A walk in the park

Who would think that a “life of leisure” could be so busy?

Just over two months ago, a milestone arrived. I retired from my day job. After fifteen and a half years of working for the Federal government, I pulled the pin, called it quits, cleaned out my desk. As of 12:50pm on March 20, David had left the building.

I’d been working a long time. The day after I graduated from high school, in late May of 1975, I drove my father’s Ford Pinto station wagon from our home in Potosi, down in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, to the nearby town of Platteville, the largest burg in Grant County, to find a job. And I did, at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket. I started a couple days later. From that day until March 20, 2019, I had never been unemployed, a streak just shy of 43 years and 10 months. The job as stock boy at “the Pig” was the first of a string of part-time jobs, the last of which, at WGLR Radio in nearby Lancaster, turned into full-time by the spring of 1979. Starting with that job, my position with the Social Security office in Rice Lake was the ninth full-time position I’d held, and the longest in tenure.

 

One last photo with the gang at the Rice Lake SSA office before I’m out the door for the final time. A fine bunch of dedicated folks.

 

I could’ve gone longer; I know people within SSA who are still in their 70s and continue to work full-time. Right now, the man holding down the most important job in the country, the President of the United States, is approaching his 73rd birthday. Two of the men who have declared their desire to replace him in 2021 are older than that. But, although I enjoyed my job and the people I worked with, I really had no desire to keep working there.

A lot of thought and planning goes into a decision like this, assuming you’re doing it the right way, and my wife and I were determined to do it the right way. So, we started the process a couple years in advance. When do you have to start seriously thinking about retirement? About a year before you think you need to, that’s when.

Like they have been for so many things, my parents were the role models for this move, too. They had both retired about six months past their respective 62nd birthdays, and since Mom is 16 months younger than Dad, it meant that they had both embarked on their retirement journeys by the time my father turned 64, leaving them plenty of time to do the things they’d always wanted to do. And they did.

Careful planning and a lot of sacrifices over the years put my wife and I in a position where we could seriously consider retiring in our early 60s. As for Sue, she intends to work a few more years, as there are still some places out there she hasn’t visited in her travels, believe it or not. And while I liked my day job–the work was important, I was helping people every day, and the compensation was more than adequate–I wanted to turn my full-time attention to some things that up until March 20 of this year, had only been able to receive my part-time attention. One was my writing career. Another was starting to put a dent in my rather-imposing bookshelves, both real and virtual. And a third was enjoying our dog, Sophie, to the fullest, with daily walks or bike rides (weather permitting; up here in northwest Wisconsin, you always have to add that caveat).

 

So, how have things been going?

Very well, and thanks for asking. I was able to finish the manuscript for my next novel, The Heights of Valor, and it’s just about ready for pre-sale orders. The official launch of the novel is July 20, and we’ll be having an event at the Round Man Brewing Co. in Spooner, Wis., that afternoon, to which all my readers are invited. Click on this link for more information: THOV Launch Party. There will be prizes, autographed copies of the new book, and info about an exciting 2020 event that will take us to an exotic place featured in the novel.

I’ve lined up a number of personal appearances for the rest of the year, speaking to groups and taking part in arts and crafts festivals. Check out my itinerary on my website here: Appearances.

There will be some traveling involved, too, and you can follow our adventures on Sue’s travel blog: Your Next Journey.

The best thing about being retired is now having the time to do a lot of the things you never had much time for while spending 40+ hours a week at the office. In addition to the writing, I’ve been able to spend more time at the gym and at the pool, and I’ve lost six pounds since March 20. From what I’ve been told, it’s often the other way around, but I’m glad that’s not the case with me. I fully intend to be writing, traveling and working out when I’m in my 80s, and in fact, recently saw an article about a man well into his second century whose daily gym attendance was a big factor in his longevity: How to live to 111.

With that in mind, Sue and I hit the trail on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend for a strenuous hike. Northern Wisconsin is chock-full of hiking trails, many of which are used for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. For yesterday’s outing, we chose one recommended by my friend and fellow writer, Rob Bignell, who has explored every trail around here and has written about them extensively. Check out Rob’s work here: Rob Bignell.

We ventured north from our home, stopped in the little town of Cable to set up an appearance at Redbery Books, and continued north until we entered the Chequamegon National Forest’s most northern section, in Ashland County. We embarked on a hike that took us to Morgan Falls and then up to St. Peter’s Dome. It was only six miles from start to finish, but it was not an easy six miles.

 

To the Chequamegon National Forest.

This is one big forest. The Chequamegon (pronounced “sheh-WAH-meh-gun”) National Forest and its companion, the Nicolet, together comprise over 1.5 million acres in north-central Wisconsin. It’s home to a great many plant, animal and bird species, as well as numerous creeks, rivers and lakes. Carefully managed for decades, the forest provides hikers with a wide variety of trails. We chose one that is about a two-hour drive from our house.

Our first destination was the small town of Cable, 18 miles northeast of Hayward, which is home to Redbery Books. From Cable, we continued northeastward on US Highway 63 through the villages of Drummond and Grand View before turning off the main highway, eventually finding our way to the trailhead. From there, it was a relatively easy hike of about 3/4 of a mile to Morgan Falls. At some seventy feet in height, the falls is the second-tallest in Wisconsin.

 

hike bridge
Rebuilt after a major flood in 2016, the trail now includes some wooden bridges and boardwalks.

 

hike morgan falls 2
Morgan Creek, whose headwaters are up on the Dome, rushes down through the rocks at this point.

 

hike morgan falls
Morgan Falls is the second-tallest waterfall in Wisconsin, about 90 feet shorter than Big Manitou Falls, just south of Superior. That one’s on our agenda, for sure.

 

After enjoying the beauty of the falls for a few minutes, we headed back down the trail to the fork, made the turn and headed up toward St. Peter’s Dome. The trail became much more difficult, reminding us of the trails we encountered when we hiked through the Peruvian Andes two summers ago. From the fork, it’s a two-mile trek up to the Dome.

 

hike brook crossing
We had to make three brook crossings on the way up to the Dome, and of course re-crossed them on the way down. For the careless hiker, sprained ankles await.
hike brook
One of the main streams meandering down from the Dome.
hike cistern
This cistern was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which re-forested much of the Chequamegon-Nicolet back in the 1930s after extensive logging in the previous half-century had taken its toll on the forest.
hike trail
The trail, such that it was, presented a lot of challenges.

 

Known locally as “Baldy Hill” or “Old Baldy,” St. Peter’s Dome is measured at 1817 feet above sea level. That puts it tenth on the list of highest points in Wisconsin; the champ, at 1951 feet, is Timm’s Hill in Price County. Here’s a description of the hiking area: St. Peters Dome/Morgan Falls.  You’ll notice the advisory about wearing appropriate footwear on the trail, especially if you’re climbing the Dome. We saw three teenagers, two boys and a girl, coming down from the Dome, and she was wearing nothing on her feet but thin flip-flops. She also had a short-sleeved tee shirt and short shorts, which must’ve made her very inviting to the gnats.

But once we got up there, the view to the north, toward Lake Superior, was spectacular.

hike dome view
From the northern edge of St. Peters Dome, you can see the edge of Chequamegon Bay to the north, with the peninsula behind it. Some of Wisconsin’s most picturesque towns, including Ashland, Washburn and Bayfield, are on the Bay.

 

hike dome
Sophie, our Yorkie, was a real trooper on the hike. She got to sleep all the way home.

 

On our way back home, we stopped at the Sawmill Saloon in the little town of Seeley for refreshment. You’re not going to find a more “northern Wisconsin”-style place than the Sawmill. We had last been there back in January, for a show featuring our friend, the troubadour Kevin McMullin. Here’s a video I shot that evening of the impromptu group that warmed up the crowd for Kevin: Warming up the Sawmill crowd. And you can check out Kevin’s work here: Kevin McMullin.

It had been as challenging a hike as we’d yet found in Wisconsin, but we’re ready for more. Sue and I are both natives of the Badger State and won’t be living anywhere else. At one time we considered retiring to western Montana, where we both lived for a few years in “previous lives,” as we like to say, but one look at real estate prices in the Bitterroot Valley dissuaded us pretty quickly. The winters can be brutal up here, like the one we just came through–there was snow in the Drummond area and northward as recently as mid-May–but the rest of the year is pretty darn nice.

If you’ve never been to Wisconsin, come up and visit. We’ve got everything up here, from big-league sports and cosmopolitan entertainment in our southern cities like Milwaukee and Madison, to small-town charm and some of the best countryside you’ll find anywhere. Just one tip: you might not want to come in February.

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