Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?



570 Retiring and Relocating (rewrite)

(Episode 005)

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

We retired in Anchorage, Alaska. We had lived there 19 years and loved it. Alaska seemed to be filled with unique and interesting people. I believe this is still true. But – we relocated. Today the topic is retiring and relocating.

When we retired, our children, who had been raised in Alaska, were going to college in what we Alaskans call “Outside”, meaning the lower 48 states. They urged us to, “Look around. You might find something you like even better.”  Then our daughter paraphrased Nietzsche back at me, “Risk a little, Dad. Step out on the edge, live dangerously”. (Kids have a way of doing this as they get older. They don’t forget the little sayings we throw about when they are young).We did loved Alaska where we skied almost every day and hiked in the mountains on other days but after one year of retirement, we decided to rent our house for one year and give four or five “Outside” places a look.

We made a list of features that we might like in a new local: west of the Rockies, salt water, mountains, a university and close proximity to a large city. We desired a climate that was not known for getting hot nor cold. We also wanted a real downtown and a strong sense of community that might welcome our participation.

We planned a long-year trip to look around. My wife drove the car loaded with clothes, sound system, my guitar and the dog. I rode an old BMW motorcycle as we headed south from Alaska. On our list of places to visit were; Bellingham, Washington; Eugene, Oregon; Sonoma and San Diego, California; and Santa Fe, New Mexico. This last one even though it wasn’t close to salt water.

We planned on renting a small apartment or house for two or three months in each of the desired locations as we worked our way south. We thought we would get a real feel for each and then make a decision. It didn’t workout that way.

Within thirty minutes of crossing south from the Canadian border we had found our place to retire; Bellingham, Washington. It was right on the coast – thus, saltwater. The beautiful Cascade Mountains rose up in the east. The San Juan Islands lay to the west. Western Washington University occupied a naturally beautiful hillside in the heart of the community. Seattle lay 90 miles to the south, and Vancouver, BC 60 miles to the north. It had a vibrant downtown and we felt welcome within weeks. We rented some college type housing (ghetto like)  and started to explore.

Within two months we were looking for a house to buy. All the other choices receded in the distance never to be compared. By the end of October we had purchased a house with a view of the bay.

It is now 30 years later and we still live in the same house. During the first year we volunteered at the Art Museum to go into elementary schools and teach a few art focused classes to grade school students. I volunteered at a local environmental organization. Brenda joined a group of artists experimenting with watercolors. I found a guitar teacher at the college and plugged into the local guitar world. We both joined the local chapter of Amnesty International. We explored out new town every day. And we did it on our bikes. A great way to really get to know the territory.

We returned to Alaska the following summer to sell our house and pack up all, or at least some of our stuff. We drove away and never looked back.

One thing that might have affected our relocating was our age. We retired early and had lots of energy and interest in doing more with our lives. We become very active in political and community efforts. We helped start a local farmers market. We worked on a greenway and trails levy; a Mayors Greenway Committee and the County Parks Board. We also helped launch the Northwest Classical Guitar Society. Brenda served on the Mayor’s Art Council.

We have enjoyed participating in the community social and political affairs. We have hiked in the mountains; enjoyed the cultural advantages the university offers and the hustle and bustle of the two major cities that are close by. We especially appreciate the ability afforded to us to take long road trips without first flying to Seattle or driving down the Alaskan Highway.

I’m sure relocating doesn’t work for everyone. I recall a fellow teacher in Anchorage who retired and packed up everything, sold his house and moved back to his home state of Maine. One year later he was back in Alaska looking for a new house and a new job. The same happened to another friend in Anchorage who went back to his old home town in Montana only to return a year later. Just didn’t work out.

I don’t think you have to be young to relocate. I met two couple last week at a dinner and they both relocated after age 70. They raved about their new home here where I live. They reminded me of when we moved here thirty years ago. Then there is my brother who is 79. He just pulled up stakes in his hometown of over 40 years and moved to Green Valley, Arizona. He said he asked his wife where she wanted to live after he died. She said “Arizona”. Within a couple of months they had sold a house, bought a house, hired a moving truck and moved. We will see how that works out.

We are very glad that we did venture down that long road many years ago. We still return to Anchorage at least once a year to visit our son and family who have returned to Alaska to live. We still see a few friends when we are there, but not many. Most have died to moved away.

Relocating  has opened many new doors and offered us a new perspective on life. It has challenged us to take a new look at the world and ourselves. You might want to give it a try or at least give it some thought.

This is Retirement Talk.

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