I’m approaching the end of my working life. I’ve had a satisfying career, but need to figure out what comes next. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with and around 18-24 year-olds most of my life, so I’m my outlook and orientation skews much younger than the average retiree. Fortunately I am a life-long athlete who would be considered fit if I were a 30-something. Therefore I have a broader range of options that most folks who contemplate life after social security bell begins to toll the beginning of the last phase of life.
I consider the phases of life to be youth, adulthood and retirement. As I enter the final frontier, to borrow a phrase, I want to involve myself in joyous and meaningful activity that benefits myself and others. Since I’ve worked in an office most of my life, something like nonprofit office work is in the “don’t even think about it” category.
This blog is where I’m going to share some of my thoughts and rationale; and my adventures. It’s being written primarily for me and for my family and close friends. So it’s not intended to even be noticed or impress anyone, or win any prizes for that matter.
After working at senior levels in the military, the corporate world, higher education and the federal government, my head is about to explode. My mind is bureaucratically warped and its full of sclerotic bull that needs to be jack-hammered out and forgotten.
The process of figuring out who you are now and what you want to become is different for everyone. For me, an epic quest is just what the doctor ordered. It’s characteristics must include physical and mental challenges, use of wits and sustain itself over enough time to test my commitment and bring out both my best and worst.
My research suggests that a through hike of the 2,100 mile+ Appalachian Trail (AT) would do the trick. A through hike takes the average person about six months and tests their will, their skill, and their temperament. Finishers report absolutely positive life-changing experiences, not to mention the many good people they meet on the trail and along the way.
Even if you’re an expert hiker who’s in shape and equipped with all the right gear, success isn’t guaranteed. The vast majority of people drop out. Most quit for a wide range of reasons including simple over use injuries, infected blisters, strains and sprains, broken bones, illness, weather, they run out of time, damage equipment they can’t afford to replace, and in extremely rare cases, a raft of really bad things such as severe allergies, snake bite, bears, or encounters with malevolent humans.
For my part, I am competent in the woods at any time of the year. I started as a very active Boy Scout. I’m a graduate of the Army’s Winter Warfare School in Alaska and was certified by the Minnesota National Guard as a winter operations instructor. I’ve lived on a glacier in Alaska, skied northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area in mid-winter (overnight temps averaged -35 F, and I have climbed and hiked in the Colorado Rockies during all four seasons.
So where’s the challenge? However fit I may be (I run almost daily and lift serious weights multiple times weekly), the reality is that I am in my sixties. I’ve learned there’s a reason people claim to be twenty, thirty, forty and fifty somethings, but you never hear anyone claiming to be a sixty-something. I think it’s mostly because you have wrinkles, you wear glasses, gray hair if you are fortunate to still have hair. Athletically, your tendons aren’t as flexible, your max heart rate is lower, and you can feel the cumulative wear and tear on your body. I sustained an injury five years ago to my right foot that could be problematic.
I also, 30 years of getting out in the wilderness as often as possible, I haven’t pick up a backpack in 20 years. The risk of over-confidence is definitely there. So I’m going to need some practice hikes. I’ll go out initially for two or three-nighters on tough trails in Shenandoah National Park . Once I get my mind and my gear sorted out, a multi-week shakedown cruise along the AT is in order.