Life: Twelve Years in New Hampshire

Nearly 15 years ago, I composed a series of blog posts here about my first year in San Francisco. It was aimed at folks who were considering relocating to the Bay Area. Not everything holds up but it was my view and opinions from an introverted and occasionally anxious person who moved from a farm in Florida to San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. It was a fun series to author but when I arrived at a one-year anniversary in New Hampshire, the feeling wasn’t there primarily because the market for a blog post about someone moving from San Francisco to Northern New Hampshire to a cabin in the woods wasn’t something people on Google were searching for. COVID-19’s mass-exodus from cities not-withstanding, most people thought I was insane to give up cell phone service, Uber, food deliveries and 24 hour coffee shops for a cabin in the middle of nowhere with DSL and a 5 acre patch of land for a garden, livestock and well water. Yes the pandemic would have made a piece like that more appealing but here we are, 12 years later and I’ve never written about what that decade plus was like in just one post.

Spending 19 years of my life between a farm in Alabama and a farm in Florida shaped me into someone who isn’t comfortable in the most populous of cities. I’d say any population density that’s on par with SF or NYC is going to be a temporary fit. It makes since that my life in San Francisco for a few years was a challenge. I wanted peace, quiet, stars and time to contemplate life and was never more than 10 feet from another person. My last day in Florida was spent sitting on a beach alone and writing for 2 hours without a single person walking by me and this is the one major reason I stayed in New Hampshire for as long as I did and why I will likely end up there for my forever home. Ten years of time to develop myself into an adult, a working professional and someone who was well-adjusted with both personal and professional passions was exactly what I needed. It is clear on the outset that I will not likely make any new life long friends. I know there are people in the state of NH who will miss me but the odds of me talking to them again is slim. I am a ‘friends by proximity’ kind of person and don’t maintain those connections. I warned my team on my last day at TomTom that I do want to keep in touch with them but they need to email or call me. I won’t do that for them and despite how I’ll drop everything to talk to them when they call, I won’t make that contact. It’s just not in my nature to bug people, even those that care about me.

New Hampshire is this unexpected home I found. It is a New England state, it is moderate political and it is really two states. There’s NH as a suburb of Massachusetts and there’s NH as an extension of Vermont and Maine. Once you’re 50 miles north of the border, you’re in Vermont on the west side and Maine on the east side. Once you’re 50 miles from Canada, you start seeing maple-leaf flags and more-often hear people speaking French. Vermont has a very strong brand and, thanks to Champlain, it separates itself well from upstate New York and the Adirondacks but on the eastern side, you can cross Maine on a back road and not realize you’re in Maine for over an hour. The geography of where I was living was weird. I joked with friends that I did most of my shopping in Vermont. It was 11 minutes to the border and a slight mental shift to buying locally crafted food and household goods then crossing the Connecticut river back to NH on my way home and hitting a big-box store for a high-dollar, albeit tax free item like a computer or car.

A poor assumption of NH’s Upper Valley which has the largest employers as Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Hospital respectively (separate entities despite the name) was that I would find some friendships in the transient yet educated people who came to this region for high paying jobs. I did initially meet some of them via my Meetup group for Craft Beer but I found that even though our conversations were intellectually charged by current events and philosophy, I never made friends beyond this group and when I shuttered it due to being too busy, I lost complete connection with all of those people. Being a Florida Farmer, I bonded with the blue-collar folks more. I have a deeper respect for those who ‘actually work’ as in build and fix things with their hands. the ditch diggers are the folks I get along the most because I respect them more than my office-mates. Call it a projection of my imposter syndrome if you must but I ended up spending time with friends of my wife (locals / townies) and with people in my neighborhood who were a janitor, highway repair man, snow plow operator, real estate agent, teacher and gas station employee. I know you’re supposed to spend your time with people who inspire you and are smarter than you. I realize its importance but I worked hard all day with smart people and it was great to unwind with cheap beer and talk about simpler things.

New Hampshire is a low income state. I believe my town’s average household income was around $55,000 USD. Despite this, the area’s home and overall living expenses always exceeded that income which leads to a very upper middle class and a very large group in the low income bracket who have to rely on heating oil, food and tax subsidies to get by. Trickle down has failed New Hampshire. Despite this, there is $$$ in New Hampshire. There are old families who owned hundreds of acres of land, parceled out and slowly sold over the years to where one town is made up by 5 last names who each have millions in assets controlled by trusts with land in current use tax-exempt status so while cash-on-hand was low, there was a lot of asset leverage that original settlers of the area could tap into and, because everyone in town drove a Subaru, you had no idea who was a millionaire and who wasn’t. It made it easier to just strike up a conversation with someone at the general store getting their morning coffee and breakfast sandwich.

New Hampshire, like Vermont, survives on tourist revenue. Businesses all over the state cater to the tourists that are here 3 seasons out of the year. Summer RVs and camping, boats, families and hikers all heading North on foot (AT) or by car are followed by leaf peepers here to see a bunch of dead trees in their journey to hibernation and finally the winter snow season with its sports and more tourist money that mostly gets concentrated into the ski resorts versus trickling down to the rest of us. The ski resorts have heavily consolidated in a small group of nationwide companies so that money flows primarily to investment firms like Blackrock than the small towns that need it. Every day of the year, license plates from VT, NY, MA, ME and CT traverse the state for some reason and the locals complain but nothing is done about it because they’re bringing money to the state.

When I moved to New Hampshire, I had a grand plan to become a Yelp Elite because I immediately noticed how many businesses weren’t on Yelp and those that were lacked photos, hours of operation and literally any reviews. I was active the first year but found that it was going to be impossible to keep up and document every business change. Since the local smartphone adoption was only around 25% when I moved here in 2010 (despite me having a smartphone since 2005), there wasn’t much need to have a perfect Yelp or FourSquare POI database because only tourists would benefit.

It’s not news to anyone here but my first hobby was exploring the state. I did a lot of hiking and taking long drives to various landmarks. I met a girl pretty quickly on a dating site and we went to Six Flags, farmers markets, local events and explored the area. That relationship faded as it felt generally one-sided to me. I then met Elizabeth who moved in with me, we got a dog and I think our timing didn’t line up in a few ways. She was from a city and I was from a farm. She wanted to gain professional experience and move on and I wanted to stay in the country because I had just left the city. In addition, we met when I became fully involved with craft beer and not in a small way. We’re talking a $25,000 a year hobby where I visited 15 countries and was rating 1250 beers every year…new beers with all of the weekend festivals and road trips to collect all of the special ones I couldn’t get and then spending money trading those to people for other special beers. This hobby consumed my 2012-2017 years when I wasn’t working and I think combining the beer thing with my inability to consider living anywhere but New Hampshire or get married settled that. She married and was with child in just 1 year after moving. Like I mentioned, timing is everything in relationships even if they’re your soulmate.

Like SF though, I did continue to be overemployed the entire time. TomTom occupied my 9-5, photography, beer rating, writing was my weekend work and I grew my TweetForMyBiz business and earned Verizon/NFL’s business in 2013 until 2017 which was very lucrative and I had to hire a few people to support the operation all while keeping my day job. I concluded that, got my real estate license and started property management eventually growing that hobby (under a broker) to about 350 units which was a roughly $125,000 a year gross side-job. There were obvious expenses that whittled that down to a net of around 30% of gross but I further grew as a project manager and added construction management to my skills and further solidified confidence that I probably could do consulting at some point. Heck, I love traveling and love new ever-changing challenges. You never know what the future may hold but property management skewed how I measure a home’s value. I go to someone’s house now and can estimate how old their roof is and if they need to consider a mold inspection. I know what roof pitches have the highest likelihood for ice-dams and when to redig a culvert or mitigate erosion issues and so many other things like troubleshooting pool systems and navigating million dollar insurance claims on behalf of clients. These are skills that won’t change with time unlike social media which for me is stuck in 2012 before short-form video was a thing. My last YouTube video was 41 minutes long and this blog post 3000 words so clearly I’m not keeping up with trends and don’t care to.

I moved to San Francisco with a credit score in the 500s. I was 24, had never had a credit card and did leverage what credit I did to start AdamsBlock and accrue some debt. it took time to get that debt paid off and then get a secured visa credit card and begin building. My grandmother co-signed on my 1st car lease in 2011 in NH and co-signed on my car purchase in 2013. I didn’t think at 24 that I’d ever have an 830 credit score and have a handful of credit cards at $0 balance but $150,000 in credit lines or qualify for 0% interest on anything but here I am. It took WORK. I had to be strategic, keep lines open a long time despite the interest rate to increase average age, request credit line increases with certain timings and obviously use credit without being owned by it so accepting that I was signing what I’d consider today to be a predatory loan knowing that when it was paid off, I’d unlock better terms. It took 9 years of credit building but it has unlocked a world of capital I never had at a younger age and despite that, I still had a property management company in Charlotte rate my rental application as ‘high risk’ and worthy of $5,000 in refundable fees to rent a unit because I was moving for a new job and relocating despite my high score. I guess your score just isn’t everything. Debt-to-Income (DTI) is also a factor and right now, it is slightly higher than it needs to be since Heather and I decided to consolidate all of the vehicles under my credit to earn 0% interest on every auto loan we have. This is a temporary move that will save us thousands in interest. This is going on too long but I did want to highlight how happy I am to have this outcome despite a lot of work.

On the topic of money and New Hampshire, I have to give Heather Credit. We were renting and I didn’t want to commit to a home purchase but she found our home for $94,500 USD. It was a 2-season camp on a lake with a tax of around $2,000 a year. It was unlivable and foreclosed on. The condition was just terrible. We talked them down to $89,000 since the propane furnace was not maintained and moved in 6 months later after spending $72,000 completely remodeling it from the ground up. The only thing left that’s original is the roof which had solar panels added. The most premium insulation and efficient furnace means we only use about 250 gallons of propane a year and the water from our well is heated on demand with solar powering about 75% of the electricity needs and earning us RECs that offset the power we do have to pay for. That house is now worth about $350,000 just 6 years later thanks to the COVID_19 city exodus but it’s being partially pushed down due to interest rates but that’s a short term issue. In our county, only 6 houses are for rent with 2 bedrooms….yes, the COUNTY. So a $3,000 a month rent is normal. It goes up from there. It feels like stealing to rent a house with a $750 mortgage for $3,000 but that is the current rate and we’ll pocket that money into future improvements to the home. We hope to remodel while we’re gone, adding 2 more bedrooms and a garage for my toys and return ‘home’ to a house that’s paid off in a decade or so.

Oh yeah, toys. I am still passionate about beer but my days now are primarily spent drinking down my liquid assets. I ‘invested’ in beer that could last decades and now that I’m more cash-poor due to an aggressive savings agenda, I get to enjoy the over 1000 bottles of European beers I acquired from 2011-2018. We drink one a week so we have many years of enjoyment left in those beers and it’s better for my health and those beers continue to age gracefully. A 2010 beer I opened last week was fully carbonated and amazing. Way better than I remember it fresh and a 2015 I had last night had a magical aroma and we drank our glasses over the course of an hour while talking about life. So what if that bottle I paid 15 Euro for is now selling for $1000 on auction sites. I’m not in the business to make money. I want to enjoy these beers and I do. I did talk to an auction house one year ago who confirmed they’d take all 1000 bottles for around 50-75K guaranteed or I could accept the lump sum after sale minus their fees and maybe get more. No thanks. It would take 6 years and today, much more effort, to acquire those same brews again I just want to enjoy them.

Back to toys, I’m so lucky in 2013 that my friend Justin recommended I purchase a Golf R. He recognized that I love small cars and needed something with all wheel drive so we went and looked at a Golf R. I bought it and then 3 years later, upgraded to a new one and spent 7 years with that car modifying it, racing it and driving across country. It was a true sleeper because no one knew it was 400 horsepower (390 torque) beast but it was and no wheel spin, it grabbed and took off like a rocket ship. Thanks Justin. My 1st Golf R was a $33K purchase and I does it for $27K. My second cost $38,500 and I sold it for $33K 7 years later. If you’re looking for a car that REALLY holds its value, splurge for a Golf R. Keep it stock and sell it in 5 years for just a few grand less than you paid. They are worth the money and hold it. Very few cars depreciate LESS than 20% in 5 years.

In 2016, I discovered motorcycling and this is all thanks to being in New Hampshire. So a many trails I walked were open to cars but you had to be in a 4×4 to go on them and so many dirt roads I would avoid due to my low and specially painted Golf. I got this wild hare for drive across country for my 30th birthday so I started 1 year in advance looking at motorcycles for that trip. I arrived at the BMW GS as the best of the best and I blogged about it here. Someone who reads this blog emailed me and offered to sell me his for about $6,000 under what it was worth since the bike was going to a good home. He drove the motorcycle up to me, took a check and I started riding it off-road and dropping it a LOT. 2 years later, I replaced it with a newer GS and when I crashed that, i just bought another one thanks to a very generous insurance payout. since then, Heather has started riding (F750GS) and I have picked up a BMW K75 RT (now sold), a Beta 500 RS (sold), Husky 701 (my dirt bike), and a BMW R18 (highway cruiser which is the most beautiful bike in the world). I would like more bikes but I think 4 is a good number for now and they cover the riding gamut from dirt to long-distance touring. Despite riding almost 100K miles in 6 years, being a director on the national BMW board, President of the Vermont club and having millions of YouTube views of my motorcycles, I have not done a cross-country trip yet. I keep saying “next year” but I keep finding better trips to do with my time that offer better and more scenic terrain but now that I’ll be moving to North Carolina, it’s probably time to do a cross-country trip even if it’s one way and store the bike then go back a year later to ride back the other direction.

I think New Hampshire allowed for a few things to happen for me and all very timely. I didn’t mention my relationship with Heather and our eventual marriage last year but that obviously being a highlight for me and I’m not ignorant to the fact that as soon as we got married, it appears I began making plans to take her away from her home town but it’s a decision we made together and in fact, she may have pushed me.

NH allowed me to rediscover my loves of having wide open space, farm animals, a garden, a river and it gave me a job which I could still make a global impact and work with companies like Apple and Microsoft from the comfort of my cabin in the woods and getting cabin fever would be solved by a hop over to Amsterdam for a week to get work done and be back in a city for a bit. Through having a 9-5 job, I got to try other income avenues and find that I was very successful at them. I guess I can earn money in other ways if I have to which is something my Father told me years ago. He said I can always make money if I really need to and I’ve proven that I can do that even if it’s not in tech for some reason. But in addition to all of the benefits New Hampshire gave me in discovering myself, my hobbies, my passions and having some god-damn-piece-and-quiet, it was a time of really great contemplation to consider what are my priorities and what invigorates me versus bores me. It was really easy to find myself depressed at the 30 under 30 lists when I was in SF. How did someone who I hang out with all of the time who seems normal be in charge of this billion dollar company? I’ve learned that there is a lot of luck and intelligence required to achieve that at a young age. You can be really smart but achieving wealth and success at a young age is very hard and I was spending all of my time comparing myself to others. Do I occasionally get FoMo for leaving San Francisco and missing out on potentially millions of dollars? Absolutely but slow and steady growth has trumped hyper growth and having to hire life counselors to adjust to being young, famous and wealthy like many tech darlings of the 2010s. Besides, most of my friends in SF who I still chat with over LinkedIN, despite being the best in their small towns before moving to SF ended up taking my path eventually anyway and now they’re all just working normal jobs like me. they’re not in charge of billion dollar companies…okay a FEW of them are but most of us are just normal designers, engineers, product and program people and we’re just working for ‘the man’ or, more recently, ‘the woman’ (that has a nice ring to it).

As we reach closer to that 4,000 word barrier even my mom won’t have time to read, it’s been really hard to recount TWELVE years in just a single post. There are a lot of moments that even I will forget when my memories compress from days to months to just one big highlight per year but thankfully I have very rich check-in history on FourSquare (still used to this day) and my Photos library that has been geo-coded since 2011 with face detection and location metadata. These will serve as my time capsules when this blog and my memories fade.

I think 3900 words is enough. Thanks for reading. See you in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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