In other words, go for it. Life's too short to be a bystander.
As I get older I've become more of a risk-taker. That's probably
because I know I'm closer to the end of my life at 63 than the beginning
of it. As much as I say I want to live to be 100 -- because no
one in my family tree has quite reached that milestone yet --
there is no guarantee that I'll get there.
I've still got a lot of things I want to accomplish during my time on
One of the reasons I retired from my chosen career in 1999 at age 50
was to be able to run and travel around this magnificent country of ours
while I was still physically able to do it.
I didn't want to be like the people you sometimes read about who
retire and then die soon after, before they have a chance to do any of
the things they dreamed about doing when they finally had the time to do
To my surprise, our friend Matt sent us this cartoon a few hours
wrote the thoughts above:
Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis, 5-6-12
That's what I'm talkin' about.
I didn't want to be one of those people.
I made some radical changes in my life that year, changes I'm glad I
I've been able in the past thirteen years to do many of the things I
dreamed about doing when I had unlimited time to do them (too bad the
$$$ weren't also unlimited!). There were limits to how much Jim and I
could travel until he retired in 2004 but since then we've been free to
make our own choices about where, when, how, and how long to travel.
One of the biggies on my bucket list was running/hiking the entire
Appalachian Trail in one summer -- 2,175 miles officially, more
miles than that
in reality (to and from trailheads, getting lost, etc.).
One of my favorite places on the AT was in the
White Mountains of New Hampshire.
This is part of the other-worldly trail on
Franconia Ridge. (8-25-05)
I accomplished that journey run with Jim's
assistance in 2005 when I was 56 and already had arthritis in most of my
joints. I had to wait from age 20 in college, when I first became
interested in the Trail, until both of us were
retired to do it My Way.
I'll go to my grave being grateful to him for that opportunity.
If you aren't familiar with that part of my story check out the
My thru-hike was not the usual six- or seven-month backpacking
expedition. I wasn't a backpacker. I was a trail ultra-distance runner and that's
how I approached this journey run. Jim crewed for me in our camper while
I did a "long run" (75-80% fast hiking) every day on the trail. I slept in the camper at
night. Jim did almost everything that had to be done to maintain our lives so I could run
all day for four months and accomplish a goal I'd had for 36 years.
The absolute best part of that trek was sharing this moment with Jim at
the northern terminus on the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine at
the end of the journey on September 24, 2005:
By golly, we did it!!!
One of Jim's goals was to run as many 100-mile mountain trail races
as possible. He had success at Western States, Leadville, Wasatch, The
Bear, Vermont, and Kettle Moraine, as well as several 24-hour and one
48-hour race at Across the Years.
Two of his greatest running accomplishments were finishing the 1999
Leadville Trail 100, a very difficult race, in his first attempt at the
distance (photo below), and running Kettle Moraine in less than 24 hours in 2000.
Although he also had a number of DNFs in 100-milers he loved the
challenge and had fun trying! He did better than I did at that distance. I
finished only two 100-milers in eleven starts.
We also ran dozens of shorter trail ultras from 50K to 100K and had
fun at several 24-hour events.
Unfortunately, the running part of our dreams didn't last nearly as
long as we'd hoped because of our more recent knee problems. Even with Orthovisc
and eventual synthetic knee joints our running careers are kaput.
But we are grateful that we were able in those last eight to thirteen years,
respectively -- since each of us retired -- to indulge in our running
passion more than we could if we'd continued working until we were
older. By retiring at younger ages we traded more lucrative pensions for
more fulfilling lives while we were in our 50s and 60s.
It's a choice we're both glad we made.
And if you're wondering, despite my knee problems I don't regret one
mile I ran in the last 33 years. If I knew then what I know now I would
have started participating in ultras at a younger age than 42. It's one
of the best things I've ever done and I have many wonderful memories of
my time as a runner.
60 IS THE NEW 40?
Now we are adapting to our new fitness reality, staying healthy with hiking and
instead of running.
activities mesh with our urge to travel in our RV as well as
running did -- and we still get to hang out all day in beautiful
forests and mountains! We are definitely outdoors people.
Cody greets Jim at one of the
trailheads along the Mickelson Trail through the
Black Hills of SD. Jim rode the
whole 109-mile trail that day! (9-19-11)
There are still a lot of things we both want to accomplish in our
lives. We're working on the ones now that involve more physical activity and
travel. We figure we can do more sedentary activities later when we're
older. We don't regard 63 as "old."
Heck, I still haven't come to grips with "middle age," let alone
LIFE IS SHORT; EAT DESSERT FIRST
My greatest fear of aging is my risk of getting Alzheimer's Disease.
mother had it when she died at the age of 84 (confirmed by an autopsy)
and one of her sisters probably had it, too (that aunt was not autopsied
but had the same symptoms).
The threat of Alzheimer's is one of the things that spurs me to stay fit and to
travel as much as I can while I've still got my physical and mental faculties (some
might argue about the latter!).
Two other more recent tragic events in my
family have further propelled me into action -- the death of my
brother's wife at age 70 last summer after battling ovarian cancer for almost two
years and the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in my closest cousin
earlier this year.
My cousin Barb, in blue, her husband Jan (L), my
brother Bill (orange shirt),
Cody, and me visiting at Bill's house in OH last
October. Jim took our picture.
I'm still in some disbelief about
my cousin's diagnosis because she seemed to be in good health --
and she's only 61, younger than I am.
Neither she nor Marge "deserved" their fate.
Both diagnoses have given Jim and me even more to think about
regarding the fragility of life. We are more determined than ever to
follow our dreams while we can.
I highly recommend reading Steve Jobs' famous
"Last Lecture" if you haven't read it.
If you have, read it again; I just did. It's very inspiring,
written a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (At the
time, he thought he was cured but unfortunately he died last fall.) His
third story is the one that is most relevant here. If you prefer to
hear/watch the 16-minute video from his 2005 graduation speech at
Stanford University you can do a web search for it.
Now, go live your life like each day may be your last!
ALASKA OR BUST
Jim and I have never been to Alaska. It's been on our bucket lists
for a while but it's so doggone far away and has just never been
"convenient" before, mostly because of all the races we planned in the
Lower 48 states each summer.
Well, we don't have that excuse any more so we've been planning an
Alaska escape since last summer.
Photo from the
North to Alaska
Early this year we began to have second thoughts about going so far. Gas and diesel prices were on their way to being the
highest on record in this country and were expected to peak during our
trip. More recently we discovered that parts of Alaska we plan to visit received
record-breaking amounts of snow for the season during the winter and
Maybe we should wait to go to Alaska until another year when the
snow isn't so high and fuel prices are lower . . .
Nope. My cousin's diagnosis sealed the deal back in February.
Something really serious could happen to
one of us in the next year and we might never get up there.
(Of course, something could happen to one of us in the next month and we
still might not get up there!) We stayed in Virginia the summer
of 2008 because of similar fuel prices and we've regretted it ever
Our buddy Matt also sent us this link to an
article on the Alaska Dispatch site
about how much snow Anchorage had accumulated by April 7:
That's just one of the places we'll visit in south central Alaska. Other parts of the state
were also inundated. Hopefully a bunch of the snow has already melted in
the past month. The major roads should be fine by the time we get
there in June.
Come hell or high water (from all the melting snow), we're going to
Alaska this year.
We will adapt to the circumstances we can't control. We can modify our original planned route and/or timing to deal with
the snow issue. And to our surprise, fuel prices have supposedly peaked
for the year already; they have even started coming down this past week.
That's good, because diesel for the truck is only going to get more
expensive the farther west and north we go. It's $3.79/gallon at the
cheapest station in Roanoke
this week. Regular gas, which we use in the camper generator --
and the van we drive when we're in Roanoke -- is now $3.34/gallon locally at Walmart and Sam's Club.
(Prices in Roanoke are below the national average thanks to lower state
and local taxes.)
LIVING OUR DREAM
A large part of our retirement dream is maintaining our nomadic lifestyle. There
is a great big wonderful country out there to explore in our RV --
two countries if we count Canada -- and we intend to continue
exploring as long as we can.
Despite all the places we've been in the U.S. and Canada already,
we've only scratched the surface of all the places we want to go.
Mexico is NOT on that list. We
visited Los Algodones, Baja California, one morning while we were
camped near Yuma, AZ this winter.
We disliked it so much we were back in the USA in 35 minutes!
We love living and traveling in an RV so much that we have no desire to
fly anywhere, even to another continent. Flying ceased to be fun after
9/11, not so much because of the fear of terrorism as all the security
hassles and other unpleasantries one must now endure.
In the five years we were together before Jim retired we lived in
Billings, MT. We traveled in our camper to races
out West as often as we could but vacation time was limited to about four weeks a
year since Jim was still employed full time.
After Jim retired in January, 2004 we started increasing the amount of time we
lived in our rolling residence.
Our old "HitchHiker Hilton" and Ford F-250 at
Shenandoah NP in 2005
Unfortunately, we didn't realize just how much we would enjoy traveling
around the country in an RV.
sold our house in Montana the same month Jim retired, traveled through
the southern half of the country for a few months in a
32-foot HitchHiker 5th-wheel coach (above), then moved into our current house
and 12 acres of woods in the Roanoke Valley of southwestern Virginia in
This is one of my favorite pictures of our house, taken in the spring
The yard and house still look
same in 2012 .
This was to be our "retirement home," the place we'd live until we
need a nursing home.
Even though we planned to travel a lot during retirement we thought
at the time that we needed a home base. We wouldn't have made that choice if we'd known
more back then about the full-time RV lifestyle. It would have been the
perfect time to experiment being without a "stick" house.
Our plan since 2008 has been to sell the house and travel full time
in the camper. The poor housing market since that time has put the
kabosh on that, however. We don't want to sell at a loss.
LIFE IN THE DANDELION TIME WARP
By 2008 we were traveling/living in our camper
more than in our house.
In fact, we wore out that HitchHiker in 6½
years and bought at 36-foot Carriage Cameo 5th-wheel coach in January,
2010. It is sturdier and warranted for full-time use:
Camping at the USAF Academy in
Colorado Springs, one of our favorite places to hang out. (7-23-11)
Correction -- the Cameo was warranted for full-time use until
Carriage, Inc. went belly-up last October after being in business for 43
or 44 years! Dang.
So much for all the research we did regarding stable RV
Now we own an orphan RV. The two-year bumper-to-bumper warranty
expired in January, 2012. We made it past that OK but we're SOL on the
five-year frame warranty. <sigh> It remains to be seen if the
manufacturers of the individual parts (refrigerator, HVAC system, Big
Foot hydraulic levelers, etc.) will honor their separate warranties now
that Carriage is out of business.
[Addendum in 2019: This rig is built so well that being an
"orphan" hasn't been a big problem for us.]
The South Mineral Creek dispersed
camping area near Silverton, CO
is another one of our favorite
hang-outs in the summer. (6-23-11)
We pull the Cameo with a 2WD 2008 short-bed Dodge Ram 2500 diesel
truck. It gets better fuel mileage than the long-bed 4WD Ford we had
even though the Cameo is heavier than the HitchHiker.
The past few years we've been on the road for three to four months at
a time, going back to the house in Virginia for several weeks in the
spring and fall to do maintenance, see our doctors and friends, and
enjoy the Roanoke Valley and nearby mountains.
We deliberately time those visits during mild weather and pretty
seasons -- colorful spring flowers and fall leaves. We avoid Roanoke's heat and humidity in the summer and its cold
and snow in the winter.
The rest of the time we're out West, enjoying warm temperatures in
southern Arizona, California, and Texas in the winter months and cool
temperatures in the Rocky Mountains in the summer. We are "snowbirds" in
the winter. I don't know what the name is for folks who escape summer's
heat by going north or to higher elevations.
Those ubiquitous dandelions are
blooming just about everywhere we go. (Silverton, CO, 6-23-11)
We prefer living in a comfortable temperature range from the 40s to
70s F. I call it the "Dandelion Time Warp" because there are usually
dandelions in bloom wherever we travel. It's like eternal spring, my
favorite time of the year!
Since we are retired, don't have family or other commitments in
Virginia, and have an RV we are able to move around the country at will,
in search of the weather and scenery we like.
The desert is in bloom:
hedgehog cactus flower, Organ Pipe Natl. Monument, AZ (3-15-12)
Of course, Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate. We sometimes
encounter extreme temperatures and lousy weather. That just adds to the
Last October we experimented with
leaving the Cameo at Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City, SD when we returned to
the house for a few weeks. Temperatures were in the 80s F. in Rapid City
then, which was much warmer than usual for that time of year.
Our plan probably would have worked OK if we'd gotten back to SD in
mid-November when we originally intended.
We were delayed until early
December, however, and the weather was awful on the way back out there
to pick it up. Bad weather arrived earlier in the Midwest and upper
Plains states than normal:
Lots of vehicles slid off slick
I-29 in Iowa . We were glad we weren't pulling the camper. (12-3-11)
Cody thought the snow was fun,
The campground at Ellsworth AFB
in SD wasn't much fun for two days while
we waited for snow on I-25 in CO
to get cleared (we were headed to AZ). (12-4-11)
Leaving the camper out West sounded good at the time -- less
mileage on the Cameo, better gas mileage and being able to drive faster in just the
truck -- but it was very inconvenient in other ways.
We had to haul a lot of stuff in the back of the truck both directions
(next photo), there were things we wish we'd had at the house, Jim
couldn't do maintenance work on the Cameo as easily, and it was a drag
not having our rolling residence with us for the three-day trip each
direction. We disliked staying in motels and not having our own kitchen,
bathroom, and bed with us.
All the boxes and both bikes had to either go
inside the truck or inside motel rooms at night.
Consequently, we just brought the camper back with us recently from the
Southwest to Virginia.
In another entry I'll talk about all the things Jim's done to it while
we've been at the house this spring.
Continued on the next page: more about our lifestyle
-- lost in
time and space, full-time wannabes, spontaneity, etc., plus more photos
you haven't seen before
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil