Prepping for a life in the Tour Bus

May 20th is my first anniversary of financial independence, and it just so happens that around then I’ll be hitting the road in style. Before I dive into that, let me catch up on what’s happening up to that point.

I was living in Salt Lake City in a fantastic rental when I left my job in 2017.  The complex was brand new and I was one of the first tenants in the place. My unit was on the top floor, so I had higher ceilings than the other floors which added a feeling of space to my ~450 square foot home. I had a small balcony, and a west facing view and could see all the way north to the Avenues neighborhood, and south to Point of the Mountain flight park. It was also perfect for viewing fireworks on the 4th of July and New Years Eve. As good as it was, I knew I wouldn’t be there for long.

 

 

A few years ago my dad said he wanted to eventually move down south to be close to his grand kids. The cost of living is also less, so it would also work out financially. I made a personal vow to be there to help him with the entire process. This is the the perfect use of FU money.

At the beginning of this year he decided to make it happen. My apartment lease was through February, but things were supposed to move quickly with his home sale. I wanted to give everything I had to ensure a smooth move, so I sold my furniture and packed everything I own into my compact car. Whatever didn’t fit that wasn’t important was either sold or donated.

 

 

Leaving Salt Lake City was pretty tough. I said goodbye to so many good things: a few great friends, an awesome volunteer gig, a hugely active vegan community, incredible skiing and snowboarding, among others. One of my favorite things to do was to hike and fly Mt. Wire with my buddy.

 

 

Even though it was hard to leave, I’m grateful to not be burdened by homeownership. The ability to simply pack up and go feels like a superpower.

I can always go back. But for now, I’m in Vermont.

It’s weird to have an extended stay in the place I already spent twenty-two years of my life. Not much has changed around here, but I guess that’s why some people like it.

My dad’s house was under contract to sell after four days of it being listed. We’re waiting on a closing date, and are both growing a bit impatient. I didn’t intend on being here for months. Just two, at the most, and that number is rapidly approaching. I’ll be ready to move on out of Vermont, and into the Tour Bus.

A good friend of mine broke it off with his fiancé and they both moved out of their apartment. Instead of finding a traditional space, he bought a brand new RV and has been full-timing for about a year now. His Thor Vegas – better known as the Tour Bus – is a short Class A that’s nimble enough to maneuver through most places, but big enough to live in comfortably full time.

I’ve been wanting to explore the lower 48 by van or RV for a while now. I’d originally planned on buying an older Class B, like a Roadtrek or Pleasure Way, but my friend is changing careers and won’t be living in the Tour Bus. He doesn’t want to store it, or take a loss selling it, and I don’t feel like dropping 30-50k on a used RV. After we talked for a while, he offered to have me rent it at the cost of his monthly payment.

Renting his Tour Bus is, financially, the lowest barrier to entry one can conceivably have for trying out the full time RV lifestyle. It’s super cheap at about $540 a month in rent, and should lend well to helping keep my spend rate low during the initial ten years of withdrawals. Especially if we mostly boon-dock on BLM land and/or don’t spend much time at campgrounds or RV parks.

What is this “we” shit?

Oh, right. I’m taking my girlfriend along for the ride! This is the first time I’ll be cohabiting with a significant other, and we’re gonna be in a twenty-five foot long vehicle.

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Do you think that’s enough space for two people? We’ll just have to see. For now, it’s time to close on the old house, and start the drive down to Louisiana.

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2018 ACA balancing act

I’m into my tenth month of my “gap year”, and this calendar year is the first year I’ve had health insurance on the Affordable Care Act. I stayed on COBRA insurance after I left my employer due to wanting really good insurance for a paragliding trip, and then just out of sheer laziness.

Then open enrollment came around and it was time to make the switch. COBRA wouldn’t last forever, and it was a hefty $311 a month anyway. Who want’s to pay that? The lovely thing about the ACA is that you get a shitload of subsidies if you have low income.

In my application I’ve forecasted $35,000 in income. This is actually probably too high an estimate for actual investment income since my basis is high, but should allow room for ROTH IRA conversions at the end of the year. With the current forecasted income, it gives me $213/month in PTC’s. Now my high deductible health plan is $59/month. I’ll take it! The important thing is to not make more money than your estimate, or you’ll be subjected to Premium Tax Credit repayment. My dad got to figure this out the hard way.

He got back from getting his taxes done, and said that he had to pay more last year because of his health insurance. I didn’t understand what he meant because of the huge subsidies given by him being at ~360% of the federal poverty level income. I went digging into his tax return to figure it out. It turns out that he made quite a bit more than he estimated, and had to pay back a lot of the premium tax credits he was originally offered. The interesting thing is that the repayment is limited, i.e. it’s capped at a certain amount if your income is within 400% of the FPL.

repayment

Unfortunately he had to repay $1,275, but it was still less than the ~$2,200 he could have had to pay if his income went over 400%.

When you’re counting on a low withdrawal rate it’s important to forecast income correctly to not get hit with a large expense right at the beginning of the year. I’ll keep a good eye on my income and use Specific Identification of Shares to ensure I withdraw the right amount of gains and not have to pay back any premium tax credits next tax season.

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.

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.