This month is our six-month nomadiversary and marks the first anniversary of my retirement following 26-1/2 years in the Navy. It’s been a crazy year and a whirlwind six months. In January, while trying to make the transition to civilian life and my new role as a full-time, stay-at-home Dad, I began the process of downsizing our lives and preparing our house for the market. Our home was listed at the end of April. In June, we were under contract and the Navy movers had finished packing and moving our remaining household goods into storage. A few days later we had moved into our Airstream fulltime and hit the road from Seattle. There was no turning back.
Six months later I’m writing this post at our beachfront campsite in Key West, Florida—arguably the furthest away we could get from Seattle while staying within the contiguous 48 states. As I look out over the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I not only find myself thinking back over the last year, but looking back to 18-months ago when we made the decision to retire early.
We had planned on traveling full-time in an RV after I retired from the Navy. At the time that was still two years away. After several years of increasing disillusionment and growing frustration with my career, the sudden deaths of a friend, a co-worker, and a sibling violently shook me out of my uncomfortable numbness. I realized I was miserable and wasting my life chasing a career goal that really wasn’t really my goal. I was stealing time away from my family in a job that I no longer liked. As I was just a few months away from transitioning (“fleeting-up” in Navy jargon) from being the Executive Officer (second in command) to the Commanding Officer of a state-of-the-art Guided Missile Destroyer, I needed to fix things immediately. The path I was following was no longer the right path for my family or for me.Several years of working in a fairly toxic environment had poisoned me—I did not like the person I had become. I no longer trusted leadership and had lost faith in many of my subordinates. I wondered if I had become part of the problem. The job and its constant stress were taking a physical toll on me. I wasn’t happy and if I continued on the same trajectory, I would wind up making both my family and my crew pretty unhappy as well. Something had to change.
The Navy makes a big deal to unambiguously remove Commanding Officers in whom they no longer have faith (the party line is loss of confidence in their leadership ability). I’m not sure if I had lost confidence in my leaders’ or my own leadership, but I definitely had lost the faith and made the decision to fire the Navy. The weeks leading up to that decision were both frightening and stressful, but they were also exciting as we contemplated new possibilities. Once the decision was made, I felt like a new man with a new lease on life.
It suddenly hit us that our full-time Airstream adventure, which had previously hovered like a mirage in the distant future, had jumped two-years to the left. While life always moved at a fairly rapid pace, things quickly accelerated once we decided to pull chocks on the Navy. A nebulous cloud of possible destinations and a rough collection of fuzzy ideas about things we wanted to do was suddenly visible and coming right at us with constant bearing and decreasing range. Sometime after that initial retirement decision was made, when I was knee deep in the throes of preparing to transition to the civilian world, Anna and I began discussing timelines and goals over a few glasses of wine. We talked about different routes and various wish-list destinations and the one place that kept popping up was Key West, Florida.
Over time, Key West somehow morphed into a goal for 2016 and arriving before New Years Eve became our one and only hard milestone for the year. When people asked where we planned on going, somehow our response became Key West for New Years. Well, here we are, wasting the days away on a beach in Margaritaville, celebrating six months on the road and one year of freedom…and planning and dreaming about our adventures in 2017.
So, we close out 2016 having achieved quite a few things. We successfully transitioned from Navy life to a full-time RV family exploring North America in our Airstream. In 234-days of being on the road in 2016, we pulled our rig a little over 10,000 miles from Washington, over the Rockies, across the Great Plains, around the Great Lakes, through New England, and finally down to Key West. We drove through 28 states and explored over 25 National Park Service sites. However, the one achievement that I am most proud of is one we didn’t even plan.
Considering that we spent over 50 of those 234 days moochdocked in the driveways of relatives, it become obvious that we were moving at a pretty decent clip. At some point as we were driving across the plains last summer, we realized we were moving too fast. The stress of tight schedules made months in advance, combined with the mind-bending frustration of long travel days with a six year old, made us question our decisions. We had to slow down. Being a couple of Type-As, it was difficult to get out of the vacation mode. We were living our new lives in that same mode that defined our previous lives. We didn’t need to do everything, see everything, and make it all a teaching moment, while simultaneously trying to be the best. It sounds funny now that I read it aloud, but that is what our lives had become and it took a few more months to actually internalize the need to slow our roll. So, after sitting in Key West for a week, drinking rum drinks, taking naps, admiring the sunsets, catching up on school lessons, and watching the sun bake all the rat-race tourists, we finally achieved what should have been the easy part…we slowed down and decided to concentrate on what matters…the journey.