A CRAZY Story About A Guy Named Retirement Ron.
Costa Rica - 2000.
You know how in life you cross paths with people and you never forget them? That was Retirement Ron…except our paths crossed twice.
When I was in my mid 20's my life was discombobulating (and it wasn’t because I’d stocked up on a decade’s worth of tampons and wine and then Y2K never happened). I booked a plane ticket to Costa Rica, strapped on a backpack and took off.
No cell phone.
No communication with anyone back home.
Just a summer of sorting myself out. Or, at the very least, I could be fucked up where there’s monkeys and a good view of the ocean.
I’d been renting a shack on a beach for a couple of weeks and I was getting restless when two guys with stuffed backpacks hiked up the coastline and stopped for lunch at the restaurant not far from my beach hut.
“Where you guys going?”
“We’re hiking up the coast to Corcovado National Park.” Perfect. I bolted back to my shack, hastily threw everything into my pack.
“Okay, ready,” I said when I returned, setting down my pack as they were finishing lunch.
They smiled in response, and we were off.
Shaun and Ron. The only picture I seem to have of them.
I had no idea if they were rapists. They had no idea if I was a completely crazy. They were not rapists. Jury's still out on whether I'm crazy,
We hiked. We talked. We hiked. We talked. I got the impression their trek had been considerably more silent until I joined the ranks.
Ron, 25, had spent the last couple of years teaching in a remote community in Alaska. They had this amazing retirement incentive: if he stayed there for 15 years he could retire with a full pension- which means he’d be 38 when he retired. And he was going to do it. Holy Shit. Freedom 38. But when you're in your early to mid 20's, 38 is a lifetime away.
I grilled him for hours about it as we hiked. Seriously, only 400 people live there? How cold? But what do you do? I knew something about this because I’d recently spent a year and a half teaching up North in Churchill, Manitoba – population 900 (excluding the bears), winter temperature -47 (without the windchill). I LOVED Churchill, but there’s no way I could have spent 15 winters there.
“What are you going to do when you retire?”
“I’m saving up to buy a sailboat and I’m going to sail around the world.”
“Okay, you win. That’s pretty fucking cool. I really hope this works out, Retirement Ron.”
Ron stops. Our path has disappeared. We’re staring at a swelling river.
“Well this sucks,” I say. “Do we have to turn back?”
“Wrap anything you don’t want getting wet in a garbage bag.” Garbage bags? Who brought those? “Backpack above your head. We cross.”
“We cross? This is a fucking river!”
“It shouldn’t go too much past your head.”
“Are you insane?” Ron didn’t hear me. He was already wading into the water. As the add-on passenger to this expedition, my opinions didn’t carry much weight.
I hoist my pack onto my head, almost snapping my neck, and follow Ron. The water rises up to my mouth at one point, and I have to cross with my face pointing up at the sky so I don’t swallow half the river, but then I can’t really see where I’m going. And there’s also an annoying current to deal with.
Ron had my camera and passport because neither of us were too confident in my abilities to cross this river. He snapped this picture.
“Hurry up,” Ron calls. He’s already on the shore. “There’s probably crocodiles in this water.”
“Fucking hell! Are you shitting me? Why didn’t you tell me?!” Okay, so I didn’t hook up with a rapist, I hooked up with a completely insane man with a death wish.
“You wouldn’t have crossed,” he said and went on with some bullshit about fear, but I was too busy trying not to get my ass chomped off by crocodiles to listen to him.
Later that night after dinner, after I’d forgiven him for the crocodile incident, we were floating on our backs in the ocean, two macaws soared in the darkening blue sky above our heads.
“Did you know that macaws are one of the few animals that mate for life?”
“Nope.” An odd comment coming from a guy who, based on his employment, current travel itinerary and retirement plans was leading a pretty solitary life. "Ron, you might be the coolest guy I know. And I hardly know you."
We camped along the coast, we spent a night in a solar powered biology station run by volunteer Mormons. That was weird…and a whole other blog post.
Eventually we reached Corcovado National Park.
And that was it.
It was time that we carried on with our independent adventures. I wrote Ron and Shaun’s email addresses in the back of my passport. It was a world that had not yet been polluted with Tweets and status updates. When I got back home, I was sucked back into life and we never emailed. But I’ve never forgotten about Retirement Ron and his sailboat and I’ve always wondered about him.
Five Years Later…Napali Coast – Kuwai, Hawaii - 2005.
On our honeymoon Rob and I took a break from being permanently buzzed off Mai Tai’s to hike the Kalalau Trail along the Napoli Coast of Kuwai, Hawaii. The only thing I might like more than hiking is Mai Tai’s – but off we went anyway.
The Kalalau Trail is a 13 mile steep and treacherous trek. Backpacker Magazine includes this trail on America’sTop 10 Most Dangerous Hikes (one down, nine to go). It’s remote and uninhabited and where they shot all the aerial scenes for Jurassic Park.
There’s wild mountain goats all over the place. They’re not going to eat you or anything, but when you’re shuffling along a steep rock face with a 300 meter drop into the ocean and a pack of 7 goats are charging at you…it’s a little fucking disconcerting.
Wild mountain goat with horns and freaky eyes.
About 8 miles into the hike we stopped to rest after a difficult section. I couldn’t watch the crying woman scooching around a crumbling rock face on her ass any longer, so I went to fill my water bottle in the stream.
A tall, lean guy was bent over the stream filling his water bottle.
This is the weirdest thing. I could not see his face, but I knew it was Retirement Ron.
“Holy Shit!” I hammer Rob in the arm as hard as I can.
“Owww, what’d you do that for?”
“ I think that’s Retirement Ron!!!!” Rob has heard all about Retirement Ron. I have brought him up numerous times, wondering if he survived Alaska, if he’d be sailing around the world at 38. I’ve always kind of been in awe of him and wished we’d stayed in touch. “No way, can’t be him, that’d be way too surreal!”
“It would be really unlikely,” Rob said. “But, go talk to the guy.”
“Excuse me,” and then Retirement Ron turned around. “Oh my god, Ron, Ron from Costa Rica! We hiked up the coast together. With Shaun. You teach in Alaska and you’re going to retire and sail around the world. I can’t believe it’s you. Retirement Ron, I think about you all the time!”
Yeah, I actually verbally said everything that was in my head and he looked at me like I was bat-shit crazy, like he was just realizing that he was in the sequel to Fatal Attraction, like I was going to tell him that I bore his love child.
But then he recognized me. And smiled. That same casual smile as when I announced to him and Shaun I’d be joining them on their hike up the coast.
It turns out Retirement Ron had put in 8 years in Alaska, he had seven more to go. He’d already bought his sailboat. Ron chatted as though running into me was the most normal thing in the world. Sadly, he was on his way out and we were on our way in. It was almost perfect.
“It’s really beautiful in there. I only stayed one night. Wish I had a week. You guys?”
“We’ll hike out in three days. It’s going to take me that long to recover from these goats. And I really can’t go much longer than that without a Mai Tai.”
Ron was right, it was beyond beautiful. The view from our campsite.
“Well, I’d should head off, so I get out before dark,” Ron said.
“Okay, see you on the next hike, in a couple of years.”
And that was it. I had been handed the next chapter in the story, just like that. But now I would have to wait for the conclusion.
When you think about it, it’s not actually that weird that I ran into Ron. There’s a pretty small percentage of people on the planet who will ever seek out these kinds of hiking adventures. He and I are among those people.
I expect that I might have run into him again already if I didn’t have such young kids. We’ve had to water down the treks a little, and go to places where I probably won’t bump into Retirement Ron. At least for a few years until the 4 year old can buck up and do 10 mile hikes.
Why the hell am I writing this post now? It’s fall, 2013. The year Retirement Ron retires. The first fall in 15 years he's not in Alaska. I’m dying to know if he’s sailing around the world. Except I’ve misplaced my 15 year old passport, so I can’t contact him. I’m turning my house upside down trying to find it.
Even if it doesn't turn up, I'm pretty sure our paths will cross again and I'll get my conclusion. Or, if he's smart, he'll see CrazyPants coming and run or sail far the fuck away in the opposite direction.
Stock photo on the internet