The Narrow Path To A Great Retirement

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The Path To A Great Retirement is Narrow.  I discovered that 34 years ago, but I really understood it just last night.

While laying in bed last night, I had a recollection of a long-ago experience.  That recollection led to a realization, which led to this post.  I realized that an adventure I had 3 decades ago was a perfect analogy for my current hike down a Narrow Path To A Great Retirement.

I hope you can learn from my journey.  Who knows,  the story may become an outline for a book (see the P.S. section).

The hike that started it all....A Narrow Path To A Great Retirement Click To Tweet

The Plan was simple:

The year was 1983, and the plan was simple.  Hike 19 miles from Wyoming to Montana in Yellowstone National Park, over the infamous route known as Bliss Pass. Then, celebrate at a big party planned over the weekend at our destination in Cooke City, Montana. The complete details of The Plan are outlined below, for the first time in history:

  1. Coordinate car-drops at appropriate Trailheads, position ourselves for the hike.
  2. Depart from Wyoming, climbing a total elevation of 4,347 feet to conquer Bliss Pass,
  3. Enjoy the view from the 9,360-foot Bliss Pass summit, then
  4. Descend into the valley, and…to close the weekend….
  5. Attend the Beartooth Mountain Rendezvous in Montana to celebrate our success.

It’s amazing to think that 34 years later I would reflect on that hike in my 54th year,  have a “Eureka Moment”, and begin forming this post in my mind.  Turns out, that hike provided the perfect blueprint for The Narrow Path To A Great Retirement.   

34 Years Ago, When I Still Had Hair (that’s me in the blue t-shirt)

The Narrow Path To A Great Retirement

That hike is a perfect analogy and defines a path we would end up following for the next 30+ years on our hike toward an early retirement. The steps we took on that Bliss Pack hike, when “tweaked” slightly as required for our Personal Finance journey up “Mount Retirement”, became an accurate map for our journey along The Narrow Path To A Great Retirement.

Below, I’ll outline the steps on The Bliss Pass hike, and show how they apply to our lifelong hike up Mt. Retirement.

1. The Plan

Like every good adventure, the hike began with The Plan.  Similarly, you can’t make it up Mt. Retirement without first doing some planning.

Bliss Pass:  It was Thursday night, and we were relaxing in the employee lounge after our dinner shift at Yellowstone’s Canyon Lodge.  A group of us from the restaurant decided to attempt the hike over Bliss Pass, and The Plan was born.  The plan was refined over the course of the evening, and in the morning we headed out on our adventure.

Mt. Retirement:  Though I didn’t realize it at the time, The Plan for my hike up Mt. Retirement started on Day 1 of my first “real job” after college, when I signed up for the 401(k) and started automatically saving towards retirement. The plan was refined over the course of my working career, and I’ve made solid progress up the mountain.

2. The Map

Bliss Pass:  As we prepared for our departure, we spent a lot of time studying the map.  We agreed on a distance we all felt was achievable, and we focused on that intimidating 4,347-foot elevation gain.  We pulled out the map numerous times during our hike and watched our progress toward that breath-taking summit.

Mt. Retirement:  As we worked our way down the path of life, we updated our Net Worth every year, and watched as we made progress toward that breath-taking summit.

3. The Narrow Path

Bliss Pass:  Yellowstone National Park encompasses 3,468 square miles of wilderness.  The path over Bliss Pass is only a few feet wide.  Wander off the narrow path, and it’s easy to get lost.  It’s a lot easier to reach your destination if you remain on the proven trail.

Mt. Retirement:  Your life encompasses seemingly endless opportunities to lose your way.  Wander off the narrow path, and it’s easy to get lost. The basic path is simple but narrow.  Spend less than you make, and invest the difference wisely.  The bigger the gap between income and spending, the shorter your hike.  There may be a few variations on the theme, but the basic trail is pretty narrow.  It’s a lot easier to reach your destination if you remain on the proven trail.

4. The Climb

Friends made The Climb more enjoyable

Bliss Pass:  The climb was, at times, almost intolerable.  The Narrow Path inched through mile after mile of steep switchbacks.  Legs burned.  Lungs gasped.  Friends made the marathon more enjoyable.

Mt. Retirement:  The climb was, at times, almost intolerable  The Narrow Path inched through day after day of Life.  Cars had to be purchased, college tuition paid.  Legs burned.  Lungs gasped.  Friends made the marathon more enjoyable.

5. Rest

Sometimes You’ve Just Gotta Take A Break

Bliss Pass:  At times, we had no choice but to take a break.  The body can only endure so much, and there were moments when we all knew it was time to give ourselves some rest.  Take time to enjoy the journey, in many ways it IS the destination.

Mt. Retirement:  At times, we had no choice but to take a break.  Saving for retirement can only go so far, and there were moments when we knew it was time to bring some balance.  Sometimes it’s ok to spring for that High School graduation trip to Hawaii.  Take time to enjoy the journey, in many ways it IS the destination.

6. The View From The Top

The View From Bliss Pass

Bliss Pass:  It’s crazy to view the above photograph, which I took from the summit of Bliss Pass 34 years ago.  I’m pleased that I still have my photo album (remember those?) from my summer in Yellowstone,  and I love the memory of the first view of the Beartooth Mountain Range as we cleared the summit of Bliss Pass.

Mt. Retirement:  For fun, I calculated how many days are between my FIRST and (planned) LAST day of work.  Any guesses?  How about 12,023 days.  Converting that into “Bliss Pass” elevation gain, I’m the equivalent of 4,215 feet up the pass, with only 132 feet left to climb.  I can almost see the summit, and I’m excited about that first view.

I've completed 97% of my working days. Only a few more feet to go until I reach the summit! Click To Tweet

7. The Descent

Bliss Pass:  “Down” is different than “Up”. After many miles of hiking “up”, the trail down from the summit was a welcome relief.  Gravity became our friend and pushed us toward the celebration we were planning at the conclusion of our hike.

Mt. Retirement:  “Down” is different than “Up”. Decumulation is different than Accumulation.   After years of hiking uphill, we’re looking forward to implementing our Retirement Drawdown Strategy, and feeling the push of our passive retirement income as we move toward our celebration.

8. The Celebration

Bliss Pass:  After a brutal hike, the celebration seemed especially rewarding.  The Beartooth Mountain Rendezvous lived up to its billing, and a great time was had by all!

Mt. Retirement:  After a long and toiling career, the celebration will be especially rewarding.  We’re hoping that post-retirement life will live up to its billing, and are looking forward to having a great time celebrating our journey.

9. Be Different

Those logs on the corner were made to be a ladder onto the roof, right? 

Bliss Pass:  How many folks sleep on the ROOF of a hotel?  When you’re a broke college kid, you do what you can to save money!  Yep, it was a fun celebration after a grueling hike.

Mt. Retirement:  Live your own life.  Don’t accept the norms that others may feel are appropriate for your life.  On The Appalachian Trail, a common refrain is to “Hike Your Own Hike”.  Good advice.  Take it.  Then, enjoy a fun celebration after your grueling hike.


Conclusion

It’s interesting to think how a hike from 34 years ago became our guidebook down The Narrow Path To A Great Retirement.  Prepare for your journey, study the maps, and tough it out on that narrow path up those brutal hills of life.  The view from the top is amazing, and the celebration will be worth it!

“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”.  Matthew 7:14


PS – A Book?  The thought for this post came as I was considering writing a book after I retire (no promises, just one of many things on my Retirement Bucket List!).  The memory of the Bliss Pass hike crept into my mind, and I realized it may work as an outline for the “flow” of my book.  I wrote this post as the potential first chapter and can envision subsequent chapters addressing each of the items outlined above.  The “Working Title” for the book?   “The Narrow Path To A Great Retirement”  (trademark rights hereby claimed!).

Please add your comments below.  I’d love your feedback on the idea.  Also, are there other areas I could weave into the hiking analogy?   Who knows, you may just see your comment someday in my book!.

 

 

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52 comments

  1. Fritz;
    You nailed the analogy, I love the story and the pictures!!! Many people like to compare “Climbing Mount Everest” to flipping a business, increasing market share by 2x or 3x or something of that nature. Climbing Mount Everest takes about 2 months, the base camp being at 17,600 and the summit at 29,002 ft much of the climbing time is used to acclimatize. In an Everest climb guides and Sherpa’s are hired for your ease and comfort. As a long distance hiker myself I like your analogy better, hiking a long trail and all the things that come into play. On the Appalachian Trail (2,189 miles over 14 states) the altitude gain / loss is 515,000 FT it takes most people 5 1/2 months to complete it and like you, they carry their own gear / equipment and are responsible for themselves. Likewise the Pacific Crest Trail being 2,665 miles with a gain / loss of 315,000 FT there are no Sherpa’s no one to plan their retirement for them, to be responsible for their success, simply the hikers themselves. For these you need a good plan, however you learn as you go, interacting with others and learning from your mistakes and experiences, you need a good plan B, C, D, E (add the rest of the alphabet as well). A hiker rarely changes from their base gear (likened to the “initial plan”) however may change out pieces and food along the way. Similarly, in working your way to retirement you learn over the years: studying, researching, speaking to others. Along the journey you celebrate each milestone / accomplishment in both scenarios. Yes sir, a great book is in the making, I look forward to reading it, and I’ll buy copies for the kids and grands!!

    1. Written by one with miles and miles of experience, Kirk! I appreciate your insight and support. Amazing that the AT has 200,000 more vertical feet that the PCT – that’s a LOT of climbing! Also, I agree with you that backpacking trips are a better analogy than Mt. Everest-type adventures. Not too many of us have Sherpas to help us on our way to retirement, just a few fellow hikers willing to share some tips along the trail! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. If you wrote a book Fritz, I’d be the first to ask for an autographed copy! Great read today. I love anything having to do with great hikes. Sometimes it’s more fun to read about than execute. That steep stuff with heights sometimes gets me. Thanks for sharing – and wonderful analogy.

  3. “The basic path is simple but narrow” — I couldn’t agree more. Our job is to define the narrow and then keep it simple.

    I’ve often told Mr. Groovy that down is harder than up when hiking. It’s easier to step on loose rock and lose your footing on the way down. Time will tell if it’s the same with decumulation but so far so good (we’re one year in now!)

    Great post, Fritzer.

    1. Good point about “down being harder than up”. I thought about building that in (anyone who has done serious hiking would relate), but decided to keep it out for simplification. Certainly something I could develop if I ever get serious about the book. I can’t believe you’re already 1 year in, amazing how time flies! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. “Sometimes the journey IS the destination”. That one rings true for me, it’s hard to remember that sometimes. What a great way to bring our journey into perspective, thank you for giving us this beautiful analogy! I have a long way to climb before I get to the summit, but it’s already proving to be a great trip as it gives my wife and I something to work toward together.

    1. Captain DIY, It doesn’t matter whether you’re just starting the hike, or nearing the summit. We’re all hiking somewhere along the same trail, and it’s great to be able to help other hikers along the way. I’m glad my reminder to “Enjoy The Journey” hit home with you! It’s important to remember that from time to time during the long trail ahead!

  5. Here is another analogy that is vital to both hiking and living frugally: carry only what you really need, or don’t get bogged down with stuff! Living more simply makes it easy to live in a smaller house, and frees up money!

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Fritz! What a great analogy, and being able to draw from personal experience rather than just generic ideas really drives the point home. I’d definitely be interested in a book should you write one, so keep us posted! Also…. any more pictures from the hike?

    1. Kyle, glad you enjoyed the pics, and the “personal experience” coming through the story! Gotta love it when you include 7 pics in a post and the readers come back asking for more! That’s a GREAT sign that folks appreciate the story, and I appreciate the encouragement! Unfortunately, I shared all of the pics that I have from the hike. Maybe I need to re-hike some of my Yellowstone and Alaska summer hikes after I retire! I think they’d be significantly harder on these aging bones, but I kind of like the idea! Hmmmm….adding to The Bucket List now.

  7. Beautiful pictures! We went to Yellowstone earlier this year and were amazed by the natural beauty! Unfortunately, we never made it to Beartooth Hwy but that’s high on our list for the next visit. Hopefully, a slow travel visit in retirement!
    Looking forward to that book!

    1. Big ERN!! It is, indeed, a beautiful spot. A fact that stuck with me from my summer there – if you drive every road in the park, and look both ways as you drive, you’ll only see 5% of the park! It truly is a national treasure of raw wilderness.

      Too bad you missed the Beartooth Hwy, the most beautiful area around the park, in my humble opinion (Tetons are also “can’t miss”, but much better known that the Beartooth Range). Maybe we’ll meet you out there someday….

  8. I love analogies in general, and this one’s a real winner! But you should have let us try guessing which guy in the picture was Fritz!

    Just one thing to add: Keep a lookout for bears and cougars looking to dine at your expense!

    Oh, and since you write this amazing blog and guide so many people on their journey, you should consider yourself a Retirement Sherpa!

    1. A Retirement Sherpa! LOVE IT!! I may have to trademark that title! “The Retirement Sherpa, trained to get you through the hike and fend off the bears and cougars along your route….”. Hmmmm….

      Btw, see the note under the first pic, I DID say that I was the guy in the blue shirt! I’d NEVER leave my readers guessing! 🙂

  9. Excellent analogy Fritz! And I affirm your book idea if your heart is into it because you’re an excellent writer and story teller. I hope to be telling retirement stories with you soon and look forward to sharing the journey!

    1. Mike, I love how you added “if your heart is into it”. That’s exactly the decision I’ll have to make. I’ve got a long lead-time on this one, and won’t think about it seriously until after I retire. However, your point is spot on, I only want to pursue it if I sincerely feel it as a passion project. Time will tell! Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. If/when you tell your retirement stories, pls reach out and send me a link, would love to see how your view from the summit compares to mine!

  10. Great minds think alike. I was hiking around Laguna Cuicocha with a bunch of Chautauqua folks last week and came to the exact same comparison. Brilliant post and I love the old photos!

    1. I’m SOOO jealous that you were able to attend the Ecuador Chautauqua. THAT has to be an amazing experience with the true legend himself, J.L. Collins! Good for you! Thanks for the kind words about my post, I’m kind of fond of those old pics (and associated memories) as well!

    1. Great suggestion to add something about Emergency Preparation. I LOVE the new Blog Chain that’s forming around the topic, will make a note to add it to my book! (To Do Item to self: Begin a Google Doc file on the book, and the great ideas being generated in these comments!)

  11. I truly enjoyed this post. The path is narrow. It seems to get narrower the further down the path you travel. I honestly love the book idea. One of the best personal finance books in recent years was written by a blogger. I imagine your book would be equally as good.

  12. Awesome analogy, Fritz and that would make a great first chapter for your book! As someone who just did his first backpacking trip a month ago, I get just how hard it can actually be… but that’s part of the fun as well! Congrats on making an awesome memory like that one – the pictures are great too!

    Your point about “Take time to enjoy the journey, in many ways it IS the destination.” is one that always proves to be my struggle. I feel like sometimes I’m racing just to get to the finish line (I’m so close!) and not taking enough time to enjoy the here and now. Trading today’s happiness for tomorrow’s is not the smart way to do it!

    As a side note, I’ve written and published a couple books and have plans for a couple more down the line, so if you have any questions on the process, hit me up via email or at FinCon. It’s an awesome feeling seeing your finished work for others to enjoy!

    — Jim

    1. “I feel sometimes I’m racing just to get to the finishing line” is, indeed, the bain of our existence. Force yourself to Enjoy the Journey, and find a way to enjoy the here and now. I may well take you up on your offer for support on weaving my way through the annals of self-publication. I’m open to suggestions from those who have gone before! I’ll reach out if I decide to pursue the book. Encouraged by the support thus far in the comments. Thx for stopping by!

  13. Very enjoyable read and great analogy. This type of stuff is what you do best! The path is narrow but well known. Many potential gotchas along the way like bears and wolves. You mentioned it and I’ll emphasize it here — critical to have a mate with the same goal and love of journey along the way!

    1. “This type of stuff is what you do best”…thanks for your support, Sidney, learning as I go….. No doubt a strong mate makes the journey more enjoyable. I’m celebrating at 30th wedding anniversary today, and appreciate beyond words all that that means.

  14. I can’t believe you’re that close to the summit – I’m living quite vicariously through you right now Fritz!

    And YES to the book idea – would love to see your thoughts and story come together in printed form. I think it could be a great help and motivation to people!

    1. Gotta admit I was a bit surprised my self when I thought to put it in % terms. Still keeping my nose to the grindstone at work, but thinking a lot more about the view from the summit! Thanks for your support on the book, I’ve no idea at this point if it’s something I’ll pursue but it’s fun to think about.

  15. Wyoming is probably our favorite place to be. Jackson Hole and the Tetons keep calling us back, year after year. Yet I have only seen them in the winter when we make our pilgrimage to the big skiing that is out there.

    The photographs remind me that that area in general is magical all year round, we just have to make a trip to experience it during a season that is not winter. We’ll soon have plenty time to do that….

    1. The Tetons are truly amazing. A bit too popular for my liking, but amazing nonetheless. You definitely have to hit them in the summer, gorgeous place. BTW, my wife and I did a snowmobile vacation in Yellowstone many years ago, certainly a magical place in the winter!

  16. Great analogy. I really enjoyed the breakdown of the journey. It seems a lot of people forget that the journey is an important part of the destination, and that you have to enjoy it as you go!

  17. Great post! I’m of the same age group (53 years) and did a tremendous amount of hiking in the east and New Mexico during that time. Still have my external frame backpack, and I remember those hairstyles and clothes!

    Good way to explain the path to FI. Great story.

    Mr. 39 Months

  18. The book is an awesome idea! I have an idea for one too. Just need to find time to get started! I was reading the comments and saw mine above! The idea of packing only what you need – and not spending (bringing) all the extra stuff! Your pictures remind me of my brother and his backpacking adventures when he was in his late teens/early 20’s!

    1. Thanks for your support of the book idea, Vicki. “Just need to find time” – wow, I can relate to that. Not sure if I want to make the commitment, but thinking about it! Let’s race?

      Good addition about not “bringing extra stuff” – I’ve added it to the Google Doc I’ve started building for the outline of my book!

  19. Oh my gosh – what a COOL analogy and what a cool trip!! Would you say it was a “safe” hike, not too many edges for little kids to fall off of? I would love to do something like this!!

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