Retirement Reality Check

Muskingum River — from one of my trips to Marietta.

Muskingum River — from one of my trips to Marietta.

Tasted equal amounts of anticipation and frustration today. 

Kind of like the recurring dream I have, preparing for a canoe trip that never happens. Or it does and, once out there, I realize I’ve forgotten my sleeping bag or tent poles or the canoe keeps getting smaller until I’m floating down the river on tongue depressor.

That’s the kind of day it’s been.

I had hoped make contact with the Social Security Administration to find out the earliest time to apply. Also wanted to get some of my stuff organized and work on the chain saw.

All of this plays in to what I imagine retirement will be like — a balance between outdoor adventures and keeping the home fires burning. 

I’d like to get some of the downed trees cut up before spring. The firewood pile is getting low. The chain saw needed sharpened and a new starter cord installed.

That proved to be too much of a challenge. I followed online instructions faithfully, but it didn’t say that the starter cord recoil spring could fly out of the housing with no provocation. If I’m lucky, the dealer will have the tools to rewind and mount it. Otherwise, the whole starter unit might have to be replaced.

As Red Green says, “If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.” 

Unfortunately, Red never mentioned a “Plan C.”

I accomplished my mission with the Social Security Administration. That, too, proved frustrating. I struggled to get info online and spent about 45 minutes on the phone with a very patient bureaucrat, but to no avail. Apparently the government has lost track of me. I tore my office apart — and my scalp — poring over records and trying to figure out when and how I disappeared from Uncle Sam’s radar. Eventually, I figured it out on my own. I can apply as early as mid July to start receiving benefits in October.

Yesterday, I learned that I can apply for medical insurance 75 days before I retire. I found a program for $250 a month. High deductible, but it will do for three years until Medicare kicks in.

Read a lot of interesting stuff on alternative lifestyles for retirees. Including something called “boondocking.” I came across it on a blog written by a guy who lives in a converted box truck — an RV in disguise. He travels around the country and camps for free. He’s schooled in urban camping and the Walmart option (which seems to be drying up). He prefers wide open spaces. There are a lot of places on government land, such as BLM areas, where it’s legal to camp.

I also looked at folding bicycles as an alternative to paying for canoe trip shuttles. The lighter models are too pricy for me. Perhaps I could find something used. Or throw myself on the mercy of strangers and beg for a ride back to my vehicle.

I will have to supplement my income, or lack thereof, so I’m looking at blogging for money. From what I’ve read, you have to find a niche and hammer away at it for several years. Probably the soundest advice I got was from one guy who said it’s by no means passive income.

For me, this would be just another form of freelance writing. Of course, the ideal situation would be to make money writing about the things I enjoy doing. But my main objective of retiring is to do the things I enjoy doing. Even if it means surviving on a diet of sticks and mud.

I also did some more reading today on canoeing the Mississippi. I’ve always been intrigued with the idea, but I’m not sure I’d want to do it. A lot of people have paddled the Mississippi to New Orleans — mostly from the headwaters in Minnesota. Maybe I should ask them all why. What a story that would make.

Having paddled the Muskingum River to Marietta twice and the Scioto River to Portsmouth, I know that paddling big rivers can be tedious. But the challenge is exhilarating. On the other hand, would my time be better spent exploring more pristine rivers?

As in real life, at the end of the day, I have more questions than answers. 

And chain saw parts scattered all over the basement.

Another Restau – Rant


I ate at a local restaurant tonight and was the only one to order dessert. The waitress brought it out — along with extra plates and forks for the other five people in our party.
This isn’t the first time this has happened.
Apparently this was her idea of socialized dining. Obviously, my fellow guests didn’t order dessert because they couldn’t afford it, so it was my duty to share mine.
When the waitress brought the check, maybe I should have asked her to bring five more for my friends.

The joys of eavesdropping

‘Freqing’ Out with Bill & Jack

Deluxe mobile radio setup

Deluxe mobile radio setup

I listen to the Bill & Jack Show every morning. They can pretty entertaining at times. Don’t look for them on your FM dial. Or AM, or satellite, or Internet radio either.

I listen to the Bill & Jack Show because I don’t have a choice. Between 6 and 7 o’clock every morning, they drop in uninvited on my police scanner frequency.

It annoyed me at first. I’d turn the volume way down until they signed off and I could once again listen to police and fire calls uninterrupted.

Yes, I’m an ambulance chaser. Not the highly paid variety. I’m not an attorney, just a journalist. I go to crashes, fires, crime scenes, and nuisance animal calls. In the county where I work we have more of the latter than all the other calls combined. Cows in the road are a huge problem here.

Eventually, I found myself keeping the volume turned up when Bill & Jack were on the air. They don’t talk about anything exciting — mostly the weather, their ailments, their families, the dog next door.

It didn’t take much “listening between the lines” to realize that Bill secretly wants that dog. He talks about how her owners don’t seem to have time for her and how much he enjoys playing fetch with the dog.

Judging from their labored breathing, the ambient sound of bones creaking and the topics of conversation, I have them pegged as retirees in their 70s.

Their banter is pleasant and comforting, kind of like listening to your own parents or grandparents talking with their friends. But, one morning, I sensed a little tension in their voices. They found themselves embroiled in a game of “ailment poker.”

It went something like this:

Bill: “Yeah, I don’t get around like I used to, not after my heart attack.”

Jack: “I know what you mean. I’ve had two heart attacks.”

Bill: “Well, I’ll see your two heart attacks and raise you knee replacement.”

And on it went till they had covered pretty much every joint and organ on their bodies. I think it ended in a draw because Bill changed the subject.

“I think I’ll go out and play with that mutt next door,” he said before signing off.

So ends another fun-filled morning on the Bill & Jack Show.




Just me and the little voices in my head

Solo Canoe Trip, New Year’s 2009

I’m in the process of shutting down my website and am culling posts to archive on this blog. This is one of the canoe trip journal posts.

I managed to get on the river all 12 months of 2008. I had to “cheat” a couple of times, starting a trip at the end of one month and finishing it at the beginning of the next.

Such was the case in December. I put on at Brinkhaven on New Year’s Eve 2008 and took out three days later at Mohawk Dam. (The other time was Labor Day weekend, which covered August and September. I had sprained my ankle on the July trip and spent most of that month and the next recuperating.)

I went solo on New Year’s, which suited me fine. I was long overdue for a few days of solitude. It was the quietest New Year’s Eve I’ve ever spent. Except for that time in solitary confinement. It didn’t matter; I didn’t plan to stay up till midnight.

On New Year’s Eve, I camped on the Island past Cavallo. I originally planned to stay on what we’ve come to call Trash Island, the first big island past Brinkhaven, about five miles downstream. But the river was up and the island wasn’t high enough for my peace of mind. There were no water marks on the trees and bridges, which meant the river level wasn’t dropping.

I knew there hadn’t been enough rain to flood Cavallo island. However, there was a chance that, if the Corps of Engineers were to open the upstream dams and shut the gates at Mohawk, the river could have come up several feet overnight.

The high point of Cavallo island was about eight feet out of thewater. I planted a stick in the ground at the water’s edge when I pulled out. By the time I changed out of my wet suit and pitched my tent, the river had receded a little.

I checked my makeshift gauge before turning in for the night and the water was about six inches from the stick. It takes just one night of having the river crawl into your tent to make you leery. With temperatures slipping close to single-digits that night, it would have been more than an inconvenience.

I crawled into my tent at around 10:30, resigned to being awakened by distant gunshots at midnight. I told myself I’d roll over, acknowledge the New Year and drift back to sleep. Which is exactly what happened.

Around 1 or 2 in the morning, I started getting cold. The zipper on my winter bag wouldn’t stay up. There is a piece of Velcro that’s supposed to hold the zipper together, but the coarse part of it is worn and no longer holds. I put on a heavy wool sweater and was goodfor the rest of the night.

Breakfast was delightful. Chili omelet, warm coffee and no signs of humanity.

There were plenty of eagles, hawks and a big flock of turkeys to keep me company. I didn’t see another human being until late in the afternoon. Two guys were sitting by a fire at the confluence of the Mohican and Kokosing rivers. I don’t think they noticed me.

There was a spot not far downstream where we often stop for lunch. I’d often thought it would make a good campsite. It did. There was level ground for a tent and plenty of firewood.

There had been heavy rain leading up to New Year’s and the wood was saturated and frozen. It took tons of kindling to get it going. I had hopes of eating a traditional meal of sauerkraut and pork in daylight, but that didn’t happen.

There was a possibility of precipitation that night. It felt warm, almost warm enough to rain. I checked the weather radio and was surprised to find the temperatures were in the low 20s. It had been 10-12 degrees the night before, so 22 felt more like 36 degrees.

I didn’t have the river entirely to myself on New Year’s Day. A couple of hunters floated by in a green plastic canoe while I was gathering firewood. If they saw me or noticed the campsite, they didn’t act like it. They passed within 60 feet of the campfire burning near the edge of the bank and didn’t turn their heads. Either they were awfully intent on spotting waterfowl or didn’t want to instigate an encounter with someone as crazy as they were.

Second thoughts on early retirement

How NOT to enjoy early retirement.

How NOT to enjoy retirement.

I’m having second thoughts on early retirement.

Not that kind of second thoughts.

I hear the buzz. They — the ubiquitous “they” — say we should work longer because we live longer these days.

Define “living.”

I’ve seen the ravages of age, even felt a few twinges here and there. Face it, most folks living into their 80s or 90s aren’t out there doing cartwheels and tripping the light fantastic. Tripping over the light fantastic, maybe.

I’m in pretty good shape for my age. Not as good as I could be but far better than most 61-year-olds. And I plan to stay that way. 

But you never know what will happen in five years, let alone one. That cramping I sometimes feel in my hands while paddling down the river could turn into full-blown arthritis. And who knows what’s going on with the organs I’ve abused most of my adult and part of my adolescent life? (Get your mind out of the gutter; I’m not talking about that organ.) For all I know, my liver could look like a chanterelle mushroom.

When I work Sundays, one of my duties at the paper is editing obit copy. I see way too many people dying in their 60s or early 70s. That scares me.

The prospect of dying doesn’t frighten me. Many years ago, I resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to live forever. Working at a newspaper, the things I see on a daily basis reassure me of that.

I want to do the things I enjoy doing while I’m able to do them.

I’m entitled to that. I have worked and paid into Social Security since I was 14 years old.

“Entitled.” There’s a loaded word. “Entitlement,” a political buzzword, a dirty word, a word we’ve been conditioned to dislike. By who? The ubiquitous “they,” the folks saying we should postpone retirement until we’re 70.

After all, we’re living longer these days. And they are entitled to squeeze another five to eight years out of us before they cast us aside.

The more I think about early retirement, the more I like the idea. If I’m having second thoughts it’s whether to canoe to New Orleans or hike the Appalachian Trail.