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:
- Coordinate car-drops at appropriate Trailheads, position ourselves for the hike.
- Depart from Wyoming, climbing a total elevation of 4,347 feet to conquer Bliss Pass,
- Enjoy the view from the 9,360-foot Bliss Pass summit, then
- Descend into the valley, and…to close the weekend….
- 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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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!.