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
Just spread my ashes here:
the view of the mountains and canyon from the head of Elk Valley along
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
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).
A CONVENTIONAL START
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
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 . . .
MAJOR MID-LIFE DECISIONS
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
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
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
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 mine: to
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
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.
HOME IS WHERE OUR CAMPER IS
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
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,
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
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
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 . .
Part 2: that missed
opportunity and how we've compensated for it with an almost
full-time RV lifestyle
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil