Where Have I Been?
I live in cabin. It is a small cabin – roughly 430 square feet. It was built in the 1920’s as a guest house for the main house on the estate. Abandoned in the 1950’s, it, along with 2 other cabins, were remolded recently and put up for rent. I was lucky enough to find it online, and in October of 2017, I moved to the woods.
My cabin sits on of 36 acres of forest which means I have plenty of room to wander. Its elevation is roughly 7,700 feet, which seems high, but in Colorado this is still considered the foot hills. It is winter now, and average nighttime lows are in the mid-teens. This means most evenings you will find me chopping wood out front to fuel my wood burning stove.
As a child, I remember helping my dad stack wood – I hated it. Now I find the process of meticulously stacking wood row by row log by log… relaxing. The simplicity in seeing your work unfold before you is a satisfaction that the professional world seldom permits.
How did I end up in a cabin?
I moved out to the mountains after living nearly 3-years in downtown Denver. I was tired of the city noise, and being that I am 29 going on 30 and had never lived alone, I decided it was time I give it a try. But most importantly, I met a girl named Bricelyn. Bricelyn is my girlfriend who also lives in a cabin roughly 20 miles north of me… as the crow flies. Most weekends, I would visit her house. It felt like a mini vacation.
I like vacations, so I moved.
As I have gotten older, I have begun to realize more and more what is important to me – in 2018, it’s mostly trees, nature, adventure, and quality relationships. Not a sudden epiphany – it took me nearly 5 years to realize this.
When I blogged last, it was over 3-years ago, and I was working as a shoe salesmen at REI, getting by on $10.20 an hour.
Ten dollars a hour is not a lot of money, and the savings I had built up to travel the world were quickly coming to an end. When I ‘retired‘ from finance in 2014, I didn’t have any plan of what I was going to do. But in an effort to make this blog better, I started dabbling in some basic code while traveling. Realizing that I would need to learn web development at a much faster pace, in July of 2015, I quit REI, and began a 7-month intensive bootcamp at the Turing School of Software and Design.
Seven months is a long time to bang your head against a wall, but in January of 2016, I graduated. I was a certified web developer.
$10.20 a hour … good bye.
Developer salary hello (or so I thought).
Instead of pursuing an entry level developer job out of Turing, I decided to start two of my own ‘enterprises.’ The first was Too Many Miles, a credit card bonus tracking site. It is still around, but after hacking at it for two or so years, I am burnt out on it. People still visit the site, and once rehab is over, I will probably go back and work on it.
The second was the much bigger endeavor, Zipskee, a traveling app that connects locals to travelers.
In hindsight, starting companies right out of coding school was both a terrible and excellent idea, but mostly a terrible idea.
Terrible because I had no clue what I was doing. Not having the experience of a more senior web developer to teach me hindered my professional development. It was excellent because I was working for myself, and I was able to follow a passion that I love; travel.
Our team hacked at Zipskee for over a year and half but ultimately it failed. Our highpoint was raising $120,000 and assembling a team of friends to help build the app. Many lessons were learned, but the most important lesson – it will be a long time before I begin my own startup.
With Zipskee’s demise, I was broke – both emotionally and financially. The stress of working nonstop on two of my own startups took its toll on me, especially attempting this right after completing my 7-month coding bootcamp. Startups require enormous amounts of time and energy, and currently I have other priorities for that time and energy. Still I am thankful for the experience and super grateful for my friends who helped me pursue my startup dream.
Also while working at Zipskee, I tore my calf muscle in my lower left leg and couldn’t walk for most of the summer of 2016. I was on Medicaid (because I thought I was invincible and didn’t have income), so I didn’t get it checked out. The result was I developed a blood clot in my left leg. I am okay now, but the diagnosis was quite scary.
Life Lesson – ALWAYS have good insurance.
The summer and early fall of 2016 were rough for me.
Despite having two companies fail and medical complications in my leg, I still managed to travel. Right after graduating Turing (in January 2016), I went to Costa Rica for 2-weeks. The flights were free, so I went. Not being able to afford anything, I spent most of my time sitting on a beach in the small beach town of Santa Teresa, chatting with locals and foreigners alike, working on Too Many Miles and eating ‘pollo y arroz.’
The accommodation of choice was a small surf hostel with no air conditioning. The roads in town weren’t paved and not much was going on. The highlight of the entire trip was A. this volcano below and B. Meeting other bum travelers.
I returned stateside towards the end of February 2016 and immediately jumped headfirst into Too Many Miles, and later that spring, into Zipskee. As I stated above, I worked hard on Zipskee during the summer and fall of 2016, but by November, our growth was stagnating, and sensing Zipskee’s end, I started job searching in earnest. Based off a friend’s recommendation, I applied and was offered a junior web developer position at a company called Procore located in Santa Barbara, a small town north of Los Angeles.
Interestingly, I was offered the job on the same evening that I was boarding a plane to Fiji. Given my dreaded financial situation, what should have been a welcome relief, made me nauseous. Trusting my gut – I decided I was going to turn down the offer.
The offer, the role, the company, and the people were great. It would have been an excellent fit for me.
But when you decide what you want to do in life, you do it. For me, moving to Colorado had been a lifelong dream. I wasn’t going to give that up.
So onto Fiji I went albeit with a clear but somewhat conflicted conscience.
Like most of my travels, I didn’t have a lot of spending money, so I spent most my evenings in basic huts like the one seen below.
I also drank free coconuts on beaches that looked like this:
While at the same time hiking along coasts that that looked like this:
But despite its beauty, paradise can have its dark side. You can read more about ‘paradise’ here.
I came back from Fiji in November of 2016 and was in a precarious position. I didn’t have money and had begun pulling funds out of my ROTH IRA to keep myself afloat. Not a good long-term solution, I hit the job search hard.
It is rather amazing what necessity, especially of the financial sense, will make you do. November 2016 through January 2017, were some of the most productive months of my entire life.
In those 3 months, I taught myself an entire new coding language. I taught myself an entire new coding framework. I wrote technical blog posts regularly. I job searched extensively. I networked. I went to every relevant web developer meet-up I could find. I spent countless of hours job board searching and way too many hours on LinkedIn. After all this, I finally secured a junior web developer position at a startup in downtown Denver called Maxwell. My 1-year anniversary was last week. In two years time, I went from no coding experience to receiving a full-time offer as a web developer. Change is possible, but damn, it sure takes a lot of time and persistence.
2017 – Bret comes out of retirement
2017 was one of the more enjoyable years of my life. Hard yes – but rewarding. Professionally I have grown to become a much stronger web developer – thanks to my team at Maxwell who have been selfless in taking countless hours to teach me how to ‘actually’ code.
Also after being single for most of my twenties, I am now in a relationship. There is also Milton, Bricelyn’s 3-year-old Golden Retriever (seen below). The three of us (or sometimes just the two of us) spend most of our time hiking, eating, and sleeping; usually in that order.
Here are some recaps from 2017:
In 2017, we went to Disney World once and Disneyland 3 times (a subject for another post). We backpacked around Iceland for 10 days. You can read more about that on Bricelyn’s blog – My Imperfect Travels. We backpacked the Grand Canyon, attended a climate March in Washington D.C., hiked more trails and 14ers in Colorado than we can remember, went to the Outerbanks, visited New York City, went to Memphis, and camped/hiked in Glacier National Park. The best part, I only paid for one roundtrip flight – my flight home to visit my parents at Christmas. The rest were free.
My Next Adventure – to 2018 and beyond!
Well there you go, three years of my life in one thousand words. I miss blogging, and perhaps when I’m old, I will use this blog remember what the hell I did in my twenties. But another and a more important reason that I decided to start blogging again is because I am starting a new adventure.
In the early summer of 2019, I am going to try to climb Denali – the tallest mountain in North America!
I wanted to chronicle the preparation required, my personal and emotional struggles with preparing, and the obstacles in pursuing this adventure.
I have no clue how I am going to afford it or how I am going to get the month off of work to climb it, but like my previous travels I’ll figure it out.
In 2014, when I traveled the world, my first step to getting out the door was buying one-way ticket to New Zealand. With that out of the way, the rest sort of fell into place. I had no clue where I was going to stay in New Zealand, and I still hadn’t quit my job at the time of my ticket purchase. BUT I had $17,000 cash and a one-way ticket.
My 2018 equivalent was intense, but not nearly as extreme. This June, I will be going to Alaska for a 12-day mountaineering course where I will be learning the basics of mountaineering whilst living on a glacier for 12 days. I don’t have all the gear yet, but I put down my deposit.
So that means in 6-months I will have to figure out how to:
A. Pay for it
B. Get all the gear.
C. Get in the best physical shape of my life
If I have learned anything in the last 4 years, it is that necessity is the mother of invention, and in most cases, it is better to orient yourself as you are falling than to never jump.
So alas, the SweaterSaga is back.. Denali here we come.