April 28, 2014

A Quick, Memorable Trip To Tucson

Betty and I returned a few days ago from a delightful RV trip to the outskirts of Tucson. Catalina State Park was the perfect place to break our routine for a bit and join up with Mike and Tamara Reddy (known for her Early Retirement blog before its shutdown in March). 

The "most energetic retired couple in America" was just beginning a 41 day trip in their trailer camper. As it turned out their first stop was a state park about two hours south of our home. So, we made arrangements to spent a few days together in RV camping spots that were side-by-side.

While Mike and Tamara hiked through Saguaro National Park or Catalina State Park, Betty rested after a very strenuous period of working on a major project at our church for Easter. She was beyond tired and needed to just become a "puddle" for awhile, reading, relaxing, and sleeping late. Somehow she did find the energy to make appetizers and a scrumptious desert for our last night together.

While Mike and Tamara logged hikes of over 8 miles, Betty, Bailey and I confined our hiking to a few miles around the Catalina State Park campground trail system and then returned to the RV for relaxation and afternoon siestas. Mike and Tamara, Betty, Bailey, and I gathered together each evening for conversation, wine and appetizers, dinner, and desserts at the picnic table just outside the RV door.

We discussed plans to join up again next January at the Palm Spring Film Festival and then decided to add a stop together at the world's largest RV show in Quartzsite, AZ a few days later. Our conversations (and desserts !) lasted until well after dark. It was an absolutely magical time together.

Then, on the spur of the moment the four of us decided to visit Biosphere 2, located about half an hour north of the park. What an amazing few hours! It was constructed in the 1980s to replicate a miniature earth environment and included a rainforest, ocean with a coral reef, mangrove wetlands, savannah grassland, fog desertagricultural system, human habitat, and a below-ground infrastructure.

in 1991 eight people went inside the sealed Biosphere complex. Their mission was a two year planned experiment to see if they could not only survive, but thrive while growing all the own food, cleaning their air and converting waste to breathable oxygen and drinkable water, all while conducting scientific experiments inside a sealed series of domes.

While the history of Biosphere 2 contains both successes and failures, it is a fascinating place to tour. Owned by the University of Arizona since 2007, walking through a tropical rainforest or desert, gazing at a miniature ocean, and seeing the incredible engineering complexity of the entire complex made for an unforgettable 90 minutes.

Our original plans for this trip did not include Bisophere 2, but it made a special time with friends even better. 

While it was warm (hot to most non-desert dwellers!), the weather cooperated with some breezy conditions to make the afternoons quite pleasant and mornings cool enough to require long pants and a jacket. We all parted last Thursday morning: The Reddy's off to New Mexico and us back to Scottsdale, loving our time together and looking forward to future RV encounters with each other.

I thought you might enjoy seeing some pictures:

R.T. beneath the Catalina Mountains

The Reddys and the Lowrys ready for our adventures

After a tough day of hunting for gophers

Daddy and daughter out for a stroll

Who says the desert isn't green?

Our family ready to hit the trail

Round up the four usual suspects

Biosphere complex is too large to capture in one picture

Inside the Dome

Almost 3 football fields long

Amazing sight in the desert

Glass panels everywhere

Our morning view

Betty and Bailey ready to conquer the world

A great time with friends and on the road again, if only for a few days.

April 21, 2014

And There It Sits

Buying an RV is not something most of us do on a whim. Whether it is a motorhome, trailer, or pop-up camper, there is at the very minimum several thousand dollars invested in your rig. A newer Class A motorhome (the kind that look like very fancy bus) can range from $100,000 to well over one million dollars.

When Betty and I took the plunge about 18 months ago we bought a used Class C motorhome. So far we have been very pleased. It is almost 8 years old, has over 120,000 miles on the engine, and has some cosmetic wear and tear. But, we have been diligent in the maintenance and upkeep and have every expectation that the big Ford V-10 engine will last at least 200,000 miles, much longer than we are likely to own it.

Because it was an older model with higher mileage I think we got an excellent deal. Including an extended warranty (a necessity on a used vehicle with so many mechanical parts) we paid just under $30,000. All the other costs involved in maintaining it have been less than $2,000 so far. The towing equipment for the new towed car will be somewhere around $2,500. All of this is definitely  not small change for us but worth it as an investment in our satisfying retirement and the chance to try on a new lifestyle.

In the year and a half we have owned R.T. (Road Trip) we have driven about 4,800 miles and spent 64 nights away from home. That means roughly 88% of the time we have owned R.T. it has been parked in the side yard. Some might say it has become a very expensive yard ornament.

That does raise the question I get from blog readers: does buying a motorhome make economic sense? Unless you are going to make it your home for at least 4-5 months of the year how can the expense be justified? Most RVers are probably like us - their RV sits for most of the year.

You probably won't be surprised that I have an answer: It makes no economic sense at all. Even the idea that you can save money on motel and restaurant bills when you are on vacation doesn't work. For something that gets less than 9 miles to the gallon, must be maintained and insured, and usually spends nights on the road in a campground that averages $25-$40 a night, the no motel  argument falls apart. You may not be eating in restaurants, but you still must buy food.

In one instance an RV can be a cheaper way to leave home: if you find a campground in an area of the country you like and spend at least a month. You aren't burning gas for that 30 days and the monthly fee is much less than the nightly charge.

So, if an RV usually makes no economic sense for most of us recreational users, then why spend all that money?

*Freedom that is hard to feel any other way 
*Stepping out of your normal routine - not better, just different
*Exploring the country in a way you can't if you fly.
*Having the comfort of your things with you when you stop for the night
*Time together with your spouse or significant other without interruption, or,
*Time alone to still your mind, recharge and refocus
*Waking up and going to sleep close to nature

RV travel is not for everyone. You might be the type of vacationer that wants to be pampered, have a restaurant prepare all your meals, choose from a zillion TV channels, and sleep on a huge bed with down pillows. That is the way I preferred to take a break (preferably in Hawaii, England, or Italy) before I discovered RV travel.

Now, I can't wait to get on the road. The freedom is intoxicating and the feeling of adventure around the next bend can't be beat. The cost is high but the payoff is higher. Betty and I have chosen to cut our budget in other places so we can spend in a way that makes us happy.

For this year the time on the road will increase to around 90 nights. Next year I expect the total to be well over 120 nights away from home. I am excited.

And isn't that what a satisfying retirement is all about?

Freedom machine or expensive lawn ornament?

April 17, 2014

A Slice of (Your) Retirement Life

A few weeks ago the post, What's Going On?, generated several comments that expressed an interest in reading about other retirees' experiences in all the areas that concern us: is retirement everything you hoped, and if not, why not? What keeps you up at night and what excites you every morning? How do you productively fill your time and balance commitments with freedom? How about travel...doing more or less than you thought you would?.....basically we are asking to hear some of each other's unique story.

Those types of interviews filled my last book. I found those answers and reactions fascinating. So, the idea of doing more of it on this blog is a winner. Soliciting stories and information about lifestyles and how retirement is working opens up endless possibilities and interesting insights. Even those 52 folks who took part in the book project have certainly learned something new or changed their direction since I solicited those opinions a couple of years ago, so they are encouraged to chime in, too.

Here is what I propose: I have listed a few questions below. In the comment section answer one or two of the questions that are most important to you. Your total response may be longer than a typical comment but that is fine. We are all looking for fresh ideas and support. Length isn't nearly as important as simply sharing what this journey looks like from your perspective.

My Questions (pick one or two to answer in the comment section):

1) Has retirement turned out the way you thought it would? Why or why not?

2) What has been your biggest surprise about being retired?

3) Do you worry about your financial situation? 

4) What new things have you discovered about yourself?

5)  If you had it do over again, would you keep working, retire sooner, or are content with how things worked out?

I am an anxious as anyone to read your answers. This should be a fun and instructive exercise for all of us.

I won't leave comments after each entry like I normally do. But, I will have a followup post or two in a few weeks that tries to draw some general conclusions from the answers left to my questions.

April 14, 2014

To Move or Stay Put: I Can't Decide

Is it ignorance or apathy?  I don't know and I don't care.

Jimmy Buffett may have summarized my dilemma best with these lyrics from one of his songs. Betty and I have changed our mind on this one decision so often that our kids now just roll their eyes and ask, "What is your plan today?"

We have lived in our current home for twelve years. It was a major downsize choice after our daughters finished college and moved out to start their lives. It is a pleasant, older home with a big backyard, enough room for us and plenty of storage, room for the RV on the side yard, and in a quiet and stable neighborhood.

Unfortunately, it also has some items in the negative column: being an older home (30 years) it has maintenance and repair issues. The house has two stories which is not a problem now but might become one as we age. The windows are the original ones, meaning they are about as energy efficient as a hole in the wall.

The outside is a type of wood product siding popular three decades ago that requires repainting every 7-10 years (we are there now). While the backyard is pretty and relaxing and great for the dog and grandkids, it takes a fair amount of effort to keep it looking decent. We have replaced many of the plants with low water, low maintenance varieties, but there is still a lot of grass to be cut and watered and sprinkler heads to fix.

Over the past year or so, Betty and I have decided to move in seven years, then two or three, then back to seven, then maybe 13-15.....you see the pattern: indecision. We are motivated to move by the maintenance and cost of an old, energy-wasteful home. We have spent our entire married life (38 years in June), in the suburbs and are bored with that lifestyle. Actually all three of the houses we have called home over the past thirty years in Phoenix and Scottsdale have been inside a 5 mile circle. 

So, our thoughts have turned to a smaller condo/townhome type arrangement, in another part of the Phoenix metro area, in a community with a pool, fitness center, and outdoor maintenance is taken care of by someone else. We would like a place where we could turn things off, lock the door, and be gone in the RV for weeks or months at a time and not worry about our home.

So, there is the situation, - and we remain stuck. Moving is expensive, and involves lots of changes, even if only 20-30 minutes away. We are attracted to a more urban environment, like Tempe. It has an active cultural life, 60,000 students at ASU to bring energy to town, light rail, an excellent bus system, and a different feel than our current neighborhood. It is a bit closer to our kids and my dad, and is only 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix.

But, in our saner moments we say to ourselves, " We are comfortable here. Our friends, church, doctors, and familiar shopping choices are here. Tempe is only 30 minutes away. When we feel the urge we can drive there a lot easier than moving there."

So, here we sit. The house has recovered much of the value it lost during the 2007-8 real estate meltdown in Phoenix. But, what if we finally decide to move (or have to due to health) ten years from now and the market is back down again? We would have left a lot of money on the table. Part of me wants the stimulation that a move brings. The other part says save yourself the hassle.

As of today, neither part is casting a deciding vote.

April 7, 2014

We Now Have A Toad...A What?

No, we didn't get a new pet for our household. No, we didn't put a pond in the backyard, complete with lily pads and a frog.

If you have an RV you know what I am referring to. A toad, also called a towed, or a dinghy, is a vehicle that is pulled behind the motorhome. The freedom of carrying your home and all you need with you is great. It opens up a whole new world of experiences. But, a 25, 30, or 40 foot RV is not designed to easily navigate shopping centers, park on city streets, or find a place to put your "home" while you hike nearby trails and parks. 

Since most RV parks are not within easy walking distance of most of the above, you find yourself stuck at your campground. Or, you are faced with the hassle of unhooking everything and storing it safely away before you can drive the RV to wherever you'd like to explore for the day. Traveling with a dog makes biking to places not very practical, either. 

The answer is to tow a car behind you. Then, when you need to go shopping, want to explore the area, find a hiking trail, visit a museum, or go out for a meal, the RV stays firmly (and safely) hooked up at your campsite. You unhook the car from behind your motorhome and drive to your destination.

Of course, having a vehicle does come with extra costs. A tow bar, brackets installed on the vehicle being towed, and a braking system that helps stop that extra 3-4,000 pounds behind the RV are required. Gas mileage, already poor for an RV, isn't helped any by towing something behind you.

A bigger limitation is what type of car or SUV you want to bring with you. Not many modern automatic transmission  cars can be towed behind you with all four wheels on the road. Most lubrication systems will self destruct if towed that way.

There is another option: use a car dolly where the entire car is off the ground. But, that adds hundreds of extra pounds to the process and is more difficult to store both at home and at the campground. Modification kits can be added to most cars to pump extra lubrication as needed, but if it fails you have just killed your car. A manual transmission is also an easier solution if you have one.

In our case, neither of our cars can be towed behind our RV. So, we did two months of research, shopped online for another few weeks, and finally found what we were looking for: a vehicle that can be towed, was within our budget after trading in one of our current cars, and should make a great second car when we are at home.

Next up will be buying and installing the tow bar, brackets, and auxiliary braking system before we leave in July for our summer-long jaunt. I want to give myself several weeks ahead of time to practice getting familiar with the feel of a car tagging along behind me, and how it affects my ability to turn corners safely.

Of course, if we owned a travel trailer or 5th wheel camper instead of a motorhome there would be no problem. The truck that tows the trailer becomes your drive-around-town vehicle after getting to your campsite. But, we own a self-contained motorhome, so a toad was essential.

Not all toads are green

April 3, 2014

What Is Going On? Is This a Trend?

In case you missed it, Early Retirement Tamara has decided to stop blogging. In fact, the one she posted a few days ago is her last. I love her and husband Mike as friends and have been inspired by their approach to retirement. I don't know many who have their physical energy and desire to continually challenge themselves. I will miss reading of their adventures.

Betty and I will join them for a few days in our RVs in Tucson in a few weeks. But reading her blog posts on a regular basis has been fun. I will miss them.

On the same subject, Barb at Living Richly in Retirement is likely to stop blogging about retirement, too. Go to her most recent post and add your thoughts - she is looking for feedback on what to do next.

Dear friend, Galen Pearl, stopped blogging last fall. I still miss her words but have her as a dear friend for life. Another close friend, Barbara Torris, shifted her blog from strictly retirement to more of a lifestyle approach a year ago.

Two years ago Bill Birnbaum exited the retirement blogging field, too, but not before Betty and I had the chance to share time with Bill and wife, Wendy, for a few days at their home in eastern Oregon.

And, I broadened my focus a bit this year to include subjects that aren't so neatly put in a retirement pigeonhole after feeling I had run out of fresh things to say on such a narrow path.

So, I must ask a question: Is retirement a subject that no longer needs to be written about full time? Has retirement changed so much that it no longer makes sense to blog about it exclusively since each of us develop a unique path through this phase of life - in a sense writing our own story each and every day?

Or, are the recent changes in the retirement blogging landscape simply an example of the inevitable life cycle of everything? For a start there will eventually be an end. New retirement bloggers are out there ready to join our lives.

Is retirement no longer a subject worthy of a full time focus? That does seem to be a legitimate question.