How time flies! Reflections on a two-year milestone

Two years ago today I drove to work and walked into my office for the last time. Shortly thereafter, I briefly met with someone in HR, turned in my company ID and laptop, and exited the building, no longer an employee. I’d performed this routine a number of times before at other companies, but this was the first time I’d done so with no new job lined up. I was unemployed – forever, perhaps, leaving my 23-year biotech career behind. This was indeed intentional, as I’d achieved my financial independence (FI) target a year prior, and was now “retiring” early (RE) – starting the next phase of my life. I had no idea what was going to come next but I was really excited about it!

One more year?

As I recently wrote all about, I’ve done a lot in the two years since that day. Taking inventory of what I’ve tried, learned, accomplished, and enjoyed, was a really valuable exercise. I’ve certainly felt busy very often, and looking at that list after writing it reinforced to me why that was the case! This time I’ve had, while often strange, has been incredibly valuable to me. As we recently discussed on an as-yet unaired episode of Two Side of FI, I wouldn’t trade anything for all that I’ve gained by deciding to take this path.

In that conversation, my show partner and great friend Eric asked me a question posed by one of our viewers:

“Knowing what you know now, would you have worked an extra 1-2 years that would allow you to build up additional buffer, such that some of the tougher decisions you’re making now (and stress that goes along with it) would be less of an issue or not at all.”

The spirit of the question was financial in nature, but I spoke to it more broadly. I’ve not yet watched the video recording, so I don’t know precisely how I answered. But I certainly recall the spirit of it as it’s easy: absolutely not. Sure, by continuing to work and banking another year of savings, mathematically one can only feel more secure. In doing so, you’d have more funds in your portfolio, additional cash reserves, etc. Perhaps you could use some of that money to buy something fun for yourself – maybe an RV, like so many retirees enjoy. That’s certainly a possibility too. However, that would have meant trading away my experiences over the last two years. And I’m unwilling to do that.

731 days of learning

Sure, I know what some may be thinking: trips could have been put off to a future date, coursework could have been undertaken at another time, and so on. But many if not most things would surely be different as a result. We can’t merely “cut and paste” the chapters of our lives as if we were writing a document in Microsoft Word. How can I look at the experiences I’ve enjoyed, time with family and friends, the memories I’ve made, and say “sure, if I could rewind the clock I’d do it all differently”, and elect to work another year or two? It’s unfathomable to me.

I’m so incredibly thankful for the experiences I’ve had and the memories I’ve made over these past two years. I’ve learned much along the way, most of it about myself. This time to reflect, and I believe, grow – greatly concentrated due to COVID-19 lockdowns and a lot of time spent at home, has been priceless. All retirees surely must go through this period of introspection and searching given the magnitude and suddenness of this life change. I don’t mean to say that I’m special in this way. Rather, I’m merely noting how much I have valued this time that I’ve had to think hard about my nearly 49 years on this planet, my successes, failures, and everything in between. Not to say that I have it all worked out – far from it! I’m merely getting started, I think, but every journey begins somewhere.

I’ve done and learned a lot in these past two years. In some ways it was very much as expected, but there have been so many more ways in which I was surprised (more on that here). I’m truly enjoying this opportunity to explore new interests, to learn, and grow. If I knew a genie, I wouldn’t choose to change my path to this day. I am truly grateful for the experiences I have had, and for this time with my family. I feel very fortunate and am thankful for all that I have. Here’s to whatever the next two years brings!

I wish you all the best in all things. Thanks for being with me on this journey. 🙏

Unlocking life achievements

I’ve never been a “bucket list” person. I see the appeal of capturing life goals in lists, but I’ve not been someone who has done that to date. On the other hand, I think I’ve always been good about identifying things that I’d like to achieve – particularly in the workplace. Examples of those included gaining certain titles (first Director, later Vice President), leading teams of a certain size, and working internationally. Probably the most relevant life goal in terms of this blog, was my aim to achieve early retirement by age 50 – a date I’d originally set at 55, and then later reduced to 52 and then by 50 years of age.

On my daily morning walk, I found myself thinking about my last blog post, concerning my recent trend of taking long walks/hikes of up to 20 miles. Not being someone who views themselves in the slightest as athletic, these kinds of achievements were not something I foresaw myself targeting in years past. But here I am, feeling really driven to hit these targets and being highly motivated to do so, but without a clear view as to why. These seemed a topic worth exploring, and this article is an initial attempt to start on that process.

In recent events

As of my last article, I’d achieved my first 20-mile walk or “urban hike” if you will. In that case, I walked from my home to a grocery store the next town over, and returned back again in a single day. A week after that, lessons learned in hand, I set out to do it again. This time I had fancy new walking shoes (I’ve always hated spending money on footwear but believe me, I get it now), better socks, and a new route. That day, I ticked off yet another 20-mile walk, this time to a taqueria in a nearby town where I met my wife, Lorri for lunch, then walked home. My second 20-miler was easier, you won’t be surprised to learn. But reflecting on my goal I found I wasn’t done yet either.

I mentioned my interest in backpacking in the earlier post, and this being one of the motivators for me to take on these walking challenges. Discussing this further with Lorri, we decided my next outing should be some kind of multi-day solo adventure. After spending some time with Google Maps – where I plan all my routes (thank you, Street View!), I settled on something to meet this aim. I planned a two-day hike, targeting 17.5 miles on day one and 14.1 miles on day two, for 31.6 miles total. My my start and end points were each a >30 min drive from home, so this route would require a drop-off and pickup (my wife is very gracious), as well as an overnight stay at a motel – one conveniently located near a favorite brewery 🙂

Mission accomplished: but why?

To make a long story short, I achieved my latest goal! -and with two fewer blisters than the three I ended with last time! I think I know how to prevent the one I did get (I’ve done a lot of reading on the topic). So a challenge to address next time, it seems. But otherwise, this was honestly way easier than I’d thought it would be, despite it being the longest two-day hike of my life, and the first of those I’d done since I was at least half my current 48 years. I was also carrying more weight than usual given the overnight stay – about 13 lbs total between water, gear, and clothes. Sure, I was tired, my calves ached, and my feet hurt after the first day. But I was pleasantly surprised how well day two went once I got limbered up and accustomed to walking. The morning Advil assuredly didn’t hurt either, if I’m being honest.

Left image: Stats for day 1. Right image: Same for day 2
(Yes, I’m too lazy to fix the different white balance points!)

But the question I was reflecting on this morning was why this was important to me. To be frank – and I hope it’s not a letdown, I’m not certain I have the answer yet. Yes, part of it does involve an interest in backpacking. I needed to prove to myself that fundamentally, I’m capable of these durations + conditions to even consider longer trips. But that aside, what else is at issue here? Some of it may just be enjoying the idea of setting a challenge and achieving it. That’s a pretty nice rush, right? Doing so via athletic pursuits is rather foreign territory to me, to be truthful with you. I’ve always been pretty quick to give far less than my all to such pursuits so doing otherwise is definitely charting new ground for me.

Merely the latest in a list of items of interest?

I’ve written a lot here about the idea of time freedom. I’ve truly enjoyed this aspect of my current phase of life as much as I’d hoped I would. For me, it’s the best part of this FIRE path so far. But I didn’t go into this period with a long checklist of things I wanted to achieve. True, I did have some things in mind that I wanted to explore, while still others were added as I went. Thinking back over the past nearly two years, that list includes (but is not limited to – see this article for a laundry list!) things like:

That last one is pretty new so I haven’t written about it prior. I’m currently nearing completion of my WSET Level 2 certification in wine, and may proceed to the tougher Level 3 course. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a really fun part-time “job” working one day a week as a Wine Educator in a local area tasting room. I don’t need this certification to do that job competently, though it will make me better at it. Mainly, I just enjoy the content and growing my skills in wine tasting, evaluation, and general education. Perhaps this educational path will lead to something else, but I have no established plan to do so.

And maybe that last point is just it: I enjoy being able to set goals and achieve them at this point in my life, irrespective of whether I “need” to do them or whether I’m certain it will lead to something else of value. Perhaps this is just the “random walking” through interest areas that my YouTube partner in crime and I have discussed on the show before? I suspect this is the most likely explanation, but am not really sure either. I like it as a starting point in any case. If you have any other thoughts, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Lots of questions with few answers

What I don’t have for you, my patient readers, is a tidy way to wrap up this post. I’m not entirely sure why I continue to pursue these goals related to walking long distances. But I’m not losing sleep over that mystery. It’s been fun, educational, and I really enjoy the challenges (and achievement!) associated with it. So what’s next? I’m planning on doing a single-day marathon-length walk soon. It’s pretty exciting gearing up to do these walks, I must say. And maybe that’s also part of it – the pre-work and anticipation about whether I can achieve the next milestone is pretty great!

Lacking better ideas on how to close, I thought I’d share a few of the photos I took with my phone on my most recent journey. These are a great reminder to me that I live in a beautiful part of the world and these walks are a wonderful way to experience the area. I hope you enjoy them. Thanks as always for sharing your time with me! Mahalo 🙏

You are much stronger than you know

A few weeks ago I posted a new short form video to Two Sides of FI, the YouTube channel I produce with my show partner, Eric. These videos are often highlight clips taken from our full-length videos which we share between episodes. This one was a little different. In that video I talked about the idea of spontaneity, something I thought a lot about during a 13-mile walk* I took the day prior. I’m not going to rehash the content of that video, as I think that’s covered well there. I hope you agree. Rather, I’d like to write about the walk itself.

What I didn’t state in the video is that walk was the second-longest I’d done in my life. In fact, the longest was a 14-mile hike in Utah that my wife, Lorri and I did nearly twenty years ago in 2003, when I was in the best shape of my adult life. We basically lived inside the boundaries of Acadia National Park at that time, didn’t yet have a child, and hiked often. So even though 14 miles is a long hike no matter what, it wasn’t too much of a struggle as I recall. This picture seems to support that, as we don’t seem what I would characterize as miserable.

Me and my wife smiling next to the sign at the end of the trail after completing our hike
2003 (Utah): Happy at the end of our fourteen-mile hike

Time for a new challenge

Fast forward to now: I’m closing in on 50 years old faster than I’d prefer, am certainly heavier vs. 2003 though thankfully otherwise in excellent health, and while I still walk and hike at least five days a week, most of my excursions are around three miles long with occasional hikes of 4-6 miles. I’m still good to go on trails marked as Moderate intensity, but a longer Strenuous graded hike on a hot day will definitely kick my ass. But I can get it done. But it’s certainly been a very long time since I hiked more than 7-8 miles in one go.

So honestly, for me it was kind of a big deal that last month with almost no advance thought, I decided to walk out my door and not stop for more than 13 miles until I arrived two towns down the road at my targeted lunchtime stop. The reason I gave Lorri for undertaking this endeavor was my interest in doing some backpacking, and needing to see what my endurance was like these days. But if I’m being honest, the main reason I undertook that challenge was simply to see if I could do it. It turned out that I could!

I was really happy with that achievement, which was the equivalent of walking a half-marathon. But I knew I was capable of more. I hadn’t fallen apart after more than 13 miles of walking and honestly didn’t feel too bad the next day either. So yesterday I decided I had more tests I wanted to take on. My family was going to be busy with other things, so the timing was great. After considering a few route options, I set out to walk to a grocery store in the next town. Taking a longer route on back roads through vineyards and ranches, it would be about ten miles to get there. Depending on how I felt at that point, I’d either take a more direct route home for 17.5 miles total, or what I really wanted to do: reverse my earlier route for a total of 20 miles.

Raising the bar + going for it

Completing either option would have been a huge achievement for me, and the longest hike/walk I’d ever done at either 25% or 43% longer compared with the Utah hike I described above. The first ten miles went fine and then I grabbed a quick lunch. After sitting for 20 minutes to rest and eat, I set out again. After a little deliberation, I decided I just had to go for 20 miles. What was the risk? Even if I couldn’t make it back I could always call for a ride. I felt pretty confident that I could make it though. If I’m being honest, I kinda knew it, and would regret choosing the shorter walk home had I done it.

That confidence aside, I was pleasantly surprised how well it went. Yes, my split times got a lot worse in the back half of the walk. My usual ~19-20 min walking pace slowed quite a bit to yield the average shown above. It was a hot day, and my hips, feet, and legs were definitely tired. Listening to music helped, particularly some more aggressive industrial + metal for when I started dragging. So I soldiered on, drinking water from my trusty CamelBak all the while, and got through it. I took a pit stop before the last two miles and grabbed a cold drink at a store, as the now-tepid water I was carrying wasn’t gonna get me to my goal. Once I got back to my neighborhood I did an extra lap around the block to ensure I hit my target: 20 miles. I had done it!

My daughter was really surprised (and sounded a bit concerned) when I told her how long I’d walked. Teens aren’t great at measuring the passage of time so I’m not sure she realized I had been gone for eight hours and walking for nearly all of that. My response to her amazement was pretty simple: “You are stronger than you realize.” I’ve always believed that’s true, though I’ve not often considered athletic achievements when saying that to myself. I was, after all, one of the kids always picked last for teams in gym class. Always. So choosing something so sporty to test myself with was kind of a big deal.

I think it’s important to remind ourselves of just how much we are capable, and that’s the core lesson I took from this experience. Perhaps we don’t always need such tests to do that, but they can be a pretty helpful tool to prove it to our ever-doubting brains. I do know that until recently, I wouldn’t have conceived of taking this on, nor made the time to do it if the idea had crossed my mind. “Giving up” a whole day for a walk like this is certainly a good example of the power that time freedom really offers, and why I consider this the greatest benefit of my early “retirement”.

What tests have you intentionally or by circumstance undertaken, proving to yourself just how strong you are? I suspect anyone reading this has great examples of the same. You are all stronger than you may know. I wish you all the best.


*when all my time moving is spent on paved or unpaved roads or on the shoulders of the same, I term these excursions as “walks” – no matter how rural they might be. This is in contrast to hikes, which for me indicates that I’m traveling on trails, navigating irregular terrain, etc. In the end they can both have lots of elevation change and range from Easy to Strenuous grade, and are definitely both exercise, but I choose to differentiate the way I use the terms. 🤷‍♂️