Friday, November 27, 2015

Island Life Wrap-up

We said goodbye to our 2-month caretaking gig on that secret island today, but want wholeheartedly to come back someday.

We are mountain people through and through, but there was something magical about seeing the golden honey and grapefruit sky sink into the ocean every single night. 

And, we never tired of watching and listening to the churning waters smash against the rocks spraying the horizon. 

Yes! That is a seal. Only spotted ONE.

With hints of winter peeking through, we know island life is about to get a little bit harder. The caretakers begin to operate on a real off-the-grid experience. 

We fully admit our “off-the-grid” island life has been cushy. With unlimited fresh running water, abundant sun (which means abundant electricity) and only the occasional need to get the stove going for heat, who could complain. 

But from this point forward, the caretakers will have have to be more mindful of water and electricity usage, and will have to work hard to stay warm. 

They will have to go fetch their fresh drinking water. There will still be running water for showers and washing dishes, but it comes from a 500 gallon cistern, so when it empties, there is the task of refilling it. 

Also, our solar panel read full for all 60 days we were here (okay, one day it dropped to 90%, but still). We did not have to turn on the generator once and were not stingy with our electricity use. Shorter and cloudier days during the winter means more reading by candlelight. 

The finicky coal stove will be another battle. On day 45, we finally got the coal stove going. To be fair, we didn’t really need it until around 45 days in, but we did try 4 times before actually succeeding at getting it going. And, we still haven’t mastered it. During the winter, it becomes almost a full-time job to keep that thing going, not just for your own safety and comfort, but so the building doesn’t freeze. I am going to venture to say that if we stayed through the winter, there would be more shivering profanities aimed at the stove.  

I still don’t think the winter isolation would bother us one bit, and hopefully sometime we can find out. We have kept very busy on the island and I know you are scratching your head as to how this can be, but the days flew by. We always have projects to work on and this time it was planning our New Zealand Speaking Tour. But we can always find a way to entertain ourselves.

And, for those wondering how we did on food rations, the verdict is we think we did great. 

Some quantities were over the top, such as the 6 lbs of shredded cheese, 7 boxes of pasta and 24-pack of hot dogs. 

Then there were items that became a lesson learned. For example, 2 gallons of milk and 2 loaves of bread is NOT enough to last 2 months. Also, you can never have too much chocolate, bacon and beer. 

Thankfully, there's always living off the land, or the sea, in this case.

Overall, we realized living on an island was just like backpacking. You always want what you don’t have!!! 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Need A New Book? Here Are 20 Possibilities!

During the past 5 months, I read 15 books and J read 10. It may not seem like a lot for some people, but it was for us. We love to read, but when we’re on the road, we listen to a lot of audiobooks and podcasts. Our summer and fall caretaking gigs afforded us actual book reading time, so we made it a point to devour some titles that have been on our list for awhile. 

We thought we’d share our list of 20 books with a rating from 1-10 (10 being a must read). Both of us enjoy nonfiction more than fiction, and of course enjoy the adventure/travel genre. Even still, maybe you’ll find a good suggestion to add to your list! 

To start, here are the 5 books both of us read … 
The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev and G. Weston DeWalt 
Rating: 10
This is the true account told by Anatoli Boukreev, the hero of the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster, which claimed 5 lives from 2 expeditions. Boukreev personally saved 4 people and tried to save more. The Hollywood movie “Everest” that came out this year was based on several books, including Boukreev’s story. 

Denali's Howl by Andy Hall 
Rating: 10
This is the true story of the worst climbing disaster on North America’s highest peak, Denali, which J will be climbing this May (shiver). The book gives an inside look of theories of what went wrong on this particular expedition through interviews with surviving team members and other climbers. We both were a little unnerved after reading the details of this fateful climb, but J knows what he is getting into. 

Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides 
Rating: 9
This nonfiction piece puts another angle on Martin Luther King Jr's assassination by delving into the details of his assassin, James Earl Ray. Since Ray is dead, a lot of research and interviews contributed to his story, and we still don’t really know the truth behind his motives. Both of us didn’t realize Ray prompted the largest manhunt in American history. 

Short Tails from Long Trails by Justin Lichter 
Rating: 8
Most hikers have heard the name Justin Lichter. He has more than 40,000 miles under his belt. We’ve seen him speak and he certainly has some stories to tell. He highlights a few of those stories in this short book. Anyone looking to live vicariously through a true adventurer, check out this one. 

Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler
Rating: 4
Have you ever wondered what goes through a 12-year-old boy’s mind? Well, this book was written by 12-year-old Donn Fendler about his experience being lost on Katahdin in Maine. I give this kid credit; he overcame the odds and survived 8 nights out in the wilderness with no food or proper clothing. We picked up this book because someone suggested it to us … it was a very short read, but I really wouldn’t suggest anyone to pay for the book. 

Patrice's List
Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall
Rating: 10
I came across this book because the writer, Michelle, is a friend of ours who used to be our boss at Backpacker. This woman has had an amazing life and I've always admired her accomplishments. She grew up gay in southern Texas and was basically disowned by her very Catholic family because of it. She and her partner adopted a Cambodian boy who came from a broken home. Oh, and Michelle has MS. Clearly she has a lot of stories and struggles to share. And even though I half knew her story from what she told us, I found her writing to be so compelling that I was on the edge of my seat! Devoured this memoir in just 3 days.

Bared To You/Reflected in You/Entwined with You by Sylvia Day
Rating: 8
I don’t read a lot of fiction, but sometimes I need a quick (and dirty) read. This was it. This is a 5-part series, but I only read the first 3. It was kind of a ramped up version of "50 Shades of Grey." There's more of a twisted past for both characters turned love story. 

Hotel by Arthur Hailey
Rating: 8
This was another fiction book. I found it in the church library when we were working up in Maine and even though it is set in the 1960s, I thought I could somewhat relate to the story of 5 days in a hotel from the manager’s point of view. The language, character development and detail was so rich and the story of different hotel guests and workers all fit together perfectly in a puzzle in the end. It was a great surprise. 

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless
Rating: 7
One of my (our) favorite inspiring books is Jon Krakeau's "Into the Wild," which is the story of Chris McCandless, a young guy who escaped the confines of society after college and disappeared much to his family's chagrin. He was found dead in the backcountry of Denali. As if the story couldn't get any sadder, his sister Carine uses this memoir to divulge details about their childhood that were held back purposely from Jon's book. I liked the book and writing, but she goes into great detail about her own story and journey (3 marriages, successful business venture), which I had less interest in.

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rating: 6
This was a hot fiction title tossed around a few months back. However, I didn't think it lived up to all the hype. I didn't get into this book into almost halfway and then it picked up. It's sort of a psychological who dunnit, telling the stories of different people's lives that end up colliding. Definitely gets you thinking and wondering how it’s all going to end.

Small Victories by Anne Lamott
Rating: 6
I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird in college and it was one of the books that really inspired me as a writer. I thought I’d pick up another one of her books, this one being full of short stories about moments of grace. I remember why I loved this author so much, but it wasn’t as good as Bird for me. 

Fresh Air Fiend by Paul Theroux
Rating: 5
J picked up this book on sale for me when he was buying some other books. It was a collection of travel stories from the various places visited by the author. I wasn’t really impressed with the writing or flow of the stories, even though his language is vivid and he has been all over the globe. 

The Thomas Point Affair by Jeff Pringle
Rating: 5
This book was given to us by the author (a guest of ours up in Maine). The genre is murder mystery with lots of true historical facts about the Maryland area thrown in there. A very quick read as it is only 120 pages with large print.   

Justin’s List
Blind Corners by Geoff Tabin 
Rating: 9
This memoir is written by one of the world’s best high mountain climbers who has climbed some of the most difficult routes, establishing many first ascents. He balances his life between family, climbing and being a doctor. 

Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer 
Rating: 8
This is a series of short stories about climbing all over the world from Krakauer himself, but also other climbers. Gives a great history of climbing.   

Lost at Sea by Patrick Dillon 
Rating: 8
I have a thing for books about lost ships and boat life. This nonfiction book is about 2 U.S. fishing boats that went missing at sea, investigating why and insights about the fishing industry rules and regulations. 

The Terrible Hours by Peter Maas 
Rating: 8
The true account of the first successful submarine rescue efforts off the NH coast and the man who redefined submarine rescue techniques. FYI, I never want to go on a submarine.

Tis' by Frank McCourt 
Rating: 8
Patrice told me she read this in college and loved it, so when we saw it in the church library in Maine, she made me put it in my pile. I agree; it was a great story about how a young man from Ireland made something of himself in the United States. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Currently: November

Currently living/working in: In the homestretch of island life … unbelievably, there are only 9 days left in our caretaking gig!

Current mood: Sad to leave the island, but excited for our winter full of personal development and mountain training in Colorado!

Currently excited about: Our New Zealand Speaking Tour!!!! And the fact that our first 3 stops (NJ, Columbus and Indianapolis) are FULL!!! Stop #4 (St. Louis) is very close to filling up … 

Currently worried about: Packing Big Bird. Everyday, my mom calls me to say a package has arrived for us and my dad squeals in the background, “HOW ARE THEY GOING TO FIT ALL OF THIS IN THEIR CAR?????” Our gear partners, such as GSI Outdoors, Hi-Tec and Superfeet, have been sending the tour giveaways left and right. Truth is, I, too, am having a little bit of a panic attack that we may have to leave some of the essentials, like clothing, behind as we hit the road for the tour pointed toward Denver. 

Currently thankful for: In the spirit of the most thankful months, I figure I should name at least 5 things!
1) Friends and family coming out to support our tour 
2) Health … 2015 started as an unhealthy year for my family in particular, but it may be ending on a better note 
3) Gear sponsors that are providing awesome tour giveaways (and continued support for all our adventures)
4) Freelance writing projects 
5) A marriage that can withstand spending 2 months on an island together with nothing more than each other!

Currently proud of: Making it to Day 29 in the Insanity workout. Well, actually, we are only on Day 22, but we should make it to Day 29 (or 30) by the time we leave the island. 

I’m pretty sure when Sean T says to run while keeping your fists loose like you're holding a bag of potato chips, he doesn’t really mean to hold a bag in your hand & eat a snack while working out.

Currently regretting: Not getting to see any ghosts on the island. We may have tried a little too hard on that front. 

Currently amazed by: How great this caretaking gig was, mostly because of the friendliness of the islanders, and how sad we are to leave. 
Current confession: I gush about the island all the time, but we do have one gripe … the satellite Internet. It was probably the worst we’ve had. 

Current guilty pleasure: Nothing since our food rations are (purposely) down to the last pasta noodle. 

Currently reading: Just started Justin Litchner’s “Short Stories from Long Trails.”

Currently watching on Netflix: No Netflix (see Internet comment). Instead—and I don’t wait to admit this—we are about to make it through all 6 seasons of Lost. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Caretaking 101: 5 Tips for Becoming a Professional Nomad

J & I have created what we like to call a “life less ordinary,” particularly since 2011. We support this life of adventures by working seasonally ain the hospitality setting. 

And even though it’s only been 4 years and we still have a lot to learn, we’ve come a long way from where we started. We’ve managed a hiker hostel, managed a restaurant/bed and breakfast, were innkeepers for a remote, off-the-grid lodge and currently we are property caretakers a private island. We thrive on collecting these varied experiences, and each one helps us grow and learn as a team (and learn to pack lighter and lighter).  
Everyone wants to know how we do it and where do you find these jobs … so we thought we’d share 5 tips, plus the best resources, for anyone thinking about stepping outside the box and into a nontraditional, nomadic life.  

1) Start small.
Housesitting is the best place to start. We started as cat sitters for our landlords. Think it’s not much? It is; if you do a good job, you’ve gotten yourself your first reference. And having good references is imperative. Don’t be afraid to put the word out to friends and family to gain “experience.” We did that right after the Appalachian Trail and ended up with a few housesitting gigs. This is also something you can do even while working your “real job.” We have a few sets of friends who have full-time jobs, but never pay rent whenever they are because of housesitting gigs. 

2) Understand you won’t get rich.
Most housesitting gigs do not pay. It is merely an exchange for accommodation. But, any time you add in other duties—cleaning toilets, milking cows, etc.—that’s when you start to make money. Depending on the scope of your duties, the pay could actually reach triple digits, but I’m pretty sure that involves wiping someone’s butt, and I’m not talking about a baby. For us, we know these jobs are more about the lifestyle and flexibility. Our goal is always to make enough to pay our bills (obviously), but other perks—like when the job includes Internet and food—allow us to tuck away a few bucks here and there. We do occasionally make extra money (i.e., my freelance writing), but it's not even necessary. So, we may not make a lot of money, but we are also not spending any. While many ads target and expect retired folks because of the low pay, J & I continually surprise people when they find out we are in our 30s. 

3) Do your research. 
The interview isn’t only about them getting to know you, it’s about you getting to know them. We’ve interviewed for a few positions and turned them down. We’ve also interviewed for a few positions and should have turned them down. Go with your gut … my dad always says, “if it doesn’t feel right, it ain’t right.” Step up your communication and ask applicable questions, like how long was your previous person in place or how do they get along with the community, especially in the case of lodge management. More often than not, J & I are accepting jobs site unseen. Usually it’s just a matter of difficult logistics since we are all over the country, but it’s part of our chosen adventure. We do as much research as we can in advance, googling the name of the business/place, reading Trip Advisor reviews and asking to speak to former employees. Oddly enough, it is sometimes helpful to pay attention to the ads in Caretaker Gazette. Seeing an ad repeatedly could be a red flag for high turnover, for example. 

4) Get a contract. 
We learned our lesson the hard way on this one. If anything, it will establish clear expectations on both sides. These are not jobs, but lifestyles. A lot of times, the duties are unsaid. But, they are better off in writing. You need to set your limits and parameters as much as the other parties. 

5) Remember who is boss.
J & I are passionate people who like to take ownership of the task at hand. But, everyone works for someone. And even when someone might want you to give the business a fresh look over, it’s important to remember that said business is that person’s baby. Don’t go reinventing the wheel. There are probably methods in place for a reason. Ease your way in, learn the business, learn the style of the owners and find a middle ground. 

Are you ready to get started? Let me leave you with some great resources. 

We almost solely rely on Caretaker Gazette because it’s so good. You have to subscribe and a huge newsletter worth of jobs (for both singles and couples) comes out every other month. But there are also occasional e-mails with last-minute and immediate job opportunities. I think the subscription is $29.95/year, and it is well worth every penny. Every job we’ve gotten has come from there and the newsletters are chock full of a wide gamut of opportunities. Sometimes the ads are downright entertaining, not to mention the variety of animals that make an appearance in petsitting/farmhand ads, everything from laying hens to bobcats. Here’s another piece of an ad that gave me a chuckle: “smokers, substance abuses, Mountain Dew addicts, people needing psychiatric medications and compulsively reckless people should not apply.” Well, okay then. 

There are several others, including HouseCarers, Working Couples and Modern-Day Nomads, but we have never used them for more than a quick search. 

This is a great article, too, about the different resources out there.  

Any professional nomads out there? Would love to hear additional tips of the trade!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Island Life - Part 3

With less than 25 days left in our island gig, I’m already dreaming about how we will do this again in the future. Every caretaking gig we take has been unique and we’ve loved all of them (except for maybe one), but this one, this one is really making me gush. 

I do understand that we are here on this rock during the best months. 

Number one, fall in New England. Guys, this island has been on fire! Particularly on the middle of the island, waves of scarlet are punctuated by gold and amber. (See what I did there?) And the weather has been unseasonably beautiful to boot.  
Also, we are alone on the island, but never for too long. Islanders often come on the weekends. Isolation can do crazy things to people, but there’s no evidence of “Here’s Johnny” Shining episodes for us. Instead, we have the occasional weekend happy hour and delivery of food. Yes, we are still happy recipients of food donations, including leftover Halloween candy. I assure you we have more tortilla chips than a grocery store.  

Speaking of food, we are still doing great on our provisions. Between the generosity of islanders, the fruitfulness of the island (apples! grapes! lobsters!) and our resourcefulness, it’s not too early to say we achieved our goal of buying 2 months of groceries and surviving. Don’t worry, we still have at least half of our 5 lb bag of carrots (freshness is becoming questionable).

We did have another great storm. I suppose, fortunately, we haven’t seen any overwhelming forces of nature, but I love the sound of howling northeast wind (that can change to southwest in an instant), the slapping of the turbulent dumping surf and the deluges. The tidemark came dangerously close to the shoreline and it was so mesmorizing to watch. 

We’ve also seen days of glass out in the ocean. The calmness brings a lot of activity out on the seas. We’ve seen a tugboat trailing a house, a jet skier, a kayaker and a cruise ship, all in the last 2 weeks. Oh, and fireworks on shore.

We are not even close to being bored. Case in point, we rarely switch up our daily counterclockwise walk of the island. Same same, everyday. 

Mostly, we keep very busy with our personal projects—a major job application (20+ pages), presentation planning and writing projects (me). When we need some excitement, we look for island projects. For example, scraping barnacles. Check out the below and after photos. Amazing stuff. FYI, barnacles might as well be concrete. I say this as if I have tried scraping any barnacles. But I leave most of the manual labor projects to J!