On Retirement

I recently passed the first anniversary of my last day at a full-time job. So it’s been a year “livin’ the dream”, as I’ve heard it described. While it’s not strictly related to our traveling life, it’s worth noting and ruminating upon.

Sidebar: I love that word, “ruminate”. It’s one of those words that sounds and feels exactly like its definition. Though use of such words leaves one open to this criticism – “I hate it when people use big words just to make themselves sound perspicacious.”

But back to the topic at hand. Retirement. The first three months were difficult for me and by association for K. My moods and emotions took huge swings, from giddy to panicked. It was a weird time.

The second three months were tough due to extenuating circumstances. We lost two dogs in a short period which affected us both deeply. We flirted with depression and were both angry about the cosmic injustice of it all.

The second half of my retirement year things began to take a turn for the better. We decided to shake ourselves out of our negativity by traveling. In short order we went to Hawaii, Kentucky (twice), the Borrego desert, the San Bernadino mountains, Malibu and Alaska. During this flurry of travel K bought her mobile she-shed, the retro camper. And a new Jeep to tow it.

That six months of frenetic travel seems to have worked. One year after my last day “at work” I’m as happy as I’ve ever been and I believe K is also. We’re both now used to being together a LOT, after years of only seeing each other in the evenings and weekends. We’re both writing – me for the first time, and her picking up where she left X30T3458.JPGoff a few months ago. And I’m actually crazy busy, with board-member work for two organizations, a tiny bit of consulting, taking care of our long-neglected property, traveling and just deciding every day what I want to do. I am, as they say, taking time to smell the roses.

My goal for the next year of “livin’ the dream” is to avoid last year’s roller coaster. Still travel but less intensely. Lose some weight (the eternal goal) and get a little healthier. Finish a novel. Spend even more time with family. Have a great olive harvest.

In short, take the time to do the things that make us happy. That sounds doable.

(Credit to my great friend Chris for the setting on the sunset photo at top of this post. The view from his kitchen is pretty amazing.)

Early Thoughts on the New Camera

I’ve had the Fuji X-T30 for a couple of weeks now and have taken it on a short trip. Here are some early impressions of it. (All shots in this post are with the X-T30. Doh.)

  • It is a great travel camera. Small and light, though perhaps too small for my meathook hands.
  • Its images are as sharp as I had hoped. Here’s a portrait of a friend taken at a local brewpub.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b884.jpg

  • It’s complicated! I still can’t quite figure out some of the shot settings, and there’s so much information in the displays that it’s easy to shoot in a mode you didn’t want. I bought the camera because it was more of a traditional photographer’s architecture, as opposed to auto-processed all the time. But the menu complexity is going to take some getting used to.
  • As a result of the previous item I may shoot a lot in full manual mode. That’s how I learned photography and it’s still natural.
  • I bought a 35mm XF-series prime lens (the best) and a 50-230mm XC-series (lower quality build) zoom lens. The prime is great for walking around and portraits; the zoom is my favorite for everything else. I love being able to frame a photo with a quality zoom.

J4ryOSwgRXSRb8ofG4QA4A_thumb_b8ce.jpg

All in all I think the X-T30 is/was a good choice to restart my photography hobby. It will get a big workout in our upcoming Louisville and Europe trips.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b851.jpg

7/20 and 7/21, Oakmont PA

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to play some really great golf courses. Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay, Carnoustie (!), Nairn, The Kittocks at St. Andrews, Ojai Valley, Aviara, Pelican Hill…just to name a few. Last weekend I got the chance to add the venerable Oakmont Country Club to my list.

Oakmont is a world away from my normal west coast haunts. “Traditional” would be an understatement for the club’s culture. It was quirky, formal, historic and genuine –

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b91c.jpg

everything you might imagine from a club rooted in the early 20th century. Our hosts Mr. Fitzgerald and his brother (no relation to F. Scott, to my knowledge) were lifelong 3rd generation members there and made us feel welcomed. We had a group of eight players staying on the premises and playing a couple of rounds, including my longtime friend Tracy.

The course was another matter entirely. Oakmont has a reputation as one of the most difficult courses in America, and we happened to play it during an historic heat wave. On the first day in particular I was a little disappointed because I was competing against the heat rather than the course. As you get more and more stressed by the heat you start to make little mental mistakes, not helpful in golf. It was hard to just enjoy being there.

The round on the second day was just as hot for the first nine but the weather relented a tiny bit as a storm front blew in. We finished (survived) our second round at Oakmont weary, drenched and more than ever respectful of the conditions pro golfers play in each week. Every course they play is tricked up to its max difficulty, and they do in fact play through some heat waves. At some point it’s more work than fun – that’s why they call them pros.

Aside from the heat the course was as advertised. Beautiful, tough and a true test of golf. It has about 200 sand bunkers and our group found many of them. And the greens – I’ve never played such slick and unforgiving greens. Even when I hit a green in regulation, par was not a given. Or bogey.

All in all, it was a strange weekend, quite memorable and at times miserable. Memorable for the glimpse at how the other half lives, for the experience of staying in an historic place and for the humility a course like Oakmont hands you. Miserable for the extreme weather. I find that I’m less and less tolerant of hot weather, and this was some of the hottest I’ve ever been in.

7-18-19, Louisville Stories

Thursday in Louisville was another hot, humid day. I occupied myself with a few errands via air conditioned cars and visiting with Hudson and the family in the cool indoors. Perhaps I’ve gotten soft after all these years in temperate San Diego, or perhaps this heat wave is truly epic.

It was great to spend the time with Greg, Emily and Hudson. Also got a chance to see my brother Mike and Greg’s mom Joy, so we had a nice day of catching up and playing with

om2nP629RJm4vHeglSV9Rg_thumb_b8e6.jpg Hudson. Poor little guy doesn’t know his life will never be easier, as he has every adult within reach paying attention to him and making sure he’s safe and happy. And sending good thoughts his way constantly. Sorry buddy, but it’s mostly downhill from there.

My big story for the day was that I had to take the rental car out for a run (battery died, lights must have been left on, jump started it myself) and decided to look for a camera store – I wanted a small/cheap camera bag for the new rig. A quick search showed me Chuck Rubin Photographics just around the corner. I stopped in and ended up with a memorable story.

Walking in it was clear that this store had been there a while. It’s right across from The Holy Grale and its entrance was cluttered with hundreds (thousands?) of used cameras, lenses, bags, filters…you name it. This is the store lost gear goes to retire.

I ventured further in and was stopped in my tracks. There, sitting right in front of me discussing something animatedly, was ZZ Top. Or at least dead ringers for them. Three old dudes with dusty clothes and massively long beards. Smiling and friendly (thankfully), but…it was all I could do not to gawk. I fervently wish I had the presence of mind to take a picture, but I was gobstruck.

Anyway, I perused all the gear and settled on a nice small bag. I asked Billy Gibbons how much, and he laughed. He tossed the bag to Dusty and Frank, who opined for a bit but then said “Twelve bucks. He seems like a nice guy.”

I didn’t even consider negotiating, pulled out a twenty and paid Billy. I smiled all the way out. These guys obviously loved just hanging out in the camera shop and talking. Sweet.

My next trip I’ll go back to Chuck Rubin’s and hope the gang is there. And I’ll take my camera.

That’s the most interesting thing that happened during my short visit to our Louisville family. Meanwhile, I have a long layover in BWI waiting for my flight to Pittsburgh. Fortunately I found a solid brewpub only steps from the departure gate. Good food, a decent glass of wine and TV showing The Open. Could be worse…

One last story. A Kentucky guy is leading The Open – go JB Holmes! Little known fact about JB. He played on his high school golf team for ten years! And no, not because he was held back – he’s a bright person – but because he made the high school varsity golf team in the third grade. That’s got to be a record – ten consecutive years lettering in a HS sport. He’s definitely my pick to win The Open now. Hometown boy made good.

7-17-19, Louisville

Fitting in a quick trip to Louisville on my way to Oakmont (!). Several different things about this trip:

  1. Heading to the Midwest in the midst of a huge heat wave.
  2. Going to Em and Greg’s new house for the first time. That’ll seem weird.
  3. First time traveling with the new camera.

First, Oakmont. It’s reputed to be the hardest course in America and most every review of it says it will defeat and discourage you. So why would I travel there to play? First, because it’s also one of the premier golf course in America, perhaps the world. LOTS of golf history there. Second, because being defeated and discouraged by a golf course is nothing new to me. Unlike zero handicaps I’m routinely humbled by a course, even your basic public track. So how bad can it be? Famous last words…

I’m going with my good friend Tracy and we’re playing as the guest of one of his clients/partners who is a third generation Oakmont member. We’re staying at the course in a caddy bunkhouse, that in itself a rare opportunity. It should be a memorable experience.

Em and Greg’s new house has turned out to be beautiful. They’ve managed to make it look finished and professionally decorated in only a week or two. I’m impressed. One view of the kitchen below.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b888.jpg

And of course the other big reason to swing by Louisville is this guy in his new pool. Hudson is growing up fast, and I’m happy to be able to spend a little time with him. We’ll also be back here in a month for his second birthday.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b8bc.jpg

Finally, the heat wave. Even though I’m less sensitive to the heat than K, it’s hot. Really hot and humid.

Screenshot_2019-07-18 Louisville, KY 10-Day Weather Forecast - The Weather Channel Weather com.jpg

Credit to The Weather Channel for the screen shot. Today (Thursday) we’ll stay hunkered down in the new house’s excellent air conditioning and visit.

A New Tradition

OK, it’s not precisely travel, but I feel that this event is relevant to this blog. Kathryn and I are attending the Fallbrook Writer’s Conference together for the second straight year. We attended last year on the cusp of my retirement, and it feels good to be going again. And it’s great to have a little gathering of writers right here in Fallbrook. Come join us if you’re so inclined – as of July 12 there are still 15 seats available.

Most of our friends know that writer’s conferences have a special meaning for us. We met at a writer’s conference in San Diego in 1999, when I was considering leaving corporate life and trying writing full time. After meeting Kathryn I decided I should stick with the job, because if two of us were struggling/unpublished/unpaid writers together, we might have been happy but we would have been destitute. It all turned out well and I now have the freedom to give it (writing) as big a try as I desire. Time will tell…

One Small Step For Man…

Call me foolish, but as I get older I occasionally feel the need to prove that I can “still do something”, or do something typically associated with younger folks. Yesterday was one of those days.

For several years I’ve thought about doing the Ocean Beach Pier Jump, a charity event put on by the SD Junior Lifeguard Association (now rebranded the Prevent Drowning Foundation of San Diego), a nonprofit foundation of which my great friend Corey is the CEO. It’s a simple event – you make a donation to the PDFSD and you get to jump off the pier and swim to shore. In years past I was always at work, too busy, so with my birthday approaching this week I said “why not?”. Why not indeed.

So at 1pm on July 8th I found myself standing on the pier’s railing, more nervous than I had expected, ready to jump. Actually, we were instructed to step off the platform, not jump. Hence the title of this post. In this somewhat hard to see picture I’m the one in orange. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b82aThe drop itself wasn’t too tough, though I didn’t exactly stick the landing. But I survived. Then came the tough part.

The ocean beach pier extends 1971 feet into the ocean. We jumped from its furthest point, so we had at least 2000 feet to swim in what turned out to be some fairly rough surf. With a wandering path and the back-forth ocean motion, it’s typically more like 2500-3000 feet to make it to shore. I was nervous about that from the beginning – while I swim just fine, I’m in marginal shape and don’t swim as exercise, ever. My hope was that the waves would help me paddle into shore quickly. As always, hope is not a strategy.

I started toward shore immediately after jumping, unlike the 20+ kids in the Jr. Lifeguard group who hovered just off the pier cheering their friends on. I figured I’d need the head start.

About two-thirds of the way in I started to get tired, both arms and thighs (remember, no swim exercise for me) and started to get a little concerned. I was still 250-300 yards off shore in strong surf.

About then one of the orbiting lifeguards came by on a jetski and asked “You OK? You gonna make it?”.  Swallowing my pride I replied “I think so, but I wouldn’t turn down a ride.” He let me crawl up on a towed board and I held on for a high-powered ride to shore.

While I wanted to say I did the whole thing (jump plus swim), I was honestly exhausted. And relieved. How would it have looked if a good friend of the PDFSD’s CEO drowned at his fund raiser? So I took the ride for him.

All in all it was an epic day. I knocked something off the mental bucket list, supported a charity and got some hellacious exercise. And then collapsed for a solid evening on the couch.

 

 

6-28-19, Lake Hemet

We decided to do a quick trip in the caravan before the 4th. I was able to get a nice RV hookup spot at Lake Hemet, only about an hour from our house. It’s also only about 8 miles from Idyllwild, so that gave  us some options if we decided to leave the campground.

We’ve never been there, but online it looks pretty good. Learning from the Big Bear experience, using satellite view in Google Maps I made sure the campsite looked decent, with trees, and not on top of a road. All good.

This trip we’re going to cook in the caravan and we’re going fishing. Consequently, we stocked up on some cooking provisions and began shopping for fishing gear. My fishing life was 40+ years ago, so all my gear is long gone. But across Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart we ended up with a pretty decent set of gear for the two of us. My favorite item was a set of telescoping rods from Pluissant, via Amazon.

The drive there was easy, even with a stop for lunch at Five Guys (I’m a sucker for their fries). Upon arriving our campsite was nice and shady, though required some trucker-skill-level turning to back the caravan into a tight spot around a corner. But mission accomplished.

Lake Hemet  is really beautiful. It’s a mountain lake at about 4500 feet, in a huge valley leading up to Idyllwild. The RV hookup sites are a little funky – about 2/3 of the sites are occupied by permanent “campers” with varying degrees of landscaping and accumulated junk around their site. But they’re pretty quiet, as it turns out. Our site had a nice view of nearby Thomas Mountain just south of the lake.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b805.jpg

Not too long after arrival we broke out our new fishing gear and gave it a try, just shore fishing. No luck, but we got the gear all set up and ready for a more serious fishing trip by boat in the morning.

About 7pm K broke in the new kitchen with a super meal – angel hair pasta, homemade Bolognese sauce, buttery crostinis and a salad. My contribution was (1) turning on the propane system for the first time, and (2) a bottle of A3, one of our low-cost high-value wines. Pretty high-class eating for a camping evening – I guess that’s why it’s called glamping.

After only one afternoon and part of an evening, I’m already pretty sold on Lake Hemet. It’s easy to get to, has a nice lake, and has some beautiful views. So far so good. One downside – we are completely off the net. No cell service (thanks T-Mobile), no campground wifi (WTF?), so we’re passing time purely in meatspace. Though that does give me incentive to sit and write, as evidenced by this little essay.

It would be peaceful except K  decided to string a bunch of Christmas-y lights around the caravan, and this looks to be a project with no apparent end. All I can do is hunker down and write, act busy, leaving me thankfully out of the light stringing madness. Fingers crossed.

Day 2, Lake Hemet

We woke up at 545am to go fishing. Actually, to be early enough in line to get one of the first-come-first-serve motorboats at the marina. That went well, and we were organized and on the lake by 7am. The temperature was chilly at 6am – 43 degrees – but it warmed up to a respectable 60ish as we left the marina.

Yesterday I said the lake was beautiful. Today, from the water and opposite shores, it was spectacular. Our first highlight of the day was spotting a bald eagle within the first 20 minutes. It was pretty big – maybe a juvenile, as it had brilliant white feathers, no beige-y look. But it was just cool to see that symbol of wilderness here only an hour from home. This shot of our eagle is a little grainy, but it’s an extreme zoom-in of the original. The photo was shot from perhaps a quarter mile.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b806.jpg

We fished for five hours and caught two nice smallish rainbow trout. I threw them both back – I’m a catch and release guy – but in retrospect I’m pretty sure one of them didn’t survive. He was hooked mid-body and in the lip, and the body hook caused some damage. Maybe should have kept him for dinner, but as someone else pointed out, it’s an ecosystem and a dead trout won’t go wasted. If he floats to the top one bird or another will get him.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b827.jpg

It’s a very lively lake – fish jumping everywhere. Carp close to shore, feeding on submerged shrubs and trees (we had a big rainy season), and trout jumping mid-channel. All in all it was a super fishing excursion, though we were pretty bummed that K didn’t catch one. Maybe tomorrow.

After fishing and some rest, we headed off to explore Idyllwild. We have some history with Idyllwild, as when I first started to get antsy on the coast in 2003-2003, we looked at a mountain cabin or two in Idyllwild. I remember making several trips there, but ultimately the distance helped us decide that we wouldn’t buy there. Good thing, too. First the bark beetles killed millions of pine trees around Idyllwild, then wildfires burned the mountainsides leading into the town. Going in now, it’s depressing. It’ll be decades before those hillsides recover.

In the town it seemed the same kind of devastation had occurred, at least at first. The blocks where I remembered visiting high-falutin’ galleries 18 years ago are now covered with candy shops, cheap knick-knack shops and a gigantic jerky store. Tourist central…nice.

We made a rookie mistake and decided to eat at the first place that sounded good – the Idyllwild Pizza shop. It was OK, but just OK – not what I would have chosen with more research or less hangry. We bought a giant pizza (they had two sizes, stupid big and stupid little) and took half of it home.

After that we explored more widely in Idyllwild and found traces of the artsy town I remember. Further up the hill we found several nice galleries and a surprisingly good wine tasting room. The wine was sourced from Temecula and Napa, but the room itself

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b807.jpg

was first class, with art-adorned walls and a nice small-bites menu. It was the kind of place I could stay in all afternoon, at least till my Visa or my liver gave up.

A highlight of our Idyllwild visit was getting to see the Mayor, pictured here. Yes, Idyllwild has an official and legal Golden Retriever as mayor. I think that’s a great idea for most American cities.

But it was good to find a bit of the town I remember. Idyllwild was once an arts haven, a hippie retreat and a mountain man’s village. You see echoes of those qualities in the town, but it remains to be seen if the Idyllwild of 2000-ish will return.

Day 3, Lake Hemet

Groundhog Day. We started exactly as yesterday and were on the lake by 645am. We had a beautiful day trolling up and down the lake, and we saw our eagle friend again. He was in the same tree, and the only difference was that we saw him launch and check out a trout that another fisherman was hauling in. Same behavior as in Alaska – the eagles will snatch your catch if at all possible. They’ve got brains and beauty.

The one thing that wasn’t a repeat of yesterday was the catch – we came up empty. I had several good strikes, but nothing latched on (how can a trout bite a treble hook so hard you feel it, yet not get hooked? It’s a mystery…).

So we had to settle for a beautiful day on the water. Meanwhile, we got to try every single fishing technique I could imagine. My general approach is if they’re not biting on what you’re offering, try something else. I know other fisherman who will stick to their plan for hours and hours, but that’s not me. Call me adaptable. Or ADD. But the upside was we got to practice trolling, casting, live bait fishing, trolling with a downrigger. Spoons, jigs, top lures, diving lures, rubber worms, live (mostly) worms. It was a smorgasbord of futility. But that’s fishing. In my youth fishing taught me a lot about patience, randomness and acceptance. Some things are just beyond your control. I’d say those are good lessons for any young person.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b808.jpg

At the end of the day(s), our trip to Hemet Lake was a good one. We caught a couple of fish, discovered a super lake within easy reach of our house, got an update on the state of Idyllwild and learned a bit more about the caravan life.