So are you guys like, internet millionaires or something?"
A Trip South: Early retirement 020613 SPEAKINGOUT 1 For the Capital City Weekly So are you guys like, internet millionaires or something?"

Photo By Kanaan Bausler

Captain Bruce, the skallywag who finally got the group out of Mazatlan on his boat, the Skabenga.

Photo By Max Stanley

The Puerto Escondido harbor, one of the group's first waiting rooms, at sunset.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Story last updated at 2/6/2013 - 1:38 pm

A Trip South: Early retirement

So are you guys like, internet millionaires or something?"

Many folks that we meet on our travels can't comprehend how we are taking a two-year vacation in our early 20s. To many, escaping the trap of the modern labor system seems unfathomable. How could you choose not to need a steady income when there's so much stuff out there to buy?

In reality, as we have learned, living life really doesn't cost that much. To survive and thrive the normal expenses are pretty manageable. True, it did take an initial down payment of a significant amount to acquire all the gear we needed for this trip. And of course, we could not have started this experimental lifestyle without the support of so many members from our home community, to whom we are eternally thankful. But now that we're doing it, it has been pretty easy to avoid additional expenses.

Beyond food, there's not much else that we really need money for. And if we weren't motivated to get to Argentina before becoming senior citizens, I'm confident that we could come close to eliminating that expense as well. Sure, the occasional big purchase is necessary, a broken part on the bicycle, a tourist visa. But with careful creativity, alternative solutions can usually be reached.

As we approached the southern end of the Baja Peninsula, we foresaw an opportunity to have some fun and perhaps, save some coin. There's no bridge that spans the 100 mile gap between the peninsula and mainland Mexico, so most people who do this bike trip end up taking a ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan, amounting to one of the bigger costs of the journey. We decided that we might as well try our luck with one of the sailboats cruising around in the Sea of Cortes.

When we got to Baja's east coast, we had our eyes peeled. If we couldn't score a ride in the next couple hundred kilometers, we would have to go back over the mountains and into the long, flat, straight, monotonous desert in order to get to La Paz. It didn't take much of that type of riding two weeks earlier to know that we would much rather float along the coast. However, it wasn't until the southern end of the Cortes coast that we finally found a port with decent potential.

Puerto Escondido is a perfect natural harbor, protected on all sides by towering spires of islands with a calm deep bay. Investors saw the opportunity for a tourist destination surrounded by wild beauty and started developing a town for people to move to. But no one ever came. Thus among the empty lots separated by paved avenues complete with sidewalks and street lights, a large harbor with full facilities and a population of sailboats and yachts remains.

The local residents of Puerto Escondido live out in the bay, anchored up on permanent vacation. Many folks sailed down to explore the warm waters of the Gulf of California and never found a good reason to leave. Though some considered themselves travelers, no one really seemed to be actively traveling.

We made friends quickly as the new kids in town. Being at least half the age of everyone we interacted with, we drew a lot of attention. We got invites to a few New Years parties; a bonfire on the beach with the boat residents, and a potluck in a nearby gated community. We were the last to leave the bonfire at around 9:30 p.m. and then closed out the house party at 11 o'clock. We had a bunch of quality conversations with interesting people, but it was definitely not the typical New Years Eve celebration that we were used to. And so at 11:45 p.m. on Dec. 31, we tucked in to our sleeping bags, felt our skin start to wrinkle and our hair turn grey as we pulled out the cribbage board for a New Years match.

Cribbage has become a favored method for "killing time," a task that has become more common since we retired. When you've got a schedule as busy as ours, large gaps inevitably pop up between commitments. No one really knows where the time goes once it dies. Perhaps the sun eats it en route to the horizon. Regardless, time killing is a technique that seems to have been perfected by the residents of the Marina de La Paz, the location of our next attempt at finding a boat.

No, we didn't make it happen in Puerto Escondido. The few boats that were mobile and on the move were not heading south enough for us, so we ended up biking into the desert rather than cruising the coast. By the time we reached La Paz, we were ready to try again.

The Marina is essentially a floating country club, sporting a strong population of retired 60-80 year olds trying to stay warm and busy. Our chances seemed a bit more favorable at this new location, seeing that there were more transients roaming around than in Puerto Escondido. But with more travelers also comes more competition for crew positions.

Alongside guys like "Nick the Brit" and "Hitchhike Mike" we did the daily routine. We made announcements of our intentions, spread the word one person at a time, and did a lot of time slaying. We attended the morning coffee social, told and retold our story, and learned quite a bit about the challenges of staying busy when you've got nothing else to worry about. I found that the members of the yacht club are experts at hosting events for obscure holidays, organizing workshops for random skills and crafts, and playing card games. I knew we were doing well when we impressed some of the big shots on campus with news of our high stakes cribbage matches (a Snickers bar and 50 push-ups on the line). We were getting good at being retired.

We thought all the waiting had paid off when we secured rides for the four of us on three different boats that were sailing together to Mazatlan. But on the day of reckoning when we were all ready to go, the Aztec, Stella Blue, and Banjo Jane decided that it was not happening with the weather conditions. We understood the need to respect the ocean and its forces, but with the current situation and forecasted future, it became apparent that if we wanted to sail with this crew we would not be leaving La Paz for a long time.

So we took off for the ferry terminal, feeling somewhat defeated but ready for a change of scenery. After all that sitting around, my legs felt like those of a stiff old grandfather as I pushed up the hills out of town. Halfway to the ferry, we stopped by a dry dock shipyard and met a tough looking 47-year-old South African named Bruce who was working on his 44-foot catamaran, the Skabenga. He and his feisty first mate Mouse were heading to San Blas soon and, of course, they'd love to take the four of us with them. This boat and captain seemed a bit more reliable than our previous team, so we signed up for the job.

A week later we were crossing the Gulf of California on a beautiful boat with some awesome characters. It may sound contrived, but we couldn't help but notice the resemblance between our captain and Jack Sparrow. The tattooed, beer drinking, cigarette smoking war veteran seemed more like a pirate than a sailor. He and Mouse were of the hard-working, hard-partying, high-adventure variety, quite the contrast from the crowds we had been hanging with at the yacht clubs. Ironically, after a week of waiting at the Marina de La Paz, it wasn't until we escaped the time drain of that place that we found the sailboat ride we were looking for.

But that's a whole other story. I'll have to refer you to our blog for that one, because I'd like to finish this thought first.

All that waiting around gave me plenty of time to think about travel, work, retirement, and the choices we have made so far on this journey. I like to think that my premature retirement is neither a break from "normal life," nor a reward from the hard work of my early 20s. Though I don't plan on traveling forever, this is my real life right now, and I'm actively learning how to compose a balanced way of being.

As I organize the fulfillment of my daily needs, the hours of bicycling and story capturing that I spend doing each day could easily be considered my "job." I've found that the solution to the grand puzzle of what to do with each precious day is all about figuring out how the different chunks of time support and flow into one another. In between, but also during those periods of work when I am riding, writing, or filming, I'm bringing my awareness to my physical, mental, and qualitative needs, focusing on satisfying each aspect of myself in equilibrium.

After hanging out in Baja's sailboat communities, I don't know if I ever want to officially retire. Why spend so much time trying to distract myself from being bored when I could be improving something with meaningful work? Perhaps my opinion will change in the decades to come, but for now, I'm just livin'. Just L-I-V-I-N.