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September 12-15, 2003
A Trip to North Carolina

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Russell and Gail and the Blue Ridge Mountains

On Friday, September 12, 2003, Gail and Russell left Cameron and Joss in the capable hands of Grandma, packed their bags, and caught a plane to Raleigh, North Carolina.  By the time we drove the hour and a half north from Charlotte to Winston-Salem, it was already dark.  So we checked into the Holiday Inn Express and called it a night.

On Saturday morning, we drove ten minutes west from Winston-Salem to Clemmons.  After a nice country drive through lots of wide open spaces (and some very expensive-looking houses), we went to the end of a road and arrived at our final destination: the Topsider Homes factory and showroom.

It was a pleasure to finally meet our sales rep, Steve Hill, whom we had known previously only through numerous phone calls.  Steve took us into Topsider's "back yard," where they had built an actual model home surrounded by tall trees.  Looking at the octagonal house sitting atop a massive pedestal, we were finally able to see and appreciate Topsider's post-and-beam construction.  As well, we were able to see Topsider's floor-to-ceiling window walls, the feature that originally sold both Gail and Russell on the company.

It was also a pleasure to finally meet Jim DuBois, Topsider's Director of Design Services, whom we had known previously only through numerous faxes.  Jim was the creative mind who had taken our sketches and designed our home.  In fact, now that we were finally able to chat with him face to face, we continued to brainstorm ideas.  We agreed upon several additional (but minor) changes to the house design, which he will implement and submit for our approval.  So much for our previous "final" house design.

We also met Pete Anthony, Topsider's Director of Operations, who gave us a tour of Topsider's factory floor.  Pete had been brought on about a year ago to renovate Topsider's operations and help them expand their production capacity.  He had completely redesigned the factory floor and workflow, and he proudly showed off a clean and spotless warehouse.  We saw bits and pieces (or more accurately, huge and heavy components) of several houses currently in progress.  Pieces were meticulously labeled before being loaded into huge crates for storage and shipping.

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The Topsider factory floor

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Gail with Pete Anthony, Topsider's Director of Operations

We would continue our work with Topsider on Monday, when Steve would take us to visit a home that he said was remarkably similar to our own design.

But with Sunday free, Gail and Russell decided to do a little sightseeing.  We drove several hours west and found ourselves on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a place that Russell had always wanted to see.  We had a very relaxing afternoon, with beautiful weather, driving the Blue Ridge Parkway into Virginia, and looking at the Blue Ridge Mountains with their fabulous panoramas.

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Russell at Grandfather Mountain, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains

On Monday, September 15, we rejoined Steve Hill at Topsider, where he drove us out to a nearby resort lake.  Here, a local doctor had built a Topsider house that was, indeed, remarkably similar to our own.  In fact, Russell was actually rather disappointed to discover that someone else had already come up with his idea for a floor plan with only one interior wall.  The doctor's house was very much like our own: large living space, open kitchen, bathroom and pantry hidden behind the single interior wall (although his house did not fully take advantage of large panoramic window walls).  We came away feeling reassured that our own home design would look spectacular when finished.

Back at the Topsider offices, Steve got down to business.  This was the last opportunity for the salesperson to "up sell" us before we closed the deal.  We were not interested in expanding the square footage of the lower floor, even if it would look aesthetically more pleasing.  We were interested in getting the "invisible" wire balcony railings, which would obstruct the view less than wooden railings would.  We were not interested in an extra cupola on top.  We did pick out a color for our metal roof: blue.

When Steve talked about home security he used a clever sales positioning trick: "You know, you can't think of security as part of the price of the home.  It's a different thing."  Because our mountain is remote and we are not there full time, we decided to get roll-down metal shutters for the entire lower story.  However, we would not be interested in the super-duper-top-of-the-line heavy grade metal.  And we would not be interested in buying shutters for the upper story -- although we asked for the house to be designed for a future add-on.

As Russell kept seeing the dollar signs increasing in his head, we finally closed the deal with Steve.  By signing a "lock in" agreement now, we would prevent any possible price increases due to the rising costs of building materials.  The consequence would be that we would have to pay 50% of the total now, and 50% in six months.  Russell got out his checkbook.

We have now committed several hundreds of thousands of dollars to our latest crazy dream.  Within six months we should have blueprints, which will enable us to apply for a building permit.  With luck (and a lot of hard work), Gail estimates that by this time next year we will have a weather-tight structure on top of our mountain.

It was a very strange feeling, visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains yesterday.  We saw scenes of indescribable beauty, with panoramas of mountains behind mountains that disappeared into the horizon, in every direction as far as the eye could see.  And yet, as we drove, walked, and gawked at this incredible spectacle of natural wonder, it kept occurring to us: back at home, we own our own mountaintop, where we can enjoy our own spectacular views of nature as well.

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A panorama of the Blue Ridge Mountains: almost -- but not quite -- as spectacular as our own mountain


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