As someone who loves to travel, I have always cherished each and every vacation day. I view them as precious gifts. They are definitely not to be wasted, misused, or arbitrarily cashed in. Using one at home means that I can’t stay that extra day in France or Mexico or Vietnam. As such, I can’t remember the last time I burned a vacation day that wasn’t connected with a trip. But considering that I will have no use for these in the very near future, I broke my rule the other day. For the first time in at least a decade, I took a random weekday off for no real reason. And it was glorious.
There’s a hiking trail in the nearby Santa Cruz mountains that is one of my favorites, but unfortunately I’m not the only one who feels that way. On the weekends, it’s always so crowded that we have no choice except to bypass it for somewhere else because it’s impossible to find parking at the trailhead. If I did want to make it my mission to get to Castle Rock State Park on a Saturday or Sunday, I’d have to leave my apartment by 8am in order to secure a parking spot. This could be part of getting old, but by the time the weekend rolls around, I’m nearly always exhausted. The work week never fails to wear me down. So even though I like to hike, and this is a great trail, it’s just not appealing to set an alarm to get there.
Due to the overwhelming demand at this park on weekends, even if I did drag my ass out of bed way too early, I’d be sharing the trail with dozens of other hikers. Katie and I have hiked there on Christmas day before, and even then it’s still crowded. But on this random weekday, not only were we able to get a primo spot at 11:30am, I was shocked to find that there were only 3 other cars in the parking lot. Which of course means that we barely saw any other hikers on the trial. Being alone nearly the whole time made this hike even better than I thought it could be, despite already being one of my favorites. The sweeping views of the mountains and Monterey bay were even better with some extra solitude.
As I was traversing that path, I had a realization that this must be what it feels like to be retired. It’s having the freedom to go hiking on a weekday afternoon. Or go to the store at 10am while everyone else is off working. I’ve long been looking forward to off-peak life, but it’s rare that I actually get to experience it. Usually I just dream about it. While I have weekdays off when we travel, I don’t really count that because the feeling is different. It’s more hurried. We only have so much time before we leave so we try to fill it. We eat out more. We stop at every museum. We have a general plan for each day. But this random day off had that distinct off-peak feeling to it. It felt like a preview of what’s upcoming.
Without needing to stockpile vacation days, our schedule will soon be wide open. We’ll be able to stay put on busy holidays and move when everyone else is back to the grind. Dealing with rush hour will become a relic of the past. We can hit up the local market on Thursday afternoon and have time to talk to the vendors. There will be ample time to sit in a park and watch the local wildlife or just read a book. Soon we’ll be able to adopt a slower pace that allows time to linger, something that’s exceedingly rare at the moment.
I’ve been thinking about this next life in terms of the future for so long that it’s hard for me to accept the realization that it’s almost here. I can watch the countdown clock in the sidebar that says I have only a little over 2 months of work left, but it’s still completely surreal. My mind mostly refuses to acknowledge that this is the reality and it’s happening soon. It’s simply hard to process such a major life change. But for a few weekday hours out on the trail, I was there. I made it. I was in the moment, feeling that retirement flow, and ready to get started.