For years, my wife and I had talked about spending our first retirement year traveling the country. We’d set aside our beloved teardrop trailer and invest in an RV. Something big enough to keep us and the dog from trampling each other and small enough that we don’t feel like we’re driving a combine. We’d hit the back roads and see what happens. Sort of a retiree penny hike, where you let the flip of a coin decide your fate.
The Great American timeline is to work until you’re 65, then retire with a comfortable pension and try to remember what your hobbies are. I was getting close at 59, and Kate was three years behind me. But here’s the thing: we just didn’t want to wait.
I’m a technical writer and web designer. I could keep plunking away on my keyboard indefinitely and not shave off too many years from my lifespan. But Kate’s a psychiatric social worker. She worked in a hospital psych unit with mentally ill patients and their families. It’s the kind of work that pulls you down slowly. Especially when you’re a full-hearted social worker like her. The kind who coaxes a devastated mother back from the edge after learning her son has schizophrenia, or uses her own money to buy a journal for the young manic patient who wants to write. Her days were always interesting, but after a hard one, she’d come home looking like she’d been ripped apart and put back together with glue. After 15 years, if she didn’t get out, she was going to have to check herself in.
After one of those glued-together days, I finally said, “I’d rather us be poor and happy. Just quit.” Well, we’re not poor. We have retirement accounts, and our mothers both left us a little money when they died. This crazy idea was within our reach.
It took a year to make it happen. We had to shed or pack belongings, purchase an RV, prepare the house for a renter, find a renter… Finally, on March 6, 2015, the three of us hit the road. Along the way, we rescued a newborn kitten, so now we are four. If our adventures don’t take us in a completely different direction, we’ll come home in June 2016 and rejoin the workforce for a few more years.
Some of our friends think we’ve finally lost it. More of our friends are jealously happy for us and cheer us forward. “Do it while you can!” they say, which I know is supposed to be encouraging, but it’s also a backhanded reminder. Oh, right. I’m getting old. And although I don’t think of myself as old, some days my body feels it. “Anything can happen!” means something entirely different at 60 than it did at 20.