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  1. #1
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    Default When to thru the AT? In 2 years or wait 7 for retirement at 62?

    My story is certainly not unique. In my teens and 20's I was all about backpacking and bicycle touring in summer, alpine and nordic skiing in winter. I heard about long trails like the AT and the new PCT. I dreamed about longer trips but 10 days was generally the limit due at first to companions' work schedule and later my own. Then, without ever changing my dreams, life started to change. "Stable job". Car payments. Marriage. House payments. Children.

    I have a good job with excellent leave benefits. We have done lots of various sorts of trips and travel, but with few exceptions I have taken no more than 2 weeks off work at a time. Generally I see taking more than that being a big burden on my co-workers.

    Now Covid and the world being upended has me thinking back to what's important in the world and what's important to me. Also one kid graduating high school last year and the other next year changes my day-to-day priorities. The known, finally accepted, is that I won't be retiring for 5 to 8 years (age 60-63). (Pension and various obligations don't make it feasible to retire before then).

    My thoughts have turned back to those early dreams, those long trails. I hiked the JMT in 2008 and at the end- 15 days- I really didn't want to leave. Since then it's only been one family backpack trip every year or so.

    After talking with thru-hikers on the PCT and others who have done multiple trails, my goal is the AT. I've hiked enough in the west that I want the adventure and experience of a different region. I'd like to hike in a deciduous forest. I'd like to start in winter and follow spring north into summer then race autumn for winter.

    I'm afraid-hopeful-expectant that after that experience I won't want to go back to my cubicle for another 5 years. That it will be hollow. That I will be ready for such a major turning point that the status quo won't work anymore.

    But I could. In 2022, the year after my youngest has moved off to college, I will be able to take 6-7 months off from work with paid leave. Financially it wouldn't make much difference whether I took that time soon, or waited and retired 6 months early. There would be required negotiations and planning both at work and home, but it's possible.

    Waiting isn't the biggest problem. I'm more worried that my body will be far less likely to enjoy 7 months on the trail in my 60's than my 50's.

    Rambling about rambling. Any thoughts from those who have already passed this way?

    Thanks,
    Jim
    California

  2. #2
    Garlic
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    There are a lot of AT hikers in their early 60s. Many of those were in better shape in their 50s, but they still make it. I hiked it in my early 50s (with a 63-yo companion) and now, twelve years later, there's nothing physical to keep me from doing it again. I think I'd be a little slower, but I'd make it. (And I still hike frequently with my friend who's now 75.)

    There are advantages to not having a timetable. If you need to take a week or two off for recovery or emergency, you won't be renegotiating with work. And as one ages, one generally sees value in slowing down a little. There's less need for instant gratification. Your mind may actually be in a better place for a months-long undertaking.

    By the way, I'm also an avid cycle tourist and Nordic skier.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  3. #3

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    Well, it doesn't get any easier as you get older, that's for sure.

    Okay, so you already have to wait 2 years. Waiting another 3 for retirement isn't that much of a stretch. And your right, if you finish a thru you're not going to want to go back to work. Trust me. Physically, I don't think waiting the extra 3 years is going to impact you that much unless something drastic happens.
    Follow slogoen on Instagram.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by garlic08 View Post
    There are a lot of AT hikers in their early 60s.
    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    ... And your right, if you finish a thru you're not going to want to go back to work. Trust me. ....
    Thank you both. Mostly I'm past the idle dreaming and to the stage where I see the light at the end and realize I can actually do this. Also my 17 year old is going on his first backpack trip next week with peers and not parents- makes me think.

    Near term I'm thinking to ramp up with a lot more week-or-two trips in the meantime instead of just thinking of the big one.

    Jim

  5. #5

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    Do it sooner rather than later, no one knows what the future holds. Does it matter if you don’t go back to work after completing a thru hike? Maybe you’re destined for a few years of adventure instead of sitting behind a desk. Things have a way of working out and I doubt that you will regret a thru-hiking attempt in 2022, but it’s very likely you’ll regret waiting another 6-8 years.

  6. #6

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    I second Traffic Jam’s sentiment. Life is short.

  7. #7
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    Obviously your job situation is specific to you. I know personally that the older you get with a typical employer, the more you are regarded as expendable. Yes there are all these nice things said about older workers in the press but most companies mid level management is younger. Generally older workers have more longevity and have higher wage base so when it comes to cutting a budget older workers are more tempting to cut. In general plan that if you take the multiple month leave that managements can change in matter or weeks and the what was supported wholeheartedly when you go on leave may change 18p degrees during that leave. That being said if you have your finances in order so that you can afford to have to find a job or diminished income after the hike or if you are in an in demand field that is readily transportable.

    The other reality is there is better than 50% chance that long distance hiking isnt what you thought it was. In order to pull off a thru hike its ultimately a seven day a week job for four to six months. No rain no maine may sound like something you can deal with but some years thru hikers go for weeks of rain for at least some portion of every day. The folks dropping out early didnt plan to drop out, in most cases their expectations didnt match the experience. Older hikers also do have a higher risk of repetitive injuries that crop up due to under conditioning in advance of the hike. For whatever the reason you have more than a 50/50 chance that in less than a month you may be home looking for work. If your employer is flexible and needs you so you can cut the leave short great but some folks consider planning an out in advance an invitation to encourage quitting.

    I personally did a five week section and decided afterwards I liked section hiking and did most of the trail in sections. It allowed me to avoid the bubble and take advantage of hiking in the best weather conditions.

  8. #8
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    My advice I give on this is always if you have the desire to thru hike the trail, and the opportunity to thru hike the trail, take that opportunity. It is too hard to get entangled in life and no be able to go. 7 years is a long time and many things can happen to prevent a thru hike. Happy Trails.

  9. #9
    Registered User lonehiker's Avatar
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    We are about the same age so this could be relevant. Last year I did my longest single day, my longest two day, and my longest 4 day each independent of each other. I'm getting better with age. I would secure the finances/cap retirement pay then go on the long hike.
    Lonehiker

  10. #10
    Registered User JNI64's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lonehiker View Post
    We are about the same age so this could be relevant. Last year I did my longest single day, my longest two day, and my longest 4 day each independent of each other. I'm getting better with age. I would secure the finances/cap retirement pay then go on the long hike.
    We are the same age and I agree 100% with this. Good clean living and staying strong I'm getting better with age as well. Still lots of life beginning at 62 that's when I plan on retirement. Good luck sir . ( look at tipi Walter as an example).
    Last edited by JNI64; 06-11-2020 at 09:58.

  11. #11

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    FWIW - While the adventurer in me says "there is no time like the present", experience suggests there's a lot to be considered when weighing a "dream" against reality. Being 55-years old and 5-years out from your retirement target year makes this decision a lot more involved as opposed to being 24-years old with 40-working years in front of you. While it can be highly desirable responding to the romance of adventure under the "time waits for no one" doctrine, some cautious deliberation should be observed, lest the call to adventure be Sirens calling you to rocks. That said, you should have one great advantage over the average 24-year old making this decision, wisdom and patience to take a pragmatic look at the many facets of this decision and how they will impact you and those around you long term.

    Like most people in their mid-50s, you likely have many responsibilities in life that should be considered. A spouse, aging parents, children, and/or community services that depend on you to list a few. So the first consideration should be to hearth and home. Who performs your routine chores for half a year and are they capable of performing them? How much money does the household need each month to be self sufficient and do you have that in savings if employment falls through? What about college funding or care for aging parents? Your opening post explains some of these issues that are in play now will not exist in 5-years, which may be your answer right there.

    Weighing a 20+ year retirement tomorrow against a 5-6-month thru hike today is difficult, but to use a dated metaphor, Wimpy never does pay the lender on Thursday for the hamburger today. Many if not most businesses in the US are financially challenged in these current conditions and are looking for ways to cut costs. Imagine yourself as the employer, would you pay someone, including benefits for 6-months without any productive work on promise they will return and be productive? Regardless of intentions, loyalty of an employer is as deep as the financial well, hitting bottom there will have impact in a lot of areas that should be examined.

    With the target year of 5-years out (closer to 4-years now) you are basically in the "red zone" where decisions made now can have serious impact on a retirement plan. For example, does your company intend to pay you during a 5 or 6-month leave of absence or will it be unpaid leave. If this will be an unpaid leave how would that impact your family and/or household finances? What impact does your half-year absence have on your employer and co-workers? What does the paid/unpaid status do to retirement goals? Does leaving the company in the next few years impact your pension and if so, how? How would this impact health insurance? These are things at 24 you can easily be dismissive of, 5-years out from retirement they have a much different level of seriousness.

    What is your contingency plan if you return and there is no job to return to? You should have a strategy in place to address your walking away from a good job and benefits on your resume. Though employers may see this in a positive light with young people who take time off to hike the trail, leaving a company in a time like this are likely to have a different direction of thought.

    Physical considerations weigh heavily for most people, obviously youth has its advantage in this, which is why many people would say sooner is better than later for a thru hike as we age. However, there is no guarantee you will be healthy or injury free for a hike in 5-years. There is also no guarantee you will not have a health issue pop up during a hike next year either, or step off a curb wrong tomorrow and ruin an ankle.

    Patience may be the prudent course given your specific circumstance. You may want to consider section hiking for a few years for conditioning, hardening your mental/emotional condition to withstand long separation from home, and reduce the number of hiking miles necessary to finally complete the trail in the target year. This may be the best of both worlds, you maintain your financial position, your employer benefits, you are able to do long sections with your children, and your family may find it easier withstand your absences.

    Sorry to be heavily focused on financial issues, but being in the retirement "red zone" decisions you make have will have very high potential of blowing up and a low threshold for matches.

    Regardless what you do, I wish you luck!

  12. #12
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    Do it. There is no time like the present. Tomorrow may never come. If you try today, and fail, there is always tomorrow. If you wait until tomorrow and then fail, you may have missed your chance.

    Good luck and have fun whatever you choose.
    I'm not lost. I'm exploring.

  13. #13
    Registered User ScottTrip's Avatar
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    I did my AT hike at age 58 after retiring in 2013 and would be on the PCT this year if not for the Corna virus. I had always have been active person hiking, marathons, cycling, ect. So as long as you are in good physical condition you can enjoy the hike in your 60s. without any problems.

  14. #14
    Some days, it's not worth chewing through the restraints.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Traffic Jam View Post
    Do it sooner rather than later, no one knows what the future holds.
    Agreed! Taking some time off will make those last few eyars of work more enjoyable if you're able to take a leave. The only guarantee is that you won't get any younger.

  15. #15
    Some days, it's not worth chewing through the restraints.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ScottTrip View Post
    So as long as you are in good physical condition you can enjoy the hike in your 60s. without any problems.
    Also agree with this, but physical condition can change on a dime. I'm in my sixties, very fit, but I doubt a thru is in my future anymore due to issues I didn't have in my late fifties. Plenty of hikers go into their 80's. Plenty of people die in their 60's. I have to wait a few more years to try, the OP has a chance now.

  16. #16
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    Like most people in their mid-50s, you likely have many responsibilities in life that should be considered. A spouse, aging parents, children, and/or community services that depend on you to list a few. So the first consideration should be to hearth and home...
    To expand slightly on what Traveler said, I just want to put a little more emphasis on the fact that it's not just you that's aging. Your spouse is aging, and if there are parents alive, they're aging also. If one of them becomes disabled or chronically ill, you may find that you aren't as free as you were expecting.

    The other reality is there is better than 50% chance that long distance hiking isn't what you thought it was...
    As peakbagger pointed out, there are alternatives to thru-hiking. Section-hiking can give you increased flexibility to deal with some of the issues raised by yourself and others.

  17. #17
    Garlic
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    The issue with aging parents is a good one. Both my parents died in their 90s in the last three years, and that was all-consuming--I didn't travel for myself at all during those years. In that respect, I'm glad I did my thru hiking a decade ago. (Don't get me wrong here--I wouldn't trade those last few years with my parents for anything.)
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  18. #18
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    Thanks all for the sage counsel. I think I'll look at the short term opportunities and plan on at least a decent trip each summer. I'm going to target a 3 week trip in the east next year. With one kid graduating from high school and the other finishing her second year in college the timing will have a lot to do with their schedules and whether they want to join me.

    I want to get a feel for what it's like to backpack in the eastern US vs the west. It is obviously very different. I think three weeks ought to be a good trip and make the flights worthwhile. For this summer i need to get my feet in shape and then prepping for a week in the Sierra is as easy as going to the grocery store. It's very familiar.

  19. #19
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    Go fast. Go light. Go NOW.

  20. #20

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    why not take a 4 week hike? sounds like you have a bunch of leave time saved up. That's a pretty good sized trip without putting all your eggs in one basket. Heck, I think in your shoes I may just decide to use a month every year until I retire and get in either a couple of 2 week trips each year or a 4 week trip.

    You could probably also add in some long weekends as well without too much trouble if you can plan some of your vacations/hikes around holidays you would have off anyway.

    A friend's son recently came home on leave from Nov 11- the day after thanksgiving. He got 3 holidays during that time and thus used less of his leave. He had 17 days off but used 10 days leave. Also, since he worked over the Christmas "break" he only worked half days (military) and still got full pay. His mom and stepdad visited him over Christmas since he only had half days of work (plus Christmas day off). So he has more leave banked he can take next year.

    For example: You could hike the week before Memorial day, use 5 days holiday (usually) and actually have 10 days to travel and hike while only using 5 days off.
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