Peru!!! (Part 1)

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Wow, it’s already been 3 weeks since I’ve been back from my trip and it seems like I just got home yesterday. The memories are so vivid and every moment was beyond amazing, I don’t even know where to start but I’ll try my best. I had started putting a post together about a week ago, and it quickly turned into a massive project, so I’ve decided to break it down into different parts. In my next several posts, I’ll walk you through my trip, day by day.

Day 1 – travel day. Ugh. I hate travel days. I shouldn’t say that. I don’t mean that entirely. Travel days are what get me to where I want to go. But waking up at 3:30 a.m. so I can catch my 4:30 a.m. cab so I can get to the airport for my 6:30 a.m. flight that will take me to another airport where I have a 4 hour layover in preparation for an 8 hour flight where I then have to go through customs and catch *another* flight to take me to my final destination where I’ll arrive at 6:30 a.m. local time the next day (which is only a 3 hour time difference from my home time), is not exactly my idea of fun. But that’s exactly what I did to get to Cusco where Elliot and I met up (he came in from Detroit) and spent the next 2 days.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Cusco at over 11,000 feet…no altitude sickness! I didn’t even take any diamox on that day, although I did take one pill the next day, which was the day before our trek. I was very grateful that my training (and probably my own physiology) paid off. But I also rarely drink alcohol or caffeine (except for those couple of cocktails I had on Day 4 of the trek, but we’ll get to that later…) and I stayed (and usually do stay) very hydrated (water is my favorite beverage!). I felt great, and so did Elliot, so we spent Days 2 and 3 meandering around Cusco, checking out the sites, and eating amazing Peruvian food.

Day 4 we were off on the start of our 5-day trek to Machu Picchu. For all my worrying about altitude sickness, I didn’t even think about the possibility of motion sickness…But after a couple of hours in a van going on a rickety winding dirt road in the mountains to get to our trail head, I was definitely feeling it. I think our guide was worried I had altitude sickness. I didn’t throw up, but there were a couple of occasions where I was close. But as soon as we got out of the van and I got some fresh air, I was 100% back to my normal self and felt great.

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Finally unloading from the van that was my one and only nemesis on the trek…except for the mosquitoes, make that 2 nemeses.

After a couple hours of hiking with only a gradual increase in elevation, we stopped for lunch. This was probably the exact moment when I realized that going with a trekking company is hands-down the best way to to do this trek. The chef and his assistant brought out what seemed like never-ending courses of all fresh and homemade food, and it was by far the best food I have ever had in my life. No exaggeration. This was not what I was expecting, talk about “glamping”! The food was so good for every meal, that we scarfed it all down before I could even think of snapping pics. Here’s the one and only picture I took of the food we ate along the trek, and it’s not the best picture.

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Then we were off to finish a few more miles of gradual elevation gain before getting to our campsite. There was a hole in the ground covered by a blue tent set up by the trekking staff that served as our toilet that night, a giant tent for our dining room, and a massive mountain overlooking it all. Now this was what I was expecting.

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Dawn on Trekking Day 2 getting ready to leave the campsite and head out for the day.

Day 5 of my trip was Day 2 of the trek. And it was the day. We’d be hiking from our campsite at about 12,600 ft to about 15,200 ft at the Salkantay Pass. Any significant elevation gain during a hike is a workout, but when your lungs are having to work even harder due to the lack of oxygen at the higher altitude, it becomes even more so. There were quite a few other trekking groups, perhaps a hundred or so people along the way with us. Collectively, we looked like a group of zombies going ever so slowly to reach our destination, focusing harder than ever just to put one foot in front of the other. Those who didn’t pace themselves fell behind very quickly as they got too winded to keep up. If you’re planning a higher altitude trek, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to pace yourself. This is not a race. It’s the trek of a lifetime. And it’s no fun if your body feels miserable the whole way. Of course, there were also those who got sick regardless simply as a result of altitude sickness. Like the poor girl who passed me on a horse and as the horse went by, she looked down at me with an expression that could only be interpreted as “I’m sorry, but I might vomit on you if you don’t move out of my way.” The horse passed me before I got to see if my interpretation was accurate.

Eventually we reached the top, and the feeling when we arrived was simply indescribable. For me personally, it felt like a spiritual experience (but who knows, perhaps that was just a result of the lack of oxygen). The rows of mountains extended for miles, and looming over was the big one, Salkantay Mountain, which translated means Savage Mountain. And Savage it was. A giant rugged peak with a prominence far above the surrounding peaks. But in the Peruvian sun, it seemed savage in a gentle manner, almost as if it was looking after us along our travels. We soaked it up for a little while longer before heading waaaay down, back to about 10,000 ft to our next campsite.

I couldn’t decide which photos to post, so I just posted a whole bunch – pics along the trail, Elliot and me being goofy, my favorite yoga pose at the Salkantay pass, my extremely happy hiking group, and others from Trekking Day 2.

The campsite tonight was located in a tiny community where a small group of families lived and worked. We had the luxury of some very rustic out-house toilets with plumbing but no toilet seats, and even out-house showers that we could pay 10 soles for a nice hot shower. I wasn’t anticipating being able to take a shower after just 2 days of hiking, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity either.

After we all took our turns showering and getting changed into clean clothes, we settled around a communal picnic table where we were once again served some Peruvian delicacies. At the point where our stomachs were about to burst and we were all in a food coma, we staggered off to our tents to get some sleep before continuing on our trek tomorrow. Our guide assured us that tomorrow’s hike would be mostly flat, so it would be a much easier day. I fell asleep dreaming of walking on flat Peruvian trails while admiring the sights around me…

 

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Denver, Diamox, and Determination

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I can’t believe I leave for Peru in less than one week! I began my training exactly 12 weeks ago and oh, what a journey it’s been. When I started my training I pretty much viewed it as just stepping up my usual workout regime that I had already been doing for some time – the gym combined with hiking, and more recently yoga added to the mix. But this was the first time I had done one of the above nearly every single day for weeks at a time, and the way it has transformed me mentally and physically has inspired me to continue this as a lifestyle when I come back from my trip. So much so that I’ve decided that if the altitude sickness doesn’t kill me, I’d like to do Kilimanjaro next. Never in a million years did I think those words would seriously come out of my mouth, but I’ve already begun the research to plan the trip either next year or the year after.

A few things that have helped along the way with my training besides just my daily routine:

First, my job sent me to Denver! I took advantage of the opportunity and took a couple vay-cay days before my conference to explore the city (I had never been), reunite with an old sorority sister, go jogging at Red Rocks to experience some cardio at higher altitude, and finally, go hiking in the Rockies. The trail I wound up on took me to just over 10,000 ft. Not nearly as high as the staggering 15,000 ft that I’ll get to on the Salkantay trail, but it was the highest I’d ever gone so it was better than nothing. And surprisingly, I didn’t get sick at all. I’m crossing fingers that this means the chances of me getting extreme altitude sickness will be slim to none.

Hanging in downtown Denver with my sorority sister, being a tourist at RMNP, and enjoying the mountain views from a trail in the middle of RMNP.

But the fact that I didn’t get sick could also be because I took a Diamox pill the day before I went into the Rockies. If you don’t know about Diamox, let me give you all the gory details. Diomox is medication to help prevent altitude sickness. You start taking it 24 hours before your highest planned altitude. Your doctor and pharmacist will warn you that a side effect is frequent urination. What they won’t tell you is, when they say frequent, they mean frequent. After I downed the pill, I was having to pee every 15-30 minutes for about 8 hours straight until it finally got out of my system. It was miserable. I decided not to take any more and risk getting sick when I went into the Rockies. But since I didn’t get sick, there’s no way to know if the little Diamox that I took helped, so despite the bursting bladder, I plan on taking at least one pill while I’m in Cuzco before heading on my trek in Peru just to be on the safe side. I’ll just make sure that there’s always a toilet nearby.DSC00489

Proof that you can never tell what’s really going on when someone posts a pic to social media. This was taken about 80% into my measly 1.5 mile jog around Red Rocks. My bladder was about to explode, but I sucked it up just to get the pretty photo-op. I had already peed in the porta-potty that was at the entrance of the park, then again at the porta-potty in the parking lot at the trailhead (about 10 minutes later), then half-way through the jog (and 5 minutes before this pic) at a porta-potty that I thankfully found where the trail intersected with the road. As soon as the pic was snapped, I sprinted off to the end of the loop and peed again.

I left Denver feeling far more confident about my ability to conquer the Salkantay trail, both from a physical fitness standpoint, and in terms of my ability to tolerate higher altitudes. Of course, there’s no way to tell for sure until I’m actually there, but if there’s one thing that is for sure, it’s that I’m far more ready for this trip than when I began my training 12 weeks ago. I spent today packing, and there’s nothing left to do other than continue my physical activity this week and somehow focus on work between now and my trip. Next time you hear from me, it’ll be on my return from Peru, and I can’t wait to share it!

PS – I’ve seen travel blogs that give advice on what to pack for various treks. I am by no means a real travel blogger, but I like this idea, so for my few followers who might be contemplating taking the 5 day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, here you go:DSC00665.JPG

  • 2 pairs hiking pants
  • 3 pairs workout pants (also good for liners under hiking pants to layer up)
  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 3 tank tops
  • Keen sandals
  • hiking boots
  • a ton of wick-underwear (my favorite is Adidas super lite – and no, I don’t get any kickbacks for this because my blog isn’t cool enough)
  • a ton of Merino wool socks – my favorite is Darn Tough and Fit (also, no kickbacks here either)
  • 2 sports bras
  • 1 set thermals
  • my Columbia 3-in-1 (fleece/rain jacket combo)
  • sunglasses
  • wet wipes
  • energy gels
  • poop shovel that turns into a seat (seriously coolest thing ever)
  • my 10-essentials kit (which I doubt I’ll need with a paid-for group, but better safe than sorry)
  • headlamp and neck light
  • toilet paper
  • sunscreen, bug spray, anti-bacterial spray
  • rain poncho
  • trekking poles
  • the almighty Diamox

Not pictured: swimsuit (in the laundry, and necessary for day 4 when we get to the hot springs), cliff bars and dates (my go-to hiking food but I need to stop at the grocery store sometime this week), small towel, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and all clothes for my time not on the trails.

There you have it! You now officially know everything I’ve done to plan/prepare/pack for this trip. Let’s hope it all pays off, and looking forward to sharing with you stories of my adventure upon my return!

Yoga in my Sleep

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A few years ago, a couple friends invited me to a yoga class for my first time. It was ok. I guess. It was relaxing. I guess. But I didn’t really “get” it. I didn’t do yoga again for a couple years. A year ago, I went to another yoga class with a friend, which I enjoyed much more than the first time. Little did I know there were so many different types of yoga (and I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of it!). But it was still not enough to motivate me to get into yoga.

Then last fall, I got a couple of tattoos on my feet, and all I could wear was flip-flops for several weeks. My footwear wasn’t exactly conducive to my usual gym routine, so I decided to tag along with a friend and give yoga a try one more time. And sure enough, the third time was the charm. It totally clicked, and I was curious to do more. From there, I started branching out and checking out different classes and studios, discovering which ones worked best for me. When I started planning my trip to Peru, I even decided to incorporate yoga into my regular physical training to help with my flexibility and breathing. I continued to go to a couple different studios that I had fallen in love with, but I also started working on poses on my own when I would go to the gym on my regular workout days.

For example, the other day at the gym, I was working on this tripod thingy on my own:

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There were a couple classes that I had taken where the instructors had guided me through this position in the past, but each time, I could barely get one foot off the ground. So I never in a million years would have thought that in my random attempt at the gym, without an instructor to guide me and not having attempted it in months, that I would successfully get both feet off the ground and be able to hold them up for quite a while. But I did it! The stability that I felt when I got into the position amazed me, and validated my desire to continue on this journey.

Apparently, it amazed me so much, that last night I had a dream about yoga. I don’t really remember the plot of the dream (if there was a plot), or even who was in it, but just that I was doing yoga. I woke up in the middle of the night with an immensely satisfying feeling (almost like that feeling of satisfaction I get from eating a cheeseburger with a root beer float after a good hike). And then I looked at my arms. They were in the most bizarre position above my head that I can’t even describe in words. It wasn’t uncomfortable at all. Just bizarre. The only conclusion I could come to was that I was trying to do yoga in my sleep. Perhaps even more bizarre was that I fell back to sleep just a couple seconds later with my arms still in the air.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this, other than I think it means that I must really like yoga, something that just a year ago I never thought I would say. What I’ve enjoyed the most about yoga has been discovering that it’s not about being the best at all the poses, or even the best at any particular pose, but rather, continuing to grow and evolve with my practice. I don’t think there’s a single pose that I have perfected in the past 6 months or so since I became a baby yogi. But I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey to get there and look forward to wherever my journey may take me.

Embracing the Not So Pretty

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Let’s be real. Working out is not pretty. It’s not even sexy. Those who act like it is are fooling themselves. There’s nothing sexy about pushing yourself until it literally hurts and you can’t breathe. It’s not fun. If I could get the end results without doing the not-so-pretty workout first, I most certainly would. But I can’t. 

Working out has never been easy for me. I’m a slow as hell runner, no matter how much I do it. I have a bad knee that has arthritis as a result of a freak accident dancing in high school that led to major reconstructive surgery of my knee cap. I have flat feet that are hardly conducive to working out.

But the more I workout, the more those endorphins kick in and convince my brain what my body already knows: that while the workout might suck and might not be pretty, the end results will be. 

The training I’ve been doing for my Machu Picchu trek has been the most intense workout regime I’ve ever done. Aside from the intensity of pushing myself more each time I workout, I’ve never in my life consistently done some form of physical activity almost every single day for an extended period of time. There’s absolutely zero, zilch, nada about it that is pretty. But it sure feels so damn good. So I’m embracing the not so pretty. And hoping that it pays off.

This is me, post-workout. Makeup smudged that I was too lazy to remove before working out thus resulting in the sexy black eye look, headband not containing my mess of sweaty curly hair, shiny sweaty skin, and my entire face red from the exertion. But despite the not-so-pretty after glow of my workout, I still feel pretty damn good. 

Cheeseburgers and Root Beer Floats

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There’s a super cute and yummy ice cream stand in the town of Cascade Locks, Oregon, right at the confluence of some of the most amazing hiking trails (this is also where Cheryl Strayed made her last stop before going to the Bridge of the Gods, for any Wild fans out there). I’ve gotten in the habit of, at a minimum, getting a root beer float there whenever I finish a hike in the area. I’ve done it so often that I now start to crave root beer floats as I approach the end of a hike. It’s gotten so bad that once after doing a 12-mile solo hike and realizing I’d left my wallet at home, I raced all the way home (but not too fast since I didn’t want to get pulled over sans driver’s license) and ordered a root beer float at the local pub in my neighborhood.

Yesterday was no exception. I decided to do something crazy and go hiking with a group of Mazamas, who are a bunch of kick-ass mountaineers in the Portland area. I’m not quite sure what I was thinking, considering I’m just a hiker and have never done anything close to the type of intensity that comes with mountaineering. But I’d been looking for a challenge to help towards my training for Machu Picchu (as if going hiking once a week, going to a high altitude gym once a week, and then the regular gym and yoga every other day of the week wasn’t enough training). But in all seriousness, the Salkantay trail that we’ll be doing is no joke, and I intend to be prepared for it.

So yesterday I tagged along with some Mazamas and we did this http://www.oregonhikers.org/field_guide/Ruckel_Ridge_Loop_Hike. For those of you who don’t feel like clicking the link to find out, it’s a 9-mile, 3700 ft. elevation gain hike that is described as “the most treacherous day-hike in the Gorge.” (And for my mom who is probably reading this and worries way too much about my crazy adventuring, don’t worry, I didn’t do the hard part, aka the catwalk! Love you, Mom 😁).  I not only did this hike, but I did it with some kick-ass mountaineers who were way more experienced hikers than I am. They gallivanted off as if it were a stroll in the park. Ok, that’s a total lie, because the few times I was actually with them as opposed to trailing behind them, I heard them sounding just as out of breath as I was. I would never take pleasure in someone else’s pain, but this totally made me feel good about life.

But not good enough. There was still something missing…

There is an immensely and perfectly satisfying feeling that comes after completing a super intense hike and then eating a cheeseburger with a root beer float. The combination of knowing you just completed an incredibly difficult challenge, with having just stuffed your face with some really good (the unhealthy kind of good) grub. This, my friends, was what was missing.

So towards the end of the hike, I suggested we go to the ice cream stand. Let’s just say I didn’t have to twist their arms very hard. Wish I had a picture of that cheeseburger and root beer float, but I scarfed them both down way too quickly. Perhaps next time though. I did, however, take pics of the hike, so here you go:

This was after about the first 1,000 feet upDSC00424

There was no shortage of mossy-rock scramblesDSC00426

See the tiny people up on those rocks between the trees? Yeah, I avoided that part via a (slightly) lower trail.DSC00428

3,000 ft = almost there! (this was about the point where I wanted to pass out, but I was so close to the top so I couldn’t give up now!)DSC00430

Crossing the creek on the plateau at the top to find the return trail downDSC00436

The money shot as seen along the return trail. You can see Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods in the bottom right corner, and so began the ice cream stand conversation.DSC00439 (1)

Oxygen Deprivation

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In an effort to train for my upcoming trek along the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu, for the past 6 weeks or so, my life has looked like this:

M-F: Wake up, go to work, go to either the gym or yoga, come home, fix dinner, clean kitchen, pass out, repeat.

Sat: Go on a ridiculously long hike.

Sun: Attempt hot yoga and try not to throw up. Try to clean my house, maintain my yard, cook dinner and lunch for the week, pass out.

Thank the gods that I’m single, because I can’t imagine making time for a partner during all this. And this will be the only time in my life that I will ever say that.

Occasionally, I’ve had meetings and other activities after work during the week that have prevented me from sticking to this 100%, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job at sticking to it about 90% of the time. Last week, I had one such meeting with an organization I’m involved in on Wednesday, during which I announced that I’ll have to miss our June meeting due to my trip. After the meeting, I was chatting with an acquaintance who asked me about my trip. She mentioned to me that there is an oxygen deprivation gym in Portland that helps to train for high altitude trips.

Say what???

I had to find out more information about this place. So of course, I turned to the Google. And low and behold, there really is an oxygen deprivation gym in Portland. Last Thursday, nerves and all, I decided to give a try. I walked in and the front desk person gave me one of these: oled-digital-hr-pulse-blood-oxygen-sensor-spo2-finger-oxi-meter-kid-adult-device

When I put it on, the top number was at 99, just like in this lovely stock photo (thanks, Google!). She told me at sea level, it should be between 98-102. I have no idea what these numbers actually mean, but something about life and death. She told me if the top number went below 76 while I was working out in the high altitude room, that I should immediately come out so they don’t have to drag me out and call an ambulance. She explained to me that when I first go into the high altitude room, the number will drop, but then it should equalize once I adjust to the lack of oxygen. I asked her what the bottom number was supposed to be, and she said she didn’t know. Then she made me sign a bunch of waiver forms. I asked her if she ever tried the room, and she said no, she was always too scared. Then she wished me good luck and shooed me into the room.

At which point, the number immediately plummeted to 75 and I thought, oh god, what the hell have I gotten myself into?? Not just at this moment, but this whole trip. How am I going to survive hiking for 5 days at over 10,000 feet if I can’t even survive standing 30 seconds in a high-altitude-simulated room?

I was determined to stay in the room, so I started focusing on my breathing like I had learned to do in yoga, and slowly walked toward the treadmill. As I stepped on the treadmill, I looked down at my finger, and the number had gone up to 78. Within a few minutes, it was fluctuating between 85-90, and throughout my hour long workout, at times it even made it up to 96. I did 3 miles in less than an hour at varying speeds and inclines to attempt to simulate different terrain that I’d be hiking on. I definitely felt out of breath, but my yoga techniques helped immensely. By the end of the workout, I actually felt really good, and told the front desk person that I would be back next week.

Now my routine looks like this:

M-F: Wake up, go to work, go to either the gym or yoga or high altitude room, come home, fix dinner, clean kitchen, pass out, repeat.

Sat: Go on a ridiculously long hike.

Sun: Attempt hot yoga and try not to throw up. Try to clean my house, cook dinner and lunch for the week, pass out.

So maybe my life is a bit boring lately. But I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I feel fantastic, and even more so, I feel confident and ready to take on the Salkantay trail. Now I just need to keep it up for another 6 weeks…

I’m going to Machu Picchu! (Or, I’m going to seriously attempt to not kill myself! is more like it).

Three years ago, I was stuck in an awful underpaid and overworked position at a nonprofit that was digging itself into a hole. Elliot asked if I wanted to join him and his friends on a trek to Machu Picchu. I had to regrettably turn him down because I was on a mission to find a better job and didn’t want anything to interfere with that.

(Very) unfortunately for him, and (slightly) fortunately for me, his spleen ruptured on that trip. He came back with stories and told me he’d be going back to finish the journey he started. Fast forward, I have a way better job, and he’s finally going back to Machu Picchu. And guess who’s going with him this time? (but just as friends of course).

To prepare, I’ve started training for the grueling 5 day trek that we’ll be taking on the Salkantay trail. My next several posts will capture my journey along the way.

After doing some online research, I’ve decided to incorporate three different components into my training. All of these are things that I do irrespective of my Machu Picchu trip, but to train, I’ve significantly stepped up my game. The three components are:

  1. Gym time – I’ve been going to the gym 2-3 times a week, and each time running at least 2 miles on the treadmill set at interval, followed up various weight machines, mat exercises, and cooling down for a mile on the stationary bike.
  2. Yoga time – I only recently got into yoga about 6 months ago, but I’ve noticed that it’s helped with my balance, endurance, and breathing for my gym time.
  3. Hiking – I’m lucky enough to live in a region that allows ample opportunity to go hiking over a variety of terrain, and nothing can prepare for a hike like lots of hiking itself.

So for my very few followers out there (like all 5 of you), I’m looking forward to sharing this journey with you as I prepare for the hardest trek of my life. At a minimum, at least I’ll be in the best shape I’ve ever been in by the end. But at best, I’m hoping to get in good enough shape so that I can actually enjoy this trip for the amazing experience that everyone says it will be rather than being curled up in pain and agony the whole way.

Renting vs. Owning: A Portland Perspective

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I bought my house 2.5 years ago, and lately it’s turned into a money pit. It started when I decided to remodel my bathroom because the shower pan was cracking. This was the first major undertaking that I’ve done with the house because it took me a while to get more financially stable to be in a position to do so. Work on the bathroom began on December 30. Since then, in addition to the cosmetic remodel, there has been one issue after another (completely unrelated to the remodel), to the point that over the course of a month and a half’s time, there has been some form of contractor at my house for a total of 22 days (and counting). It’s gotten so bad, that for the past couple of days, I’ve had no access to water in my home, and I was instructed by a haz-mat person to go somewhere else so as not to breathe in methane fumes.

During this time, I’ve stayed with a friend who lives in a darling apartment for less than the average cost of rent in Portland, where rent has risen at the sixth fastest rate in the country.  Meanwhile, home values in Portland have followed this trend, and the median price of a home in June of last year reached $313,000. This got me to thinking, is it better to rent or own in this city? There’s really two ways of looking at this question, one from the financial perspective, and one from the mental/emotional perspective since where you spend your time on a daily basis can have a huge impact on one’s psyche.

Let’s look purely at the numbers first:

First, interest rates are still relatively low at an average of less than 4%. Although with the high home values, the average mortgage payment that a Portland homeowner pays is over $1,400 each month. However, this is still less than the average monthly rent, which is now almost $1,600.

First point goes to home ownership.

But the question doesn’t just stop with those numbers. You have to go back to that whole money pit thing. Whether you have a new house or old, things go wrong, maintenance is necessary, and there will always be added expenses. Homeowners should expect to spend about somewhere between 1 and 4% of the value of their home on maintenance and repairs each year. So in Portland, the average homeowner can expect to spend between $3,130 and $12,520 just to take care of their house every year. This amounts to an average of $260 to $1043 every month in addition to one’s mortgage payment.

Second point goes to renting.

Thanks to some (but not enough) regulation, adjustable rate mortgages are no longer very common, and instead, homeowners are lucky enough to lock in their mortgage rates. This means when you buy a home, the payment that you start paying will be your payment for as long as you live there (not counting refinancing, taking out home equity loans, etc.). On the other hand, rental rates continue to rise. In the past five years, rent in this city has risen over twenty percent. If this trend continues, that could mean that in the next five years, the average rent could be over $1,900 per month, and in another five years that number could jump to over $2,300. Meanwhile, someone who buys a house today would still only be paying $1,400 for their mortgage plus the cost of maintenance and repairs. Since it’s highly unlikely that repairs will always run on the high end of the average, this would mean that over time, it would be more economical to buy. And of course, let’s not forget that you’d be building equity rather than throwing money away to a landlord.

Tie-breaking point goes to home ownership. (I am by no means a financial analyst, and I recognize that there are a number of negative variables that I did not address, ie property taxes, mortgage insurance, etc. But with all those factors also come positive variables, ie tax deductions, tax deductions, and more tax deductions!).

So what about that whole emotional piece of it? As I mentioned, I’ve had strangers in my house for 22 days out of the past month and a half. That hardly feels like I have my own space to relax and enjoy. But eventually (hopefully) the issues will be resolved, and the strangers will be gone until the next round of issues pop up.

In between those issues, there really is an indescribable feeling of knowing that your home is yours. Ok, it’s really the bank’s unless you bought it with cash, in which case you’re rich and don’t care about the numbers in this blog anyway. But assuming you’re a regular Joe like me, regardless of the fact that your bank is the middle person between you and full home ownership, you still have the ability to do with your house pretty much whatever you want (provided that it doesn’t violate some city code or anything). You can knock down walls, paint bright colors, plant things that take over the yard, rip out old tile for new pretty tile in whatever color you choose, have parties whenever you want, or NOT have parties whenever you want.

Last night, a plumber asked me if I had thought of moving. I told him no because I love my house, and he responded that the repairs I’ve been hit with are a test of my patience, and if I can make it through, then this is the house for me. I started this blog post because I was curious about whether or not I really should move like the plumber asked me. Once I began the research, I realized that thus far, the amount I’ve spent on maintenance and repairs has been within the average that I could expect to spend wherever I live. Assuming the work eventually gets finished, at some point I’ll have my house back to myself. So if I’m spending what most homeowners spend, and I get to have my own space, I see no reason to leave…yet.

But for every other Portlander who has contemplated whether they should own or rent, beyond the numbers, it really is a personal preference. Owning a home certainly brings with it a whole new set of stresses that I had never experienced. But it also brings with it a whole new set of warm fuzzy feelings that I had never experienced either. I don’t think buying is the type of decision that you just wake up one day and decide to do. But if you are prepared for the type of stress that comes with it, then the warm fuzzy feelings balance everything out and make it all worth while.

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Bathroom Fun

My bathroom is finally remodeled! After almost 2 weeks of not having a shower, it’s finally done! Wait…I should rephrase that. I’ve definitely taken showers in the past 2 weeks. Just not at my house.

It all started when I first bought the home and the sellers had DIY-ed the bathroom. The worst part was the slight crack in the shower pan that they had caulked closed rather than replace the pan. Over time, the crack got worse, to the point where it was literally being held together with duct tape. I had no choice but to replace it.

This was the old bathroom. For some reason, I never took a picture of the crack in the pan, but trust me, it was there.

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There was nothing about this bathroom that I liked. The shower tile was glued together in the corner with some type of substance that clearly was not supposed to be what they used (if you look carefully, you can see the shininess of the glue in the upper half of the shower walls), the pan wasn’t set in concrete as it should have been, the whole room was dark and depressing, and once the crack in the pan got worse, I couldn’t take a shower without feeling like I was about to fall through the floor.

So when it got to the point where I absolutely needed to replace the shower floor, I decided to dive right in and remodel the whole thing. And when I say “I,” I mean I decided to pay someone to do the job for me.

This turned out to be easier said than done. After nearly six months of calling around to at least a dozen contractors, meeting with at least five of them to get bids, running back and forth to different tile distributors, and having a contractor completely flake on me, I finally hired a contractor that I felt would get the job done and do it right…And I was right about at least half of that statement.

For starters, he told me the job would take about 6 working days, while other contractors said it was a 4-5 day job. Ok. No biggie. I can deal without use of the shower for 6 days. I have a gym membership, so I was easily able to have access to a shower during that time.

So we set a start date and I sent him a big fat check for materials so he could order the tile that I had already picked out. Then it got closer to our start date and I hadn’t heard anything. I was beginning to freak out because I was worried about what had happened to that big fat check I had sent him, and I was nervous this guy was going to flake out on me too. But after several phone calls and texts, he reached out to me and said he had to reschedule. After rescheduling several more times, and my shower pan getting worse and worse, we finally started about a month after the original start date. Needless to say, by now I was a bit antsy to get it all done with. Well, at least I was able to prime the walls in the meantime, since I had decided to do the painting myself.

Here’s how it looked, day by day:

Day 1: Demolition Day
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Yep, the seller’s name was Nicki, and I go by Nikki. Ken was her husband. Nicki got the house in the divorce and then sold it to me several years later. How romantic.

Day 2, ummm…concrete day?
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The next day was a holiday, and then the weekend, and then they claimed they couldn’t come out on Monday because of bad weather. I made it into my office just fine.

After 4 days of no work…Day 3….all they did was lay some of the tile on the floor. Mind you, this tile came in 1 ft x 1 ft squares, they were not hand-placing each little hexagon. I’m pretty sure this was not a full day of work.
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I should also mention this is the only bathroom in my little 900 sq. ft. house. And my living room looked like this:
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Ok, it’s been 3 working days. Halfway there and only 3 more days of no shower in the house and having half my bathroom in my living room.

Except after 6 days, they still weren’t done.

Day 4: Slap some subway tile on part of the shower.
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Day 5: Slap more subway tile on the shower.
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That looks pretty…but they still need to do the shower floor, finish the bathroom floor, and what you can’t see is that none of that is grouted and sealed.

Sigh.

Day 6: They pretty much did nothing other than put up some of the bull-nose baseboard tile. See it in the back by the toilet? Yep, that’s all they did today. This was definitely not a full day of work.
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Day 6 looked pretty much like day 5.

At least my cat liked it.
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I, on the other hand, was not too happy. I lowered my roommate’s rent to accommodate for the inconvenience, I was tired of having to wrestle with the cats every morning to lock them out of the contractor’s way, and quite frankly, I was ready to take a shower in my own house.

Trudging along.

Day 7: Got most of the tile laid! In my excitement, I forgot to take a photo on day 7. It may have been excitement mixed with exhaustion. It was a Saturday (which they only agreed to work on after I practically begged them) and the contractors were there until 9 pm. I also really really really needed to pee by the time they left.

But they still weren’t done. And the toilet was crooked when the contractor put it back after the tile around it had dried. He couldn’t figure out for the life of him what was wrong with it. There was also a strange gap in the wall next to where he had tiled on one side of the shower.

Sunday a friend came over and helped me paint.

I did manage to take a picture of the gap in the wall after we painted.
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See that vertical line above the door and next to the tile? It’s a hole that’s about 6 inches deep.

Sigh.

Day 8: They came back Monday to finish. I was skeptical, but when I came home from work, low and behold, it was done! They had even filled the hole in the wall with drywall compound! I’ll need to touch up the paint, but that’s ok.

And the pesky crooked toilet? Well, it’s still crooked and after all that, I’ll likely need to hire a plumber. What? Did you think this story would have a happy ending? Hey, at least it works. I just need to lean a bit to the left when I sit on it. Oh, and the floor tile is crooked too, but maybe I’m being picky.

In the end, despite needing a plumber to fix the toilet, and some slight flaws in the tile work, I’m just glad it’s done. And the shower that started it all? Well that part looks amazing.

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All My Single Lady Homeowners

About two and a half years ago, I bought my first home. At the time I bought it, the market in Portland was nuts (and it’s only gotten worse since) and it was the third home I’d bid on thanks to a market that was conducive to bidding wars and over-bidding above list price. It was stressful, and I was doing it alone. My mortgage broker was crappy, and approved me for a loan that he probably shouldn’t have. After all my fixed expenses, I only had about $300 for food/gas/life for the entire month. So I took in a roommate to help with the expenses, and I’ve had a string of roommates throughout the past couple of years.

This year, I’ve finally gotten to a financial position where I can start doing some work to make some much needed improvements. Over the summer I began landscaping my backyard which was previously overgrown by weeds and thorny blackberry vines, and right now I’m in the midst of remodeling my bathroom that was falling apart. Well, when I say “I,” I mean there’s some guy that I’m paying to do it. And who would have thought that that would bring along a whole new set of stresses? I’ve been through a whole list of contractors: some who were overpriced; some who flaked out; some who were just obnoxious; and then the one I settled on who is quite possibly one of the world’s worst communicators, especially for being in the customer service industry.

At the same time, I’m in the process of refinancing my home to lower the PMI and as a result lower my overall monthly payment. Why I decided to refinance at the same time as remodel my bathroom is beyond me. The amount of phone calls/texts/emails/paperwork that I’ve had to deal with between the contractor and my mortgage broker has had my head spinning. But in a couple of weeks, it’ll all be over and I’ll have a brand new (better) bathroom and a lower monthly mortgage payment.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve done things I had never done before, much of which were not fun nor pretty. I’ve cleaned out my gutters, I’ve mowed my lawn, I’ve picked weed after weed, I’ve repaired window screens, I’ve changed disgustingly dirty furnace filters,  I’ve repaired a gushing leaky pipe, and just this past weekend I primed my bathroom walls in preparation for the paint that I’ll be applying after the remodel is all finished. And the majority of this I did all by myself. I’ve compiled a list of all the to-dos for the next year, and in my head I have a long-term list of even more to-dos, which seems to never stop growing. My social life has gone from “social” to “maybe I’ll be lucky enough to go out at least twice this month in between work and house stuff.” It’s been scary, and sometimes anxiety-inducing, to go through all of this by myself.

There once was a time when women couldn’t get a mortgage approved without having their (male) spouse co-sign. We’ve come a long way and today single women are buying homes at a rate that is double that of single men. Despite all the hard work, I’m proud to be a part of that statistic.

So for all my single ladies who are thinking of buying their first home, or who have done so already, be proud of yourself for taking the leap into the land of home ownership which we were not even allowed to do not too long ago.  And know that the perks of owning over renting far outweigh the cons. Because in the past couple of years, I’ve also decorated my home the way I wanted to decorate it, planted veggies wherever I wanted to plant them in my backyard, gained an incredible amount of equity (now is the time to buy!), had as many (or as few) guests as I wanted without worrying about my landlord, and overall created a space that truly feels like home. I love my house, and I wouldn’t change a thing.