What one man’s wilderness adventure can teach you about retirement

Mike in AK

Some of you know that my wife is from Alaska.  Her dad (pictured above) was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and Alaska was the final posting.  Until my in-law’s recent move to Washington, we would visit the 49th state almost every year.  It is a beautiful place and I highly recommend it, but it can be a very harsh place too.

Alaska often presents you with unusual situations that don’t come up in the Lower 48.  For example, when playing golf and your ball rolls against a freshly killed moose (unfortunately this is a true story), does the rule book say that you should a) Dislodge your ball and take a drop, b) Take a one stroke penalty and hit again from the fairway or c) Pick up your ball and slowly back away to the next hole because you can hear the moose murdering bear huffing angrily just beyond the tree line?  If you said C, you should start making your summer vacation plans now.

I share my connection to Alaska by way of explaining how I came across a book that I read over the holidays.  On Thanksgiving our post-meal conversation somehow meandered to the topic of the Alaska bush and my father-in-law told me about a book called One Man’s Wilderness.  It is the story of Richard Proenneke who, at age 51, decided he had had enough of “electricity” and “indoor plumbing” and moved out to the bush.  Using a few hand tools, a sharp mind and a strong back, he built himself an amazing little cabin, doing everything from felling the trees to carving the door hinges out of tree stumps. (!?!)  While building the cabin, he had to grow/shoot/catch his food, cut his own firewood, and generally be a backwoods superstar.  He lived that lifestyle from age 51 until he decided it was to time to return to civilization at 86.

His retirement was almost certainly more physical than yours and mine will be (hallelujah!), but something he said really struck me.  He talked about how he needed some money to pay the material cost of his time in the bush (he’d have a pilot periodically fly in certain supplies), but more than the monetary price, he learned that the things he wanted to do had a physical price tag.  From his journal:

“After a supper of navy beans, I sat on my threshold and gazed off toward the volcanic mountains…I thought of the sights I had seen.  The price was physical toll.  Money does little good back here.  It could not buy the fit feeling that surged through my arms and shoulders.  It could not buy the feeling of accomplishment.  I had been my own tour guide and my power had been my transportation.  This great big country was my playground, and I could afford the price it demanded.”

I’ll concede that you probably won’t need to hand carve your own cooking utensils in retirement or build a food cache to keep the neighborhood grizzly out of your supplies, but I’ll bet the things you want to do have a physical price tag in addition to their monetary price tag.  And if you’re like most people, you’re saving so you can afford the monetary price of your retirement dreams, but that won’t matter if you can’t afford the physical price tag.

Yes, you might be able to afford the golf membership, the fancy garden tools or the trip to Spain to hike the Camino de Santiago, but if you can’t afford the physical price that those things demand then they are just as out of reach as they are to a person with no savings.

So as we start the New Year, think about your health and how important that is to everything you want to do in life.  What can you do now to start making deposits into your “health” account so it will be adequate to see you through retirement?

And if you want to read Proenneke’s story (which I highly recommend) you can pick up a copy on Amazon over here: One Man’s Wilderness.

~ Joe

 

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