Tag: money

me and my truck

I’ve never really been a “car guy”. My step dad tried to teach me mechanical principles but in retrospect I realize he wasn’t really a “car guy” either. I learned to change my oil, swap air filters, and keep the tires full. These are important tasks, but it’s a far cry from having a well worn impact gun and wobble sockets.

I was going to buy a new Jeep Wrangler: I actually drive off road a lot and who doesn’t love a new car. Fortunately while on a backpacking trip my friend talked me out of it and dropped some science on me:

Look at Africa. Look at the Australian Outback. Shit man, look at ISIS. Know what they all drive? Toyotas, and the Land Cruiser in particular if they can get their hands on one. Go to Africa and see if you spot any Jeeps: you’ll be looking for a long time.

So instead of buying a ~$30,000 Jeep with the associated payments, taxes, and cranked insurance in 2015 I found myself a 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser down at the border.

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My beautiful truck the first time I laid eyes on her.

It was listed for $3,900 but with a leaky valve gasket and bald tires I got him down to $3,000 cash. When I went to register it the dealer had put a sticker over the “EXPORT ONLY” stamp, meaning it wasn’t supposed to be sold in the United States. My would-be truck was caught up in some international crime syndicate. An honestly dumbfounded look on my face at the DMV convinced the agent I wasn’t a part of it, and the registration was done.

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Filled up with search and rescue gear, headed to San Jacinto with some other team members.

I had done a bit of homework and learned that the FZJ-80 was one of the preferred Land Cruisers. Early enough that it still had tank-like construction (solid axles, body-on-frame construction, etc) but new enough that you’re not futzing with a carburetor or pulling a choke knob. Don’t get me wrong: nearly all Land Cruisers pre-1997 are dope whips with their respective pluses and minuses: go figure I’m in love with mine.

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Me and my little girls, waiting for a fellow Land Cruiser buddy to show up. Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

And basically for $3,000 (base) + $1,000 (tires) + $1,000 in various mechanical fixes I had a truck that could keep up with the bulk of true offroad vehicles. And I was pretty happy with that: no need to do any fancy upgrades, no need to get bigger tires, no need for a bro-dozer off road “rig”.

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Car camping with a friend and our kids, Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

But then we moved to Mammoth and winter happened.

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The snow hat on top of the roof there is from 1 night of snow. Mammoth got over 40′ this winter.

This winter I saw:

  • People losing traction and going into snow banks.
  • Big powerful 4×4’s stuck in snow ditches.
  • Tires spinning around all over.
  • Folks putting chains on in horrible conditions.

And through it all, I drove around in comfort. To be sure, much of snow and ice driving is about your skills. I got high centered myself trying to drive (like an idiot) through thigh deep snow. There is a reason snow cats exist, and it’s similar to why you’d take a snowmobile out and not a motorcycle: once the snow gets deep enough it’s simply not passable by a wheeled vehicle.

But in general, minus a lifted version of my own truck with more ground clearance, my Land Cruiser was a top performer here in the Eastern Sierra.

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Pulling a UPS truck out of a snowbank with my Toyota Land Cruiser.
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My Land Cruiser even towed all (seriously) of our worldly possessions from San Diego to Mammoth Lakes.

In the late fall, terror left my heart stricken: there was a leak coming down the tire of my trusty vehicle. A little bit of research led me to the problem: a broken seal in the inner axle area and a tougher-than-most-humans-will-ever-do repair job. I considered taking it to a mechanic but hardcore Land Cruiser fanatics shouted their disapproval.

As I’ve come to understand it, barring full engine rebuilds nearly all other jobs can be handled in your driveway. Indeed, many can be handled out in the middle of nowhere provided you were wise enough to pack tools and spare parts (affectionately known as “trail parts”).

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The leaking differential fluid that caused me to throw down and pick sides: am I Land Cruiser guy or just some dude who drives a Land Cruiser?

I knew I could hobble along through the winter, filling up fluids and grease all the while making a huge stink in my driveway from differential fluid constantly pouring out. I acquired the tools I would need. I acquired the rebuild kit. I watched the youtube videos. I found the factory service manual on Ebay. I waited, silently sending mental vibes to my truck, “You’re getting me through this winter so well. Come spring, I’m going to take care of you. I promise.”

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I have no idea what I’m doing, but I try to hard to follow along with the instructions from those who do.

And so I completed my first knuckle/inner-axle rebuild. A job so intense that full grown men walked by me and commented, “Jesus… I hope you know what you’re doing.” I learned the value of my impact gun. I learned about impact swivel sockets. Aerokroil. Brass drifts. I even pounded a race in upside down and couldn’t get it out. No problem, said the Internet: use your dremel to cut some notches into it for more purchase.

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Goodbye factory sheet metal bumper, hello Sleep Off Road badass bumper.

I don’t think it’s masochism to say that I enjoy a challenge. Living and sailing on our boat I really enjoyed having problems thrown at me that were above my paygrade. I screwed some of them up, many I didn’t, and where I made mistakes I’ve tried to learn so I don’t ass-it-up again. I think any tradesman who’s being honest can point to stupid things they did when the learning curve was steep: it’s no big thing to make mistakes predicated that they make you better in the long run.

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Slee Off Road rear bumper with (a) Hi Lift (b) CB antenna (c) spare tire (d) gay pride Mammoth Sticker because rainbows are cool and if you can’t wear a gay pride sticker without worrying about what others think about your sexuality than you might be gay, bro.

And so, dear reader, this has been my little tale of a boy and his truck. It’s a tale that will be told for decades and possibly centuries to come and no doubt some guy was tricking out his horse and carriage two hundred years ago.

No matter how much money I pour into this Land Cruiser, I’ll still stay under the stock price of a baseline Wrangler and my mechanical skills are coming along for the ride.

And now I must go to pick up my kids from school. It’s snowing out with low visibility on my rural busted up road, but Land Cruiser don’t give a f.


Post Script: A reader sent me this, and to correct the record you can find Jeeps in Africa:

I just wanted to point out the following blog, about a Wrangler currently making its way around Africa:

http://theroadchoseme.com/the-jeep
http://theroadchoseme.com/national-park-tai

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good and cheap goggles: spy targa 3

In my continuing complain-a-thon about the cost of snowsports, here’s another way to save some cash: goggles. First off, you need goggles (as opposed to sun glasses or (shudder) nothing):

  • Goggles keep blowing and otherwise airborne snow out of your eyes.
  • Goggles generally have 100% UVA/B protection to keep the sun from bouncing around off the snow and up into your eyes.
  • It’s windy, whether just from the environment or because you’re hauling ass down a mountain.
  • When you crash, you want to keep snow/ice/stuff from hitting you in the eyes. More than just keeping the sun from your eyes goggles offer physical protection.
  • You will get hit in the face with poles, boards, and other hard objections.
  • Goggles tend to come in low-light and bright-light options for super sunny (bluebird) days or cloudy dark days.

You can easily drop $200 for a set of nice Oakley goggles and they are certainly great shades, no doubt about that. Worse, you can not buy anything on your first day and need to pay through the nose at the resort. Instead I offer up what I’m wearing: the Spy Targa 3‘s, which can be had for about $25.

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$60 later, I have three pairs of good-enough shades.

I have a pair of bronze lessons for full light riding, and a rasta-banded set of persimmons for lower light. The problem with wearing the wrong lenses are pretty straightforward: wear low light lenses on a bright day and you’ll be squinting all the time. Wear darker lenses on cloudy days and you won’t be able to make out curves and contours in the snow.

You might have spotted some clear Bolle Mojo‘s tucked in there with the Spy’s. Clear goggles are absolute shit for snow sports: not enough contrast in low light and in sunny conditions you’ll be squinting the whole time. But they’re good for pushing the snow blower around the driveway or other at-home tasks where snow is blowing around.

So if you’re new to the sport and want to be cheap, I’d recommend going with low-light goggles. You’ll be squinting a bit when you look up in the sky but most of the time you’ll be looking down. And if I have to pick between squinting and not seeing all the contrasts in the snow, I’ll take the squint.

the dirt cheap guide to a mammoth vacation

If you want to spend copious amounts of money in Mammoth you certainly can. I’ve written previously about how expensive (and white) snow sports are. And even if you have the cash to blow, I’m a fan of blowing it where I want to, rather than being forced to out of circumstance.

A single night at the Westin in Mammoth Village will set you back over $700 in peak season. Conversely you can be at the EdelWeiss’ Studio for $100 night. Is the Westin vastly “better”? Of course it is. But for my bank account I’d rather pocket the $600 difference and buy a top of the line snowboard with it. Again: let me save money where I like so I spend it where I like.

So here are some ways you can spend (relatively) less money visiting Mammoth:

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Short of sleeping in your car, this is about as cheap as it gets.

You might see two hostel names floating around, but Holiday Hause and Moderne Hostel are the same thing (both at 3905 Main St). Regardless, you can stay in a hostel setting for $41/night. Having stayed in hostels before I actually kind of dig it because you meet new people and can frequently tag along with others for night life.

Note also that the Mammoth hostel also has a kitchen which is where you can save real bucks. Vons is by far the largest (and really the only) grocery store in Mammoth. The prices tend to be a bit higher even before the 1% tourism fee is applied to everything, so consider getting your groceries in advance. Either way, try hard to have your breakfast and dinner prepared in the hostel kitchen.

Stealing from my article on how to save money snowboarding, tuck some lunch in your backpack before you head up to the mountain. One place it’s hard to not spend some money is at the lodge buying a beer at the end of the day. But you can bypass that one too by tucking an IPA into your bag, and nestling it in the snow in a treewell somewhere (make sure to put it on the downhill side of the tree so no one follows your track and nails it).

For lift tickets, the best I’ve found is Costco’s deal of 4 tickets for $300 (this comes and goes by the month). Also consider that with 4 lessons you can frequently get a season pass: something to consider.

But with the Costco deal, staying in a hotel, and $20/day for food you can shred the mountain for $41 (lodging) + $20 (food) + $75 (lift) = $136/day. A four day amazing trip would run the tab to $544. Still less than a single night at the Westin, I might add.

 

mammoth lakes housing shortage

Skimming through the Mammoth For Rent group the telltale signs of housing shortages is readily apparent with posts like this guy, looking to sleep on a floor:

lookingforafloortosleepon

Or this couple with jobs who is willing to be split up to live in town:

mammothrentalseparate

These are not wealthy vacationers. Rather these are the folks working the chair lifts, the kitchens, the ski schools, and all other essential functions that people living in and coming to Mammoth rely upon. And it’s not that there isn’t space available to rent. Rather, a quick hop over on AirBnB shows that there are over 300 listings for Mammoth. For Mono County in total there are over 1,000 so the number in Mammoth is very likely closer to that 1k mark.

For the town coffers, more than half of which is supplied by a Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) the revenue derived from short term rentals is staggering: June of 2016 raised more than $1,000,000 alone (a 30% increase form the previous year).

As is often the case in life, decisions that hurt normal people aren’t a vast conspiracy crafted by money grubbing officials in smoke filled rooms. More boringly it’s a steady march down a path of self interest.

For home owners in Mammoth, short term rentals are great. They allow you have a more affordable second home, being able to subsidize a mortgage. And instead of a long term rental you have a place you or your friends can drop in pretty much whenever. Even if you don’t do short term rentals you you benefit from others that do. Having homes in Mammoth be more affordable reduces home inventory and keeps property values up.

For the town, they rake in the TOT tax of 13% on short term (AirBnB, VRBO, etc) stuff but not a dime on typical long term rentals. My hopefully reasonable question:

Exactly how motivated is the Town of Mammoth Lakes to reduce short term rentals, thereby lowering home prices, lowering property taxes, and lowering the revenue of the Transient Occupancy Tax?

Everyone cares about affordable housing. Whether or not you do anything to materially impact the situation in a positive way is a whole different bag of potatoes. And really, when was the last time you saw an organization do something that wasn’t in its fiscal interests?

how to be a non ultra-rich snowboarder or skier

Snow sports are expensive. I made a handy graph of some industry data, and it shows how stark the divide is between skiers / boarders and the rest of the world.

snowsportsincomebreakdown
Household incomes of skiers and snowboarders, 2013.

Considering that the median household income in America for 2013 was $51,939, nearly 3/4 of skiers/boarders make more than the median, and roughly half of all skiers/boarders make more than double the median. In short: skiing and snowboarding is a sport for people with money.

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Notice: white people with well off families participating in a sport for white people with well off families. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having money in your pocket and enjoying your life. But I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of just where snow sports do and do not exist in the American socio-economic system. To date, I can count the amount of black skiers and snowboarders I’ve met on two hands and still be able to fasten my bindings. Not only is skiing and snowboarding a sport for wealthy folks, but it also is a white sport and I’m not just talking about snow.

And before you spaz out and tell me about your friend Jose or Leroy that you ride/ski with, let’s let the data speak for itself, compiled by SIA/Physical Activity Council in 2013:

snowsportsdemographicsraceslide
White guys might not be able to dance, but apparently they do a shit ton of boarding and skiing.

This article will not be able to convince people of color and those lacking well-heeled families to participate in snow sports. But, I can offer some tips that make the whole thing more approachable. I’m not the first person to notice that snow spots are steadily becoming a sport for the wealthy, which sadly in this country also has obvious racial implications (hint: a white family on average makes 16x the income of a black family).

So without further ado, here’s the strategy I employ for paying my mortgage and snowboarding at the same time.

1) Don’t do it unless you’re going to do it a lot. Let’s just be blunt: there are a ton of up front costs that you will eat, even if done cheap. If this isn’t a sport you can really see yourself doing, pick something else. If you want to sample it on the cheap, go to a lower-priced resort in the springtime when you hopefully don’t need serious cold weather clothes.

2) Buy your skis, boards, boots, bindings, poles, and other gadgets on Craigslist. You can easily shell out $2,000 for skis/boarding gear and another $1,000 for clothes if you purchase new. For $200 I got a decent 7 year old board in okay condition and bindings that were good enough. Find the guy or gal that bought their stuff new, used it a few times, and fell out of the sport. Also, don’t be that guy or gal yourself.

3) Check the rental vs. buying math. Figure $35 to rent a board, boots, and bindings (similar rig for skiers). I got my board/boots/bindings for roughly $320, so really it can pay to rent for a while unless you know you’re in the sport to stay. Also, get boots first which are harder to size, more personal, and will chop some cash off the rental prices. One benefit to renting that people talk about is that you get a chance to experience different equipment. Truthfully I think that’s horse manure because most folks renting are just starting out and you’re not on some badass Capita Mercury for your rental board, nor should be on one.

4) Buy your clothes at the local big-box sporting goods store. I scored some sweet snow bibs on sale for $30. Do I want the $250 Dakine ones? Hell yeah I do. Are they better? Sure! Do I have $220 left in my wallet to put food in my fridge? Damn straight.

5) Buy your boots new from a store you can take them back to if they don’t fit. Sorry, but you’ll need to drop ~$150 minimum for snowboard boots (no idea on ski boots). Like most shoe purchases, if you get something that doesn’t fit it’s going to be a nightmare and ruin everything. Find them at the big-box stores.

6) Don’t ever buy any food from the lodge, ever, ever. It’s nice to have a warm cup of coffee and some eggs in the morning. Paying $25 for it though is ridiculous. Most lodges have a microwave and it will be your best friend. The food in my backpack generally looks like this:

  • 2-3 Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, ready to be nuked. Bring them in advance or score them at the local big box grocery store.
  • Some paper towels to nuke the sandwiches and to clean up your filthy self.
  • A couple of Monster energy drinks. I’m here to shred, I’ll drink after the last chair. Speaking of chairs, drink your drinks on the chairs to save time.
  • A Cliff bar or whatever is cheap and on sale. These are sort of crap food but if you’re a little hungry it can make the difference between staying on the hill or packing it in early. Warning: cold ones are like eating rocks.

7) Get a season pass if you ski a lot, or look for discount passes. 

  • A Mammoth/June/Summit/Bear pass is roughly $800. This sounds insane except remember that for Mammoth the lift tickets are anywhere from $103-$134 per day. Average to $118/day and the season pass pays for itself on day 7. For those of us lucky enough to ride all the time, if you ride roughly 1/3 of the days the park is open you’re spending $10/day, saving roughly 92%.
  • Costco is known to carry a 4-for-$300 deal for Mammoth, bringing each ticket to $75. While not insanely cheap, it’s still much better than full price.

8) Don’t go to expensive resorts if you’re learning. June Mountain, 20 minutes north of Mammoth, is awesome: long runs, almost always empty, beautiful scenery, and ~60% the cost of Mammoth. The last I checked, lessons were roughly 1/2 the cost of Mammoth. If you’re taking lessons, you’re going to be on a narrow slice of the mountain anyway. Why pay big bucks for a ticket to a mountain that you’ll only see the beginner slopes on? Plus, some spots (like June Mountain) have kids riding for free.

9) Don’t rent from the resort. If you need to rent, you will almost absolutely find cheaper deals and a better selection in town. Look around on Yelp and call around. Also, they probably open earlier and stay open later. You won’t need to cut into your slope time by waiting around in the gross-stinky rental area.

10) Stash your backpack in the trees. If all you have is sunscreen, some food, and an IPA for later sitting in your backpack, go off trail a bit and stash it in the trees. Lockers at Mammoth are $5 per use. So if you go in and out of your locker three times, which is of course why you have a locker, you can rack up $15 right there. Put your wallet/phone/keys on your person and keep your stuff in a bag in the forest. No one wants your crappy old Jansport bag.

11) Stay somewhere cheap. I spent a week with my daughter buzzing June and Mammoth before we moved up here, and I found a $50/night AirBnB in Lake Crowley. It was a little… rustic, but it worked and we had a great time. We brought groceries with us, cooked in the kitchen, and popped the PS4 onto the TV to hang out in the evenings.

About the worst thing you can do is roll into a nice resort armed with nothing but a credit card. The more you need to do in a resort town and the faster you need it done the more you will pay through the nose.

As much as I feel for the businesses that cater to an increasingly affluent white crowd, the business owners and employees of those businesses save their pennies as well. When the owner of the “local board shop” goes on vacation you can bet that he or she is shopping in advance and trying to stretch their dollar. I hope that this article helps other non-ultra-rich snow spots enthusiasts get more enjoyment from an activity which seems to be getting more and more out of reach.