Sunday, August 31, 2014

Less Stuff/More Friends & On the Road Again - Gene Lambirth:

Following my retirement in 2008 my wife and I were determined to focus our time on those things that were really important to the quality of our life.  We moved from a large home in the hot, humid suburbs of Houston to an apartment in downtown Asheville.   We brought with us two folding chairs, one car, an inflatable mattress, our cat, a few hobby items, and some clothes. The rest of our possessions, gathered nearly for around 40 years, we sold, gave away, or consigned to the dumpster.  Parting with a lifelong accumulation of objects was difficult at first. Ultimately, however, it became a liberating experience.

My first stab at retirement happened in 2005.  However, soon after I retired I took up a second career as a consultant -- or as my wife, Gay, likes to say, I flunked retirement.  By the end of 2008 with the onset of the economic recession, most of the consulting work went away and so I decided to try retirement for a second time.  We moved to Asheville in early 2009 and for the next two years I was busy settling into a new environment, making new friends and enjoying all the good things that Asheville has to offer.

When I was asked if I might be interested in joining a men's group at OLLI I was not sure what I thought of the idea. What was this going to be?  A discussion group?  A therapy group?  Would we lie around a campfire singing Kumbaya?  I was not sure if I was interested in any of those things but I thought in the spirit of making some changes in my life I would give it a try.  If I had any expectation that it embodied any of those elements I would go to a few meetings, find out it was not my thing, and then find a way to back out gracefully.

I've been in Men's Wisdom Works Group I for over 5 years. While there have been changes in the makeup of the group, most of the other members have been part of the group for about the same period of time.  Our group is not a "discussion group", although we have many different discussions.  Our get-togethers are not therapy sessions, although they are often therapeutic.  We have not yet sat around a campfire and sung Kumbaya--although I am now open to that possibility.  This group has become an important part of my life and I am pleased to call this group of men my friends.

I've been thinking about walking across Spain since 2005, about the same time I first retired.  My thinking came to fruition two years ago when I walked El Camino de Santiago from St Jean Pied Du Port in France to de Compostela in Spain, a distance of about 500 miles.  I did it for a number of reasons; I thought I would meet interesting people, I wanted to take time to reflect on where I was headed in the next stage of life, I wanted to do it out of gratitude for all the good things that have happened in my life, I wanted to practice "living in the moment" rather than focusing on the future or the past, and as a life-long "couch potato" I thought it would be a good chance to get some exercise.

In 2011 I went to see the movie, "The Way", about a group of four strangers who meet while walking The El Camino. At that time I was about to turn 64 and I realized that if I didn't walk El Camino soon, I would probably never walk it. I began training by walking around Asheville until I worked myself to the point where I could walk 20 miles with all my gear -- which I limited to 20 lbs.  It was not until well after I began training and purchased my plane tickets that I told my friends of my plans.  At that point I was committed to going!

I began walking on August 30, 2012 and arrived at my destination in Santiago on October 5, 2012, walking every day except 2 (rest stops in Burgos and Leon) and averaging about 14 miles a day.  I don't intend to relate the entire trip on the blog, but I can say that my reaction upon completing the journey was that it was a wonderful experience, but after more than a month away from home, I was glad to be finished.  At that time I did not think I would ever walk El Camino again since I had crossed it off my "bucket list". However like many people who make the walk, six months later I began to feel the urge to do it again, or something similar, again.

I decided that, rather than walk the exact same path, I would walk one of the pilgrimage trails that feeds into The Camino.  Specifically, the Chemin Le Puy, which starts in La Puy France and ends at St Jean Pied du Port where I began my walk two years ago.  I plan to take it a bit different by walking a day or two past St Jean, crossing over the Pyrenees into Spain and completing my journey in Roncesvalles, Spain.  Last summer I mentioned this to a group of friends and two friends from my Men's Wisdom Works group decided they would join me -- one for the entire distance and the other for the first week or so.

My friends Morris Letsinger, who will join me trekking the entire nearly 500 mile distance, and Ron Scheinman, who will walk with us for the first week will commence our journey August 31, 2014.  Last week a group took a practice hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We hiked for 30 miles over two days, and spent the intervening night in the Pisgah Inn. The picture above the previous paragraph shows us as we're about to head off on the second day.  Pictured are Morris Letsinger, Richard Kark--another man from my MWW group, another friend and veteran Camino walker, and me in the not-so-fashionable shorts.

Retirement is about growing, trying new things, and testing yourself.  At least that's the way it is for me. After all, retirement is a long trek.

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