They say that struggle is the bedrock of any great story, but this particular story has no struggle. This is a tale of happiness and inspiration, one that I hope to see through to the end very shortly.
My wife and I walked slowly along Lake Coeur d’Alene, glancing back and forth between the beautiful water and the gentle hum of city bustle. It felt like a small beach town. Kids played in the sand. Parents sat on beach towels keeping sanity. A sand-swept two lane street laid between us and lake front homes. A peaceful beginning, Hollywood-style.
It was July of 2015, and my wife and I stopped in Coeur d’Alene on our way back to the Spokane airport after our trip to Glacier National Park we took for my birthday. It seemed like the perfect place to grab some lunch.
But as we began to experience more of the city, it soon turned into much more than a simple lunch spot. This felt like destiny.
It was a hot day. I found myself walking just a bit slower under the welcoming shade of trees and a little more swiftly when exposed to the sun. But, I was calm. My wife was relaxed…grinning.
Boats sat gracefully out on the water, occasionally rocking back and forth in the wake of a passing jet ski. Along the boardwalk (the world’s longest floating boardwalk, by the way), we stopped to witness a water plane take off and ascend slowly into the crystal clear Idaho skies.
Boat owners tended to their floating prized possessions at the dock, hosing down the sides, fiddling with adjustable awnings, restocking their watercraft with supplies. Like a well-oiled machine, the activity seemed organized and polite, boaters never holding back a quick smile as we passed. People appeared happy and content. We continued to walk, taking in the warm Idaho afternoon.
We poked our heads inside a coffee shop. We noticed a few patrons with laptop computers working via the shop’s free WiFi access, cup o’ Joe in hand. I smiled, then procured myself a cup.
For a moment, I had completely forgotten that we were on our way back to “normal life” and a full-time job. My wife and I knew full well what we were experiencing that day.
We were living our definition of retirement
“After retirement, this will be our life almost every day,” we said. The life of travel and seeing new places, new faces, new coffee shops, new towns, and villages.
In the short time that we enjoyed Lake Coeur d’Alene and the surrounding area, we got to put our future plans into action and live our travel goals for post-retirement. We got to experience the feeling of “newness” first hand, of mindfully taking in our environment, trying new things, interacting with new people – and enjoying every minute of it.
And being completely carefree while doing it. It was almost too good to be true.
I felt a very real sense of excitement develop within me, but slowly, that feeling slowly gave way to a realization that we are not yet at that point. We are not retired. We have full-time jobs to go back to.
“But I want to stay right here,” I thought. Then, go somewhere else, maybe spend more time in Spokane, then take a few months and see the Cascade mountains in western Washington. I want to experience life, not spend it working in some office (even if it’s my own home office)!
While my emotions were mixed, my vision of our goal of financial independence and early retirement became more laser focused than it already was. We both felt the same emotion that day.
This is what we want. We do not yet have it. Let’s get this done, now!
And from that afternoon, we promised ourselves that we would return to Coeur d’Alene, walk the very same path along the lake, perhaps buy a cup of coffee from the same coffee shop. But this time, I’d sit down and use the WiFi, because I have no place to be.
We will look around and enjoy the same beach town feel, listen to the low drone of happy children splashing around in the lake and the occasional roar of a speed boat’s engine as it knifes through the water, observe a water plane take off from the lake waters. And, watch beach ball-wielding families pick the perfect spot on the warm sand to call their own.
And we will do all of that – retired.
“The last time we were here, we had full-time jobs to go back to. Now, look at us!”
Word for word, baby. My wife and I are determined to make that happen, experience those sensations and say those very words.
One day, we will return to Coeur d’Alene.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.