Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bike Camping on the C&O

Last Labor Day, we went bike camping on the C&O canal.  It was pretty fun, so we decided we would try it again this year.  I really wanted to ride to Harper's Ferry, but it's a pretty long trip.  We got lucky when my cousin asked us if she could come camping with us sometime, and then offered to be vehicle support for us and drive us home from Harper's Ferry.  So we left on Saturday, rode up partway, camped Saturday night, and then on Sunday we met in Harper's Ferry, camped there Sunday night, and she drove us home on Monday.

If you are even thinking about bike camping on the C&O, please check this guide out.  It's awesome.  The only thing I couldn't quite figure out was why Google was telling me to take MacArthur boulevard all the way from my cousin's house in Glen Echo for 5 miles when the canal towpath was RIGHT THERE.  I was especially concerned because MacArthur is a really busy road.  It turns out Google knows more than I do, and there is a nice paved bike path that runs right alongside MacArthur and was perfectly pleasant.  It turns out that the reason you should ride to the end of MacArthur it is because if you try to get on the canal towpath from MacArthur at Lock 7, you have to carry your bike down a LOT of steps.  However, we did get to enjoy the section coming into Great Falls, which is my favorite part of the trail.

(Monocacy Aquaduct, near Mile 42)

We stayed for the night at the Mile 42 mile marker - the guide warned that the later mile markers were close to the railroad, so we opted not push past Mile 42, and it turned out that after 35 miles, we were pretty worn out anyway.  We were treated with some pretty nice views at our campsite.

A lot of people ask about gear for bike camping and how you haul all of your gear.  This time, we took the tent, two sleeping bags, two inflatable sleeping pads, a change of clothes each and food.  We have taken to camping stoveless, which is fine for an overnight camping trip - I enjoy the TastyBite Indian meals which are vegetarian, pretty good cold, and really easy to stuff in a pita.  For lunch, we knew we'd be eating shortly after getting on the trail, so we opted for prepackaged sandwiches from WholeFoods.  Everything we have fits in 4 panniers (2 each) and a hydration pack each - I carry all of the first aid stuff and M. has most of the bike repair stuff, like a pump and other necessities.  
My bike, all ready to go.

Our campsite
 There were a few obstacles on the trail - we had to carry our bikes over two downed trees, which is really challenging with my bike.  There were also a bunch of puddles and then there was the tall tall grasses that kept whipping at us.
The second day, we rode the remaining 17 miles to Harper's Ferry and went to our second campsite - the Harper's Ferry Hostel - this place was great for camping.  It's not a big commercial type campsite, and we were there on the less-busy night, so I don't know what it's like when it's packed, but it has a great view and the people are pretty friendly.  Technically they charge you per person for the campsite and for showers, if you want to use them, but they let me sneak into the bathroom to wash my hands and put in/take out my contacts.  They did a big group dinner but it took awhile to get everything on the table, so we kind of wished we had just ended up grilling on our own - but it was nice to hang out in the hostel where it was warm, instead of spending the whole night outside.  The only complaint I have about the hostel? It was uphill.  The directions warned us to be prepared for hills, but after two days of flat cycling, I was not ready for a mile hill climb.  I had a total meltdown and it was horrible.  Then we had to walk down and back up the same hill to get to town.  However, otherwise the walk to town was great - pleasant and scenic.  

I've talked to a lot of people who really want to bike the whole C&O, or who say that bike camping sounds fun, but worry that they are not in very good shape.  I'm not in particularly good shape, nor am I a particularly avid cyclist (I ride my bike to work .9 miles each way a few times a week), nor do I really like nature.  There were a LOT of spiders at our camp.  So if you are being held back by a lack of fitness or fear of spiders, please just go for it.  Your body is capable of awesome things, and it's worth it to take the leap.

Friday, May 24, 2013


This article.  You should go, read, now.

"I knew we were right for each other. He did not know this. Until the moment he knew it. And from that moment on, I became a happy person. Not a person who thinks he’s happy, but one who actually is."  

Happy Friday.  Have a good weekend.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Homebuying After Prolonged Unemployment

House hunting brings on a number of challenges, and one of the challenges is that there is a good chance your mortgage will be higher than your rent.  So the question is, how much can you swing as a monthly payment?

I think for a lot of people, they have been saving towards a house for a long time, and so their monthly payment is their rent + what they have been saving, so the idea of a higher monthly mortgage payment isn't crazy to them.  There are also people who are of the school of thought that since you are paying money into "your house", it's worth it and that your house is an investment and a savings of it's own.  Nobody has explained this to me yet in a way that makes me feel like my house is a savings or an investment and not a money pit of interest, insurance, and taxes.  But that's another post.

Anyway, we sat down to try to figure out what we were willing to pay in a monthly payment.  We started by asking ourselves what we were comfortable with.  Then we realized that what we were comfortable with was an unreasonably low number, so we moved on to "what can we afford?"  Which is a much harder question.  It's an even harder question when you come into it after a period of prolonged unemployment.  Because is it, "what can we afford?" or "what can we afford on your salary and my unemployment if I get laid off?" or "what can we afford if one of us isn't working?"

I didn't drink the kool-aid about BigLaw jobs and how I'd make six figures, no problem, but there's a lot of assumptions about non-profit jobs being easy to get, especially if you have a demonstrable commitment to public interest work, so when I graduated from law school, I fully expected to be able to find a job doing something that I liked, that I was good at.  As the months wore on, I expected to be able to find a job, period.  And I went on interviews and I sent out resumes and I wrote cover letter after cover letter and there was nothing.  The firms wouldn't hire me because I was too public-interest-y, the public interest orgs had no funding, the non-profit organizing jobs thought I was overqualified, and the retail jobs just threw my applications in the trash.  I was financially dependent on my husband during that time period, something which gave me endless guilt, feminist and otherwise, and we spent a long period of time living very strictly within our means.

Having come through that and out on the other side, it's not hard to recognize how lucky we are.  How lucky we were to not be depending on credit cards to get us through the rough patches, how we still managed to pay our bills, how we did not have to dip into our savings.  It's also a scary reminder for the future, because I'm keenly aware that if one of us loses our job, we might not be able to find another one quite so fast.  That prolonged unemployment is a possibility in this economy.

So how do you commit?  Not just to a big monthly payment, but to a monthly payment at all? Has anyone else done this?  Does anyone have any advice or how to tackle the uncertainty of finances?  Or do you just pretend everything is fine, everything is going to be fine, and life will go on?