What To Do When “Plan A” Breaks

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Courage to continue

Several of you have asked about my friend, Kirk.  You may recall this article he wrote about his early retirement and his plan to hike The Pacific Crest Trail (2650 miles from Mexico to Canada) this summer.  He launched, as planned, on April 22 with the goal of reaching Canada in September.

His Plan Failed.

Now 7 months into retirement, he’s had to face the reality that sometimes our plans don’t work out the way we thought they would.  He’s recovered, and has a valuable lesson for all of us on the value of being prepared with a “Plan B”.

Here’s his story.

Kirk Mile 1

“Plan A” Breaks…..Hard

In early May 2016, I was 6 months into my early retirement,  and 400 miles into a 2,600 mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail.  Then, the unexpected happened.

“Plan A” broke.  Hard.

And my Plan B doesn’t exist!

My Original “Plan A”

I had worked so diligently for so long at paying off all my debt and building a comfortable investment portfolio, to enable me to retire early, that I may have missed a few critical things along the way in preparation for my early retirement.  I am a Plan A-type of person, always insuring that I have a ton of activities (huge lists) to accomplish over the next 30 years.   My style is one of focus and completion – one thing at a time, I guess.  This served me well in my work years, very well actually.  However, I am seeing that in the retirement world this may be a bit of a problem area that I need to work on.  Perhaps a bit more flexibility and versatility is needed in my regiment?  Here is my story:

The Appalachian Trail

I was fortunate to be granted a sabbatical (of sorts) in 2013 to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), a foot path that runs through 14 states from GA to ME and covers 2,189 miles.  While a difficult task it reignited a love for the outdoors which I had held since a child growing up in a very small town in Western NY.  It also encouraged me to continue my dream of seeing the US in a very different way.AT

Much like Fritz, I was blessed to have traveled extensively during my working years and even lived in Europe for 6 years.  My desire was to now see the US by foot, if possible (or bike) and really experience our country. “Soak it in”, if you will.  This would include hiking the 3 long trails in the US, and thus completing the “Triple Crown” of hiking in the process.

The Pacific Crest Trail

The AT was complete and I was now on to the 2nd trail – The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) running from Mexico to Canada roughly 2,600 miles through 3 states.  I started the adventure on April 22 at the Mexican border and at just 3 weeks I had already completed 400 miles.  The trail was absolutely wonderful and my body was adjusting to the daily activity, or so I thought.

Kirk PCT2

Just past the 300 mile mark my foot started to hurt more than normal and the swelling would not completely go away in the evenings.  Just past the 400 mile point I was able to get a ride into town, and a few hours later would learn that a bone in my right foot had broken.  I was fitted with a (anything but hiking) boot to help heal the break.

image

The Doctor in the critical care unit said I would be out of the boot in just 6 weeks.  I calculated it all out again and decided I could make it to Canada before the snow fell if I started promptly on the 6 week mark and crunched out a few more miles per day than I had originally planned.

I was all set.  Or so I thought…..

What To Do If Plan A Fails, And You Don't Have Plan B Click To Tweet

I came home for recuperation and adhered strictly to what the doctor told me to do.  After 5 weeks I went in to see my Orthopedic Doctor and was told there was no way I would be able to complete the PCT in 2016.  I was not prepared for that news, and it crushed me to the core.  I didn’t really have a Plan B – not really, and I was adrift in a sea of What The Heck …

Next Steps:  Developing Plan B

After throwing myself a World Class pity party, and licking my wounds for a couple weeks, I revisited the list of things I wanted to do while I was still physically able.  After all, that’s why I retired early wasn’t it?  So I set to work on creating a “Plan B” for 2016.

Yes, I will return to the PCT in 2017, that’s what people like me do, but let’s figure out what the rest of this year looks like. Some of the items would still have to wait as I wanted to do them later, such as take the Alaska Ferry from Bellingham WA to the Dutch Harbor.  However, there were still activities that were not as physically demanding as five straight months on a trail that could be brought forward.  How about visiting and hiking some of the National Parks?   I want to visit and experience them all eventually, so a 4+ week road trip seems like a great way to get us started.  The ones we’re initially targeting are all in a general area: Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

My wife and I decided to build a road trip in which we would be able to see friends and family along the way and see these wonderful sites. Things started to look up.  I also decided to complete the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) this year, as I hiked the first 150 miles in 2015.  This would be completed near the end of August, so cooler and beautiful weather should prevail.  I may even do some trout fishing through the Smoky Mountains which the BMT passes through. Finally, and probably one of the things I should have done while I was working, was to join a few groups in “Meetup” where like-minded people from my area gathered to hike, kayak and do all sorts of other adventures.

Lessons Learned

In retrospect, what would I have done differently?

  1. Embrace that retirement affords me flexibility in my plans that I did not have when I was on a work schedule.
  2. Had a better realization that only roughly 30% of the people who start a thru-hike of the PCT actually complete and it was possible that I would be one of the 70% who didn’t.
  3. While still working I would have built a more “flushed out” bucket list. Many of my activities are aligned by physical ability.  For example, when I can no longer backpack for weeks on end, I’ll get an RV and continue on.  My bucket list is heavily loaded to the front 5 – 10 years.

As this is a financial blog some updates on that front as well.

  1. My wife and I decided almost 3 years ago now, that we would live off from what we would in retirement and save the majority of my salary while I was still working. I am happy to report that plan is working very well.  We have been under budget every month of our retirement (all 6 of them) with absolutely no issues.
  2. You may wonder, what does hiking one of these long trails cost? After you have your initial gear, we budget $1,000 a month.  This includes travel, food, lodging, and replacement gear as needed.  I should say however travel, food and lodging are NOT what you would experience while you were working.
  3. We also have an “adventure account” where we stashed some funds for my backpacking trips, National Park trips, White Water trips, Alaska adventure etc. that we intend to deplete over the next 3 – 5 years. While our monthly budget covers all of our condo weeks and regular daily adventures.

I hope you found this interesting and helpful.  Good luck in your retirement – Kirk and Mona

What About You?

Fritz here, with some closing thoughts on Kirk’s guest post.  Having been close with him for years, it’s been interesting to watch him prepare for, enter, and adjust to retirement.  Since I’m still in the “prepare for” mode, I view his journey as a player views his coach.  He’s been there, and he’s teaching me how to be a better player.  Hopefully his article has been a teaching lesson to you on the importance of realizing your plans in retirement will change, and it’s good to put some thought into “Plan B’s” prior to your retirement.

I encourage you to leave a comment encouraging our friend, Kirk, or providing any insights you’ve learned from your own transition into retirement.

In closing, if any of you have interesting stories about your retirement experience, I’d be happy to consider a guest post.  Just send me an email at fritz@TheRetirementManifesto.com, I’ll have a look at any draft guest posts and share it with my readers if I think it’ll be of interest.  Thanks for your loyalty to The Retirement Manifesto!

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17 comments

  1. Hey Fritz, thanks for sharing this.
    Kirk, I’m so glad you were reasonable and flexible. Others in your position might not have taken no for an answer. It sounds like you broke the bone without knowing exactly how it happened. Do you change your preparation in the future? Different boots? Fewer miles?

    As Fritz knows, my husband and I are right on retirement’s doorstep. We’re quitting our jobs in October. We, too, want to load the front end with travel, especially international, which would be more difficult as we get older. But we also want to see all 50 states and we’re about half way there. So I think we can always create a backup plan.

    Good luck with the BMT. I hope you come back and post photos.

    1. Hi Mrs Groovy: my the world is small!! I listened to a pod cast recently where Mr Groovy told of your story and move to retirement, congratulations!

      As for the changes to boots, I actually used a different pair on this hike than what I normally wear taking advice from those who went before me. It just didn’t work out and I should have changed them back to my trusted ” Vasque” boots. I won’t make that mistake again. The mileage was easy enough as Fritz helped me with my workout plan and I stared at 15 miles a day for 2 weeks (that’s a low mileage day for a hiker) and was just doing roughly 20 miles per day when the foot broke and would expect to do roughly 30 mile days later in the hike.

      I am excited about our Backup Plan, it’ll work out well. Hope you and Mr Groovy enjoy your journey. I look forward to hearing about your adventures. Congratulations

    2. Mrs. Groovy, having spent time talking with both of you, I think you and Kirk would get along well. You’re both at similar stages in a comparable journey, Kirk’s just a few months ahead of you! Great how folks can learn from each other in the blogosphere, thanks for your involvement with my site!

  2. Thx for sharing this story. It seems very important to hav a felxible plan in retirement. The bucket list would need to cover different things. A lot can happen. I will try to have close to home activities as well as long lasting travel plans. plan for the long distance travel would be to see Belgium and Europe in great detail via slow travel.

    Godd luck with all your trails

  3. Kirk,
    Liked reading your retirement plan to confirm my past 8 years of retirement have been a combo of plan A, B ,C ….Keep on keeping on!

    1. Barb: you are remarkable and the “best trail angel”. I continue to learn from you everytime we meet. Thank you for all your help and encouragement while I chase my dreams.

  4. Kirk,

    Thank you for sharing your PCT adventure here and on your Facebook page. I feel your pain brother. I did something similar but on a much smaller scale when I decided to buy Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking shoes for an upcoming Oklahoma backpacking trip based on reading reviews. Bad idea. After about two months of training for the trip I developed severe ball of foot pains in both feet that is still slowing me down. I guess it was better to discover this now before going on my hiking trip this fall. So, I understand your frustration when your hiking shoes let you down. My Plan B will always include a pair of hiking shoes (and insoles) that I’ve proven fit my feet. In my case ASICS. I’ve run marathons and hiked many miles in my trusted ASICS.

    If you don’t mind sharing, is your retirement accounts mainly in index funds or individual dividend stocks or a mixture of both?

    Happy trails,
    Brandon

    1. Hi Brandon:
      Thank you for the note and for “feeling my pain”. You hit it right on, they were Merrells and I agree – I’ll always stay with what have proven to work for here forward as it comes to my feet.

      As for our investment portfolio, I don’t mind saying its roughly 70% individual stocks and 30% index funds. I am not nearly as competent in the investment arena as Fritz so I use an investment advisor (have been with Bobby over 15 years) and his advice and help has been exceptional.

  5. Kirk – I was saddened to hear you couldn’t complete the PCT this year, but I have faith you will conquer the trail eventually. We are almost 3 months into our retirement and as is often said I don’t know how I had time to work before. I found Meetup a few months before retiring and have found a few local groups we like to join including a hiking group. I’m nowhere near the level of hiker you are but we do enjoy our day hikes. We’ve also found volunteering to be really fulfilling. We help at a wildlife animal hospital and the local zoo. A half day a week at each facility keeps us engaged with others and helping animals we normally would never get so close to. We’ve also spent more time with friends and family than ever before. It’s so much more relaxing to have the kids come visit from California and not have to worry about working most of the time they’re here. We are just now starting to plan some of our bigger adventures and will start doing more of the long distance travel starting the end of this year. Like you we’ve stayed within our budget (even with spoiling the kids during their visit) and managed to find some ways to reduce our expenses. I wish you and Mona well as you explore the Plans B, C, etc. and look forward to hearing when you restart the PCT.

    1. Bert:
      Volunteering at a wildlife hospital and zoo is an excellent idea, I will most certainly check into that one. Thank you!! I could not agree more, the time spent with family and friends has been an added benefit that I didn’t anticipate and in ways that I could never take advantage of before. We are blessed to have the kids and grands live close, who knew how cool a “play date” with the grands and their mom’s would be? Also good to hear of your success with “Meetup” groups, I have my first hike with 5 people this weekend and am really looking forward to it. Thanks again for the helpful hints, and I am sure Fritz will let me sneak in another post next year when I am on the PCT.

  6. Great story Kirk, and well told. I kept myself asking how your non existing plan B would turn out.

    Your story reminded me that I don’t even have a bucket list for my retirement. Perhaps that’s because my lifestyle is rather unconventional. I work from home which enabled me to realise my childhood dream of moving to a tropical country. I chose Nicaragua for various reasons and haven’t regretted it.

    Wishing you lots of fun and adventures for your future hikes and other activities.

    1. Margit:
      How exciting for you to realize your childhood dream so early, and to work from home is also a blessing. While I was the HR leader for an international company I had the good fortune of being responsible for Latin America for a while. What a great place and I hope one day to travel to Nicaragua.

      All the very best to you

  7. I’m so sorry you broke a bone! We did part of the AT during college and had planned to do it for a week based on the excellent forecast and the length of our Spring Break. Then it began snowing on the second day, and would not stop for over 40 hours. By hour 36 (and the last of our ability to make fire), one of our parents picked us up early at a checkpoint and we thawed out in their living room for the rest of our break. A convenient, if very different, Plan B. I hope that you are able to adjust your joy to the capabilities of your body and your time. Walking for hundreds of miles is a rare joy, and you’ve already seen so much. I hope these blessings continue for you.

  8. Great article We were so enjoying your adventure but remember there is always another adventure just around the corner, might not be hiking or your first choice, but it will take you where God wants you to be.

  9. Lean start ups recommend failing fast and figuring out the next plan just as fast. I guess you are in essence your own start up. Rv’ing sounds awesome and definitely not a bad plan b. Also day hikes with the wife in some of our national parks seems like a great way to spend retirement. Keep at it. I am sure it will be a heck of a ride.

    1. Ironic that you commented on this today, “Dad”. The author just sent me a text, we’re going to have dinner together tomorrow night to catch up! He did another ~1,000 miles on the PCT this summer, then blew out his knee. He just came home last week, I’m looking forward to seeing him!

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