I can’t believe how quickly time is flying by these days. It seems like 2015 started just the other day, and now it’s almost August…

Where have I been this whole time? Well, let’s see. After my trip to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage last Fall, I returned to California, feeling almost certain that I was going to pack up and move there in the near future. Yet, as I contemplated my next steps, the word that kept rattling around in my head was: sustainability. It was a concept I’d spent weeks thinking about and talking to people about with at Dancing Rabbit. After all, as an ecovillage, environmental sustainability is a fundamental aspect of the community, and is perhaps what they are best known for. But, what I learned in my weeks there is that there are many other facets to sustainability that are critically important. At the end of the day, any endeavor, environmental or otherwise, is only impactful to the extent to which it can sustain itself. This is true of businesses, non-profits, social movements, and of course, individuals.

Having gone through a couple of cycles of working, then burning out, then going off the (literal or proverbial) grid, then going back to work, it was clear that what I lacked in any of the things I did, was sustainability. Living in the woods was emotionally and environmentally sustainable, but not financially sustainable, and to some degree, also not existentially sustainable (living alone in the woods, I often felt a lack of a sense of purpose). Working in the city was financially sustainable, but not emotionally or existentially sustainable.  So, it seemed clear that what I needed was to build a life that was financially, emotionally, and existentially sustainable, and to find a way to make that environmentally sustainable to the extent that I could.

Once I was able to frame life as this multi-variable sustainability equation, solving it became easier. Though the last several years have been tumultuous in many ways, by throwing myself into a myriad of situations (too many to list here), I was able to learn a lot about what I liked and didn’t like, what worked for me, and what didn’t. I had learned that I need a sense of purpose. I learned that I need to feel like what I’m doing has a positive impact on peoples’ lives in a tangible way. I learned that my work needs to align with my values. I find fulfillment in making things, and want to work with other people. I need a good balance between time to myself and time with people I feel connected to.

Long story short, I feel very fortunate with, and very happy about where I ended up these past several months. In February, I started working for an education startup in San Francisco, where I spend my days helping build a modern primary education system from the ground up. I joined the team after I heard about what they were doing, and thought to myself: “Wow, that’s the school I wish I could’ve gone to.” Coming from someone who hated school, that’s saying something. The one downside is that I don’t get to spend as much time in Serenity Valley, but I’m feeling pretty ok about that. At this point, it feels like a long term project, and I feel fortunate to have such an awesome “hobby” along with a job I love. You can’t ask for much more, really.

But, don’t worry. While the updates may be far and few between, this project is far from over. I still have Hut 3.0 to build, and I still have a dream of someday spending a year homesteading on the property… someday, when I have a family.

Free shipping on calendars

I found a coupon code for Lulu (which makes my calendars) to get free ground shipping. The coupon says it’s only valid through 12/12, but I was able to use it right now, and saved over $10 on shipping. The code probably won’t work for much longer, so if you were thinking of buying one of my calendars, you might want to take advantage of this offer soon, and try entering the code HOLIDAY305 on checkout.

Update: That code might not work anymore, but reader Typhanee graciously shared a new coupon code she received when she bought a calendar: try entering RESOLVE355 to get another 15% off.

Back in civilization… er, the backwoods.

So, I’m on my way back to my property after spending 8 days in the desert for Burning Man. As luck would have it, last Monday, the day I left civilization, was a record breaking day for this blog, after getting referenced on the Survival Blog. Well, in case those of you who left comments were wondering why your comments went unanswered, it’s because I’ve been in the desert for the last week. But I’m back now, and this blog will return to its regularly unscheduled program.

Also, hello to those of you who are coming to this blog after talking to me at Burning Man. By now, you’ve probably had a hot shower… you lucky bastards. It’s too late to heat up my solar shower, so it looks like I’m going to have to heat up water on my stove or with a fire, and fill a tub the old fashioned way.


I frequently get friend requests on Facebook from readers of this blog. While I’d like to stay connected to my readers, I like to limit my Facebook friends to people I actually know (it’s that whole hermit thing that I do). If you like this blog though, consider becoming a fan of the Facebook Page I created. Once you become a fan (or “Like” it, as they call it now), you should see new posts in your news feed, which might be more convenient for some of you. So, if you’re on Facebook, click here and become a fan by clicking on the big “Like” button!

Found: Ryomobile 2.0

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain pattering against my window. I thought about what it must be like up on my property. The dirt road would be muddy and slippery from the rain, and possibly rockier with all the dirt washed away. Forecasts for the area predicted occasional snow showers at altitudes as low as 3000ft. My property is at 4200ft.

Lying there in bed, it occurred to me that the truck I was testing might not do so well up there. Truck or no truck, a 2WD is a 2WD. And I realized, as many of you commented in the original post, that I needed a 4WD or an AWD. I haven’t seen any used 4×4 Tacomas for sale, and even if they were, they only get 21MPG which is unacceptably low for me. I decided to step back and look at other options. Subarus were an obvious choice, but all the used ones I could find in my price range all had at least 70-80k miles, and no warranty. Then, somewhere the notion popped into my head to look at Toyota RAV4s. They get good gas mileage, and they come in 4WD/AWD. And as it so happened, the dealer I’d been working with had one in stock, roughly in the right price range.

I drove down to the dealer, returned the truck, and asked to test drive the 2006 RAV4 Sport. It felt right. Actually, it felt great. This was a car I could love. And it had all the right features: A “part-time 4WD” system that kicks in when it detects tire slippage, but otherwise drives in 2WD for better gas mileage. A 159HP 3.5l V6 engine, that provides the kind of acceleration the xB could only dream of, yet still gets 26MPG on the highway. A differential lock for when I get stuck in snow/mud. Cruise control, which I (or rather, my knees) sorely missed on my 10,000 mile drive across the country and back (not to mention, speeding tickets I probably would’ve avoided if I had cruise control). Extra 12V power sockets, including one in the trunk. And all the little things I’d gotten used to in my xB, like power windows, locks, keyless entry. I wasn’t too keen on the color (red), but I’m more of a function-over-form kinda guy anyway. The car has 65k miles on it, but is “certified used” so it has a 100k mile warranty on the engine/power-chain (and I bought additional warranty for other bits).

And, here she is:

Over the last few days, I learned a lot about what my car means to me. In short, it means a lot. And it’s no surprise; the Ryomobile has been my one constant during the last several years. In the last 4 years, I’ve had 8 different mailing addresses, 3 different jobs (or none), friends and girlfriends have come and gone, but the Ryomobile was always there. Whether to get me to work, across the country, to the desert, to the mountains, or to the ocean, I could depend on the Ryomobile to get me there. Or, at least, most of the way there. It took me a while to find a replacement that could do everything the xB could do and more, with the kind of reliability and peace of mind that that little box on wheels gave me. But I feel like I found what I was looking for in the RAV4. When we finished the paperwork, got my keys, and it was time to empty out the old Ryomobile, I didn’t feel an ounce of hesitation or regret. That’s how I know I did the right thing.

Tomorrow, I’m heading down to the dealership for one minor repair, stopping by the gun shop to pick up a 12ga shotgun I got, and heading up to Serenity Valley. It’s been almost 5 months since I was last up there. It’s been too long. Stay tuned for an update on the state of Serenity Valley here on this blog later this week…

Truck Hunt

I went looking for a truck, and realized that I had to find myself first.

I’ve spent 3 full days doing nothing but traveling up and down and around the Bay Area, stopping at more than half a dozen car dealerships. I’ve driven 3 trucks. One was a ’97 Tacoma with 118k miles under its wheels, being sold by a kid who wanted to buy a VW camper van. Another was a ’99 Tacoma Prerunner being sold by a dealer. The third an ’06 Tacoma with only 22k miles on it.

The three trucks I drove represented three different possibilities. The ’97 Tacoma was cheap enough that, if I sold the Scion, I could buy it with what cash was left after paying off the remaining loan. On the other hand, it was a beaten up truck owned by a couple of kids. It ran well, but it didn’t make me feel safe, and especially not for a long trip into the mountains. It also had small wheels that didn’t seem much bigger than the wheels on my xB, and I wasn’t certain they’d go over the rocks on that dirt road on my property. And to top it off, the kid wanted way more than I think the truck was really worth.

The ’99 Tacoma Prerunner was a nice truck. It had 108,000 miles on it, but it had been reconditioned by the dealer, which was somewhat reassuring. The Prerunners are 4×2 but designed for off-roading, so it would definitely work well on my land. On the other hand, they’re only rated to get 21MPG, which would cost me an additional $30 (50% more) in gas for every trip to my land from San Francisco. The biggest concern for me, though, was that I didn’t feel comfortable trading in my trustworthy xB with 60k miles on it and another 15k miles left on the warranty, with another vehicle that had over 100k miles and only a 3k mile warranty, especially since I had to increase my debt by $2k.

The third truck, the ’06 Tacoma, costs considerably more, but it’s “certified used” and still has 78k miles left on the warranty. It’s the 2.7l 4-cylinder model with an access cab, which gets 24MPG on the highway, and the bigger wheels on them would fare better on my property than the smaller wheels that came on older Tacomas. Since it’s a newer truck, they offered me a longer term financing plan that kept my payments comparable to what I’m paying now. Clearly, this was the best value and lowest risk option.

But at the end, I hesitated. I hesitated not because I didn’t think the ’06 Tacoma was a good deal, or because I couldn’t afford it. I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted a truck. The xB implies a certain lifestyle, and a truck another. For driving around the city and suburbs, or even plain old highways, the Scion is obviously a better plan. Granted, the way I’ve used my xB might be somewhat unorthodox, since I’m not sure how many people use it to haul lumber, or mount roof racks on which to haul a week’s worth of supplies, including 5 gallons of gas and a generator, into the desert. But, nonetheless, it’s served me well, and its fuel efficiency, compact exterior, and paradoxically spacious interior are all hard to beat. The pickup? Well, it’s big, and relatively speaking, a gas guzzler. It symbolizes the “bigger is better” mentality that I don’t entirely ascribe to. On the other hand, the bed will be big enough for me to, well, bed in. It can get to my hut. I can tow things and haul things. It’s rugged, and it’ll last me ’til the end of time.

So, which am I? Am I a mostly city-dwelling Ryo? Or am I a mostly land-dwelling and occasionally truck-dwelling Ryo? Once I’ve found the answer to that question, deciding on whether or not to actually get a truck becomes easy.

Noting my hesitation, the dealer offered to lend me the ’06 Tacoma overnight on an “extended test drive.” I make my final decision tomorrow.

Finding Ryomobile 2

Back in 2006 when I was searching for the Ryomobile, I found the perfect match in a Scion xB, and it has served me well over the last 4 years and 60,000 miles. But times change, and now that I’m thinking of spending a significant amount of time this Summer up on my property, the xB’s inability to navigate the dirt road leading up to my hut will be a significant drawback. While wrenching a 800lb trailer up by hand was fun, and hauling hundreds of pounds of supplies using a handcart gave me a great workout (you shoulda seen my abs), I’ll be completely honest and say, I don’t want to do that again. It’d be nice if I can drive up to my hut with supplies and equipment, so that I could spend less time hauling, and more time doing other things. The thought of having to spend half a day just to haul in supplies by foot discouraged me from going up there on a short trip this month, and when my tools prevent me from doing something, that’s when I know I need a new tool.

So, basically, I need a truck. An SUV would do, but pickup trucks tend to be cheaper, and also lighter and therefor more fuel efficient. Seeing how I’ve had the back seats in my Scion folded down permanently for the last year or so, I doubt I’ll miss the passenger capacity. But hauling dirt? Mmm. That sounds useful.

Of course, while trucks are great for going off into the woods, they’re not so great everywhere else. They get worse gas mileage than my puny xB, and they’re harder to park. So, seeing how I’ll probably be a city-mountain-hybrid Ryo for a while, would it make sense to completely ditch the Ryomobile? Also, I haven’t finished paying off the Ryomobile (I have about $4k left to go) and on top of that, I’m not exactly drowning in cash like I used to… So I have a few options:

  1. Trade in the Ryomobile for a truck
    Pros: This is the simplest option, and I could end up with a vehicle that could last much longer than what I have now, since trucks generally outlast cheap 4-doors.
    Cons: There are numerous downsides to getting a used truck. One is that you don’t exactly know what kind of condition they’re in, and they generally don’t come with any warranty (my xB has an extended warranty out to 75k miles). I’ll also be spending more money on gas, and would have to deal with all the headaches of owning a truck while living in the city (if I return to the city). On top of that, according to KBB, my xB has a trade-in value of $6500-7000, which means I only get $2500-3k after paying back what I owe. A decent truck will cost at least $10k, so I’d have to shell out cash, or go further into debt.
  2. Sell the xB, then buy a used truck
    Pros: If I sell the xB privately instead of trading it into a dealer, I can probably sell it for a higher price than the trade-in value. With another 15k miles left on the warranty, I’m pretty sure I can get a decent price, since buyers won’t have to worry about it falling apart in a week.
    Cons: Selling privately is a hassle. I’d have to get the car cleaned up, inside and out. I also might have to get some dents removed and the windshield replaced, and who knows how much that’d cost. Then, I’d also have to pay off the balance on the loan before I can get the title and sell it. And only then, would I be able to go buy a truck. Oh, and I’d have to deal with not having a car after I’ve sold the Scion but before I’ve bought a truck. I guess I could rent a car, but that’s more money I’d be spending…
  3. Keep the xB, buy a clunker
    Pros: I’ll get a truck that I can use for going up to my property, but I’ll still have the xB for all other times. Keeping the xB and driving it into the ground will also allow me to extract every last dollar of value from it, and frankly, it’ll probably last me at least another few years.
    Cons: I’ll have to spend cash on the clunker, while continuing to make payments on the xB. I’d have to pay double the insurance, two registration fees, and figure out what to do with one while I’m driving the other. A clunker also is more likely to just stop running, and when up in the mountains, far from civilization, I’m not sure I want to worry about that. Also, when clunkers die, they tend to require more money than they’re worth to keep running.
  4. Sell the xB, buy a clunker (or two)
    Pros: I’d have my truck, and I could also be free of debt, and possibly even come out ahead. If I can sell the xB for $8k, that’d give me $4k to spend on a clunker. Or two. It’d be kinda cool to buy a couple of ’89 Toyota pickup trucks, and use one for parts to keep the other running (well, and learn how to do that).
    Cons: I end up with a truck (or two trucks) that could die at any moment, and leave me stranded and immobile somewhere.
  5. Swap the xB for a truck with someone for the summer
    Pros: Surely there’s someone out there with a truck who doesn’t really need it and would rather drive a car that gets 33mpg for a while. I can use a truck while I’m up on my property, but I’ll have the xB when I come back to civilization. Ideally, this won’t cost me anything.
    Cons: I’m not sure this is something people do, and I’m not sure how I’d find someone trustworthy to swap cars with. I’m also not sure how the insurance will work out.

I think right now, I’m leaning towards either just doing a trade-in, or buying a clunker and keeping the Ryomobile, with a slight preference for the former if I can find a good deal. I saw a ’04 Toyota Tacoma today for a little over $10k. It was one of the smaller trims, which are also reasonably fuel efficient, so I probably wouldn’t mind having one of ’em as my primary car.

What do y’all think?