May 20 – Dec 9, 2017

“My time off has been, overall, pretty good. I’ve learned a bit about myself, yet haven’t observed much useful clarity. I’m in and out of relationships, on and off certain habits both good and bad, and generally drifting in the direction of my self-built habits and desires. It’s definitely an interesting point in time.”

The response to my aunt.

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Minimalism and FI, part one

There’s a popular saying in FIRE culture that says, “Retire to something, not from something”.

Fuuuuck that.

Honestly, I have no idea what I want to be doing in a year. Heck, I don’t even have plans for this week. I may go paragliding this afternoon, but it’s already 10:45 am and I’m only just about to make my second cup of coffee. In my underwear. I’m in no rush.

 

Minimalism and Financial Independence

 

An important aspect of my life is Minimalism. No, it’s not about having very few things, but about having things that truly add value to everyday life. The Minimalists write about this in a very inspiring way.

Oversimplified example: I just competed in my first paragliding competition, the Rat Race. They were selling merchandise and I eyed a spiffy hat with the Rat Race logo on it. I bought it for twelve bucks. About a day later I realized that I don’t wear flat brim hats! Instead of keeping this memento on a shelf, I sold it on Facebook to a club member and even gave him the Rat Race glow in the dark frisbee that I managed to take home. It really didn’t serve a purpose if I wasn’t going to wear it (or throw the frisbee), and now I don’t have either cluttering up my space.

Aside from the material aspect, minimalism allows you to focus on what’s important as you discard the things in your life that aren’t. One of those things was my job. Being financially independent affords me the time to start focusing on those key aspects in life I want to improve.

I’ll dive into the first, and probably most important area, in part two.

Reserve parachutes and racing paragliders

June 2017 was a huge month for my progression as a paraglider pilot.

I drove to a small town in Oregon called Shady Cove to do my first SIV clinic. Simulated Incident in Flight clinics teach you how to react properly when your paraglider deflates, stalls, or gets in an otherwise non-normal situation. It’s essentially an advanced emergency situation training course.

The flights were held at Lost Creek Lake, just a little northeast of Shady Cove. This place is gorgeous. It’s lush with green trees, flora, and beautiful views.

 

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Lost Creek Lake in the evening.

 

When you do an SIV course, it’s always over water in case you have to throw your reserve parachute. Reserves typically come down at 4-5 meters per second, so if you’re gonna hit something, water is better than hard ground.

Pilots are towed up behind a boat using a winch system. The boat driver can vary the pressure of the line to accommodate different sized pilots. As you fly, they let line out and eventually you’re a few thousand feet over the lake, ready to start messing up a perfectly flying wing.

The video below is of another pilot taking off and being towed.

 

On day two I was doing full stalls. When you perform this maneuver, you pull your brake toggles all the way to your hips. The location of your hands is also right next to the reserve parachute handle. After a couple of full stalls, I managed to wiggle out the handle and sure as shit the reserve parachute deployed! All of a sudden I was falling straight down towards the nasty lake water. Damn. Luckily, the boat drivers scooped me up quickly and my gear dried out over the next few hours.

 

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An accidental reserve deployment put me in the lake!

 

The Rat Race paragliding competition followed the SIV course, but there were a couple days between to fill. My aunt was driving south from Portland, and was generous enough to stop to spend a few days with my on way through. We visited the Umpqua hot springs, made great vegan meals at the camp site, and shared life stories.

 

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Umpqua hot springs in Oregon

 

Then, the race began. The Rat Race consists of three events: the Super Clinic, the Sprint, and the Race. The Race is for the top level pilot who has the skills and desire to fly at the highest level. This is the US National Championship. The Sprint is the every (wo)man’s race. It’s for the sport pilot who wants to compete, but have less stress and more overall fun. Lastly, the Super Clinic is for the lowest skilled pilot who doesn’t have the skill to compete in either, but wants to progress their abilities under the supervision of world class instructors.

I originally signed up for the Super Clinic because I thought the Sprint was way out of my league. I didn’t even know how to fly the local clubs baby races, for crying out loud.

Saturday was the first day of all three events, and was simply a practice day. The Sprint and Race had practice tasks, and the “Super Kids” had a site orientation and free flight. While I appreciated the site orientation, I could tell that the week was going to be rather boring. I flew around the local area, crossing valleys and exploring the near by Burnt and Rabies ridge.

Look, I can transition from peak to peak at this site, too. 

When I was flying from Woodrat across to Rabies ridge, one of the instructors got on radio and said they would fly with me for a little while. Sweet.

While on glide I took a few turns in a thermal I flew through and went back on my course towards Rabies. The instructor peeled off and went to another student. I guess I was doing okay.

That evening at headquarters, one of the local Salt Lake pilots asked me why I was doing the Super Clinic and not the Sprint. Basically, I have no proper instrument, I told him. I have an old Garmin GPSmap 60csX, a basic vario, and a cell phone. How am I supposed to navigate with instruments that aren’t made for aviation?

Behold, XCTrack! After a few sessions of bugging the scorers, they turned me on to this mobile app. All of a sudden I had a worthy instrument that would allow me to properly navigate and fly the Sprint. Fo’ free!

It took a couple days to really figure this shit out. On Thursday, I flew the entire task and was one of only three pilots to reach goal (the final waypoint and landing place), but I screwed up the start, so I didn’t get credit for any of it! Lessons were learned the hard way.

After that though, I was all set. I got this shiz. Sure as shit, I got first place in Friday’s task. Here is a GPS track log of my flight. Pretty neat.

 

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A gaggle above Woodrat mountain, Oregon

 

The two week trip was a huge success. I’m a completely different (better) pilot, and I can’t wait to make more progress within this amazing sport.

See you at the top of the stack.

Bryce Canyon, shredships, and hot springs

Quitting my job has been a very freeing experience. I’ve spent heaps of time decompressing: long walks, increased amounts of reading, park sessions laying in the grass alone with my thoughts.

This weekend I went down to Bryce Canyon National Park with my best friend. Our shredship is most excellent. (A shredship is a friendship born from shredding pow pow, specifically hard charging heavily treed runs on skis or a snowboard.)

We left Thursday evening after she got out of work. It started to rain as soon as we loaded my things into her car, but that almost enhanced our mood to get out of the valley and head on an adventure. In typical shredship fashion, we stopped at a brewery within the first hour of being on the road! We sampled all of their beers, but since this is Utah we did it two at a time. Kat grabbed two growlers, one a stout, and one an American Pale Ale, and we continued down the road.

Since we were getting to Bryce so late we decided to wild camp just outside of the state park. Kat found a site from a blog post after a quick Google search and it ended up being a perfect spot right off of a main road. There were fire pits set up, and nice flat clean areas that were clearly used often by campers.

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Wild camping outside of Bryce Canyon. I’m stealing your photo, Kat.

Here’s the location for the campsite.

Friday and Saturday, Bryce Canyon National Park.

This place is unbelievably beautiful. It’s known for the countless vertical rock formations known as Hoodoo’s.

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The color gradient is impressive below the cloud street.

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A lone Hoodoo

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The trails were in amazing condition

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Hey there!

Saturday night was full of lawn golf, food, and lots of wine and beer. I’m sure we pissed off a few folks at the camp site, but whatever. Our drive back home on Sunday would only take four hours, and I drove so that Kat could catch up on some much needed rest.

In my mind, I was totally fine with just driving straight home. But in hers, simply driving straight home would not have been sufficient! So, she quickly consulted Google and found the Meadow hot springs about twenty minutes ahead of us. These springs are literally ten minutes off of the highway, so how could I say no?

There are three pools (I think), and this one was just the first and closest one we came up to. Other people were there, so it was also a safe bet. The water wasn’t too hot; it felt like a solid hundred degrees but no more.

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Assisted slack lining

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The land owners say they haven’t found the bottom yet. Even with scuba gear.

Meadow Hot Springs location

There’s so much to see and do not only in Utah, but all over the world. I’ve been more relaxed, yet busier than I normally was while working. This Saturday I’ll be heading to Oregon for two weeks for a couple paragliding events. I’ll be taking a SIV course, and will be attending the Super Clinic.

Until then, it’s time for another cup of coffee.

And it’s over.

Today was my last day.

 

It’s been nine years, two months, and now I’m done.

 

What. A. Ride.

 

I just got home about an hour ago, and it’s beginning to sink in. That giddy, fidgety feeling full of smirk. Hang on just a second, let me delete that 4:50 am alarm clock from my phone.

 

Okay, I’m back.

 

I can hardly believe that I’ve managed to save this much cash, and the amount of stoke is off the charts.

 

I need to get off the computer. There’s plenty to be said, but I’ll get to that later.

 

Here’s to a new direction.

The phone call

Friday. 12:18pm. Salt Lake City, Utah.

My manager’s boss’s boss calls me. The head honcho. It’s about my requested leave of absence for 10.5 months.

“I’m calling you back, just like I promised. I spoke to Human Resources and your manager about the time you requested off. HR looked at the numbers, and between COBRA, and other things, they are unable to give a “sabbatical” type leave of absence in this situation. If you feel like you really need to do this, you’ll be leaving on Very Good Terms. If you want to come back, just give me a call and I’ll see where I can place you.”

“Thanks, Boss Man”, I said. “I appreciate you trying to work out a solution for me. And I’m really glad that we’re on Very Good Terms, because that was my intention throughout this process. Since the leave of absence couldn’t be worked out, I’ll be handing in my letter of resignation on Monday.”

The conversation ends after an exchange of pleasantries, and the whole thing is over in less than three minutes. And that’s that. I’ll hand over my two week notice tomorrow.

Should be fun.

Understanding my pension

I was lucky enough to get hired with my company just a few months before they nixed the pension plan. Although it was frozen just a year or two later, I accumulated about $30k.

Considering I’m about to (possibly) quit my job, it’s important to fully understand what’s gonna happen with this mysterious bucket. Here’s what I learned.

If I leave this year and commence the benefit, I get a single life annuity of $96.77 per month. If I wait until age 65, I get $811.11 per month.

I could also take a lump sum balance now and get $31,041. Or wait and take a lump sum at age 65 and get $129,857.

Time to run some numbers.

Interestingly, if I take the $96.77 per month and invest it until I’m 65, it turns into about $128,241. Essentially it becomes the lump sum amount at age 65.

If I take the lump sum now and let it compound until age 65, it turns into $225,079.

The best option is to take the lump sum and roll it into my IRA to avoid immediate taxation. Then, it can be used in the ROTH conversion ladder for future spending.

 

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Enough’s enough.

I lasted almost a year. The stateside position, a.k.a the Dream Job, has literally put me to sleep. It’s so boring. Intellectually under-stimulating. Dangerous even.

What kills me is that it’s literally a waste of my time. I leave the house at 5:10am and don’t get to the job site until 7:15am, after eighty-five miles of highway and mountain pass driving. Granted we carpool fifty miles of the trip, but that hardly makes up for anything.

After about ten minutes of equipment set up and checks, I’m back inside making a delicious cup of coffee from my AeroPress. Hurry up and wait.

By 9am, most often later, we’re taxiing for takeoff. Maybe I’ll get an hour of flight time.

Or, maybe not.

By 3pm we’re debriefing a training mission I had very little to do with. But I accomplished a lot that day. One day I spent the whole day researching airport transfers from Geneva to Chamonix. All day. I wrote up a nice compare / contrast document to share with my travel buddies for our upcoming trip. Other days I simply read library books off and on as the noise level allows. My colleagues were busy finding the end of YouTube, headphones optional.

Time to drive 85 miles back home. Rinse and repeat.

Meanwhile, there is a strong Meetup.com presence here in Salt Lake City. One of the groups I like does weeknight hikes that start around 6pm and end well after 8pm. Considering that, legally, I need eight hours of uninterrupted rest in order to fly the next day, I would miss out on these great group hikes. Most of them, anyway. That’s just one example of something I’m trading for money.

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The trailhead is less than three miles from my apartment.

 

So is a few hours of flight time per week worth the trouble?

No, no it’s not. Enough’s enough. Time for a leave of absence.

“I’m not inclined to grant this request…If vacation time off is not enough of a break there are few options that are viable” my manager said in reply to my unofficial inquiry.

Hmm. Okay then. Things are getting a little more serious now. He’s on vacation himself, so we won’t get to chat until after mid May.

Cue the FU Money! Let’s plan ahead for my voluntary termination. Clearly it’s time to move on, but there are things to get in order first. 

Set aside cash for living expenses.

For the first time ever, I sold shares to fund approximately one year of living expenses. About $30k worth.

Enroll in marketplace healthcare

My work benefits stop on my termination date, so I’ll need to enroll in marketplace healthcare. A quick look at healthcare.gov shows I can get a bronze health plan for less than $250 a month, and dental around $20 per month. These costs are very similar to COBRA, although admittedly my employer sponsored healthcare is far superior. Nonetheless, I’ll enroll in new coverage after I get the official termination date.

Roll over 401k to Vanguard

This will be super easy. And as a bonus, lower overall investment costs! I can’t wait to do it.

Review and revise the Super Plan

I’ll review and update the numbers, plan, and makes some overall adjustments.

So is this me starting early retirement, or simply me needing a change? What’s the plan?

It doesn’t seem like a good time to test the sequence of returns risk, but I’m also not stuck on not ever working again. I just don’t want to work in the same soul-sucking capacity of this last year. I just started a 1 year lease on a sweet apartment, so I’m going to stick around town until it is up around April 2018. During that time I’m going to continue living like my initial 3 months off. Paragliding, trail/road running, meeting new people, and focusing on my health. It’s similar to Option #2, but without a leave of absence.

All bark, no bite

I’m such a sucker.

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How it all began.

A little while back I wrote about my stateside job offer. It’s a non-deployable position and a dream job, but it means 3.2 hours in a vehicle per day.

Let me give a super quick backstory.

Think about a hobby that you’ve had since you were young. You decide that college isn’t for you so you drop out before the first semester even finishes. You find a job at a hobby store paying less than ten bucks an hour. Eventually you start to travel with your hobby-job to trade shows selling products and meeting other vendors. Your flying gets noticed and people start talking. A friend of your employer casually asks “What do you want to do with your life?” and you say “I have no idea.” Four months later you are driving across the country for a $60,000 job with a fortune 500 company, flying unmanned aerial vehicles (read: actual “drones”) because of this unique skill set. Little do you know you’re set for life.

Super quick backstory!

The next time I live in the US is eight years later. Eight years working has made me (technically) FI, and I sure as hell don’t want to go back to a war zone. In accordance with the SuperPlan, I’d work through 2016 here stateside during my “dwell time”. When January rolls around I’d begin a year long leave of absence to test life without work.

Reality kicks in

While on the FI bandwagon it’s easy to say “fuck it, I’ll just quit next year because I’ll have enough”.

Or,

“If they don’t give me the raise I want, I’ll pass it up quicker than shit!”

I also said, “I’m going to negotiate towards the top at 19% (additional $14,480), with a floor of 15% ($11,431).”

Can you guess what happened?

My hiring manager (also my actual manager) wouldn’t budge from the initial offer. Not even a little bit! $78,000 it is. While 78k is nothing to sneeze at, it’s nowhere near what I believe I’m worth. I’ll admit I felt a little shitty as I completed the offer process on the careers website.

All bark, no bite.

There are many reasons I accepted though. (This is the part where I try to justify myself). My primary duty is to train new hires from the ground up how to fly, essentially, a giant RC airplane. It’s often fun, and I’m really good at it.

Also, my potential savings rate is at least 70% if I can keep monthly spending at my FIRE rate of $2,500.

I want to be sure my spend rate is comfortable after being away for so long, and be able to adjust fire as necessary.

Conclusion

I’m on a gravy train with biscuit wheels. It’s easy work. Even fun at times. I just hope I know when enough’s enough.

A few thoughts

It’s 2:44 in the afternoon on a Friday. I’m sitting on my deck with a Pinkus Hefeweizen and my laptop. Someone in the condo complex is outside as well singing aloud as if they are the only one who hears.

All the while I’m thinking about how much I love my current lifestyle. It’s an “exploding volcano of awesomeness” in every way, bursting with luxuries I sometimes take for granted.

I’ve only been home for ten weeks, but I’m already super happy with how my lifestyle is evolving. My routine has consisted of most things I really enjoy: paragliding, hiking, road and trail running, and making new friends.

Just a few days ago was the best day I’ve had in years. I drove down to Saratoga Springs to meet a gal I’ve been seeing for a while. It was a beautiful day so we went hiking on Horsetail Falls Trail in Alpine. It was more of an excuse just to get outside, but enjoyable nonetheless. We were back by lunch time and I made us romaine lettuce wraps with rice and veggies. Unable to keep our hands off each other, we stayed busy for a while until she had to pick up her kids. I had the foresight to bring my paraglider with me, so I stopped by Point of The Mountain on the way home to get an evening flight in at the north side. I met some great pilot friends, and had incredible views over the Salt Lake valley as the sun was setting. And as a bonus, when I got home there were a couple delicious beers in the fridge to really finish off the day.*

Looking back at that day, and many like it, I can see what this early retirement craze is all about. Living intentionally for yourself and the ones you care about is the greatest luxury. Knowing that I’ll soon be able to live this lifestyle in perpetuity is an incredible, almost unbelievable feeling.

I guess what I’m trying to put into words is that it has all been worth it. Stashing cash, living (mostly) below my means, and delayed gratification has paved the way towards a great life.

 

 

 

 

*Yes, I broke my own rule about not drinking alone. It’s a slippery slope, but I’ve got plenty of traction.