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The first journey of our westwardly bound road trip took us south to find some warmer temperatures and hiking opportunities. We almost skipped Big Bend National Park because it was a little bit out of the way, but we decided not to because neither of us had been before. It’s a surprisingly mountainous landscape in an otherwise mostly flat to moderately hill-countried Texas. Although it can be a a long drive from most of the major Texas cities, it’s definitely worth the gas.

Big Bend’s wide open desert landscapes are only interrupted by the many seemingly barren mountains that frame it in. Not until you drive up the most popular area, Chisos Basin, do you realize there’s actually a wide variety of ecosystems in the park including forests, grassy meadows and even a spring-fed oasis. It’s the kind of variety that makes the many hikes in the park worth experiencing.

We ended up staying for eight days as we skipped between two somewhat developed campsites, and then spent three days in a back country site three miles down a gravel road! It was great to experience the quiet and secluded nature of the desert. Big Bend is known for its great stars and we got some dark and clear nights to enjoy them. Here’s our attempt to capture Penny Lane lit up with the stars! We saw a professional photographer do it, but his didn’t look like aliens were circling the camper.

Overall, we hiked 25+ miles, including a major 15 mile hike that included the tallest mountain in Big Bend, Emory Peak. The campsites only cost us $14/day and the back country only required a $12 permit which was good for up to two weeks, so the minimal budget impact made me quite happy!

Big Bend isn’t for everyone though. You need an adventurous spirit and a longing for the great outdoors to truly enjoy it. Even the “developed” campsites are pretty undeveloped as none of them include showers or electric, but you can pay to shower at a camp store close to one of the sites. Big Bend does have a pretty nice restaurant and lodge which includes hotel rooms and separate cabins and you can find wifi around the visitor centers.

After Big Bend, we headed east through one of the more scenic drives in the US, from Lajitas to Presidio in Texas. The drive starts at the ghost town of Lajitas and continues through the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The road borders the Rio Grande River most of the way and takes you through the beautiful Chihuahua mountains with views of river meadows, tall mountains and little towns on both sides of the border along the way. Luckily, there was no big ugly wall to get in the way of the views.

Did you know there’s an artsy little town in the middle of nowhere, Texas? It’s called Marfa and it was once a sleepy little country town, but it’s been taken over by hipsters riding their street cruisers, wearing old-timey hats and just being artists. It apparently started thanks to a minimalist artist from the east coast who set up shop and set to transform the town. It’s actually quite a cool little town, but I’d consider it a detour rather than a destination.

The next destination was Guadalupe National Park on the eastern edge of Texas. The park includes the tallest mountain in Texas and portions of the largest fossilized permian reef, which is apparently the major reason why it’s a national park. We hiked up the tallest peak in the park, Guadalupe Peak which also happens to be the tallest mountain in Texas at over 8,700 feet! We were pretty surprised by the difficulty of the hike, which climbed 3,000 feet in 4.2 miles. It was a great hike and even included some snowy passages; it seemed much more like Colorado than Texas.

The main campsite is nothing more than a parking lot, but it’s cheap at $8/night and many of the major trail heads were just outside our door. It also provides for some good socializing because you can’t get away from anyone! We’ve also learned that many people are taking the same westwardly route as us, and we saw at least three groups who we also ran into at Big Bend. One afternoon seven of us met up for coffee and hung out for a few hours as the sunset. It was fun to trade stories, meet new friends and get tips on what to see next. To the west we go!

Here are some of our hiking videos:


and some more pictures:

Taking in the sunset in our backcountry site, Paint Gap 1

Taking in the sunset in our backcountry site, Paint Gap 1

View from the South Rim in Big Bend National Park

View from the South Rim in Big Bend National Park

All around Marfa!

It’s time to start the projects! We bought this 1966 20ft Airstream Globetrotter about a month ago, so it’s time to get going. We’re starting by gutting the interior before we start rebuilding.


Thanks to the team at Personal Capital for putting together this interesting infographic on some of the 2016 Presidential candidate’s net worth. This is about as close as I’ll come to discussing politics on my blog and this is no indication of which way I’ll vote, but I can see why Bernie Sanders wants a more socialized system in the US now! Compared to the other candidates, he’s at the poverty line of potential presidents! However, I did some more research and his estimated net worth is higher than Marco Rubio and Scott Walker.

You can find some more candidate net worth information on USA Today.

personal_growth_net_worth_2x_v04 (1)

Let’s face it, school doesn’t do the best job of setting us up for success in life.  I’m not mad or blaming anyone, but if you’re expecting to succeed based only on what you learn in K-12, or even add in college, don’t expect Bill Gates to call anytime soon.

After I started working at Accenture, these things became readily apparent.  Gone were the days that “being a good student” was enough for success.  My bosses didn’t pass down assignments with clear rules and most of the time even if I did have direction it was quite unclear!  After I read Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

Gatto says it’s a quasi-conspiracy because the powers that be want to keep us working class people in line.  I don’t quite believe that far yet (who knows, as I continue to grow my hair longer and wear more tie-die, I may move more that direction), but I do believe there are a lot of real world things school does a horrible job of teaching.

Anyway, enough talk, here are the five things I never learned in school:

1. How to Assess Myself
2. Take Action
3. Question Authority
4. Manage Money
5. That I’m More Than a Consumer

1. How to Assess Myself

No, I’m not talking about the kind of assessing of myself that I do after a long hike during tick season (too far?), I’m talking about determining if the work I do every day is really worth a damn.  School teaches us to be dependent on constant feedback and grading from our teachers to assess how well we’ve done; we never get the chance to grade ourselves.

Continue Reading…

If you get a chance, check out my guest post on my wife’s blog (Revealing World) on our scary encounter with a gate agent! Click here to read it

From the post:

As we approached the queue to the airline counter, we waited to see which of the 15 agents we’d receive. There she was, a middle aged woman no different than any of the others we’d previously worked with. She took our passport before uttering the phrase that was now foreign to us – “where is your proof of onward travel?” Just as we’d rehearsed, I pulled out my printed off itinerary and handed it over to her, expecting a quick glance over and then our boarding passes in return.

Click to read the whole post

BF Giveaway

Starting 1/10, you’ll have a chance to win something each Thursday in January.  That’s right, four weeks of giveaways!  To register, all you’ll have to do is subscribe to BREAK FREE and then leave a comment on the weekly giveaway post to let me know you’re interested.

Continue Reading…

If you’ve been around here a while, you know Susan Cooper.. if not, let me spend a second introducing her. She’s an incredible person who is probably the reason I’m still blogging today. Back in the early days, we were the only ones commenting on each other’s sites, but luckily that has changed! She’s continued to support me and teach me new things about blogging. She’s a former executive, turned unofficial life coach who’s an incredible story teller, artist, and wine connoisseur! Check out her site, Finding Our Way Now – you won’t regret it.

Take it away, Susan!

October 1, 2012

Have you ever heard the proverb “Money doesnt grow on trees? I would argue that point. But I digress. Our feeling or sense of how we treat money can be affected by so many factors but before I tell you my tale, let me define how I see Money.

Full Money Tree_SCTo me, Money is a sophisticated system of bartering. Our time and energy in a job is then translated into the form of a currency. We use that currency to exchange our time and energy for goods or services that we need, want or desire. So what that means is when we buy something, we’re saying that the time it took to earn the currency we are parting with is worth the item we’re purchasing. For example, lets say it takes us a month to earn $1.000, and we want to purchase a TV. When we buy that TV, we’re saying the value of that TV is worth a month of our work.

So now back to “Money doesnt grow on trees”? It does if you’re an apple grower. This quote is really a proverb that refers to: “dont waste money because its hard to get”. For me what the idiom or proverb is really saying is we only have so much time (The Tree) to work. Making the best use of our time and how it translates in to a currency (The Leaves) to barter with is extraordinarily valuable to us.

So where am I going with this? About 6 months ago I made a decision to reduce our household expenses. Because I was no longer working, it just made good sense to do so. My goal was simple, cut costs by at least 15% without substantially changing the overall convenience that some things offered. I had already reduced our costs by some, the low hanging fruit if you will. So this was a real effort to see the other areas that could be changed. I know what you’re thinking, how in the heck are you going to that.

You see, when we view money as a bartering system then everything is negotiable. I researched all my services, the going rate for each service, who provided them and what their reputation was as a service provider. I made a lot of phone calls. Some areas weren’t adjustable such as power and water. However, many other areas were such as cable, internet service, cell phone, and the list went on. You get the idea.
In other cases, it was substantially more. Let me give just one example. I had a gardener who was top dollar, and I asked what he could provide if we reduced our cost to half of his current fee. He gasped and acted as if the world would end, and my yard would look as if an apocalypse had

Money with basket_SC

arrived. We went back and forth. In the end, I decided to change to another gardener who I knew by reputation and from the neighborhood. I not only got the same service at half the price, but he was actually better and more attentive to my needs.I then checked for any specials that were being offered that I was not getting. In some cases, I was willing to change my provider all together if I saw not appreciable difference in the service they provided by doing so. With some services, it reduced the cost by only a few dollars, but hey a dollar is a dollar in the bartering world, and it all adds up.

I systematically went through each and every item, reducing just about everything to a lower cost. The overall outcome was I succeeded in reducing our household operating expenses by a whopping 25+%. Why I hadn’t done it before was disappointing, but at least I got there. The best part, it’s been over 6 months since I’ve made these changes and we haven’t seen or miss the differences in any way. In some situations, I am actually getting better service at a much-reduced price. What’s there not to like about that.

Money is a tool that represents our time and energy. When we part with it, we need to make sure that the time and energy it took to acquire it matches with the product or service we’re purchasing.

Shanghai – Day 1

April 9, 2012 — 2 Comments

I’m currently on a business trip in Shanghai, China.  After a 13 hour flight from Chicago, I landed with mixed expectations as to what China would offer.  Would it be the sparkling city birthing with capitalism, or a country of haves and have nots caused by communism?

After I landed and took a taxi to the hotel, it seemed the latter might be true.  We passed some not-so nice areas, but the gloominess was also a contributor. This is the view from my hotel:

Shanghai from hotel

Definitely not third world, but I wasn’t too impressed upon entrance.  However, when I joined co-workers for dinner, I experienced more of the shining Shanghai.  It was then I noticed the solid infrastructure (roads and highways), the number of new cars on the street, and finally the beautiful downtown area of Shanghai.  We visited The Bund, an upper-class area on the river across from downtown Shanghai.  I’m excited to see what else the city has in store for us!

The Bund, Shanghai