It Just Gets Better

Posted July 1, 2017 – Narrated by Jim
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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.

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

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.