There was a time when I couldn’t wait to start drafting these annual reports. And then, 3 years ago, I stopped working. Without income to save, I thought, what did I have to say about saving? Only recently have I begun to appreciate how that sense of the word, what financial planners call “accumulation”, obscures another sense: “preservation”. And maybe I have learned a thing or two about the ebb and flow of preservation.
The full extent of our savings (spread across a handful of taxable and tax-advantaged accounts) are still invested in a single S&P 500 index fund. No change there. But without the regular influx of cash from a paycheck, every few months I sell shares from one of our taxable accounts to cover our expenses. Think of it as dollar-cost-averaging on the sell-side. What floors me is how well our taxable accounts have maintained their value over the last 3 years—even in the face of a protracted pandemic.
My alarm rang at 3:45 in the morning. I wanted to get in line early to secure a backcountry permit for Dad so he could complete the final 95 miles of the Continental Divide Trail within Glacier National Park. Though my sister had planned to backpack with him to the end, when the border with Canada reopened in early August, Katie opted instead for a mercifully shorter dayhike in Canada’s adjacent Waterton Lakes National Park. Hikers still couldn’t cross the border, but there seemed to be no prohibition against peaceful assembly along the 49th parallel. I was second in line 3 hours before the ranger station opened at 8. Even though I had checked and rechecked the backcountry sites I was going to request, I was still anxious that I might have overlooked some constraint or created a “strange loop” when I accelerated the itinerary after Katie’s plans changed. My nervousness was unfounded. I gave my permit request to the ranger, paid the fee, and walked away moments later, golden ticket in hand.
One row, highlighted red, near the bottom of the spreadsheet we use to manage the hike, has been giving us “the evil eye” since the beginning. This row has been threatening Dad with a 118-mile stretch of the CDT in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, between the popular Benchmark Trailhead in the south and US Route 2 in the north—without any intermediate access roads. It so dwarfed every other section that had come before (and will come after) that I was certain there must be a dirt track that crossed the trail somewhere in there. Spoiler alert: there is not.
As directed by the Wilderness Act of 1964, “The Bob”, as it is informally known, is to remain roadless.
It had been a while since I’d stretched my legs, so late one morning I threw two sodas in my daypack and started hiking southbound. After the Roadwalk Reroute, things had started going according to plan—Dad had hiked 200 miles, all of it on-trail, and we’d met up half a dozen times with nary a hiccup—which for him (and somewhat for me) meant the hike was fast becoming a grind. He broke down when I reached him, repeating between sobs, “I need a zero day. I need a zero day.” Anticipating this, I’d already booked a room in Helena, Montana for the following night. All that stood between him and a hot shower was a 19.1-mile slackpack day.
“So I’m thinking about walking around the fire” is how it started.
In Lima a week earlier, I first learned that the Trail Creek Fire had closed 30 miles of the CDT, a span so negligible in Dad’s mind that his working plan when he reached the closure (in 200 miles) would be to skip it. I’d pick him up south of the fire and deposit him north as though nothing had happened. But the fire grew, as fires are wont to do, and after a chance encounter with a Forest Service ranger, we learned that they would soon be closing over 130 miles of trail, just north of (what would have been) our next meetup. This news warranted a zero day—his first thus far—on day 35.