Summer Travels: Seize the Day

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It would be my last night in the Sierra for a long while. As I stared into the campfire under the star-filled sky last week, I reflected on how far I’d come: That day we had hiked nearly nine miles with full backpacks. We had climbed 1,000 feet up, past the famed Vogelsang High Sierra camp. And then we had descended 2,000 feet into spectacular Lyell Canyon. Tomorrow we would stroll out through soft meadows by a meandering river, load the cars, head for home, resume our “normal” lives.

It had been a breathtaking trip into Yosemite’s backcountry. But the pain in my ankle reminded me that it had all been a gift, and my recovery was not over yet….

This blog is primarily about the financial issues surrounding retirement: saving, investing, withdrawing income. I’m an engineer by trade. Exploring the financial side of retirement using equations and numerical models comes naturally to me. And, judging from the email I get from readers, it’s helpful for others too.

But let’s never forget the point of all that number crunching: To enjoy retired life and be happy.

So I occasionally write here about the lifestyle issues behind the scenes of my retirement. And, for the past 18 months, a health issue has dominated my retired life, significantly curtailing my activity level, and reminding me never, ever to defer happiness

Money reports that fully one third of recent retirees say health problems are interfering with their retirement. There are simply no guarantees about the length or quality of your life, or your retirement. In my experience, starting retirement sooner is much less risky than the potential heartbreak of starting it too late….

My Story

Many years ago, in college, I severely sprained an ankle. Then, two winters ago, I re-injured it on a long hike in the snow. After a month of rest, it was no better. I hobbled around the house in pain, barely able to support body weight on that side. Mercifully I could still go for moderate bike rides, and do upper body exercise. But walking was painful, and hiking in the mountains — one of the joys of my life — was out of the question.

I consulted doctors: my GP, a physical therapist, three different orthopedic surgeons, a podiatrist, and a prosthetist. I got an X-ray and an MRI. But nobody could diagnose the issue with confidence, much less offer a sure-fire treatment. Surgery was recommended, but recovery was long and I doubted the diagnosis. I hobbled through the rest of 2016 and the first part of 2017, enjoying life as best I could, but at a much slower speed.

Finally, about four months ago, searching the web for help as I had so many times before, I discovered a revolutionary ankle rehab program. The clues finally came together as I realized I was most likely dealing with the aftermath of my long-ago injury and a weak, poorly rehabilitated ankle. I started the rehab program in earnest.

Given my age and history, progress was slow. But the results were unmistakable: I no longer needed my cane around the house; I doubled the length of my outdoor walks; then I doubled them again. Dreaming the impossible, I began training for a late-summer backpacking spree in the Sierra….

As I write this, I still use a custom orthotic, wear a brace, apply athletic tape, and carry a cane or trekking poles for long or difficult walks. I doubt my ankle will ever be 100%. But I can enjoy outdoor sports at a level I had thought would never be possible again. And I am grateful for my retired life, imperfect as it may be.

My experience these last couple of years is more proof that there are simply no guarantees. If you have dreams — retirement or otherwise — start pursuing them now, before it’s too late. Seize the day!

With those words in mind, here is a photo tour of my travels this summer. It was an inspiring, exciting, and beautiful season that might never have been….

(Thank you Caroline, Alex, Eric, Dennis, Gloria, Rich, Scott, Nicole, Brandon, Michael, Cris, Steve and others who supported my recovery, provided friendship in the wilderness, and helped make this a memorable year.)

Grand Canyon – North Rim

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon was a welcome surprise. Far less crowded than the iconic and ever-popular South Rim, it is also much higher and cooler in the summer months. The trails are inviting and the diverse views are still spectacular. We will return.

Lake Tahoe – Emerald Bay

Lake Tahoe has something for everyone. I prefer the quieter, less glitzy California side. Enjoy the inviting and beautifully maintained state parks on the southwest shore of the lake. But we couldn’t completely avoid Nevada’s gravitational pull. A relatively inexpensive dinner cruise provided a spectacular trip across the water at sunset, decent food, and smarmy music from my high school years. What more could you want?

Jennie Lakes Wilderness

Gem-like Weaver Lake in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness bordering Sequoia National Park was just clearing of snow when I arrived in mid June. Just a few miles from the trailhead, it was proof you don’t have to venture far to see true wilderness. Though, these days, you might need to add some distance if you truly want a solitary experience!

Alpine Tunnel

This incredible bike ride near St. Elmo, Colorado would be like any other rail trail ride, except that it goes to over 11,000 feet at the head of a spectacular valley. As long as the weather holds, it’s a modest undertaking, albeit a bit bumpy riding over railroad ties in places. One of our all-time favorite rides as measured by “bang for the buck” — enjoy the accessible high adventure.

Crested Butte – Copper Creek

We got a late start on this beautiful walk up a side canyon near Crested Butte, Colorado. The weather threatened and threatened, yet the fields, flowers, river, mountains, sky, and clouds just got more and more beautiful as the day wore on. We missed the moose spotted in the area, but saw everything else…

Crested Butte – Dyke Trail

We finally hiked this incomparable mountain bike trail, starting near treeline, which had been on my list for years. The descent over nearly 900 feet was too much for our mountain biking skills, and quite enough for our hiking skills. But the flowers and the skyline made up for all the work, constituting one of the best vistas in Colorado.

Weminuche Wilderness – Molas Trail

Our day on this trail above Durango, Colorado was split in two parts. Before noon we enjoyed sunny skies and warm temperatures. The afternoon brought storm clouds, thunder, wind, and hail. The tremendous hike down into Elk Park, route of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, was equally beautiful in both directions.

Weminuche Wilderness – Highland Mary Lakes

This short but rugged hike above Silverton, Colorado takes you to a set of ethereal lakes, far above treeline. It rained off and on for the duration, and with distant views shrouded in clouds, we had to settle for near-sighted beauty. Still, it was a memorable day.

Yosemite – Glen Aulin

I had never been to this much-visited corner of Tuolumne Meadows. And we had plenty of company hiking in on Labor Day weekend. But once the crowds thinned out, we found ourselves in a spectacular and peaceful setting of river, trees, and rock. Glen Aulin, meaning “beautiful valley” in Irish Gaelic, was perfectly named.

Ansel Adams Wilderness

Three days in the Ansel Adams Wilderness south and east of Yosemite provided some of the most sublime wilderness scenery we had ever viewed. I caught this shot late in the second day as clouds threatened and darkness descended while we scrambled to the shelter of lower elevations. I looked up to see Banner Peak reflected in this small pond and captured one of the most memorable mountain shots of my life.

Yosemite – Vogelsang

The final backpack of the season took us up and past the highest of Yosemite’s famed High Sierra camps. Fall had arrived: days were crisp, nights were freezing. But we strolled through green meadows and basked in golden rays for a last few days before the cold season would be upon us.

Mount Tamalpais

Out on the California coast we mountain biked to a high shoulder on Mount Tamalpais, highest peak in the Marin Hills. The 1,800 foot climb through several ecosystems was unrelenting for me, but led to breathtaking views south of San Francisco, the Bay, and the Pacific Ocean. Despite the crowds and the cost, California still shines.

Mammoth Lakes – Minarets

Back in Mammoth Lakes we watched the sun set over the Minarets in the High Sierra for the last time this season. I had been to this spot many years ago, and hope to return again some day. But the sharp peaks, wispy clouds, and rosy light reminded me to pay attention to this moment, right here and now.

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