizing was part of the drive; "Why replace it when it's just going to get stored or perhaps thrown-out?" was the other part.

Additionally, when we packed-up 8 years ago we expected to be gone for a year or 2, maybe 3. We also knew that there was a possibility that we'd only be gone 6 months if we didn't like the lifestyle. So in case we moved back into our house, we didn't want to have to start from scratch with purchasing so many things so we'd kept enough to get us restarted in that space.


Last minute sewing in overfilled new quarters.

Bill remembering our reasoning from 8 years before softened the horror of seeing so many of our belongings that weren't even suitable for charitable donations and it made it easier to do the right thing: move out the excesses. We kept with our original plan, which was to replace the worn-out things gradually. We treated ourselves to a new set of sheets and a new blanket this year; next year we'll replace the vacuum cleaner.

An unexpected eight years had passed since we packed up our lives and it was time to take a hard look to the future. "Will I ever serve another sit-down dinner for 12?" was a question that had to be answered as  I unpacked the kitchen wares. It was a small apartment, I'd be 58 in a few weeks, there was no end in sight to our traveling--time to get realistic. Standing surrounded by stacks of boxes shoulder-high with mere channels between them, we agreed that we'd never own a house again, that we'd not save the wares needed to serve 12, and that indeed we would commit to living smaller, living lighter the rest of our lives together. Those were big decisions to make while talking to each other across a maze of boxes and yet we had to formulate a strategy for living in the existing space or find another one. 

Left Undone

We didn't have time to unpack everything or to get completely settled into our new apartment before our better-judgment dictated that we turn our attention to preparing to leave for Europe. The unpacked boxes were stacked neatly in piles with their content's lists showing; towel racks and other aids to efficient living in the smaller space that had been purchased but not installed were set aside in a separate pile.

Switching gears to leaving for Europe had a sense of failure about it. We were deeply disappointed not to assemble our photo album this year and had planned to take a motor cycle endorsement class. Our wills were on the list to be updated and like visits with some friends, had to be postponed until next year. None of the movies on my list were seen nor were any of the books read; Bill didn't do the big CD culling project he'd planned for this year's stay; and our fitness level had taken a serious dive.


We only joined the Family Breakfast once during our stay.

But under the circumstances, we were satisfied with what we had accomplished in our Stateside stay. We consciously turned our attention to the future instead of dwelling on what could have, what should have, been. A long to-do list for the winter of 2009-10 was made and with that we turned our focus on packing for traveling. 

Ending on a High Note

 One delight from the move was discovering a week before our departure that our new apartment was a mere 15 minute walk from one of Vancouver's 2 recreation centers. Though ours is the smaller of the 2 centers, my fantasies quickly ran wild with visions of dropping in on kick-boxing, qigong, mat Pilates, spinning, and aerobic dance classes when we returned next winter.

For the last 2 years I'd heavily relied upon walking-to-commute as my main source of exercise. With the move, our commutes on public transportation to appointments required budgeting an hour and a half each way and extending that time by walking more of it was decidedly uninviting. But that had left me floundering to cobble together a walking and cycling routine for my daily exercise. Suddenly the rec center with its swimming pool, gym, and classes solved that problem, and for the too-good-to-be-true price of $5 a day. I usually dread indoor workouts but a few days a week for a couple of months a year in the gym would take the pressure off of keeping my interest up with less-than-idyllic local walking and cycling.

 

Portland/Vancouver

"Portland/Vancouver" is a local expression familiar to those living in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area. The 2 cities are separated by the mighty Columbia River and certainly to Portlanders, much smaller Vancouver is the step-child of the pair.  But moving into our new apartment in Vancouver early in 2009 resulted in us bonding with Vancouver in a new way. Washington had been our legal residence since we began traveling in 2001, but our hearts and identities had remained with Portland.


Learning from fellow commuters: ear disks as headphone holders.

But in the process of anchoring more firmly in Vancouver, we learned about the middle ground, the "Portland/Vancouver" services bridge. We learned that bus tickets were seamlessly interchangeable between the 2 municipalities and that the cheaper all day/all zone Portland tickets could be used for outings originating on the Vancouver transit system. And the physical link between the 2 systems was flawless, with no inconvenient hurdles to cross.

We also learned that the Portland Public Library system kindly grants Vancouver residents library cards with full access to their library services and the Portland Community College system allowed us to concurrently take our 1st and 2nd term Italian courses with no out-of-state fee. Happily, our Portland telephone number that we'd had for 30 years could be linked to my cell phone this year and used in Vancouver with no extra charge. And luckily, our internet access system functioned just as well on either side of the state line.

Another bonus was discovering that the free "Cycling the Cities" bike map published by the City of Vancouver gives a complete route map for both Portland and Vancouver; the Portland "Bike There" map shows only Portland and is $6.

The old, more familiar divides still exist between the 2 cities and 2 states, such as a sales tax in Washington and none in Oregon, and a deposit on drink containers in Oregon but not Washington. But we were pleased to discover that in more fully accepting our identity as Vancouver residents that we weren't excluded from some of the conveniences known to us in the past as Portlanders.

 

Friends & the Financial Crisis

Along with the disappointing chaos of moving, we were disappointed that the global financial crisis didn't show more signs of easing while we were back home.  But we appreciated the opportunity to see the effects for ourselves in a familiar environment and to chat with friends about the state of affairs. Like never before we were politely asked in general terms how we were fairing financially. The cultural prohibition against asking such questions had clearly been subjected to some new rules in these hard times. Questions that were off-limits a year ago were fair-game, though all concerned made it clear that they weren't pressing for too many details.

We've always been open to discussing our general financial situation since becoming travelers as "How we've made it work" is a legitimate question. Our financial plan was built anticipating down years, but of course this one was farther down than any one expected. Bill was scrambling to line-up cash for 2009 as our usual income stream from year-end dividends dried up. Fortunately he remembered our stash of "just in case" Savings Bonds that were maturing and 2009 looked like the perfect time to cash some of them so as not to sell any of our equities at a loss. (We'd established those reserves based on the advise of others and never imagined it would be such a perfect solution.)

As hoped, our accountant wrapped up our tax return 3 days before we flew to Frankfurt and the unexpected good news was that it had been such a terrible year for us income-wise that we were actually getting a tax refund. We'd need little of our "just in case" bonds, at least for this year.

Everyone with whom we discussed the financial meltdown didn't hesitate to share their story. Friends in their 40's and early 50's in the high tech industry were looking at plant closures and planning their personal strategies for staying employed in the contracting market. Friends in real estate weren't worried about losing their jobs but made less money in 2008 than in prior years and weren't expecting much better for 2009.

Many friends were postponing their retirement plans since seeing the contents of their 401k plans shrink enough to now be jokingly referred to as 201k plans. Friends who felt secure in their positions, like those involved in laying-off other employees, worried for their company and industry. And one woman who had just secured a new position after being unemployed 2 months was experiencing survivor's guilt as colleagues out of work for a year still had no prospect of employment.

It seemed that our friends and associates that had established practices and small businesses were faring fairly well. The sports massage therapist we see said he was doing fine though his calendar was only booked out a week instead of the usual month. Many of his friends however who were in more of the 'massage for relaxation' area had seen a drastic drop in their business.

One part-time therapist said his business plummeted in October and was only beginning to revive in January. Some of my yoga-teacher friends were seeing declines in their enrollment, others were cautiously saying there was no change yet. A yoga teacher who sponsored a temporary scholarship program to respond to the financial crisis was stunned that she was unable to stop the flow of donations to the cause from other students.

We took some comfort in these local niche measurements of the economy and continued to be cautiously optimistic that the recovery for some sectors was underway.

 

Time to Go

Our sense of ourselves and of the world felt quite different when we left Portland/Vancouver on March 12, 2009 than it had in prior years. Our new apartment with a new position in Vancouver gave us a new sense of place that we were excited about returning to. We felt triumphant in having managed to keep up in both the 1st and 2nd terms of Italian classes at the community college, despite the distractions of the unexpected move. And though we had left behind a bigger mess and more things undone than ever before, we had greater clarity as to how we would shape our time when back in the States in the winter.

The frightfulness of the economy continued to be a strain and yet for us it had been a relief to get back home to see just what our state of affairs was. It was about as bad as we'd expected but we appreciated seeing the details: they eliminated the uncertainty.  We don't expect it to be substantially better when we return in 9 months, but we now have our own benchmarks for measuring the recovery.

 

Where We Are Now April 18, 2009:  Ulcinj, Montenegro
   
Our 3 day lay-over in Ulcinj, Montenegro was off to a great start as among other things, we were able to finish our last 2 files from 2008, this one you've just read being the last one. The layover also looked very wise as we arose to a fierce storm on what would have been our departure day. The usually calm Adriatic Sea had white caps; the palm tree branches swirled like giant mop heads at a car wash; and the rain pelted our windows. Fortunately the tempest broke in time for the bread-run for lunch to occur under sunny skies.
    But a short layover that began as a choice became a longer layover because of necessity. After the rains had mostly stopped on that stormy Monday, I went out for my fitness walk. On the way 'home' I slipped on a wet, 25+% grade downhill road and fell backwards into the inside curve of the little road onto my extended left arm. The position at impact and the transient pain that I almost passed out from suggested that I partially dislocated my shoulder. Both my shoulder and I were much, much happier even 2 hours after the impact but the shoulder was too weak to participate in the slightest gesture, like pressing an earring back onto the earring stud. Soooo, we'll stay in Ulcinj until my shoulder is stronger and sturdier. But with a sea view apartment for $33/night and a "To Do" list seemingly without an end, whose complaining?
    Once underway again, we'll be hopping a train from the transportation hub of coastal Bar to the interior in hopes of finding some quiet roads in stunning countryside. The truck traffic has made riding on the through roads in Montenegro decidedly un-fun and we're giving the country one more chance to salvage its image for cyclists.
 

Our best to all of you,

Barb & Bill

Home2008 JournalsContact Us