Hiking to Torres del Paine

Hola, mis amigos! I am writing to you from lush Puerto Varas, Chile, on the shores of Lake Llanquihue. Over the past five years, I’ve visited many places in the world, but none resemble my home so much as this place. At times, I could swear I’m in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. But I’m not. I’m half a world away.

So far, our group has ventured from Buenos Argentina to Cape Horn, “the end of the earth”, as it’s billed down here. It’s the southernmost continental point in the world (before you reach Antarctica). We’ve visited penguins and puppies, eaten empanadas and beef. Lots of beef. I’ll cover all of these things in due course, but for now I want to share my favorite part of the trip so far: hiking to Torres del Paine.

Tip: Torres del Paine is pronounced something like “toe-rays dale pie-nay”. Please don’t say “towers of pain”.

Our group spent last weekend at a hotel in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, near the southern tip of the country. Sunday and Monday, we were scheduled to do bus tours of the surrounding countryside. Bus tours have their place, but I was itching for some exercise. Besides, it seemed a shame for a fellow who loves hiking so much to be at the base of a spectacular trail and not make use of it. So, I skipped Sunday’s bus tour in order to explore on my own.

I’d left my proper hiking gear at home, but no matter. I laced up my sneakers and set out.

Start of trail to Torres del Paine
The start of the trail at Hotel Las Torres

At first, I was a little worried. The start of the trail is moderately steep. I knew I was in for a 9km hike (about 5-1/2 miles) each way. Without proper shoes, how would I fare? And without any sort of physical activity over the past couple of weeks, would my body hold out? The warning signs didn’t bolster my confidence.

Warning on the path to Torres del Paine
Warning sign on the trail to Torres del Paine

Fortunately, that sign came 90% of the way through the first of two steep climbs. By then, I knew I could make it. This helpful signpost came soon after:

Sign on the path to Torres del Paine
These signposts along the trail were actually very helpful.

After 2.4 km (a mile and a half), the terrain leveled and soon I reached the “Chilean campsite”, a refugio for trekkers. Here folks can pitch their tents for the night or grab a snack or a meal as they walk through the park.

Torres del Paine National Park is huge, spanning more than half a million acres. There are several major treks through the nearby mountains, as well as hikes to and from the many lakes in the park. For my one day of hiking, I elected to take one of the most popular paths, the one leading directly to the towers.

After passing the refugio, I entered el bosque, a lightly forested area full of gentle creeks spanned by wooden bridges.

Bridge on the path to Torres del Paine
A bridge at the start of the forested section of the trail

After several relatively flat kilometers through the forest, the path to Torres del Paine once again began to climb, following a rocky creekside. In fact, the path became quite steep in parts. And eventually, it cleared the canopy of the trees for a final push to the towers over scattered rocks and boulders.

Forest canopy near Torres del Paine
Coming out of the forest with a view of las torres

Three hours and three minutes from starting my hike, I crested the final ridge to see a sight more stunning than I had anticipated: Las Torres del Paine towering over a glacial lake. I recruited two German hikers to snap my photo.

Standing before Torres del Paine
A fine morning’s work

But, of course, the towers look even better without my ugly mug blocking the view.

Torres del Paine
Las Torres del Paine

I sat on the boulders, soaking in the sun, admiring the beauty before me. I ate an apple and some peanuts. I drank agua con gas. I watched my fellow hikers laughing and chatting. But I felt most akin to the others who sat silently, reverentially taking in the view.

After 45 minutes of personal meditation, I picked up my stuff and started home. The downhill trek was much quicker — it took only two hours and seventeen minutes — but in many ways it was more difficult. Because I hadn’t planned to do any hiking, I didn’t bring trekking poles. And my old knees need trekking poles. I was sore for days after. But you know what? The pain was worth it.

End of trail to Torres del Paine
End of the trail…

Building a Collection Without Breaking the Bank

Before I moved out of the house and into my apartment, my cousin Nick paid a visit to play board games. After some rousing Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride action, I gave him a brief tour of my geek room, which was home to my board games, science fiction novels, and comic books.

“Your comic collection is growing,” he told me.

“I know,” I said. We talked about the process of building a collection while I showed him some recent additions. “These comics cost a lot of money,” I told him, “but it was much less than if I’d bought them piece by piece.”

Comic shelf

Like me, Nick has been a collector his entire life, so he understood what I meant. But while I’ve collected comic books, he’s collected stamps and coins. We may not be able to compare notes on our specific collections, but we have a good time discussing the process of collecting itself. Nick, too, tries to collect on the cheap.

No matter what you collect, there are ways to enjoy your hobby while spending less. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to keep costs low after four decades of collecting.

Note: My examples below will involve collecting comic books, but they’re applicable to most other collections, as well.

Narrow your focus
Know what you’re collecting — and why. One problem with collecting is knowing when to stop. This topic came up recently at my favorite comic-book discussion forum. “At what point do you have to say enough is enough?” asked one member. How do you know when your collection is finished? How many Magic cards do you need? How many autographs? How many canning jars? How many Hummel figurines? If you don’t have a defined stopping point, your collection will never be finished.

When I was paying off debt and building savings, I cut back on my comics spending. Instead of buying everything I wanted, I decided to focus on my favorite niches. For several years, I almost exclusively bought collections of comic strips. Because there weren’t many of them, I could afford to buy almost all of the anthologies being released: Peanuts, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Bloom County, and so on. By making my collecting more specific, I was able to indulge my hobby on a smaller budget.

Look for sales
Yes, even collectibles go on sale. When I finally found the cash to start collecting comics again in 2009, I was fortunate to discover a place that was selling back issues at 50% off their regular prices. And my favorite local comic store (Excalibur Comics in Portland — that place rocks!) regularly has 50%-off sales. I’ve been able to pick up tons of my favorite comics from the 1970s at a buck a piece. Yes, please!

Find dealers you can trust
Little LuluTry to find someone with tight grading standards. Most collectibles — including comic books — are priced based on their condition. For instance, comic book conditions can be classified as Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, Fine, Very Fine, Near Mint, and Mint. But not everyone grades the same way. What I call Good, you might call Very Good, and somebody else might call Fair. Steer clear of dealers who claim a Good comic is Very Good (or Fine!); gravitate toward those strict graders who will sell you a Good comic for the price of one that’s only Fair.

Believe it or not, Kris collects canning jars. She and a friend share this passion, and often swap tips. They’ve also found a jar dealer they trust (though the guy is a bit of a nut). They’re willing to drive out to see him because they know he has good jars. (Here’s a story about Kris’ canning jar collecting.)

Scout unusual sources
Check out yard sales, antique stores, flea markets, and auctions. If you’re patient, you can sometimes find great deals. Once at a garage sale, I found a box of comics from the 1960s in great condition. Unfortunately, this was at the depth of my debt despair. I couldn’t afford a single one. In retrospect, I’ve always regretted not finding a way to just offer a set amount ($20? $100?) for the entire box. There would have been no harm in asking.

While Kris and her friend collect canning jars, their dealer is even more obsessed. He has a house full of them. (As I say, he’s a bit of a nut.) He goes to estate sales and asks the people if they have any home-canned food in the pantry they’d sell him. He then eats the food and adds the jars to his collection.

Settle for less
Go for the minimum condition you can live with. Some collectors want their objects to be in perfect condition. They pay a premium. If you’re willing to settle for second-best (or third-best or fourth-best), you can have highly desirable objects for cheap.

I’m willing to accept Poor quality comics, for instance. Much of my collection is simply Fair or Good. These are the comics most other collectors reject. But you know what? While they’re paying $5000 for a copy of Fantastic Four #1, I paid $500. Sure, mine is falling apart. I don’t care. I read it and enjoyed it.

My cousin Nick collects ancient coins. He’s not willing to pay top dollar for the best pieces either. In fact, he buys bags of “uncleaned coins” — basically hunks of metal caked with centuries of dirt and grime — and slowly removes the patina in order to discover what’s underneath. Most of the coins he finds this way are common, but he’s also discovered some gems. Because he’s willing to accept poorer quality, he pays far less than he otherwise might.

Buy in bulk
X-MenIf you have the cash flow, consider buying large lots just to get at a single piece. Buying large lots is generally a much better deal than buying individual pieces. The drawback, of course, is that you usually get stacks of stuff you don’t need. You either own the other pieces or you don’t want them. This can make buying a large lot to get at a single piece a bad idea, especially if the cost is high.

But if you have plenty of cash, you can actually make a profit doing this. For a while, I was targeting old Wonder Woman comics, for instance. Sometimes the only way to get the comics I was after was to buy six or eight at a time, including several I didn’t want or need. I did this, but then set the others aside to resell. (I haven’t actually resold anything yet, but I have a huge stack of stuff I’ll liquidate when I get the time. In the long-term, this should be very cost effective.)

Avoid temptation
I spend less money on comics when I stay out of comic shops and when I avoid comic blogs. I spend less on board games when I intentionally avoid learning about new games. (I went for years without buying new games, and I was perfectly happy. Now I’ve bought several in the past few months. Hanging out with Adam Baker has just made the urge to splurge grow stronger. He’s loves board games too.)

Be patient
When you find that one thing you’ve been waiting for in order to complete your collection, it can be tempting to buy it immediately. Don’t. Make sure you’re getting a good deal. As a collector, you need to know the market, you need to know what things are worth. And as a collector, you’ll spend far less if you’re willing to wait for the right item at the right price.

This can be easier said than done, of course. When you stumble upon a missing link, you can be afraid you’ll never find another one again. You want to buy it now, now, now. Train yourself to be patient. Know your price points. Be smart.

Sometimes you can satisfy your urge to collect by borrowing and sharing. In my case, I was able to curb some of my craving for comics by making use of the public library. The local library system stocks some expensive hardbound compilations. Since the library owns and stores them, I don’t have to. This principle can work for other types of collections, too (though admittedly my comics situation is close to ideal).

Or maybe you have a friend with a similar interest. Maybe she collects Wedgwood pottery too. Instead of both buying the same pieces, you could build a short of shared collection, lending items to each other from time to time.

Final thoughts
Uncle ScroogeIn general, collecting is not a frugal hobby. My collecting habits have been a constant drain on my bank account. I’ve come to believe that collecting is merely a form of hoarding. It’s a socially acceptable way to acquire Stuff.

As with anything, though, it’s okay to collect in moderation. But if you find yourself being sucked into your hobby, that can lead to problems, both mentally and financially. Again, I say this as one who’s been there (and may still be there). If you’re going to collect, do it right.

I wrote the bulk of this article last June. Because I’ve made some major changes to my life since then, I’ve actually called into question my own tendency to collect. If I want to travel, and if I’m going to live in an apartment, is there really a place for building a collection? What’s the point? Why don’t I “outsource” the collecting — to the public library, for instance.)

Over the past few months, I’ve put the brakes on my own collecting habits. I’ve spent $0 on comics since September, and the only books I’ve bought have been for specific purposes (learning Spanish, our monthly book group, etc.) That’s not to say I’m ready to give up collecting completely, of course, but maybe I can finally spend some time reading all of the books I’ve bought before!

I’m actually curious how many GRS readers are collectors. What do you collect? And how do you do it? What strategies do you use to keep costs down?

In Patagonia

As most of you already know, Kris and I are on the road again. We’ve jetted to Buenos Aires to start a three-week tour of Patagonia. I won’t be sharing notes about the trip here, but you can read about our adventures at my travel blog, Far Away Places. The first piece about the trip is a quick overview of our first few hours in B.A., including a visit to a beautiful bookstore and finding my favorite flavor of ice cream — only available in South America. Chao!

Two Days in the Life

Kris and I have dinner together at least once a week still. I was over at the house for tacos the other night, for instance, when she asked me, “So, what do you do with your time now? What’s your day like?” Then, in a recent discussion at my personal finance blog, a reader asked the same question.

So, in true blogger fashion, here’s a look at what I’ve done with my time over the past two days.

Note: To set the scene, I now live in an apartment in NE Portland, where I’m walking distance from almost everything. I love it. The divorce isn’t finalized — and won’t be for days, or weeks, or months — but Kris and I have been living apart for about a month now. We’re still finding our future path together, but we’re both committed to remaining friends.

On Thursday, I slept in. In general, I try to get up at 5:30 so that I can make the 6:30 Crossfit class. That hasn’t happened much since I moved to my apartment though. I’ve had chronic insomnia, for one thing. For another, I’ve discovered that I enjoy visiting other class sessions throughout the day. So, Thursday I slept in.

Note: I didn’t do any formal exercise on Thursday. That happens about twice a week. I take “rest days” from Crossfit to give my body a break. Still, Thursday wasn’t sedentary. As you’ll see, I walked more than six miles around Portland.

I got out of bed at 7:00 and immediately went to work. For the next four hours, I answered e-mail. (If I keep current with e-mail, it’s not a problem. If I fall behind, it takes hours — or days — to catch up.) I also jotted outlines for three blog posts. As I worked, I did my laundry, which is something I haven’t had to do in years.

At 11:00, I stopped working and began to study Spanish. This included reading a book (El Alquimista) and creating some sentences involving different ways to express the notion of “becoming” in Spanish. (There’s no one way to do it.)

At noon, I left the apartment and began walking to my Spanish class. Along the way, I stopped for a couple of errands. I reveled in the uncharacteristically warm and sunny February day. I also listened to a Spanish-language podcast.

From 13:00 until 14:30, I had a Spanish lesson with my tutor. She answered my questions (I always have questions), we read El Principito, we discussed how Americans and Peruvians view time differently, and so on. For homework, Aly gave me a poem she had read in high school and asked me to translate it.

After class, I walked two miles from one coffee house to another. (As I walked, I listened to Spanish-language pop music.) At 15:30, I joined Mark Silver to talk about life. We met briefly at last summer’s World Domination Summit, and have been meaning to get to know each other. We had a fine conversation about business, marriage, children, goals, and more.

Note: I meet with people like Mark all of the time. That is, I meet colleagues and readers for lunch or coffee, and we have conversations about random things. I love it. There’s rarely a specific goal in mind for these gatherings — and I definitely consider them part of my work — but I enjoy them anyhow.

At 17:00, I started walking home. I passed one of my favorite restaurants just as it was about to open. Because there was no line for once, I stopped for dinner. As I ate fried chicken and mashed potatoes, I studied Spanish. I translated the poem that my tutor had given me earlier in the day.

I reached home at about 19:00, and promptly returned to work. I needed to get a post finished for Get Rich Slowly. Fortunately, I already knew the topic. By 21:00, I was finished and ready to climb in bed. I spent an hour surfing the web and reading bits and pieces from books and magazines (in both English and Spanish), then turned out the lights.

Note: I actually had insomnia Thursday night. I didn’t fall asleep right away. In fact, I didn’t fall asleep until around 2:00. Blarg! Instead, I tossed and turned. It was miserable.

On Friday morning, I got up at 05:30. I drove to the 06:30 Crossfit class, where I ran a 5k through Lake Oswego. Those three miles were miserable. I was tired. My legs were sore from workouts earlier in the week. And so on. I finished the run in 24:21, which is my second-fastest time ever, but I felt sluggish and heavy the whole way.

After Crossfit, I drove back to the apartment through heavy traffic — another reason I haven’t made the 06:30 class lately. I showered, ate breakfast, and dashed out the door to drive to Canby. There, I spent two hours in Naomi’s classroom, helping her kids with their reading and writing. (For the past few weeks, I’ve been volunteering in Naomi’s classroom for two hours every Monday and Friday morning. She teaches a Spanish/English second-grade class where most of the kids are native Spanish speakers. Their Spanish is much, much better than mine, but I get a kick out of reading and writing with them. And I think they like it too.)

At noon, I dashed back up to Portland for a lunch meeting with the World Domination Summit board of directors. While a larger team is planning this year’s conference, the four of us are beginning to think about the future. How large do we want the conference to grow in 2013? 2014? 2015? Who is our target audience? How can we make the event even better as time goes on?

After lunch, I returned to the apartment, where I spent ninety minutes answering e-mail and doing behind-the-scenes blog work. I also tried to plan the next week. Kris and I leave for Argentina soon, and I need to be efficient with my time.

At 16:00, I drove to the house to see Kris. She watched Biggest Loser while I fell asleep in my chair. (Blarg. Not an efficient use of my time!) At 17:30, we ate dinner at Five Guys Burger and Fries. I’m not a fan, but Kris wanted to try it.

From 19:00 to nearly 22:00, we were in Canby playing board games with the MNF group. Well, we were mostly chatting. The board games were simply an excuse to get together. The kids ran around and played while the adults talked about life.

Note: Because it’s been a long time since I wrote regularly here, I should define “the MNF group”. When I was in high school, I attended Zion Mennonite Church and was active in the youth group, the Mennonite Youth Fellowship (or MYF). Many of us became close friends. In fact, as adults, we’ve actively maintained these friendships. The MYF group eventually got together to watch Monday Night Football (MNF) every week. When kids came along, that faded and instead we began to have one gathering a month with some pre-planned theme. So, after thirty years, this group of friends still gathers for fellowship. How cool is that?

At the end of the night, I drove Kris home and then returned to my apartment, where I did a bit of cleaning before turning in.

Were these two days typical of my current schedule? Yes and no. Friday involved a lot of driving and very little work, which is unusual. But taken together, this pair of days illustrate the various aspects of my life.

  • I spent 7-1/2 hours working on Thursday but zero hours working on Friday. (Well, the WDS board meeting was work, but not writing work.)
  • I spent 4-1/2 hours actively studying Spanish on Thursday and another two hours actively studying on Friday. Plus, there were several hours of passive learning (meaning: listening to music as I walked or listening to an audiobook as I drove).
  • Between the two days, I spent many hours with friends. The folks on the WDS board are my friends. Kris is my friend. I count my Spanish tutor as a friend now. And so on. It’s good when work and play can mix.

Actually, that last point is important to me. While I’m very much trying to shed the workaholic mode I’ve adopted over the past five years, I still prize efficiency. If I can make my time do double duty, that’s great. So, for instance, walking around Portland while listening to a Spanish podcast lets me accomplish two things at once. I like it.

But, as you can see, I don’t really have a “typical day”. That’s both good and bad. I generally don’t like routine. It bores me. I want to have flexibility built into my schedule so that I can take advantage of opportunities.

That said, some routine provides structure, and structure can help keep me focused. Since moving to the apartment a month ago, I haven’t had a chance to develop structure or routine, and my work has suffered because of it. Now I find that I’m behind on many, many things. This weekend, for instance, will mostly be spent here, sitting in front of the computer, writing about money. I’ll get out for Crossfit, for yoga, and for a two visits with friends, but the rest of my time will be in work mode. That’s the price I pay for being unfocused lately.

Maybe when we return from Argentina and Chile, I can begin to establish some sort of minimal routine. The only thing stopping me is…me!