Snowstorm in the Desert…in May

So where were we?

Something to do with bison and angels, I believe. A month on the road, another 4 in San Diego and then a week exploring national parks along the West Coast. That’s right.

It’s been a while since we’ve last spoke, so let’s just get right to it; why don’t we?

We awaken from our comfy, king-sized slumber, pack the car of the few things we brought inside the hotel and take our respective seats in the front of the car: Riley in the driver’s seat and I in the passenger’s. At the helm of the vehicle for the first time in a while; Riley is feeling reckless today and blazes along i15 at 6 mph above the speed limit. Too fast, says the police man in an undercover sleek, silver Dodge Charger. Riley receives her first ever speeding ticket.

We pull off at a nearby exit, and I return to my usual spot behind the wheel.

A few days prior I had received a LinkedIn message from a company based out of New York; looking to form a subsidiary in Miami Beach. They were looking for a hedge fund accountant, with my background and experience, and seemed ready to offer a hefty salary. While neither Riley nor I were ready to settle down into full time jobs; the proposal sounded interesting enough for me to hear out. The phone interview was scheduled for 3pm today.

3pm rolls around and I receive a call from one of the New York executives. A tad nervous and slightly more excited; I pick up the phone, ready to impress. Unfortunately, I never get the chance. One thing I forgot to consider, while scheduling this interview, is that I would be in the middle of nowhere at 3pm; and that my shoddy T-Mobile reception would be far from sufficient. I spend the next hour unsuccessfully redialing the man’s phone number. Around 4pm, I get ahold of him, but as expected he shows absolutely no interest in speaking with me. Looks like I won’t be working in Miami any time soon.

As we near Denver, excitement builds up inside of me. “I have a good feeling about Denver,” I tell my passenger.

“You do?” Riley asks, appearing surprised by my statement.

“Yeah, I think we’re going to like it a lot.”

We arrive at Riley’s cousin, Earl’s, graduate-student apartment building at 9pm. Earl is a wiry lad, a few years older than Riley and I, possessing eerily similar features as Riley’s dad. He is a man who doesn’t lack in intelligence nor wit. I’ve met Earl twice before: once when running a half marathon with Riley in Denver and again in South Carolina, at the Smith Christmas party, and have always enjoyed his company. We spend little time on greetings; as the 3 of us are starved. Korean BBQ is on the menu tonight; as we pull into a dimly lit plaza in Aurora, CO.

We spend the night on Earl’s blowup mattress and wake up to a rainy May morning. Earl has already departed for school and Riley and I soon leave as well. We drive west for about 20 minutes, watching dilapidating tire shops and dollar stores transform into trendy restaurants and upscale homes. We pull alongside a corner house in the heart of Washington Park, a middle-upperclass neighborhood in Denver. A college friend of Riley’s mom, Michelle, lives here. She’s kindly offered to accommodate us while we get acclimated to our new hometown. But first we need to take care of the rumbling in our bellies.

We walk down the pleasant street to a fine-smelling restaurant named, Homegrown Tap & Dough. A specialty pizza and a salad for $10? You got it. We feast and sip on Pelegrino while watching sports highlights on TV. We’ll be back here again, Riley and I decide.

Michelle, a tan woman with dark features, a friendly smile and an equally friendly southern drawl, welcomes us with open arms. And apparently we’re not the only ones benefitting from her hospitality. Another family of four (including 2 adorable baby twins) is staying here as well. Fortunately, with Michelle’s daughter being away at college, and her basement containing sufficient space, all guests have more than enough room to get comfortable.

Most of my May’s have been spent in Florida. A handful have been spent in Atlanta. Similarly, Riley has spent the majority of her May’s in the Southeast. So when the sun began to set on this May evening and the rain turned into snow, Riley and I were intrigued, to say the least. And when the light snow turned into a full blow snowstorm, will falling branches and knee high piles of powder on the ground, we were full-blown shocked. But that didn’t stop us from heading to dinner with one of Riley’s best friends from Atlanta, Candace. We chowed down on family-style Italian entrees, including garlic knots, vodka sauce pasta and chicken ptarmigan. Feeling like we ate a building, yet barely making a dent in our massive plates, we box the remaining goodies (good for another 4 meals, each), and head back to Michelle’s. By now the roads are barely drivable, with snow and ice covering the asphalt, and large portions of trees, whose branches could no longer hold the weight of the snow, blocking entire streets. Riley and Candace make the wise decision to not go out tonight.

We spend a week with Michelle, exploring Denver and ducking raindrops. The city is unlike any we have lived in and we are instantly drawn to everything it consists of. Despite rumors of desert-like dryness, the rain is ceaseless and the nature is green. The restaurants are hip and yummy; the breweries are plentiful and even yummier; and the people go out of their way to introduce themselves to us and answer any questions we may have. People don’t appear to be in a rush, contrary to what I’ve experienced in many other big cities. We notice an absurd amount of dogs; damn near everyone’s got at least one. And we soon come to realize that no one here is from Denver! The city, growing at an unsustainably rate of 10,000+ new inhabitants per month, is filled with everyone and anyone imaginable – Floridians, Georgians (the state), New Yorkers, Californians, Texasians (yes, I made this word up), and prior residents of nearly every U.S. state. In fact, for every 10 people we meet, 9 have lived in Denver for less than 5 years. The few that have lived here their entire lives are called, “Natives.” You can usually spot them driving a 2001 Subaru Forester hatchback, their back seat and trunk filled with flannels and hiking gear, a bike rack hanging from the back of their vehicle, an elderly dog sticking it’s head out the passenger seat window and a “Native” bumper sticker rocking the right side of the car bumper. These people are generally in even less a hurry than the rest of the laid-back Denverites and seem to be pretty content with life (except for one things which eats at them like nothing else – they cannot stand how quickly Denver is growing and how many people are moving here. Hell, can you blame them? They grew up in “America’s Best Kept Secret,” which is now transforming to America’s Dream Destination).

On May 16 Riley and I hug Michelle an Co. goodbye, and head to a small town, within Denver, dubbed Glendale. Glendale, historically not known for being the greatest of areas, has gone through a major renovation over the past decade or so (as have countless other parts of Denver), and is now a cool and [relatively] affordable place to live. We pull into Creekside Apartments, not so coincidentally located right across the street from Cherry Creek, itself. We seek out building 18, subtly positioned in the back of the complex. We make our way up one flight of stairs to apartment 18B. A pair of ornately positioned tennis shoes rest atop the Welcome mat and the fresh scent of marijuana dribbles through the sides of the door. I knock on the wooden door and a tall, lanky figure with blood shot eyes and a crooked smile peaks out. This is Kevin, a 30-year old teacher working at the local middle school. The school year just ended and he’s off to explore the Galapagos islands this summer break. In the meanwhile, Riley and I will be subleasing his vaulted-ceilinged, one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment.

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How to Make a Dream Reality

For 9 months now, Misha and I have been speaking with friends, family and strangers about our impending adventure to travel the United States. The typical reactions we hear are: “I’m so jealous,” “I wish I was brave enough,” and “This is the time to do it; I regret not having done it myself.” Instead of wishing or regretting this idea, you can make it a reality. Here’s how:

Step 1: Daydream

This is the easiest step, as we are already experts at this. That’s the beauty of being human – we are born with the innate ability to daydream. You’ll catch yourself daydreaming about various topics throughout a day. Need be, guide these thoughts towards more productive ones – thoughts about traveling the country. The more you do this, the more you strengthen your desire to travel. Misha and I had no issue daydreaming. Eventually we got tired of daydreaming and decided to make our dreams reality.

Step 2: Ease Your Worries

We are also born with the innate ability to worry. Worrying can interfere with taking risks. The best solution to ease your worries is to talk about them. Make a list of all your worries and discuss them with someone able to give realistic advice. This was the most challenging step for me as I was born a worrier. I was lucky to have Misha and his bullshit to ease my apprehensiveness.

“How can I just quit my job?”

-Your job will always be there. You got hired with no experience. Next time you apply for a job, you’ll have experience. You have your entire life to work.

“If I don’t have a full time job, how will I have insurance?”

-Fortunately, if you’re under 26 years old you can stay on your parents’ insurance until December 31 of the year you turn 26. The following year you’ll probably have to purchase insurance from the government. But it’s not forever and this shouldn’t prevent you from fulfilling your dream.

“How can I afford this?”

-You can do what I did and date an accountant. Or you can come up with your own budget plan. Take out a sheet of paper and a calculator. Pull up your bank account and see how much money you have. Then calculate how much money you expect to make each month while traveling and deduct your estimated monthly expenses. Make sure to be conservative so not to unexpectedly run out of gas and money while stuck in the middle of nowhere. The goal is to avoid digging too far into your savings account.

“How will I make money while I’m traveling?”

-Find an odd job such as serving, babysitting, coaching, tutoring or substitute teaching. This may take some planning and coordinating. I have everything set up where I can literally begin subbing in San Diego the week after I arrive. Since substitute teaching merely requires a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited College or University, even Misha, who has never taken an education course in his life, is considering it. Best part about subbing is the need is always there and you can choose when and where you want to work!

“What if it doesn’t work out?

-Then you return home. You gave it a chance and you’ll have no regrets.

Step 3:  Be Vulnerable and Commit:

Vulnerability breeds happiness. Make your daydream a reality. Realize that there is no better time to do it. Get out of the bubble you’ve been living in and go discover diverse cultures and perspectives. Open your mind and live in a different way; at least for a little while. Misha and I didn’t want to make any rash decisions so we gave this idea some thought for a couple months. Being young and not having the responsibility of a family, we keep reminding ourselves that this is the perfect time for us.

Step 4: Tell Parents

If your parents aren’t in favor of the idea, they won’t disown you. Part of being a parent is loving your kid unconditionally. Despite disagreeing with his decision, Misha’s family still invited him home for Thanksgiving. I gradually introduced this idea to my parents. I planted the idea first as a possibility and answered their endless questions about how this would work. Once I eased their worries, I informed my parents that Misha and I have committed to going on this exploration.

Step 5: Start Saving Money

Remember, every little bit adds up. Instead of spending 5 dollars a day at Starbucks, brew your own coffee. Go to Trader Joe’s and get the new $3.99 bottle of organic wine instead of spending your entire paycheck on poor quality wine at a restaurant. Stop buying unnecessary items. Trust me, if you have to refrain from buying a designer purse or hundred dollar eye liner, you’ll survive. The money spent on your travel experience will contribute to an intrinsic happiness, unlike these materialistic purchases.

Step 6: Come Up With a Time Frame

This can be tentative, but can also give you the comfort of having a plan. Your time frame may vary depending on your current situation. We decided on a year. A year seemed perfect to us as it was long enough to satisfy our travel bug, yet not too long to where it would affect our careers. Just because we decided to go for a year, doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Pick a shorter time frame. Maybe 6 months. Or a longer one. Maybe two years. Whatever suits you best.

Step 7: Quit Job

The prospect of speaking to your employer may seem extremely nerve-racking, but once you’re done you’ll feel relieved. Find a good time to quit and be respectful so as to maintain a reliable reference and to not screw over your colleagues. Having both notified our employers of our imminent departure, Misha and I feel a huge weight lifted off our shoulders.

Step 8: Pick a Location

Now it is time for the more enjoyable steps of planning your dream. Think of a place that you have always dreamed of living, but never thought you actually would. Misha and I have lived our entire lives on the East Coast (aside from Misha living the first four years of his life in Russia). As such, the West Coast was an easy decision for us. Southern California was an even easier decision, since we’re leaving in December. We considered the fact that Cali has high cost of living, so while we still have some cash saved up from working 3 years, we figured we’d start here and reassess before our next destination. We decided on spending approximately 4 months here. Subsequent locations are still tentative, although we have a few places in mind. It’s crucial to maintain some spontaneity.

Step 9: Find a Sub-Lease:

Best resource ever: Craigslist. Misha and I searched for and signed a sublease within a week. Find a property that is fully furnished and includes most essentials (bedding, towels, cleaning and kitchen appliances). We found a very reasonably priced guest house with our own parking spot, washer and dryer and pull out couch. Did I mention it’s in the heart of San Diego, with nearby popular bars and restaurants, a park, and 10 minutes from the beach? It’s possible! All that’s left is to pack a suitcase of clothes and you’re good to go.

Last but not least:

Step 10: Start a Blog

You don’t want to completely leave our family and friends behind, do you? Misha and I have decided to bring our families along (metaphysically) to experience all the joys and anxieties of this journey. Further, it’ll be nice to reminisce in your later years.

Oh wait, there’s one more thing:

Step 11: Get in the car and go!

The Plan

The decision has been made. Riley and I are going to leave our jobs and travel the country. The difficult part is over. Or was that the easy part?

Now we have to break it to our parents.

Surprisingly, Riley’s parents were on board before Riley could even finish the question. My parents, on the other hand, didn’t react as well.

“Ты что, с ума сошeл?” my mother asked me. This means “Have you gone crazy?” in Russian.

8 months later, they’re still uneasy, but they accept my decision and understand that it’s no longer their job to make decisions for their 25 year old son. Especially one as free spirited as me.

Once our parents were informed, Riley and I needed to decide when to quit our jobs and drive off into the sunset. After some discussion, we settled on December. This would allow me to obtain my goal of reaching Senior Accountant with my firm and permit Riley to complete the current school year and work a few temporary jobs during the Summer and Fall to save up for the voyage. In early May Riley broke the news to her principal that she would not be returning for the 2014-2015 school year. Before I knew it, October rolled around and I received my promotion. Shortly after, I informed my audit teams that I would be leaving the firm in 2 months, giving them plenty of time to brace for my departure.

While I was wrapping up the last few months of working as a public accountant Riley had been working as a substitute teacher/server/babysitter/dog-sitter/tutor to beef up her bank account. To save money, she moved back in with her parents while I signed a dirt-cheap lease to live with 6 foreign exchange students in a house barely large enough to fit 3 people. Despite an 8 by 8 foot room and 1 refrigerator among the 6 of us, I’ve grown to love this place and (most of) its multi-lingual tenants.

Although spontaneity is a crucial aspect of a trip like this, some planning needs to take place. Formalities like health and auto insurance, an expiring car lease and what to pack need to take place. Dating a girl who’s been making to-do lists since age 3 makes planning this trip a cake walk for me.

After little deliberation, Riley and I agreed that we want to take our time during this trip. We want to relax and acclimate to the culture of each destination. As such, we agreed to spend at least 3 months in each location. We also decided that we want to travel domestically. Having both spent many a vacation traveling abroad, this would be a good opportunity for us to explore this magnificently large and diverse country we call home.

Our first destination was an easy choice. A city that everyone seems to fall in love with. And one that neither Riley nor I have been to. San Diego, California. 70 degrees and sunny year round. That alone had us sold. Especially since we’ll be commencing this adventure in the heart of winter when the rest of the country will be blanketed by snow. Living walking distance from a world renowned beach won’t hurt either.

We should arrive in San Diego around January 15. What happens in between? Take a seat, buckle up, and enjoy the ride folks.

The Decision

Hi all. My name is Misha. I’m a 25 year old male, currently working for a Big-4 Public Accounting Firm. My girlfriend and companion on this trip is Riley, a lovely 25 year old gal, whose profession thus far has been a Pre-K Special Needs teacher. Although generally not considered part of “Corporate America,” the long hours, paperwork and time spent staring at a computer screen make life as a teacher not too different from life in the corporate world.

We all think about it. Leaving our all-too-familiar cubicles and setting off on endless travel fills our mind more often than we would admit to our employers. These thoughts allow us to get away from the fluorescent glow of our laptop screens and daydream about what could be: Watching a beautiful sunset on a quiet, white-sand beach in Tahiti; bundling beside the warmth of a bonfire beneath the tall canopies of an Amazonian rain forest; or riding a rickshaw through the bustling streets of New Delhi, admiring the impeccable architecture and culture.

Unfortunately, most of the time that’s where things end. In a daydream. What makes Riley and I different, is we are taking it one step further. We’re unplugged our computers, tossing our slacks, ties and high heels, selling off everything except the essentials and ditching the Corporate lifestyle for a world filled with travel and spontaneity. At least for now.

Riley and I are not hippies. Well, not entirely. We took the conventional route for most of our lives. We both received Master’s degrees in our respective fields and went on to work for very reputable employers. And to be honest, we’ve been mostly happy. Aside from the occasional Monday morning hangover following another Miami Dolphins’ loss, I wake up every morning excited to go to work. As does Riley. And there are few things more rewarding than solving a challenging problem in the audit room, or helping a non-verbal, child with autism develop communication skills. We have every intention to one day return to our respective fields and live a relatively conventional life, filled with routine and the occasional two-week vacation. In large part, that is exactly why we are going on this trip. So later in life we don’t wonder “what could have been?”

We first began contemplating leaving in early March 2014. We were sitting comfortably in our spacious airplane cabin, returning to our home-city of Atlanta, GA, from Chicago, IL. I had a 2 week business trip in Chicago and was fortunate enough to have Riley join me for the back end of it. Despite having been put up in a $450/night hotel in Downtown Chicago for 12 nights, atop of receiving $75 per diem for food, something still felt amiss. And it didn’t help that my mind was consumed by a story I had heard earlier that day; in which a young couple left their jobs as accountants to spend the rest of their lives traveling and picking up odd jobs to get by.

“Would you ever do that?” I asked Riley, shortly after the wheels of our Boeing 757 skidded to a screeching halt on the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta runway.

“I’d definitely do it,” Riley said, scrunching her face in disbelief that I would even ask such an obvious question.

“Really?”

“Yes. Would you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“When else would we be able to do something like that?” Riley asked, setting the wheels in motion for what would turn out to be a life changing decision.

Occasional daydreams became borderline obsessions. After a week or so of serious pondering and very little work productivity, I decided to bring up the topic again.
“Remember how I asked you about quitting our jobs and travelling?” I asked Riley as we sat eating dinner in her living room.

“Yes,” Riley said, appearing a bit more apprehensive than last time.

“I’ve given it some serious thought, and I think we should really do it.”

After some hesitation and mumbling, a flow of questions and concerns poured out of Riley’s mouth: money, insurance, jobs, safety, transportation, friends, family.

To the best of my knowledge and ability to bullshit, I answered everything. She seemed a bit more at ease.

“So we doing this?” I asked.

“Yup,” Riley replied.