Monday, August 8, 2016

July? Vacation? No time to spare so how about trying a BizCation!

It’s simply un-American to not consider vacation in July, but for us, there is never really any time for vacation. Seriously, we cannot recall a time since 2009 where we have simply elected to escape and do nothing. Being hi-tech freelancers and having a business to run it’s just not possible to shut down, so when circumstances arose that dictated we head back to Virginia and the Carolinas for business, well, we jumped at the opportunity to head east. Regular readers of this blog may recall the post of October 4, 2015, A tale of two cars and of paths not taken where we recounted our first trip to the Carolina’s Outer Banks together with our first impressions of driving our then almost-new Mini Cooper S Roadster.

Well, with this BizCation, we elected to combine both – our love of the east coast with our love for Mini. Readers if my posts to the NonStop community blog, Real Time View may have caught on to our whereabouts as I wrote the post, published July 19, 2016, Yes, once again, I ask – are our wishes truly important? while camped alongside the beach at Rodanthe. And yet, so much is happening with both HPE and IBM that making it back to Raleigh seemed appropriate. Dashing some 1800+ miles in just three days behind the wheel of the big-rig, all 60+ feet of RV, trailer and Mini, proved taxing. Not because of the size of the rig, or of the miles we needed to cover, but because of the weather – it was atrocious!

Before we left Colorado and crossed into Kansas, the rain came down by the bucket load and stayed with us for the remainder of our trip. For many miles, visibility was reduced to almost zero and of course, the further east you head, the more you find the Interstates under repair. Picking our way through the cones with more competitive smaller cars all around us proved challenging, but we made it. We didn’t hit a thing all the way across the country. It’s a moot point of course, but for Margo and me it remains the journey rather than the destination. We liked where we were headed, don’t get us wrong, but looking out through the massive front windscreen of our RV was all we ever looked forward to – what’s behind us is not important! 

Have to say, our first night spent in the carpark of a WalMart on the eastern outskirts of Kansas City, MO, was an uneasy experience. The storm really hit hard and returning from the Applebee’s, the sky lit up with lightening everywhere we turned. And then to be treated with a knock on our door by a young lad looking for a handout didn’t do a whole lot to ease the tension. But this WalMart includes regular patrols by the local constabulary and even thought the storm did it’s best to unsettle us we passed the night in relative comfort. On the other hand, our overnight stay in western Kentucky was at a new KOA facility just outside Huntington West, Kentucky and we thoroughly enjoyed the overnight experience in an out of the way place we would never have otherwise contemplated visiting.

When travelling out west we have no issues with pulling into a WalMart parking lot along the way. However, east of the Mississippi, this is not the case and we have become almost instant fans of KOA, having experienced no problems with this organization. They aren’t luxurious nor are they always easy to pull into but the reception upon arrival is always easy to take. Plus the added value of a golf-cart escort to our pull-in lot is always helpful. New to the world of RVs? Well, not to worry, you cannot really go wrong with the good folks at KOA. But did I mention the weather? If the storms in Kansas City were extraordinary, the instantaneous downpour once we had set up camp had us pulling in the awnings and hunkering down for another night.

Before you begin to recall recent history and plot where we were relative to other cities in West Virginia, we deliberately headed to the northern part of the state to be well clear of the lethal flooding catastrophe overtaking the state. But nevertheless, all around us on the drive to the Outer Banks, rivers were swollen and back roads covered in water. Several times, the adjacent service roads were impassable. Pulling into the Outer Banks however was an entirely different story but somehow, not completely unexpected! The photo above these paragraphs may just be a clue …  

The drive down the Outer Banks includes traversing many bridges and at times, lanes just a couple of car widths wide were all that separated us from the Atlantic and the Sound. After nearly three days of heavy rain we were pleased to be greeted with sunshine and even as we began to relax and look forward to pulling into a familiar local RV camp for a week, the heavens opened one more time. And they did in biblical proportions – an extreme local storm front had crossed the banks directly atop our KOA campsite on Pea Island and the subsequent flooding forced us to make camp a short distance from the location we had reserved. Opening the door of the RV, we had six inches of water around us but as the picture here depicts, in less than 24 hours, the water had subsided completely. There’s something to be said about sand foundations!

While I worked all day from my phone and laptop and pretty much entertained the occasional business associate I was able to entice to stop by for BBQ and Martinis, always a good draw card and a familiar routine to those who have stopped by in other cities we have visited, Margo found more than ample time to wander the beachfront and collect sea shells. We now have a small drawer that is beginning to fill with Margo’s collection of flotsam and jetsam. Looking out of the RVs window and watching the many groups of pelicans on patrol just a matter of yards from our site certainly helped me come up with story lines as I continued to work for my clients. 

The picture atop this post was taken by the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. We took a day off to travel to the end of the island, cross a few bridges and make our way all the way down to the car ferry terminal. It so happened that a call I was expecting from Europe materialized so even as I was focused on the clarity of the connection, Margo had more than ample time to walk the jetty and check out the stores. It was on the return trip that we took the exit to the lighthouse but it really is a must-see opportunity for anyone visiting the Outer Banks.  

Whether it was because we had watched too many shows on the television channel HGTV about homes and condos along South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach or not, but we had decided right from the outset that our return trip to Boulder would include a couple of days alongside that beach. Little did we know that the KOA site we chose would be perhaps the best KOA location we have stayed in to date! Only three blocks from the beach we found ourselves in a heavily wooded area that was not only quiet and very peaceful but simply naturally beautiful. With a corner site far from the regular crowd and surrounded by trees, we absolutely owned the place.

Our trip had seen us capitalize on the Fourth of July holiday weekend. We had left Boulder in the Saturday morning and had arrived on the afternoon of the Fourth of July in Cape Hatteras. A full working week then gave us yet another long weekend at Myrtle Beach so we weren’t all that concerned about missing business opportunities and given that it was early July, many of my clients were already in vacation mode themselves. But Myrtle Beach? Well, a lot of fun walking the beach, stopping in at the souvenir shops and stopping in at some pretty cool restaurants. Almost sounds like lines from a Jimmy Buffett song but it did remind us of the Keys!

The Mini served us well. It proved easy to unload and then load onto the trailer and pulling it across the eastern states did little to lessen our fuel consumption. Still averaging a pretty healthy 8 mpg and much better than when we have to tackle both the Rockies and the Sierras as we often do! But on arrival to sunshine at Myrtle Beach, unloading the Mini – even though it took about 30 minutes – was only just completed when yet another cloudburst descended on us. Unbelievable! We huddled inside the RV as the winds howled and the rain tore at the sides of the RV. "Let it rain, let it rain ..." 

A lot of our discussions focused on the changes occurring within the upper echelons of HPE. Couldn’t believe some of the headlines we read and yet, the more we talked with one of HPE’s biggest competitors and the reason we headed east, IBM, the more we came to understand that the similarities with the two were unmistakable. The approaches being taken to address the customer’s needs were different, but the more we talked the more things seemed the same. Yes, the world is changing and the data centers of the past are irrevocably changing as well.  

IBM cannot find a buyer for its mainframe division and for good reason – no growth – so its conclusion was to pump up the margins mainframes deliver to a mind-boggling 57%. Maybe it was the sea air. Maybe it was the miles of sandy shorelines. Maybe it was the seafood. Or perhaps, yet again, it was the evening martinis. No matter the circumstance of the prevailing weather we always found time to shake martinis and to snap photos to share with friends around the globe. 

And yes, grill great stakes – Margo had done a terrific job of ensuring we had the provisions on board we needed and barely a night passed where I wasn’t grilling a rib eye or a trip tip or a pork chop. It turned out that the rain proved not to be a detraction, but rather a soothing way to end the day. Ultimately, we felt a little uncomfortable as the evening descended if there weren’t any raindrops falling on the roof of the RV.

And we cannot find a buyer for our home in Niwot, Colorado. Even as Margo took to shaking the evening martinis, there was a more serious side to the trip. After nearly three years of being on the market and dropping the asking price almost every quarters there has been very little activity. We clearly way overbuilt and homes of our size just aren’t selling. Unlike IBM, we cannot up the margins; quite the contrary, we are seeing margins diminish all too rapidly. So, who knows? Will we end up living out of our RV? All up, not a bad second prize when you think about it …

Routines on the road are no different than those any home owner would recognize. Trash has to be taken out. Dishes have to be washed. And yes, there is the occasional housecleaning to be done. The one big difference comes with the “hook ups” – yes, at every site, upon arrival, you need to connect to water, power and yes, sewerage. It amused Margo immensely that on our next to last night on the road, as we set up camp just outside Nashville, I thought it best to shake martinis before I looked at completing the hookups. Watching me set aside my martini on the power stump as I went about hooking up the lines, Margo realized possibly for the very first time, I was a little different from everyone else!
But life on the road is an experience not to be missed. Many times we have left our home in Niwot even as snow was falling. We have camped in Las Vegas as the temperatures climbed through 118 degrees. We have driven the coastal highways of California and camped on race tracks. And more recently, we have camped on a narrow spit of land that forms Carolina’s Outer Banks. Margo and I call ourselves new-Americans and in doing so, acknowledge that we never had parents who every summer threw us into the back of station wagons and drove us from one national park to another. These road trips for Margo and me are all new experiences and already we know we have seen so much more of America than most of its population.

BizCations? Love them and we both know there will be many more to come. Our final night was back on that same parking lot of WalMarts, just outside Kansas City but this time it didn’t rain. We still had dinner at the same Applebee’s’ and we still arose very early in the day to be off the parking lot before real customers arrived to shop at WalMarts. But the experience for both of us was unquestionably one we wouldn’t have wanted to miss. From previous vacations on WindStar cruises off New Zealand to Seaborne cruises off Venice to Peter Deilmann river cruises down the Danube to a simple ride on the Manly Ferry and yes, from first class travel by air to rickety train rides through eastern Europe - it’s all pretty much behind us. 

We have both come to really appreciate that it really is the journey and the destinations, be they scattered and surprising, pale into insignificance when set against the value we derive from the journey. Cliché? Well, not exactly but echoing what I know many others have experienced firsthand so yes, there will be more and next month well, it’s a new month after all. And yes, stay tuned as our track Corvette is back from the shop. Soon it will very likely be tarmacs in anger even as we longingly look back at the BizCation that was!