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Seeking Our New Home
August 22 - 27, 2020
Desperate flight with goats • far enough to matter • real estate real fast
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Goaty de-tour:

On Tuesday night, before the realtor's visit, flashes of light appeared in my vision; having learned from our friend Vendula about symptoms of detached retina, I concluded I was apparently turning blind. Within next hour I discovered that I would probably keep my sight, for the flashes were indeed lightning from an approaching thunderstorm. This would be rather funny, if the lightning did not ignite numerous wildfires in Santa Cruz Mountains. And so, during our Wednesday meeting with the realtor, I was very antsy; I expected any moment an alarm to evacuate goat stables. Toni and Trudy reached an opinion that it would not be as hasty, and that we could wait some more — still I had my phone on all night, just in case we needed to drive out.

Chicken riding on Brownie.
Comedian Brownie lets chickens ride on his back around the pen.
On Thursday we eventually moved all adult and baby goats to Trudy's place — just to be sure that if the evacuation order came, there'd be fewer animals at the stables, and jams and queues could be prevented. I took our old bus to move them, carrying Twilight and her twins; Trudy's truck carried Licky and Casper. Alas, our bus broke down in the mountains and refused to shift. Still I transported the goats all the way to Trudy's, into a run with a plastic shed. The herd wasn't very happy, they kept coming up to me, bleating and demanding explanation. In the end I basically had to run away. On my way back the bus continued to refuse to shift to anything faster than 2nd gear, and Sid had to come rescue me. Naturally he made the bus drive normally — but it remained somewhat moody since.

On Friday the wildfires got closer and I made the decision to take the goats altogether out of the area, away from smoke and stress. We had originally planned to take Twilight, Licky, Pluto and Rocket (Casper belongs to Trudy). But the plan also counted on our having two buses, thus being able to load four goats. Trudy came with the idea to keep the twins as well, so that Casper would not remain a lonely baby goat. Eventually that proved to be a decent solution — Trudy can load three babies on her truck, and in the case of an evacuation of her property, she'd be able to move all three boys. She could not load five, though. We were able to move only two goats — the mothers — for whom we arranged a resort stay at Colleen's on the eastern side of the Sierra.

Wildfire on horizon (photo Colleen).
Even at Colleen's, the goats did not escape wildfires on the horizon (photo Colleen).
Loading the goats was very dramatic — Twilight and Licorice stepped up and into the crates, they know this. But the baby goats realized that their mothers were leaving them and caused a crazy scene. Boys ripped through the fence, Casper jumped into the car on top of Licky's crate and cried; a horrible circus. Trudy was at work, but this was such a racket, even her neighbor came out to see who's slighting the baby goats. Eventually Pluto let me carry him back to the run, poor thing, he trusted me so much. His twin Rocket followed almost voluntarily. We had to practically wrestle with Casper. Fortunately the neighbor stayed with the babies, while we were kidnapping their mothers. I would stay traumatized from this for a long time.

We reached Colleen's place by midnight, room, hay and water for our goats were set ready in her barn. Colleen herself was at the pack station, so we just unloaded the goats — again, Twilight and Licorice seemed quite alright — they already knew local goats and the barn, and across the ranch, buck Jasper called them — at least there was no drama on this side. We set our beds in the car right next to the barn, and after checking the goats quickly in the morning, we kept driving on to the east.

Having a sale contract for our house "in our pocket", it suddenly made much more sense to go look at potential new homes. For a few days already we emailed back and forth with a realtor in Cheyenne, the capitol of Wyoming. The contract has flipped us from the category of random visitors to the class of serious clients. We had also gained an idea how much money we would have available — how much would remain after paying off remaining mortgage, and how much would be eaten by various costs, fees and taxes. Our buyer was paying cash — we did not have to wait for a bank to check out and appraise the house and consider extending a loan. Thus, we, too, could make a cash offer — market differences (houses in Cheyenne are about four times cheaper than in the Bay Area) meant we did not have to take a loan, unless we wished to buy a ranch across much of the county.

Wyoming for beginners.
A helpful map for those not familiar with Wyoming.
I should probably make a further de-tour and explain, how we came up with Cheyenne. In the first round, we were looking for a conservative, sparsely populated state, which eliminates both East and West Coasts. We don't want to live in a high temperature climate, locked-up for eight months out of a year in air-conditioned rooms — this nixes Arizona, Texas and similar places. Our requirement that a highway overpass not be the only notable landscape feature, eliminates much of Mid-west. Remains: Wyoming, both Dakotas, Montana and Utah. Utah is beautiful, but suffers a steep civilization gradient — one can live in a relatively cosmopolitan Salt Lake City, where the community won't banish you for using drugs (LDS counts coffee among drugs) — but as far traffic, air quality, and overpopulation go, we might as well stay in Silicon Valley. Property prices would be only marginally more favorable. Montana consists of a beautiful, tourist-infested, over-priced west half — and its east is a hopeless, frosty plain. South Dakota was very attractive — but shares a problem similar to Montana — the pretty part is small and saturated by tourists. Also, they don't have a vaulting club. Or Costco. And so we were "left" with Wyoming. West end of Wyoming contains Yellowstone, Tetons and Jackson Hole — famous, posh ski resort. Middle contains nothing — unless you know the secret of looking on a map, which clearly shows beautiful mountains around Wind River and others little bit further up, near Big Horn. On north-east, Dakota's Black Hills continue into Wyoming, south gets touched by Rocky Mountains. For making trips, discovering, skiing, and camping, Wyoming is nicely centrally located, and many pretty places are passed by the tourists, who prefer to queue up in Yellowstone — hence they get swept in there and don't make a mess elsewhere. Furthermore, Wyoming appealed to us tax-wise; one can quickly reach Colorado with two vaulting clubs nearby — and the obligatory Costco. And some high-tech companies, should Sid need to switch jobs.

So we found ourselves heading unerringly east from Colleen. It's all very simple — interstate number eighty goes from San Francisco to New York (via Chicago, but also Salt Lake City and Cheyenne) — thus matching my idea about navigation in America... you keep going straight for three days, and then turn right. So we went and went, over Saturday we reached the eastern edge of Utah and town of Coalville. We engage a local front desk clerk into talking about (her) life there and so; the small town had impressed us, being set in a beautiful landscape with a river and rocks. The clerk was very cautious, but eventually admitted that growing up as a teenager in a place where you're one of the very few who are not members of the Mormon Church, is rather hard. Which we had expected, but it was well to confirm our assumption.

On Sunday we only needed to cross the whole Wyoming, and so we could devote part of our afternoon to exploring possible areas to live. West of Cheyenne lies a small hamlet of Granite, with a few houses for sale, and since according to Google it is found on a high plateau with rocks and trees, it seemed suitable for checking out. Alas, as soon as we turned the first corner, it became clear the appearance was deceitful. No Zillow or Google picture would ever show the monstrous windmills. I mean the wind farm propellers with each blade at least hundred feet long, which you can see (and hear) wide and far. Deterred, we continued through Cheyenne to its eastern end, where we booked a hotel — and a bit farther had looked up another house. We found it, and Sid eagerly spotted a utility box in the ground next to a driveway, to declare the place was indeed on an optical cable for internet.

Then we drove around few more candidates from the real-estate agencies' list, to get the feel for the landscape and neighborhoods, to listen how much one can hear the interstate, and appraise how long is the dirt section of the access road — even in "the city" paved roads are rather in minority here — in areas without businesses and outlets, where consequently only residents drive, pavement is rare. This has made us a bit nervous, for at six thousand feet altitude one can expect snow, and traveling miles and miles in mud is, let's say, suboptimal. Our realtor directed us then to the area called The Ranchettes — these turned out four-acre lots with ranch-style houses, in a very nice location — for her colleague told her that he would have a house for sale there beginning Monday.

Sid checked out internet connection cables, while my priority was placement for my goaties.
Sid checked out internet connection cables, while my priority was placement for my goaties.
Relatively worn out and exhausted for the day, we went to have a Thai dinner, and rolled into our bed. On Monday we had an appointment with our realtor, and subsequently a tour around chosen open houses. Touring, we have seen a house grandiosely spread across three levels, but with rooms so tiny, one had to jump over a sofa on the way from the living room to the bathroom. Then we visited a house with air ducts so low in the basement that Sid had to walk like a hunchback of Notre-Dame there. In the same house we were shown miniature bedrooms — unable to hold anything larger than a baby crib. My head does not compute this — if the house has an effective area of three thousand square feet, why make bedrooms less than ten feet a side? There was another major show-stopper with this house — in its neighborhood, goats were forbidden! Given the fact that we expected our move to enable us to keep our goaties "at home" and finally to stop paying for board and trips to and fro, it was a clear NO, THANKS.

Then we visited a house, which we had liked very much even just online — until we realized that the heating furnace and air-conditioning was installed right next to the master bedroom, above another basement bedroom, and there would be no running away from all the racket, be summer or winter. This meant the house would need serious structural changes. Yet it was located in a nice neighborhood, with grown trees and a beautiful barn, with a corral for animals. On the next property, there even were goats present — beautiful pygmies, who scrutinized us cautiously — but the house itself was a manufactured one, furnished in the fifties — somewhat smaller than our previous home. We had to turn it down as well. Sid's favorite with awesome internet connection remained. There, a difference to the others was immediately noticeable — instead of pondering what all would need to change, we suddenly wondered how we could use all that it offered.

Former railroad waiting room - Accomplice Brewing Company & bar.
One of arguments for choosing Cheyenne is this excellent train station brewery.
A decision was more or less made — our evening was bound to include some compulsory reading of house documents. We discovered that we had no idea how properties operate in this end of the world. In California, a house stands either in a place with established "Homeowners' Association", which nominally demands considerable monthly fee for maintenance of houses and surroundings — e.g. it takes care of greenery on shared areas, maintains a communal swimming pool, sometimes covers repairs of roofs or windows — but at the same time holds relatively strict rights to decide, what you can and cannot do with your house — e.g. controlling color of its paint, how high and what material can be used on your fence, if one is permitted at all; what may be planted in your yard, whether you may change your windows or redo your roof. Then there are houses that have no HOA, and fall only under zoning as decreed by the town council. For example, in our old house in San Jose, we could not have a noisy business with many people calling (e.g. a convenience store). Animals were limited, house could only have two stories, we could not add any extra structure on the property, and so on. But no one dictated whether we could paint window frames white or purple, and whether roses were OK in the front yard, or not. A third option are properties outside an incorporated city area, and thus unencumbered by rules — but also mostly without services like police or fire department.

In Cheyenne we had run into yet another model, a concept of Covenants. On first glance it looks very much like the California HOA system, which scared us a lot. HOAs mostly remind us of our old-country Street Committees, where a murder of Karens (if you're lost, see crows, flock of) had the final word about everything while none of their business. And they charge fees for the privilege and draw salary. In Cheyenne, this system evolved a bit differently — instead of zoning, development permits establish similar rules — and the rules automatically transfer onto future owners of individual lots. In their very nature, these rules are familiar. One may not dig for fossil fuels on the lot, create a dump or a race-track; establishing a pig-farm or a warehouse is not allowed, and so on. The difference to California is in the absence of a "paid committee", it remains a neighborhood agreement. And when we finished reading through the rules and restrictions, we realized that they made sense and that we like them. Indeed, we would not want our neighbor to set up an oil derrick on his property, or a pig farm. And we are willing to abide by the same.

Many a Czech would appreciate local beer.
Many a Czech would appreciate local beer.
So on Tuesday we made another appointment with our realtor, and put together an offer for the house. She promised to deliver it to the seller — and we looked for a place to eat lunch. And to have beer. We had eaten the previous night at a train station brewery, Accomplice — and we liked it very much — so we made another visit there. They not only brew excellent beer at this former railroad building, but their food is good too. When I snubbed a wheat tortilla with my grilled fish, the waiter offered me a double portion of salad instead. I was not sure that I was a sufficient hipster to appreciate double crispy grilled kale, but it was so good I truly enjoyed it. And then we needed to irrigate our throats gone dry from heavy swallowing during our making the offer on the house. After all, one does not perform such stunt every day, does one? We still expected a few tense days, whether the seller would accept, or make a counter-offer, or turn us down.

We learned in the afternoon that our offer got accepted, so we quickly made an "earnest" deposit — and went to sleep before our long journey back home. Even while taking turns behind the wheel, it took us two days to cover the twelve hundred miles distance. All the while, a completely surreal feeling kept creeping around our minds — within seven days we accomplished to sell our house, find and sign a contract on a new one — and also evacuate our goats and drive several thousands of miles. It kept seeming like some crazy dream.

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