How South Africans May Have Saved My Retirement

My wife and I have been developing a plan on how to hit the “ESC” key on our careers since we were in our early 20s. The plan has been simple:

  • Work hard
  • Save lots of money
  • Live well below our means in every aspect (travel, material purchases, life philosophy, etc)
  • Keep everything in life simple (travel, material purchases, life philosophy, etc)
  • Trust in the plan and be dedicated to the plan
  • Walk away early in life and commit to doing whatever the hell we want

There have certainly been diversions and obstacles along the way, but we’ve been super good about quickly recognizing the value in simplicity when it happened and always dutifully returned to the plan.

As we get closer to hitting “ESC”, naturally we’ve started to get a little impatient. Like when you’re a kid and drive into the parking lot at Disneyland and your excitement almost makes you pee your pants before you can get to that first ride. This is what we’ve diligently been working toward for over 30 years, so of course the closer we get, the more palatable and raw the emotions.

With our “ESC” within sight, we’ve been spending more and more time fine tuning the details, thinking of all the adventures that lie ahead and shaping all these thoughts and dreams into what the new reality might look like. As I mentioned before, with any impending approach to an event you’ve been forever planning for, the dopamine and adrenaline starts to flow like wine from the scepter of the Gods and you unfortunately sometimes take leave of your senses.

If you listen to your heart, it’ll always lead you correctly. In this case, we muted that voice and were forging ahead, longstanding plan be damned. We were literally seconds from making a decision, a very large financial one at that, when we thankfully had one of those “WTF” moments. I know our individual decisions are always our own, but last night I had a little help from a family of South Africans to slap me upside the head and bring me back to earth.

A few weeks ago I was over in Utah doing some climbing, canyoneering, mountain biking and wild camping. The best thing in the world is finding a campsite without another soul for miles, literally, and having some massive landscapes gobble you up and let you know your miniscule place in the world. In the middle of nowhere is where all the petty stuff of this world can’t survive and you can “think” without bias, filters and influence.

Canyon Fest-102

On our way back, we stopped in Moab to get gas, ice and generally restock our supplies (i.e. beer) as we moved on to the deserts of Fruita, CO. While there, we took advantage of free WiFi at the Visitor’s Center and checked messages, emails and news from back in the BoulderValley. While doing this, I saw where a family from South Africa I’ve been following via the internet for a while were also there in Utah. They’ve been overlanding for three-ish years in South America and are now making their way north to Alaska. Immediately I thought of tracking them down just to say hi and maybe hear a story or two. Unfortunately they were pretty far away in Kanab and we simply didn’t have the time to get down there and find them.

Anyhow, we did our mountain biking thing for a couple more days in Fruita then headed home. Still, I was thinking about this family as we drove back and when I did finally get home, immeditately ordered the book they’d written about their travels.

A few more days passed and one morning as I was catching up on the blogs and websites I follow, I saw that this same South African family was now actually in Boulder! I immediately shot them an email asking if I could swing by and chat, see their Land Rover and hopefully hear some amazing stories from a life lived overlanding. Graeme quickly wrote me back and said they were attending an event in an adjoining town and said to definitely swing by.

I’m a strong believer in people’s energy. I can usually walk into a crowded room and within seconds know who I’d feel comfortable talking with and who I’d definitely need to stay away from. We had ridden our bikes to this event and when I saw the Land Rover and the Bell family next to it, I literally got that positive “I need to talk to these people” vibe and quickened my cadence at little.





To make an impossibly long story somewhat short, we found the entire Bell family to be sincerely warm, charming, funny, and incredibly interesting. I literally could’ve stayed for hours discussing the mechanics of the Landy alone, much less all the amazing stories of adventure they no doubt possess. On the surface the entire expedition seems exotic and perhaps rightfully so a bit of a complicated affair, and maybe it is to some degree, but to me it was a testament of absolute simplicity.

Even though I’d purchased their book via Amazon about a week earlier, I couldn’t resist buying one right there and having them sign it. I can always give the unsigned book to someone I think would properly appreciate it. With other engagements that morning unfortunately bearing down on us, we wished them safe travels and regretfully were on our way.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m now well into their book appropriately titled, We Will Be Free. On the upside, it’s an incredible book filled with honest stories about how this expedition came to pass and some hilarious and sometimes tense tales of adventure along their journey. I love it. image

On the downside, it’s a career killer. I’ve thought of nothing since page one except how I should shuck everything I own, buy a Land Rover (a TD5 equipped with 2.5 litre turbo diesel, right hand drive and attached rooftop tent for anyone curios and interested in giving me one) and set sail to see the world.

Parallel to all this world of global overlanding, being free and unadulterated simplicity, we’ve recently been mired in a vortex of making our long term plan entirely too complex. To call a spade a spade, we got caught up in sexy houses, sexy neighbourhoods and America’s dream of what retirement is supposed to look like. We were sliding down the slip-and-slide of material prison. Man, it’s sooooo easy to let it happen if you aren’t careful.

So, last night we had just come from looking at one of those sexy houses in one of those sexy neighbourhoods, which sported a not-so-sexy price and were literally one click away from putting our house on the market and charging ahead. Should’ve been a time of excitement, but instead we were both literally sick to our stomachs. Although we couldn’t seem to verbalize it at first, we knew in our hearts that we were wholesale abandoning our longstanding plan at the eleventh hour and about to make what could be a colossal mistake costing us another year or two of work…instead of freedom.

As we sat at what may have been the worst Mexican Restaurant in the whole of Colorado, I thought about the Bell family and how in their book they explained how they’d experienced that “dream” but knew what the right thing to do was, how it kept tugging at their hearts until they finally had to listen. When we met them, it was easy to see the genuine peace in their souls. They were doing what their hearts told them. Our hearts were telling us too, but we were ignoring it.

We finally got home after driving from Golden in a pissing rain storm and finally, finally said it out loud. This just doesn’t feel right. When the words came out, there was literally an audible sigh of relief. I called our estate agent, a good friend, and told her we were having a change of heart and needed to throw the brakes on. We felt absolutely horrible because of the work she’d already done, but being the awesome person she is, she understood. I owe her a beer for sure.

We slept better last night than we have in weeks.

People and experiences come to us all the time and they all have purpose, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst. I feel so fortunate that I seem to have a keen sense for when those people and experiences are there to help point me in the right direction, or in this case, keep me on the right overall path altogether. Yeah, we’re anxious to take on this next adventure, but straying from the basis of simplicity and trying to force the goal to fruition through complexity, which is oftentimes the easy way out, would’ve inevitably take us farther away.

Thanks Graeme, Luisa, Keelan and Jessica for appearing from nowhere right here in my backyard at exactly the right time and keeping us on track. Beers on us when we see you again.

Climb high. Ski hard. Ride far. Live simply.