I know retirement has its unusual side but I’m willing to bet that seeing going on holiday as a challenge wouldn’t normally be thought of in those terms. After all holidays are generally thought to be a period away from the day to day challenges of ‘normal’ life. But then I often feel my retirement is anything but normal. Too many challenges I sometimes think. Isn’t retirement supposed to be a time for kicking back and taking it easy?
I’d better explain. A few days after this blog is posted we will be travelling to Scotland. Not just over the border like our trip a couple of years ago to Dumfries and Galloway but as far North as it is possible to go without holidaying in Iceland. We’re going to be travelling around the North Coast 500, see above, (Scottish tourism is trying to promote this as the Scottish equivalent to Route 66 – having done the latter I’ll let you know) and more of this in later blogs I’m sure. Well actually I’m not sure because I have no idea what internet connections and free wi-fi, which I depend on, will be like or whether it will even exist in some areas. It is that remote. We have been here before but that was thirty plus years ago and the telephone had barely been invented then. Mobile phones weren’t even brick shaped, they were called telephone boxes.
Hence my caution about posting holiday blogs. But that’s not the half of the challenge. The challenge lies in the fact that, by way of celebrating our two 70th birthdays by doing something as exotic as possible, taking into account we have the two dogs who want to be a part of any celebrations, we’re hiring a caravan and for three weeks. They could be long weeks if the weather is as inclement as it can be and frequently is in those parts. Four of us, two human and two canine in a very confined space, could be ‘interesting’.
And that’s still not the main reason for my anxiety. It is to do with the caravan but, while I have never in my life pulled a caravan, I have towed a trailer as part of our ex-gardening business. By so doing I have learned something about myself, about my skill levels. Namely that I cannot reverse a trailer to save my life. I know the theory, you simply do everything the opposite way round. However, theory and practical outcome do not match in this case. I simply can’t do it. And why you ask is this relevant? I’ll tell you. We’re going to an area that has an unwelcome combination of single track roads with fast moving local brewery trucks or so I am told.
The theory is you use something called a passing place (a slightly wider bit of road) . All very good unless you miss one or there isn’t one and you meet the brewery truck or equivalent who is not going to back up so you’re supposed to and, as I’ve explained, I can’t. What is going to happen? Only bad things it seems to me. It is tempting to think I’ve set myself too big a challenge and cancel the whole thing. But that would be cowardly. And as I sometimes feel as I’ve got older I’m less and less inclined to get into confrontations (especially with large vehicles) which sometimes feels like verging on a form of cowardice. I prefer the quiet life more and more as I mature.
Or, more accurately perhaps, to choose challenges that I think I can ‘win’. Like the jazz playing or the vineyard, even this blog, but pulling a caravan around the narrow, windy ‘roads’ of Scotland, coming head to head with a large vehicle and not being able to get out of the way. Hmm. But we’re going through with it, although I admit, until this very week when we paid the full amount, there was doubt.
Still what’s not in doubt is the importance of setting those challenges even or especially when one is retired. I realise having recently talked to an old friend who I haven’t seen for a while, that not every retired person sees retirement this way. But for me it is an issue of maintaining my self-esteem and, as I’ve written in other blogs, this hasn’t always been easy. So I look for challenges that are challenging but not soul-destroying as has playing jazz from time to time.
It does sometimes seem that for every friend who thinks I should avoid the kind of challenges I’ve described above, there are two who would say I should be doing more, creating more challenges for myself in retirement and harder ones too. Strangely the last week has provided two examples from two friends of this kind of thinking. An American friend who cycled with his group the high roads of Colorado (from Durango where we have our land) and into Utah, 200 plus, very hilly miles in 6 days I think it was. Lots of admiring comments from his Facebook friends, even sent a conditional one myself. Then, equally strangely, at a 70th birthday party (so glad I didn’t celebrate my 70th like this) last Saturday night I met a guy who I hadn’t seen for a while. He’s a retired psychologist who now mostly lives in Northern Brittany. He’d had a rare form of leukaemia which, according to his specialist, would have killed him five years before. To celebrate his recovery he cycled from John o’ Groats to Land’s End.
Both challenges impressively met and testimony to the positive impact of setting and achieving challenges in retirement, who could argue with that? And that was what I was thinking until the guy told me about the friend of his who had cycled with him and, half way through the trip, had suffered a stroke, fallen off his bike, injured himself and, as my friend put it, never really recovered. Seeing him around our neighbourhood we can testify to this, he looks a sad person indeed.
OK maybe this is a cheap excuse from somebody not looking to set himself any bigger challenge than a three week trip in a caravan around Scotland, worrying about the weather and large trucks on narrow roads, but then again, maybe I’ve got it about right. If I’ve got two friends thinking I need to take it easy and two more friends telling me, in different ways, (face to face and face to Facebook) about doing a lot more, perhaps my retirement challenges are about right.