How A Short Hike Changed My Approach To FIRE
A month and a half ago, my family and I went for a short hike over Memorial Day weekend.
It was neither a major undertaking, nor anything out of the ordinary for us. The hike was about a mile and a half each way, to the top of a ridge with a nice view of a lake and mountains, and back. It was mostly uphill on the way in, and mostly downhill on the return trip.
Mrs. ROMT, the kids, the dog, and I had a nice walk to the top of the hill, where we spent a little time enjoying the view and letting the children and dog explore the area.
Then we decided to head back down to the trailhead.
About five minutes into our return trip down the hill it happened.
I was walking down a relatively steep section of the trail when I slipped on a slick rock and instantly went straight down, with no time to think or react.
Face first into a larger rock.
As I lie on the ground, Mrs. ROMT and the kids came running back to me, asking if I was alright.
For the record, the dog did not seem particularly concerned about my mishap.
I was trying to compose myself and remain calm, so before picking up my head, I warned them that although I thought I was ok, there might be some blood and broken teeth.
But although my mouth was already in a lot of pain, my teeth looked relatively normal, with the exception of a lot more dirt and pebbles in my smile than normal!
I was very pleased to not be picking up bits of my teeth, and slowly got back on my feet.
When I tried to move my jaw, however, I could tell instantly something was wrong. My whole bite had shifted, with my upper and lower teeth no longer aligned properly. My left arm and left leg were also pretty scraped up and bleeding, but I could tell that whatever was going on with my mouth was the most significant issue.
After dusting myself off a bit, and having Mrs. ROMT give me the quick once over, we hiked the rest of the way back down the hill to our car, and then headed home. After quickly brushing and flossing my teeth to clean out as much dirt as possible, I headed to the emergency room to get some professional help.
Positively, the cat scan I received after a few hours of waiting indicated my jaw wasn’t broken, and the doctor didn’t think I had received a concussion. But they didn’t have access to my dental x-rays, and ultimately suggested seeking additional treatment from my dentist when they opened back up on Tuesday.
The dentist was able to file down several of my teeth so I could again bite somewhat normally, but my upper and lower teeth are still not lined up perfectly. She was also concerned about a couple of teeth that now looked slightly off color, and might not be getting proper blood supply after my fall.
Unfortunately, there’s not really anything to do but wait and see if those teeth end up dying. Over the past several weeks I’ve continued to have sporadic pain in that area, particularly when trying to bite or chew, but to date it doesn’t seem as if things are getting materially worse.
So all things considered, as of today it seems like my little fall could have caused much bigger problems than it actually did.
Which is very good news!
Nevertheless, my little mishap still got me thinking about how fragile one’s health, and ultimately one’s life, really is.
My family and I have gone on similar hikes dozens of times and never had any problems. But for whatever reason, on this day, I was destined to take a big tumble that could have resulted in broken bones, a major wound, or worse.
I am definitely someone who tends to take my health for granted, and assume that when I finally reach financial independence and early retirement I’ll be in good enough shape to do whatever I want.
But there are no guarantees in life.
Over the past few months, several of our family members have experienced significant, and oftentimes completely unexpected, medical conditions. These situations have caused a lot of pain, limited mobility, and reduced quality of life, among many other things. Close friends and neighbors have recently lost parents unexpectedly. A neighbor and a co-worker recently lost children in separate tragic events.
I am definitely someone who can get lost in the routine of my day-to-day life, and let days, weeks, and months slip by without working on the things that are most rewarding or spending enough time with the people who are most important.
Ten hour days at work can easily turn into 12 and 14 hour days.
The phone call to a friend or family member can wait until next weekend.
The long weekend can be delayed for a couple of months.
My focus on trying to make sure our lives will be closer to perfect at some point in the future frequently means I miss out on doing things I’d rather do today.
For most of us on the path to financial independence and early retirement, delayed gratification is, by nature, part of the deal. Unless we are independently wealthy, or incredibly lucky, sacrifices must be made to reach the point where FIRE becomes a plausible option. I’ve definitely been guilty of making those tradeoffs on many occasions in the past, and to this day.
But my fall while hiking was a not so gentle reminder to not delay everything in life in my blind determination to achieve financial independence as soon as possible.
I’ll never be younger than I am today.
At my age, I was probably as healthy and strong as I’ll ever be 15 or 20 years ago, and there are no assurances I’ll be capable of doing everything I do today in the future.
The family and friends in my life today could be different in a matter of months or years, and will certainly change over the course of decades.
And, of course, there are no guarantees any of us have decades, years, months, weeks, or even days to get things set up exactly the way we want them to be!
So while I’m still fully committed to FIRE – the numbers tell me that, God willing, we could reach our definition of financial independence in a few years – I also need to keep in mind that the pursuit of FIRE is no excuse to not live as full and good a life as possible today. To take some time to smell the roses, to relax, and to live in the moment!
And that’s how a short hike changed my approach to FIRE.
How has your thinking about FIRE changed over the years?