Better Together

Kenyon Sayler

RETIREMENT PLANNING is about much more than money. As regular readers of HumbleDollar know, getting the social aspects right is just as important—and perhaps more so—than nailing the financial issues. 

In 2019, before we retired, we took a trip to the desert southwest, a region we love. It was our first visit to Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I was captivated by the beauty of the rock formations, canyons and mesas. The most striking memory was the path of cottonwood trees, with their golden leaves, running along the Colorado River. 

On that trip, we stood on the Island in the Sky mesa and looked down on the White Rim Road, a 100-mile road running through the park. Although it’s a road, it can be traversed only by foot, bicycle, motorcycle or high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle. 

In winter 2022, I finally got serious about returning to the White Rim Road. My sons and their wives also said that they’d like to go, so we had to pick a date that worked for everyone. We were able to find two days in October that looked doable. A two-day visit meant we’d need to rent Jeeps. 

The first order of business was obtaining an overnight permit to camp along the road. Only 20 such campsites are available, and October is one of the most popular times to visit. 

Reservations for October camping opened at 8 a.m. on May 10. We had three of us logged into trying to get a campsite. My wife was on a conference call with everybody, coordinating our activity. Fortunately, one of us scored our preferred campsite within minutes. I checked back the next day, and every campsite for every day in October had been reserved.

Once we knew that we could go, we had to rent Jeeps. Fortunately, Moab, Utah, has a number of Jeep-rental services. Because five of us were going, we rented two Jeeps. All of us are veteran campers. The difference this time was that, while we all preferred human-powered adventure, this would be our first time in Jeeps.

With a camping permit and Jeeps secured, we spent several months collecting the rest of our supplies. The National Park Service recommended that we carry 10 gallons of water per person and five gallons of extra gas per vehicle. We also needed a shovel to help dig out our Jeeps if they got bogged down. The rest of the gear was standard camping equipment that we all owned. 

The first mile of the road is a 1,500-foot descent from the mesa to the river bottom. The road was built for trucks hauling uranium ore out of a mine, so—although it’s narrow with steep dropoffs along the sides—it’s in pretty decent shape. 

The section of road we covered on the first day was rocky, and had steep ascents and descents. Our Jeeps recorded some of the roads as having a 21-degree grade. That’s sufficiently steep that, when you’re climbing, the Jeep’s hood blocks your view of the road. 

It normally takes about five-and-a-half hours to travel the 45 miles to our campsite, but it took us a bit longer because we made several side trips to see other parts of the trail. While we were eating lunch beside the Colorado River, a group of canoeists stopped to use the latrine located nearby. We shared stories of our respective adventures.

Shortly after arriving at our campsite, we started cooking dinner. The meal was standard camping fare, but the view overlooking the expansive valley, surrounded by the walls of the mesa, was far better than the view offered by any Michelin-rated restaurant. 

Two memories of that evening are most vivid. First is the profound silence. In this extremely arid area, life is scarce. There was no background noise of insects buzzing or wind blowing, let alone any sounds of civilization, such as cars and airplanes. The only other time I’ve experienced such silence was in a quinzhee, where the snow absorbs all sound.

The second memory was the beauty of the night sky. Canyonlands is a dark-sky preserve, so the firmament above was covered with points of light and the river that is the Milky Way. Whenever there are no lights to detract from the view, I’m always in awe of the night sky. 

The second day, we drove around a buttress of the mesa, and the road changed from stony to shifting sand. At times, our speed got up to 20 mph, but we still had to crawl slowly over Hardscrabble Hill and up the Mineral Bottom switchbacks to the mesa top. It was a wonderful time spent with my sons and their spouses.

The Rational Reminder podcast ends every interview with this question: How do you define success in your life? Many interviewees talk about making contributions to society or doing groundbreaking research. But my favorite answer was from author and financial advisor William Bernstein, who replied: “Oh, that’s easy. When you get to my age and your kids still want to spend time with you, then you are a success.”

The lesson: Take the time to plan not just your retirement’s finances, but the social aspects as well.

Kenyon Sayler is a retired mechanical engineer. He and his wife Lisa are extraordinarily proud of their two adult sons. He enjoys walking his dog, traveling, reading and gardening. Kenyon’s brother Larry also writes for HumbleDollar. Check our Kenyon’s earlier articles.

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