It Just Gets Better

Posted July 1, 2017 – Narrated by Jim

If you’d rather listen to the podcast, click the play button.

 

It’s July 1st, 2017. One year ago today, I went to the office for the last time.

Today, Carmen and I are reflecting on my first year of retirement life.

In 2005, I became the CFO/COO for a 135-year-old medical society serving San Diego County physicians. I worked behind the scenes with docs, hospitals and health services to improve the overall health of San Diego county citizens.

Jim’s stand up desk at his San Diego County Medical Society office – 2015

Eleven years later, at age sixty-one – with forty-nine years of employment and self-employment behind me – I retired at the top of my game.

The morning after my last formal gala…

The June 2016 “White Coat” Gala for the San Diego County Medical Society

… I donated my tuxedo, and suits and ties to the Salvation Army

End of an era. Jim’s tuxedo and suits ready for donation in June 2016.

… and on July 1, 2016, I braced myself for a screeching halt to the satisfaction of “a days work well done,” the excitement of strategic planning and engagement with my peers and, ultimately, I predicted … the onset of boredom.

First, sleep came. Yes, I became a sleeper. I encountered heights and depths of sleep I never knew existed. Carmen always said I was sleep-deprived and she enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing me rest and saying, “I told you so.” For about two months I slept like a sloth, but boredom never arrived.

Full-time life on the road is incredibly restful but, so far, not boring. In fact, some days we are so mentally spent and physically exhausted, we hit the sack by sundown.

Like, right now. We don’t know where we’ll be in two days. We have an idea about our direction, but we’ve never been in this part of the states before, so we don’t want to commit to something and let a better option fly by. That makes things edgy, stimulating and fun. Our policy is to never make long-term plans or reservations so we can instantly change our direction if the mood strikes us, or the weather changes. Broad-brush plans are okay as long as we don’t fix on a precise location or goal. If we show up and there’s no place for us, we’d simply move on – but, so far, that’s never happened – not even once.

The shocker for me is the excitement. From the moment I wake up I have choices, decisions, plans, strategies – stuff to fix, improve, replace or organize.

Our 4-3-2 rule, travel only 4 hours a day, stop by 3 pm, and stay 2 weeks, has been more guideline than rule – but a full year of experience has proven that it’s an ideal we will continue to reach for.

Most days hinge on things we can’t control, like the weather.

It hailed on June 28, 2017 at the Black Hills National Forrest near Hill City, South Dakota

We wake up, raise the blinds, look at the sky and decide what kind of day it is – a hiking day

Hiking in Yellowstone National Park

… a kayaking day

Kayaking at Ft. Pickens National Park, near Pensacola Florida

or just a work around “the house” day.

Hmmm. what tool do I need?

We research conditions – ask the rangers and locals (if any are around) what unusual clouds, wind or sudden drops in temperature are normal in the region. I mean, what do San Diegans know about weather, right?

Designated cycling trails are our favorite way to see the countryside, and national parks are installing more safe bike lanes all the time.

Cycling the Tennessee Cumberland Plateau Airstream campground in Crossville, TN.

Locals also give the best info about businesses, swimming holes and hidden hot springs.

Granite Hot Springs near Jackson, Wyoming.

But half the fun is just stumbling on surprises like Route 66, or the Lewis and Clark trail and top-notch, small town micro-breweries.

Black Hills Miners Brewing Company, Hill City, South Dakota

Friends often ask, “Bored yet?” Nope. Can’t even imagine being bored anymore – or more fulfilled or challenged. We’ve already had more adventure than we ever could’ve planned.

It just gets better!

“Miss the office?”  Yes, I do.  I wonder how my friends and co-workers are doing and how the office is running and if they miss me.

But, it was right for me to retire early at 61. For me, it was time. Waiting till 65 and for Medicare would, in many ways, have been a gamble. Financially, early retirement was a no-brainier, because I had put aside 20% of my salary in a 401K for more than two decades. That, combined with liquidating real estate property and 98% of our possessions, put us in a “light as air” place where we have choices … Rent a furnished condo on the beach? Take off on AmTrak? Backpack through Europe for a year …? Maybe someday, but for now, there’s nothing we want more than to travel happily along in our small and simple life. It isn’t a revolutionary way of life, but it facilitates our interests and activity preferences and keeps us curious and fascinated.

Sometimes when Carmen and I hike up a hill and look down to see Beauty and The Beast so small and vulnerable on the horizon – nothing but a shiny speck in the distance – I say softly, “That’s all we have. Everything we own is right there.”

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Carmen closes an eye, extends her arm and places her thumb over the speck. Poof. Gone.

It’s her way to imagine that if a tree fell on it or a boulder rolled off the cliff, or lightening struck and burned it to cinders – probably a side-effect from her magician assistant days when I put her in a box and shoved twelve swords in it and a thrust a spear down the middle.

She works through for a moment and I say, “But look. We’re still here.”

Despite all the things that could go wrong, we’re still here. Just like magic. But how every day can be better than the day before …?

That, I simply cannot explain.

43 thoughts on “It Just Gets Better

  1. Loved the post, Jim and since you were wondering, you are missed at SDCMS. So fun being camping neighbors this time last year before your journey began. Hope to connect on the road one day with you and Carmen, but in the meantime we are looking forward to enjoying a little Airstream time in Coronado soon thanks to you. Happy travels!

    1. Dari, thank you for your kind words! It was a blast being neighbors last July in Coronado at Fidler’s Cove RV Park. Glad you were able to use our reservation for this August since we had to give it up due to our Airstream needing repairs. In a week we will be at the “Mothership” Airstream plant in Jackson Center having a few things repaired and the an evaluation of the hail damage from a few weeks ago.

  2. Glad you are enjoying your retirement. I am enjoying seeing both of you riding the Bicycles that you bought from us last year. Looks like they are holding up ok.

  3. Our sentiments exactly. This is our third summer slojourn, and it just gets better. How blessed are we, roaming this beautiful countryside in our Rolling Toaster, kayaks and bikes to get a closer look. Wrapping up a month in Camden, Me. At Megunticook by the Sea….paddling to die for!

    1. Sounds like you too are ‘living the dream.’ Sounds like you also like what we like, kayaking and bikes. Add hiking and an occasional swim in a hot tub and…. paradise!!!!!!!!

  4. Hello Jim and Carmen. I have a few years before I can retire, but reading your blog inspires me to learn to live life to the fullest.
    Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading more about your adventures in Beauty !

  5. This is such a delight to read! Although we are years away from retirement, it answered many questions I have of the possibility to turn full time.

    Congratulations on a well thought out plan to do this and not feel pinched. I agree…why wait until sixty-five? It’s obvious you loved your money earning career and now love your career in traveling (hey…careers don’t “have” to earn a living, do they?)

    I love your 4-3-2 “loose” rule. What a fantastic way to make traveling decisions!

  6. Congratulations on your first year. We enjoy reading about your adventures and hope to follow in your footsteps within another year in our 2008 Airstream Classic 25fb. Gotta put the house up for sale first then see how everything falls into place.
    Question, did your Airstream get any damage from the hail in North Dakota? The photo of the hail in your hand looks pretty big.

    1. Hey Kelvin! Good to hear from you 😊 Yes, we have dimples – dozens of impressions … all cosmetic damage though. We’re on our way to Airstream in Ohio to get an estimate for repairs. We’re just so grateful that our awnings were in because it happened suddenly on a beautiful, warm sunny day and not predicted on NOAA – the campground was in a “no service” area so NOAA was all we had. A freak rainstorm with very strong winds had come through a couple of days before. If not for that bizarre storm, we’d have been completely unprepared and had more severe damage to report.

      Thanks for being with us and best wishes on your transition into full time! Keep us posted!

      Safe Travels

      LIB

  7. I have been reading or listening to your posts since the first, a year ago. I loved the comment about sleeping more as I have been sleeping longer as well. Coincidentally, we both underwent similar elimination of possessions at the same time. However, I scaled down a bit more dramatically. I have no ‘beauty and beast’…I have two suitcases and a guitar…and some music equipment and clothes in storage. I purchase bass guitars, amps, and mic stands as required along my journey…much like your maintenance on the ‘beauty’. Rather than the road, over the last year I have followed the sound of music. I like to think that my ‘blogs’ are my performances. Check out my FaceBook page (Herb Cobb) if you want to see a bit of what I have been up to… Music will be my future road map as long as I can play and sing. I don’t move as often as you guys, but I do live in interesting places….and longer. The longer stays enable deeper relationships and friendships as well as delving deeper into the culture of my temporary homes. Not saying my choice is better than the ‘beauty and beast’ lifestyle. But I have observed that in all decisions something is gained and something is lost…
    My Prague residency has come to a close and I am now in the process of acquiring a Portugal (Lisbon) residency visa. The down side is saying goodbye to so many new friends I met in Prague…but that is tempered with the promise of returning and performing together again upon my return to Europe. Enjoy the journey, Jim, no matter what paths you take or destinations you reach my old friend…and, no, I don’t miss the Chamber healthcare committee meetings. ;p Cheers and please keep blogging! They are your new magic act! hc

    1. Herb, what a life you are living. Very different from us, but all as much exciting! Glad your decision to change you life has worked out so well. Carmen and I talk about going to Costa Azul in Coronado and enjoying your music!! Lisbon is next!! Wow! Wait, you don’t miss the chamber healthcare committee meetings? Really! LOL Let’s keep in touch!!

  8. Favorite line: “Carmen closes an eye, extends her arm and places her thumb over the speck. Poof. Gone.”

  9. It makes my heart feel good to read how happy and content you are with your nomadic and adventurous life. Thanks for sharing your travels with us. 😎❤️

    1. Jan, Thank you for your kind words. It was so great for you to make time to meet me over breakfast while I was in San Diego in April. I truly miss working with you!! You are one of a kind and very special to me. Jim

  10. Hi
    love reading about your trip
    We may be near Jackson Wy to see the Eclipse in August
    Are the hot springs Grant Hills Hot springs(as in your photo caption) or Granite Hot Springs and Camp on Granite Creek Rd?
    Thanks
    Nancy

  11. Jim I have so enjoyed the travels you and Carmen are sharing on Facebook the last year. So happy to see that life is good and you both are a great example of living life to its fullest. Starting the countdown myself!!

  12. James – we miss you at AHF – but LOVE living vicariously through your adventures! Congrats on a year! We will miss you at PitchFest!

  13. No better job in the USA than retirement. I went out at age 52-1/2 in 1999 and have never regretted it. I gave 30 yrs of my life to The Tennessee Valley Authority and plan on getting 30 plus many more years of retirement pay from them in return. Good luck and safe travels.

    1. Hey Harley! Indeed, my friend. Life wthout the 9-5 makes us blossom. And for many young’uns like us 😉 and for most future retirees, that gorgeous pension will never come and we have to make a way in an uncertain economic future. For us, it took a couple of health scares to decide not to work till we drop and just cash in. Keep preaching the good news and Safe Travels.

      LIB

  14. Great reflections. We began our retirement journey on 1/22/16 when we bought our Airstream Interstate…although not full timers (we split our time between Key Largo, Auribeau-sur-Siagne, France and our rolling home, The Little White House, #16000 WBCCI. Just wrapped up a 12 day camping trip and joined the 2nd Annual WBCCI Europe rally in Bavaria Germany….posted some stuff on our Unit #20 (WBCCI South Florida) page… heading back to USA to pick up The Little White House and head to Palmetto Cove for the Solar Eclipse on 8/21, then maybe the Mothership before heading to Albuquerque for the Annual Balloon Fest and then back east for Canopener 2018!!! Life could not be any better; no-way, no-how!!!!!

  15. We decided to start full timing a few years pre-retirement and loving it. Getting everything in place. We’ll be at international rally this month. Until retirement, short trips every 2 months.

  16. We started our day with this post, what a delight! If we didn’t already know you personally I suspect we would be your biggest fans. A great year for two wonderful people. And boy are we glad you let her out of that box!

    1. Nina and Alec, thank you for your kind words! It was sure great to see you 3 at the Coronado Golf course while we were back in town in April. Our travels will be taking us to many far away places, so we may not make it back to San Diego until the fall of 2018, maybe sooner. Tell Sonoma we said ‘hi’. About that box. It was in storage from 1978 until we sold it at a magic auction around 2009. Believe it or not, but Carmen was still able to get inside and ‘disappear’30 years later. Sword Box used by Jim and Carmen

  17. I look forward to your wonderful post and words of wisdom. I am 63 and know as you do that we must grab the golden ring while we can and savory every moment in this wonderful life of ours!

    1. Teresa, thank you for your kind words. So many folks wait too long to stop working and enjoy what is left of their life. We realize that situations can prevent some from the ability to retire, but so many can and simply wait until their health no longer allows them the joy of adventure and exploration.

  18. Great post. You were right to retire at 61. I had planned to retire at 64, but then 2008 happened and what was I to do. I had to keep working for four more years. I miss it also, the good parts, which was most of it. See you two soon.

  19. That was inspirational since we are about to retire at 61 as well! That said, one of the unknowns for us is traveling with a dog. We have a beautiful yellow lab who loves a good adventure! Has traveling with your furry friend been challenging? What do you do with him/her while you go out for hikes, a bike ride or grab a cold one at a microbrewery?

    1. We had a hard time with what to do about Pico at first, but then we came to the realization that our Airstream is our home, as well as Pico’s home. So no matter where the Airstream is parked, that is Pico’s home. We make sure the fantastic fans are on so the trailer get plenty of fresh cool air, and he has plenty of fresh water and food. We make sure the blinds are down so no-one can see inside. Then when we leave we give him lots of treats so he likes it when we leave him.

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