Retire early, retire often
I know that this may sound funny,
but money don't mean nothing to me.
I won't make my music for money, no,
I'm gonna make my music for me.
-- Jimmy Buffet
OK. For those of you who read my resume, I must confess that I lied. I didn't really spend ten years from 1981 to 1992 writing business, graphics, statistics, and scheduling software. It was five years, spread out over a ten year period. I spent the rest of the time traveling, climbing, and kayaking my way across the western halves of the US and Canada and a good chunk of Europe, with a bit of Central America thrown in to improve my Spanish. But I really did spend five years in the Velvet Sweatshop, albeit with somewhat longer vacations than are normal for work-crazed Americans. (It's hard to see Patagonia or Borneo, for example, in just a week. It takes that long just to figure out how to catch a bus.)
What's the reason for this? Well, ever since about my junior year in college, I've been in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Since I couldn't afford a red Porsche and a blonde (still can't), I decided that retiring early and often made more sense than waiting to see the world when I was 65. First, there was no guarantee that I or the world would make it to 65. Second, by the time I was 65, I probably wouldn't want to do things I did in my twenties, like staying drunk and sleepless for a week at the running of the bulls in Pamplona. (Heck, I don't even want to do that now.) And third, I just couldn't see the point in working. So I dropped in and dropped out and dropped in and dropped out and ... well, you get the idea.
Now that I've gotten a bit older and creakier, I climb and kayak less and cave more. Caving has the distinct advantage that you can do it lying down and the darkness is conducive to taking a nap. Except for the mud, cold, and occasional tight bits, you might even mistake it for lounging about on the couch. Unfortunately, my partners, who are mostly younger and decidedly under-creaky, are under the mistaken impression that we're there to do a bit of exploring. Not only does this interrupt my naps, it leads to some interesting situations, such as those in Arch Cave, Canada, Gouffre de Vauvougier, France, and Loferer Schacht, Austria (3-D rotating map, photos and stories in German). It also lets you make new and dangerous friends, who introduce you to sports like canyoning, a pursuit that is only slightly less hazardous to your health than spending 40 years as a desk jockey in Silicon Valley.
You would think that any sensible person would have given this all up long ago. That's true. But sensible people also live in the suburbs and watch "Pro Bowling" on Saturday afternoons, a fate that strikes me as far worse than anything Torquemada had to dish out. Instead, I married Karin Gallagher, who not only had been to far more countries than I had, but also to ones that were far more exotic. With a mother who grew up in London (during the Blitz), Sweden, Colombia, Canada, and the US, and Czech and Swedish/German grandparents, Karin learned the traveling game early and never learned to fear officials like I did. Here are actual transcripts of some of our travels together:
East Germany, near the Polish border:
Karin: "Oh, look. We're just a few miles from Poland. Let's go!"
Jordan, near the Israeli border during the Palestinian uprisings over the winter of 2000/2001:
Karin: "Oh, look. We're just a few miles from the Dead Sea. Let's go!"
Anywhere in the world, in a turnout surrounded by signs that state NO CAMPING:
Karin: "Oh, look. What a great camping spot!"
In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, we travel as often as possible. In addition to the aforementioned trips to Borneo and Patagonia, we spent the winter of 1999/2000 in a VW bus in Italy with our three stuffed animals (l.-r. Sly, Scrumps, and Dog) and a lot more snow than tourist photos might lead one to believe; went climbing in Wadi Rum, Jordan (look for the red dot in the picture to the right) when Karin was four months pregnant; took a 2500 mile, eight-day driving marathon with Dog to Colorado to visit my grandmother, Dorothy; and wandered about the northern Sierras with our (then) two-month-old daughter, Ellie.
More recently, Ellie and I went backpacking for four days in the Sierra Nevada and drove to Kansas City and Houston in the middle of the summer, presumably because it was cheaper and easier than building our own sauna. I also took a five-week climbing trip to attempt a 7000 meter peak in Tibet. Although I didn't get anywhere near the summit, I did discover that Tibet is a very oxygen-poor country, at least in its upper reaches. And as a family, we've been to Maine to enjoy the persistent drizzle and mosquitoes; gone to the east side of the Sierra to go camping, climbing, hiking, and visit the ghost town of Bodie; and done a bit of canoeing.
Karin and I met in Seattle, where we still own a house, but moved to Darmstadt, Germany in 1997, where I found work doing research on XML and databases at the Technical University of Darmstadt. We stayed three years, counting the winter in the bus, and returned to the United States in the summer of 2000. We lived for two years in Mt. Hermon, California in a really cool, if somewhat rickety, converted cabin, then for a year in nearby Felton. We have now bought a magnificent wreck of a house in Mt. Hermon, about a mile from my mom and three hours from Astrid, Karin's mom. We're also in close proximity to other dubious characters. Karin works as a technical writer, while I take care of the kids and try to look glamorous, er, continue my research on XML and databases.
Coming back to the US after living in Europe has been an interesting experience. Of course, there are some things we still don't quite understand. For instance, why is a corrupt, fascist president so popular? Why do people think SUVs are cool? Why do they think violence is entertaining? And what the heck is guar gum? Still, it's a great place to make money so we can retire again.
And for those of you who have read this far without falling asleep or logging off in disgust, we have a special treat: photos of us as professional models (which we were for a day) and photos of what we really look like (Karin, Ron). Hmmmm, maybe pro bowling is interesting after all...