Retire Early, Retire Often

I know that this may sound funny,
but money don't mean nothing to me.
I won't make my music for money, no,
I'm gonna make my music for me.

-- Jimmy Buffet

I've never been much of a career person. Work has always been a means to an end and, for me, that end has been travel and adventure. My first job after college was washing dishes on the graveyard shift at Harrah's Casino in South Lake Tahoe. Not exactly what my parents had envisioned, but I learned a lot about people, got to ride in an elevator with the Gallagher (the standup comedian), saw Don Rickles while hefting food scraps into a dumpster, and spent my days climbing at Pie Shop, the local crag. After six months, I left for Yosemite.

For the next 10 years, I spent my winters working in the software industry and my summers climbing in Yosemite, the Tetons, the Canadian Rockies, and many smaller cragging areas. I made it up the Salathe Wall on El Capitan, soloed the Prow in Yosemite and the North Face of Mt. Edith Cavell to the east summit, and got halfway up Tis-sa-ack on Half Dome before a 30' fall stripped the sheath off my rope, burned my partner's forearms, and led to a 1 1/2 day descent with monstrous pendulums. I climbed Standing Rock in Canyonlands, led all but one pitch on the DNB in Yosemite, and taught climbing in the Colorado Rockies.

I had other adventures as well. I paddled whitewater in California, Idaho, Wyoming, and British Columbia and took two long solo flatwater trips: 230 miles of on the Nechako Reservoir-Eutsuk Lake loop in northern British Columbia and 330 miles on the Peace River in northern Alberta from Ft. Vermilion to Ft. Fitzgerald. (After the latter trip, I hitchhiked 400 miles back to my truck in a single day with my kayak.) I visited Mexico and Guatemala with my Tis-sa-ack partner, where we dove in Baja, tracked down his relatives in Quetzaltenango, and visited Tikal. And I twice visited Europe, climbing in Britain, France, and the Alps and hitchhiking across East Germany to a still-divided Berlin, where a self-proclaimed German radical took me to punk clubs and East Berlin and on a midnight raid of an abandoned mansion.

By the early 90s, I'd tired of moving constantly and settled in Seattle, where I met my wife, Karin Gallagher, and spent five years at Microsoft. Being contractors, we were able to take longer vacations than most and spent two months in Borneo and Bali and another two months in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. As a protest against the rain, I took up caving, choosing to think of it as an indoor sport. (Actually, I'd always done some caving. I just did more of it.)

By the late 90s, Karin decided it was time for us to live overseas and, through some colleagues at Microsoft, I found a research position at the Technical University in Darmstadt, Germany. Unless you're really excited about the chemical or space industries, Darmstadt is not a happening place, but it is centrally located and we used it as a base to explore Germany, France, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. I also joined the DAV Hoehlengruppe Frankfurt/Main, which led to caving and baguette trips in the French Jura and multi-day exploration trips in Loferer Schacht, an Austrian cave we explored to a depth of over 800m.

After my job at the university ended, we packed up our gear and spent the next nine months living (mostly) out of a VW bus in Britain, Italy, France, and Germany. In addition to climbing, writing, and learning languages, we researched Karin's geneology, successfully tracking the history of relatives who had left France in 1849. (Before starting at the university, we had researched the French side of my father's family, meeting relatives he never knew existed and compiling a family tree that dated to the 1700s.)

We returned to the US in summer of 2000, three years to the day after leaving, and settled in Mt. Hermon, CA, a couple of miles from where I grew up. Karin went to work for Borland and I continued my research on XML and databases. Our kids were born in 2001 and 2002 and I became a househusband, consulting on the side.

Parenting is rewarding, infuriating, and fun. You can be sure that, no matter how hard you try, your kids will spend at least part of their twenties in therapy. And while it would be nice to choose how you screw them up, you will most likely screw them up in the same way your parents screwed you up. In fact, this is one of the great things about being a parent: It forces you to confront your own weaknesses in desperate bid to avoid passing them to your children.

With the kids now entering their teens, I've shifted from doing things to listening and encouraging. Or, as my kids would have it, nagging. It's not always easy stepping back, but the kids are pretty good about telling me when to butt out and I've learned to get the message. (Hint to employers: If you're looking for a good middle manager, find a housewife with successful kids who is returning to the workforce.)

Throughout our life with kids, we have continued to travel. We've taken them to about half the US states, with long trips to Alaska, New England, the Pacific Northwest, and Yellowstone and numerous visits to the California deserts and the Southwest. We've also traveled abroad, visiting Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Honduras, Canada, and Mexico. The outdoors also remains a big part of our lives, with canoe trips through Labyrinth Canyon (Green River) and Topock Gorge (Lower Colorado), flat and whitewater kayaking, backpacking, climbing, and caving. And with a trail system ending in our backyard, we hike. A lot.

Of course, having a family means less time for personal adventures. Except for a month of mountaineering in Tibet and a handful of trips to Loferer Schacht in Austria, I've mostly just taken the odd caving weekend. Karin has snuck in trips to St. Petersburg, Thailand, and Costa Rica. Mostly, I cycle as often as my knees will allow (exercise at this age is more about avoiding injury than getting in shape), walk the dog, and go surf kayaking as often as possible.

It's been harder to get away as a couple. Just before the kids were born, we spent a few weeks in Jordan, seeing the sights and climbing in Wadi Rum. And for our 15th wedding anniversary, we climbed the East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock in Yosemite. I'd done this route several times before, most recently in the late 80s, when it had been an easy day out. This time it took 14 hours car-to-car and I could barely move the next day. Now that the kids are old enough to leave on their own, we've done a bit of sea kayaking: twelve miles along the coast from Davenport to Santa Cruz and seventeen miles further offshore from Santa Cruz to Moss Landing.

In closing, I'd like to address any potential employers who might have surfed over to this page. I'm well aware that this history does not square with the impression given by my resume, which is that I've spent my entire adult life working. Rest assured I'm not trying to deceive anyone -- I've just never figured out how to list exact employment dates without crowding out my work history altogether. To compensate, the total years of experience listed in my summary is roughly accurate and I'm always upfront in interviews. Enjoy!