Don’t Mistake Our Radio Silence for Inaction

​We apologize for the weeks of quiet on the blog-front but this muted blog time should not be confused for behind-the-scenes inaction. Quite to the contrary since there are times when the lists, the chores and the brain-power that it takes to keep all of the details, large and small, from overwhelming us have been considerable. Sometimes it feels like we are working on an ice sculpture, trying to carve away little tiny (and some larger) pieces in a way that is fluid, logical and intelligent while racing toward the time when the ice will melt, leaving us to try to remember if we did something or already or whether it remains on the “to do” list. (This is a problem with having lists on too many devices).

​The past weeks have been active, mostly orineted toward gear and people. The people part we have described before; this is our time to make sure that spend as much time as we can with the people who we hold dear. For us, this has changed our social pace, which is generally fairly languid, into a flow that is more outward-focused and scheduled. At other points in our lives, this may have left too little “down time,” as both Roque and I are people who like the time to recharge our batteries in a somewhat more solitary way but with the recognition that the clock is ticking down toward our swiftly-approaching date of departure, we have been spending more time with friends and family. Between the social time with others, the shopping and organizing time, there hasn’t been as much time for writing. And sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be that much important stuff to write about or exciting photos or discoveries to share. We know that will all change pretty soon.

​We are now approaching our 45-ish final work days before retirement – the last day of work, which we thought we might never see – is October 28 with an official retirement date of November 1. Our fabulous friends are planning a send-off in early November and our family is planning a Thanksgiving event that will celebrate the holiday and provide a bon voyage for us at the same time. Our piles of gear are growing and our Amazon-wish list (my handy way to keep our running list of things still to be acquired) are slowly shrinking. (Goal Zero and cables? Check. Microfiber towels? Still need. Delorme Satellite messenger? Check. 3 emergency road triangles (needed for entry into several countries)? Still on list. You get the idea.)

Many of our thoughts are on “last times” such as “this is the last August that we will spend in DC” and “this is the last birthday celebration that we will have in this house” and things that are not rueful as much as they are intended to have us focus on the moment and celebrate the richness of our lives here. And as we continue the planning for crossing off many places in this country from our bucket list, we also keep a smaller list of things that we want to still experience in DC such as certain restaurants (Rose’s Luxury and Little Serow) and a visit to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open on September 24.

​My mood is mostly excited with a generous sprinkling of apprehension mixed in. We are on track in all major ways with our planning and completing the goals we established before we left. We have plenty of time, once work is completed, to pack up the house and dispose of our household. We have programmed our finances, have scheduled donations of furniture and have allowed for paperwork to be completed on time so all is positive. The worry, if it can be called that, is simply of the unknown ahead. Can we slow down the pace and how long will that take? Will be have sufficient creature comforts along the way to permit months of camping not to get the best of us? Will we be able to take advantage of moving with the seasons so that our camping weather will be kinder to us than this summer has been to us in DC? How will we have our prescriptions renewed without flying home to see our doctors? Will we have enough energy stored in our battery to run our electrical needs when boondocked? Will we feel too scheduled or too unscheduled?  

​I’m big on asking these kinds of questions; my husband, who is always the voice of calm and reason, calms the nerves by hearkening back to an experience that lends insight into how we will behave in the future, or cautions me against worrying about things that I cannot control (yup, still working on that one). The balance between us always gives us both the needed “let’s see how it unfolds” attitude applied against the list-making and the borderline overthinking that usually yields awesome results. My head knows this and my heart will follow. I just need more practice. As usual.

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Lessons Learned – Part 1

DC SW Waterfront
12th Annual DC Jazz Festival at the Yards – Southwest Waterfront

Double Digits

As we count down the remaining workdays before we retire and begin the final preparation for leaving DC on our road trip, Roque was happy to report to me that we are now in “double digits,” having crossed the threshold from 100+ remaining days to “double digits.”  As we begin the process of crossing off the days remaining in our work lives here, the trip, end of work, and relocation plans are starting to feel real.  It is both energizing, exciting and scary.

Reality kicks in at various times.  Years of thinking, planning, researching and list making are starting to coalesce at unpredictable moments. For instance, we have begun to collect (i.e, purchase) a number of items on our gear list and having satellite messaging device, solar powered generator/inverter, 100 watt solar panel and the necessary cables, etc. makes us anxious to get out and test drive the solar set-up. (Wow – this is starting to feel like it’s really going to happen!)  The storage boxes that will carry our belongings for our new life in Panama are resting comfortably in the garage, awaiting the clothes, kitchen and general household items to be packed for the long haul overland from DC to Panama. The cap for the truck bed is ordered and it looks like our space planning is on target – space for the storage boxes, camp kitchen, camping gear and more appears to be sufficient and we are excited about our belief that we appear to have enough space to carry extra tents and gear with us — as backup and to accommodate friends and family members who may want to meet up with us along the way to camp.

I am particularly proud of the efforts that we have made toward reaching our financial goals before we leave, thanks to the expert budgeting and planning that is the particular specialty of Roque.  Similarly, I am proud to see the fruition of my research related to gear starting to come together.  When folks ask us questions about a variety of subjects having to do with the trip planning, retirement issues, financial planning, gear or whatever, we nearly always have an answer and having at least an answer makes me smile with the realization that we have thought through many, many things.  In other words, this is no fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants operation.

Lesson #1: Don’t Let Opportunities Pass When You Can Reasonably Accommodate Them.

As reality kicks in, so is the realization that we are approaching the “last” times when we can do or participate in certain things here and this heightened awareness has made us acutely aware of grabbing the gusto while we can.  For us, this has meant paying a lot of attention to the bounty of things to which we have access in the metro DC area: exhibits, festivals, museums, events, restaurants, friends and family among them.  The DC Jazz festival, now in its 12th year, did not pass this year with an after-the-fact realization that we missed it (again).  This year, we attended no fewer than 4 free events and one ticketed event – at wonderful places such as the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, Kennedy Center, the Phillips Collection and at the DC Southwest Waterfront among them. Nary has a weekend passed without visits with family members and/or friends, a bike ride and a wonderful meal. We have been swimming, have steamed crabs 2 times so far this season, have visited local National parks as first-timers, and have even found time to attend to the tasks of preparing for our trip.  It’s June 22  — the second day of summer — and we are feeling that we have made excellent progress in terms of trip prep without sacrificing time to engage in local events and visit with the people we cherish.

Carrying Lesson #1 Forward

As my mind bounces back and forth between work, daily tasks, research and planning — oftentimes with the speed and seeming lack of coherent theme that makes me look like a gnat alighting from place to place – I toss things at Roque that must make him feel like he needs a map to help him navigate from one thought to the next.  Last week, as I was considering our loose itinerary for the umpteenth time, I realized that we would be headed from Florida westward at a time when we needed to be mindful of Mardi Gras and the challenges attendant to being in or around New Orleans at that time of year.  Roque immediately seized on this opportunity and declared that since neither of us had ever attended Mardi Gras, this would be the PERFECT time to do so.  While each of us been to New Orleans on multiple times, why not join the craziness next year?  Having carefully curated hotel points over the past couple of planning years, saving them for just this kind of occasion, we have now booked a free hotel suite in the CBD for several days overlapping Mardi Gras.  Carpe diem.

Reflecting on Lesson #1 leads me to Lesson #2, or perhaps better expressed as Lesson #1.1: Practice Lesson #1.  Simply repeating the mantra of Lesson #1 – Don’t let opportunities pass when you can reasonably accommodate them – is something that I need to practice, over and over.  I have found that this is easy for me do when we are on the road and pass a sign that says “This Spectacular Thing is Up Ahead at Exit 3.”  We’ve taken many a detour based on signs along the way or schedules of events that we stumble across as we are exploring an area. But I need more training and practice when it comes to actually seeing opportunities when they come my way.  Shifting paradigms will be an ongoing exercise for me. When traffic or crowds or expense trigger an avoidance reflex in me, it is likely that I will have to find ways to reassess, while traveling with no fixed schedule, whether these are the “big deals” that they are to us now.  When time is always at a premium, I usually try to take the fastest routes home, make lists of errands that are methodical and avoid doubling back, and practice efficiency in everything I do.  After years of practicing economy and efficiency, it is undoubtedly going to take a lot of practice to start slowing down enough to see opportunity when it presents itself.

I’m not daunted by this because, among other things, I have a life partner who is great at slowing down, reminding me that we are in no hurry, and is always willing to take a road less traveled if it means seeing things that we might not see otherwise.  I look forward to the practice.  And the opportunities.

Six Months and Counting – Those Who Have Inspired Us

Have I Told You About My Friend Holly Carter?

While I have discussed a little about our decision to expatriate to Panama, I have been remiss in only giving a small mention to the significant influence that Holly Carter and her blog, Let The Adventure Begin!,  had upon our early research and decision-making. Today, I read Holy’s blog post, celebrating their 3rd anniversary of their move to Panama, and I reflected, AGAIN, on the friends we have and the friends will WILL have.

Yesterday, Roque and I hosted a party ringing in the unofficial beginning of summer here in the Mid-Atlantic region. As we begin counting down our last 6 months (+/-) in DC before we head out on our road trip, we have decided to make sure to see and spend as much time as possible with friends and family here before we depart. It was a great time, filled with lots of conversation about our itinerary, gathering hints from those gathered about places to see and full of discussions about how many will travel vicariously as we crisscross the US and parts of Western Canada before heading south. Continue reading “Six Months and Counting – Those Who Have Inspired Us”

Trip Map North – Round 2

Not satisfied with being able to display only a very limited portion of the planned drive from DC through the US and Canada, I continued to work on it and this map shows the whole US-Canadian part of our trip.  (Regrettably, the Google My Maps layers showing segments of the driving will not allow for any more points than 10 and so the planned way points show only as A-J and then restart.)  When enlarged, the map shows the driving plan (as of the moment).  What the map does not show is the ferry route from Anchorage to Juneau and then to Bellingham, WA – on the Alaska Maritime Highway system – that was too much for poor Google maps but which your imagination can complete.

While we are traveling without fixed time limits, we know that we need to get to the US-Canadian border for the travel to Alaska by July, at the latest, and our goal is to be in Vancouver by Labor Day (or thereabouts).  Depending on when we depart, we will be covering the first part of the US (DC to Montana) in about 5-6 months.  On the southern part of the journey, where we will be visiting a large number of the US National Parks on our list, we will have no time constraints and, with luck, will be visiting after schools start and the heaviest of the tourist travel season is past.  If things work out as we hope, it will make for a wonderful fall season of travel through the West and Southwestern parts of the US and perhaps an early winter entry into Mexico.

This blog started when we were 188 working days away from our retirement date; we are now nearing the halfway mark between then and the “end” and things are starting to get real.  We are planning our packing (and revising the list over and over), purging the house of things (thanks to great advice from other Pan American travelers who advised to do this gradually), purchasing gear for the journey (last weekend, a Delorme inReach Explorer – a satellite messaging device), and trying to take advantage of time with friends and family here.

Trip Plan – Part I

One of the most challenging things for me has been trying to work on aspects of the blog BEFORE we leave on the trip. Road mapping? No problem. Making endless lists? No problem. Sorting through belongings in garage and itemizing for donations?  No problem.  This embedding of maps and way points – well, let’s just say that for me, it’s more difficult than mastering phyllo dough or organizing a party for 100 . . .

I have learned how to use Google My Maps to create layers and to show the way points planned for the trip – I even got as far as showing the driving route from DC to Anchorage. But alas, THAT map won’t embed in this blog, as far as I can tell (at least as of this moment). So today’s experiment is with embedding a map – next task is to learn how to embed a map with ALL of our planned way points and not just a portion of a trip.

Plain ol’ Google Maps will allow for a certain number of points to be shown on a driving map and this is what is displayed below.  As I experiment, be patient.  I continue to learn, whether about solar energy, satellite messaging devices, bull bars or bug net hats for Alaska.  Behold the result of some of today’s lessons.

What’s your lodestar?

northstar

The convergence of a theme emerged last week in ways too coincidental to ignore.  Alternatively, it’s completely possible that once a seed is planted, you begin to see it grow in many aspects of your life and is less coincidence than thematic, if only for a short time. Regardless, at dinner with close friends, the upcoming road trip was discussed when one friend offered that she was envious of our plans to drive to Alaska and then to Panama, reflecting that she was happy to envision more time with grandchildren and lead the relatively quiet life she leads but believing that she “should” want more travel and exploration as part of her future.

Justice, Equity and Dignity

Later in the week, due to circumstances too tangential to this blog to mention here, Roque shared with me that he has led his life according to three principals: justice, equity and dignity.  With all of the time that we have spent together, and with the myriad conversations and topics we have discussed, it seemed somewhat remarkable that Roque never shared this before with me – at least, in this particular way.  If you knew Roque, it would be no surprise to  hear him articulate these specific principals since he walks the talk in every fiber of his being.  What was most intriguing to me about his articulation was how much this resonated with me in connection with the earlier “should” conversation when my friend mentioned her envy about the trip that Roque and I are planning.

Discarding the “Shoulds”

To me, among the most important aspects of our impending retirement and road trip, including the plan to expatriate to Panama, is that we have largely discarded the “should” from our thinking and focused on our lodestars.  And while Roque’s principals of justice, equity and dignity may seem somewhat disconnected from the concept of “should” or, frankly, expatriating to Panama via an overland adventure, they struck a chord with me by how important it is to be guided by an internal compass and how retirement, if not before, is a perfect time to discard the “shoulds.”

Roque’s guiding principals suggest an outward approach to those who he has sought to serve but they can and, of course, are, his internal guideposts as well.  I might choose different words or, even, different principals.  But whatever they are, they have guided me in all that I do and all that I am, much as they do for everyone else.  My connection with Roque, his with me, and with the people who are dear and important to us, are cemented by our lodestars and the power of those connections are, I believe, stronger or weaker depending upon how closely our lodestars match with others in our lives.  I see this in nearly every interaction I have and it helps me to understand why I feel the powerful connections to near-strangers and, sometimes, the distance I have with close relatives and co-workers with whom I spent enormous periods of time.

Alongside these principals, however, at least for me, has always been the “should.” The “should” has often competed with my internal lodestars and, perhaps embarrassingly, has sometimes taken over – not to the compromise of any of those principals I hold dear – but certainly when it comes to being true to myself.

With my friends who have apologized for how long it’s been since we saw each other, I have always said that no apology is necessary, further noting that the way that we spend our lives is often the best snapshot on what we truly value the most. Whether it is family, career, leisure activities or nothing at all, I think that we might benefit by paying more attention to the things that actually drive us rather than some sense of “should” coming from external sources.

Whether the “shoulds” come to us because of our birth order, or because we are products of our generation, or due to our gender, it is worth reminding ourselves that whatever leads us internally requires no apologies.  I say this, in part, with the hope that if I repeat this mantra often enough, I will believe it more fervently with every reciting.  If Roque and I followed our “shoulds,” it likely would not have resulted in a decision to expatriate or to overland to Alaska and Panama. Roque has admonished me from time to time that what I characterize as “selfishness” is more self-focus.  That resonates for me, even if I am still trying it on for size, since self-focus requires serious inward attention to those things that drive me and fulfill my soul.

Whether one prefers the company of grandchildren, or the excitement of the unseen road, or the peace of time at home with family and friends, we should listen carefully to our inner voices and substitute the compelling driving forces within for those things that we allow to influence our considered and careful pursuits.

Roque and I are unsure how it will feel to be on the road, away from familiar things and the people who are the cornerstones of our footing. But for us, this feels like the right thing to do. If it does not evolve into what we are hoping for, we can always turn back.  For those who are not so impelled, I offer this blog to travel virtually with us.

Sometimes, being sidetracked is still forward motion

Visiting and Visits

I figured that after 24+ days since the last post, as I sit here by myself, listening to tunes from my youth (Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” album) at a volume not conducive to conversation, it feels like a good time to reflect on those 24 days and share thoughts about them.

Shortly after writing about the “Spot,” and putting pen to paper about how much we still don’t know about gear and readiness for the long road trip ahead, Roque and I headed off for a trip to Guadeloupe for a little birthday-celebrating R&R. The island was perfect – beautiful, warm and friendly, with food that tasted like we were dining in Paris. With this vacation, we returned to our early days of traveling, where our trips were mostly to beach locations where we did little other than read, swim, soak in the sun, eat and relax. It was nice to return to that kind of vacationing. It was also a great reminder of how much we enjoy being on the road, seeing and doing stuff and not just sitting on our duffs. It was also a reminder of how we will need to build down time into our road trip traveling.

We returned on a Tuesday about 12:50 and used our Global Entry cards for the first time and oh boy, you just gotta get one of these cards!  We had our bags on board with us which made the exit from our row 2 seats and into the Terminal much easier.  Still, we were literally out of the airport and in our truck on the way home by 1:05 – I kid you not.  Slide the passport into the kiosk, answer a couple of questions, scan fingerprints and VOILA! Out popped our receipts and out the door through Customs we went.  So cool that I just had to mention this again.

Arriving later that day were daughter, Renee, son-in-law , Fard, and newest grandson, Jacob Victorious, from California for a couple week trip east.  The day was spent getting ready for their arrival and the welcome party for the baby the following Saturday, returning to work, making meals and later-than-our-usual evenings in conversation with the West Coast family.  Whatever residual repose remained from Guadeloupe faded quickly nto the whirlwind of the visiting family and return to work-a-day life.

Along the way, though, lessons were learned that further the trip planning and upcoming change in lifestyle.  We reflected upon the fact that the beach was lovely but wasn’t it odd how odd it felt just to do nothing when the past several years of travel have been on the road, with sights, smells and sounds changing nearly every day.  We reflected on the fact that our road trips have been at a fairly feverish pitch, never alighting in one place for very long and how it felt good to stay in one place for a bit.  We reflected on how easy it was to do without TV, since we were lucky to find a radio station we loved, had our iPads, books and wifi and cell signals strong enough to support email, online Scrabble, text messaging, Waze, and some internet browsing but nothing robust enough to allow for video streaming of any kind. (In full disclosure, I have to admit that when, on our last night, we stayed in a room with strong enough Wifi to support YouTube, we did enjoy catching up on some Daily Show and related clips. . . ). We reflected on how essential having navigation capability is, how language challenges can be overcome, how nice it will be to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle while on our Pan American road trip, and how much we love exploring grocery stores, local specialities, and off the beaten track locations.

With the arrival of our family and the ensuing 2 weeks of sharing our house with 3 additional people, we’ve had additional reflections: we’ve loved our time with the baby and, more than ever, look forward to the time when he and his cousins will come visit with us when we relocate to Panama, a dream that we have had since we first conceived of moving there. We’ve loved the time with family, which reminds us how important it will be for us to make those twice yearly trips back to the States once we relocate outside the country. Watching the baby and new parents, it’s impossible not to reflect on the level of energy that is required to take care of a baby and to be thankful for the handing off the baton to our kids for them to start the process of creating the next generation of movers and shakers. It feels more and more comfortable making the decision to take our energy in a different direction and devoting the next chapter of our lives, of whatever duration, to exploring and to focusing on selves.

Being sidetracked these last 24+ days hasn’t meant moving sideways or standing still. With our eyes open, we see through these times, how every day adds to our learning about the days ahead.  Or, maybe we are just paying more attention.  Whatever the reason, we are grateful for the diversion and, as always, for what we learn along every path.

 

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