Amidst everyone’s world turning totally upside down and inside out in 2020, Dave and I found ourselves in a position to hit the ‘reset’ button on retirement. And now here we are: living in a camper in FL, house sold, wondering how we order from Amazon when we don’t have a delivery address.
It’s not that retirement wasn’t already good. I would highly recommend everyone do it as soon as you are able and have a sound financial plan. Dave retired from the Navy in 2014, earned his Master in Public Affairs at the U of MN in 2015, and then he leapt (was drawn?) into all kinds of volunteer gigs that kept his calendar quite full. He served on local commissions, the Stillwater Veterans Memorial Board and other local non-profits, as his church’s treasurer and our HOA chair. He even ran our town’s annual parade. Then there was track and cross country officiating that dominated Spring and Fall, working scores of meets each year. On my end I was still practicing medicine until sort-of-retiring in 2018, then working as a ‘substitute’ pediatrician with my health system every now and then. My goal for retirement was to learn one new big skill every year. I was busy as board chair for Reach Out and Read MN, as a Master Gardener, and conducting volunteer work, home creative projects, neighborhood activities, and rekindling some hobbies I had never seemed to have enough time to do. Dave even co-opted me into working track and cross country meets with him…and it was a lot of fun! Life was busy, it was (relatively) low-pressure, and we were enjoying the freedom. We loved our home and especially the people in our close-knit neighborhood, where we literally knew everyone on our block, their kids, and their pets.
But we were getting a little restless, even feeling a little over-scheduled. After a life of moving regularly with the Navy for decades, eight years in one place was a new record for us. We had always been rolling stones, and with every Navy move we genuinely looked forward to something new. Only in our late 50s and with terms on Boards and volunteer positions winding down, we frequently talked in the abstract about finding a new challenge, a new skill, a new experience. Start a business? Renovate a house in town to rent out? Become snowbirds and beyond? It was becoming an itch and we couldn’t quite figure out where to scratch.
Then along came COVID and all our activities screeched to a halt. Sports seasons were completely canceled. Master Gardener projects: canceled. Non-profit meetings and events: canceled or gone virtual. Travel plans and social lives: on hold. Even our regularly scheduled neighborhood events went away. We actually didn’t mind the time at home with an empty calendar (that’s one way to alleviate the over-scheduled feeling), and threw ourselves into home improvement, crafting, gardening, and model building projects. More time was spent on the back porch and camping locally in the trailer to escape four walls and enjoy the outdoors. Organizing neighborhood Driveway Happy Hours and outdoor movies relieved some of the social isolation. While we had faith that COVID would eventually be tamed and most things return, as the months of COVID cancellations wore on we realized that we had been in an annual wash-rinse-repeat cycle that we couldn’t quite fathom doing for another twenty years. It was like hiccups that just wouldn’t go away, and with each one the annoyance amplified.
Dave had spent early Spring building a scale model radio-controlled classic Chris Craft Runabout. Next thing I knew, he was talking about wanting an actual boat to take on the St. Croix River, fueled by a local neighbor who had just bought one. He then became engrossed in watching vlogs of people who were sailing all over the world. I was starting to feel a little nervous, fearing I was soon going to hear “Let’s just go look.” It was by ‘just looking’ that we had returned home at various times with a dog, a sailboat, a RV, half an airplane, a condo, and a Hobie kayak. But that’s a whole other story for another blog post. Let’s just say my guard was up.
By mid-summer and now all itchy, hiccup, and nervous, we were camping at St. Croix State Park when Dave mentioned something called The Great Loop that he had come across in his vlog-watching — a year-long route up the Intracoastal Waterway to NY, through canals and into the Great Lakes enroute to Chicago, then down the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers to the Gulf, around the Keys and Florida, and back to the Atlantic Coast and the ICW. I vividly remember him telling me about it as we were sitting in the camper when it was too buggy to be outside, and literally thinking, “Why the hell NOT?” It just seemed so RIGHT for us (even though Dave’s jaw dropped when I agreed to the notion). We both missed the ocean, the one thing MN couldn’t offer us. Dave felt like he had a ton of taxpayer-funded knowledge after 34 years in the Navy that was just going to waste. I have always sought to wander lesser routes and backroads via unconventional methods. We had gradually been working toward living a simpler life, without giving up on our adventuring habit. And right now we found ourselves in a sweet-spot time in life with no grandkids in the immediate future, no elderly relatives to care for, and no one left on the payroll. We longed for bigger adventures while we could. So we decided to sleep on it…and five minutes later decided that all we had needed was a catnap and we were going to do it.
Wait… What just happened?
Did we really just decide to divest ourselves of all material goods and go live on a boat for a few years? Yup. Ruminating over it would just mean finding reasons NOT to do it. Done. Decided. Don’t think, just do. Of course, many have asked why we don’t play it safe and rent out the house so we had a place to which we could return if we ‘changed our mind.’ But that was kind of the point. By jumping in with both feet and no baggage, we were taking a fork in the road that could lead to many other meandering routes even if we decided after a few years that we were ready to move back to land. We would be starting with a clean slate, and the wash-rinse-repeat cycle was broken. This felt good! We were excited and energized about what lay ahead in both the near and long terms. Grateful that we had this opportunity, we recognized how fortunate we were to even be able to think about something so drastic. Such a big and quick change is not for everyone, but it felt right for us. We were going to see what was behind Door #2.
By the time we got home, the itch and hiccups were gone. Maybe there was still a little touch of nervousness, but it was more of a nervous energy. We had work to do, for ahead of us lay The Purge.