Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2011 Journal Topics       Home       Next



"Somebody ought to tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying.
Then we might live life to the limit every minute of every day.
Do it, I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now."
~ Michael Landon

Within reason, of course! I love adventure but I won't deliberately risk my life for an adrenaline fix. I admit I've inadvertently risked it a number of times, however. And I will take non-life threatening risks to reach goals that are important to me.

The older I get, the more firmly I believe in the concept of "living like I'm dying." That's why I pretty much reinvented my life at age 49-50.

Just spread my ashes here:  the view of the mountains and canyon from the head of Elk Valley along the
Continental Divide (Seg. 24 of the Colorado Trail) is one of my favorites. (Photo by Jim in July, 2010)

If you've read any of our web journals the last six years you know I'm fond of using quotes at the beginning of each entry. Many of them relate to the topic at hand. Some, like the one above, reflect my perspective on life and/or are designed to make readers think about what's important in their own lives. 

In this entry I'll explain some of the steps -- and risks -- that Jim and I took to attain one of our lifetime goals: wandering around this magnificent country of ours while living in a recreational vehicle (RV). 


Jim and I are regarded by some as free spirits because of our sense of adventure and the somewhat  unconventional lifestyle we have led the last seven years.

The older we get, the more we love to explore and learn new things. We're closer now to the end of our lives than the beginning -- and there's so much more we want to experience!

On my bucket list:  visiting Alaska and Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in the U.S.
(stock photo by QT Luong for the National Park Service, found here)

Most middle-class Americans start out full of curiosity and optimism when they're young and dream big dreams about how they want to live their adult lives. I remember the long list I compiled while I was in college of the things I wanted to accomplish before I was 30.

At the time I wrote it, 30 seemed pretty old. Ha!

At 61, I don't remember everything that was on my original wish list, which would now be termed a "bucket" list after Morgan Freeman's and Jack Nicholson's popular movie several years ago. I did accomplish my most important life goals, as well as other less important ones that developed with the passage of time.

Colorful lichens and tundra plants along the Appalachian Trail
on Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire  (August, 2005)

Some, like my dreams to run/hike the entire Appalachian Trail and to travel for extended periods of time in an RV, took a back seat to my career but they remained very much alive, waiting until the day I could retire -- hopefully, at age 55. That was my plan.

Unfortunately, some people completely lose sight of their goals/dreams in their 20s, 30s, and 40s as they get bogged down in family responsibilities or unrewarding jobs. Part of it is from too much short-term (or downright poor) decision-making, some just because of the harsh realities of life. Although there are some things I'd do differently in retrospect, I'm basically happy with the decisions I've made.

Feral ponies along the Appalachian Trail in Mt. Rogers State Park, Virginia (May, 2005)

Jim and I both led fairly conventional lives for fifty years, pursuing our personal goals of a college education, stable career, financial security, physical fitness, meaningful community activities, and as much travel as we could each manage while employed full time. Jim married and helped to raise four sons to adulthood before getting divorced. I chose a less traditional child-free life -- with marriage that also ended in divorce.

OK, divorce isn't exactly the American dream but you gotta admit that it's also pretty "conventional" in our society . . .


In the years approaching my 50th birthday I really started to do some soul-searching about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Although I was very active and healthy I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at age 48, the same year my hormones went crazy. My mother had died a few years earlier, at age 86, with Alzheimer's Disease.

Both arthritis and Alzheimer's are hereditary diseases, so I was hereby on notice.

My goal is to live to be 100. The only folks in my gene pool who've made it close to that are my maternal grandparents. Both died in their late 90s. Since none of us knows when we're going to die, I started to worry about leaving too many things undone that I still wanted to do.

When you're on the slippery slope of life in your 40s and 50s, you really start thinking about things like that. I had more goals, mostly involving running and travel, that I wanted to attain while I was still physically able to do so.

One of my last ultras before my knee cartilage ran out:  the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K in Nevada  (July, 2009)

Very conscious of time running out, I began revising my life plans even before meeting Jim.

Ironically, he was going through a similar life-examining process. It was almost comical when we discovered we'd been doing the same quirky thing before we met -- scanning the obituaries in our respective city's newspaper almost every day! It's not like we knew any of the deceased. It simply amazed us that so many people younger than us were dying off.

It might have helped if we'd known why in every case, but perhaps not. That might have made us even more paranoid about our own longevity. Jim's got some hereditary landmines to consider, too.

One of my favorite pictures of us, taken before the start
of the Bighorn 100-miler in 2006.

Jim and I met through one of our passions ultra-distance trail running. I was living in the Atlanta area at the time; Jim lived in Montana. That was a long way to travel to see each other as often as we wanted while we were courting!

Within one year I made some of my biggest life decisions -- retiring from a (mostly) satisfying career advocating for abused children, selling my house, leaving 25 years' worth of friends and extensive involvement in various community organizations, and moving across the country to be with Jim.

Whew! That's a lot of change but it was exciting to begin a totally new chapter in my life.

I'm definitely not in Atlanta any more!  One of many moose we spotted on runs
along the trails in the Beartooth Mountains near Billings, Montana in the early 2000s.

Jim's vision of the future pretty closely matched mineto retire relatively young, play hard (preferably by running into our 70s or 80s), stay as healthy as possible, travel in an RV around the country for weeks and months at a time, and live within our financial means so we're never a burden on anybody. It helped that I was able to retire and draw a pension at age 50, not 55 as was my original intent; Jim had to work five more years to be eligible for his. That made it easier for me to move to Montana instead of Jim having to transfer to the Atlanta area.

There are few rewards in life without some risk. I took those risks with eyes wide open and have never regretted my major mid-life decisions.

Sure, we'd have more discretionary income now if we'd worked beyond 50 and 55 years of age . . . but then we might have been one of those poor saps who dies so soon after retiring (or even before) that they never get the chance to do some of the things they always dreamed of doing when they were retired!

We chose to spend less and live more. It's not an easy choice in such a consumption-driven culture as ours.

Fireworks at ATY on New Year's Eve:  celebrating our anniversary
with a hundred of our closest friends . . . 

By the way, Jim and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary three days ago on New Year's Day. It's been a fun, memorable decade with him as my later-in-life partner.


Since Jim's retirement early in 2004 we have become increasingly fond of wandering around this marvelous country of ours, living more in our RV than in our house in Virginia. Last year we were gone for periods of four and five months at a time, going back to Roanoke only for medical appointments and necessary maintenance on the house and yard.

Our 5th-wheel camper is our home, regardless of where it's located. We don't even refer to Roanoke or our sticks-and-bricks house as "home" any more. Although it's a great place to live, our house and land represent more work than retreat to us. If the housing market was better we'd sell the place and live in our RV full time.

Most people are not aware that over a million people in our country deliberately live like this. It's still a fairly unconventional lifestyle but becoming increasingly popular.

Even Jim and I -- who have been camping for a few days to a few months at a time in tents, travel trailers, and 5th-wheel coaches the past four decades -- were essentially unaware of the appeal of the full-time RV lifestyle until about three years ago. 

Most "full-timers" are retirees who've sold their houses, distributed/sold/stored their possessions, purchased a suitable RV for full-time use, and hit the road to literally and figuratively expand their horizons. Some are younger and still work full- or part-time for a living.

This is what we consider to be "home:"  our Carriage Cameo 5th-wheel coach.  (March, 2010)

These folks are transient in a positive way. They aren't bums and they aren't "homeless." Their homes are just a lot smaller now and have wheels under them. They've chosen this lifestyle for the freedom it gives them to pursue their dreams of traveling, visiting relatives and friends across the continent(s),  checking off items on their bucket list of Things To Do Before They Die, living a simpler more stress-free life, working at jobs that require a lot of travel, and/or other personal reasons.

This is the lifestyle to which we now aspire. Too bad we didn't realize that seven years ago when we had the perfect opportunity . . .

Continued in Part 2that missed opportunity and how we've compensated for it with an almost full-time RV lifestyle

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

Previous       Next

2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil