LIVIN’ THE DREAM!
Sometimes I have to pinch myself to summon reality. While some spend their entire working lives dreaming of spending winters in warmer climes, I never did. I was too focused on family and career and, without role models to guide me, never imagined I’d be one of those ‘rich folks who winter in Florida’. The reality is beyond what I imagined.
My mother taught me how to save and she taught me how to spend. She loved to travel and was forever saving for the next trip. Experiences meant more to her than material things. She drilled into me that the two biggest financial mistakes people make are wasting money on interest and cars. I’ve spent as little as possible on both. I soon learned that a defined-benefit pension plan is the surest way to financial security. I never enjoyed managing money and didn’t inherit my maternal grandfather’s business acumen or his appetite for risk. I preferred predictable results.
And here I am, having thoroughly enjoyed six weeks in sunny, warm Fort Myers, FL, ready to begin another adventure in the Far East before returning to my beloved Island in April. Yes, we do miss family and friends, but technology makes it easier to keep in touch. And this blog is our way of sharing our experiences.
The Florida we expected to find is everywhere in evidence. The endless shopping malls, retirement communities, and golf courses. The traffic, the crowded beaches, the hustle and bustle, all turnoffs for small-town folk like us from north of the border. So many people carry guns. The crime… And what of America under Trump? Would he ruin it for all of us and poison the minds of the nice people we’d met?
The Florida we’ve discovered in two stints here is far from what we’d imagined. It’s rather what we’ve made of it - how we’ve adapted to a new reality. If there’s one thing we’ve learned through travel, it’s that you can be at home wherever you are if you just work at it. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to learn. And yes, I’m fortunate to have a life partner who seldom says “No”, who never complains, and who wakes up every morning with a smile on her face. That makes everything a lot easier.
We chose southwest Florida for three reasons: location, climate, and a cycling club. We’ve been fortunate to be able to rent a beautiful condo near downtown Fort Myers for the past two seasons. It has everything we need and more.As for Fort Myers, the city, it’s one of the very few we’ve visited in Florida that has a real downtown. Its well-kept buildings and busy, pedestrian-friendly streets remind us of warm summer days in our beloved Charlottetown. Every weekend features an interesting event, whether it be an antique car gathering or an art show, and Starbucks is a great place to just sit and people watch.
The weather in southwest Florida is definitely a draw. The influence of the Gulf of Mexico means January-February temperatures are warmer on this side than the Atlantic Coast. It’s been mid-20s for 90% of the time we’ve been here; and only one day of steady rain.
But the cycling has been the biggest surprise. By far. In researching Fort Myers, I came across the Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club website. On our first full day here in 2016, I hooked up with an energetic group of seventy-somethings, and I haven’t looked back. Elva eventually joined the paceline too. She rides three mornings a week with a slower group, and I go five, weather permitting. Riding fills our days and keeps us active.Being around riders twenty years older is inspiring. Roger celebrated his 83rd birthday by riding 83 miles - in one day! Pete, shown next to me in the photo below, was born in Italy and moved to Canada as a young bicycle racer in the 1950s, around the time I was born. He’s 81. Mike is 79 and still rides strong. They have the best of equipment and show no signs of quitting. All speak admiringly of Ray Putnam, a member of the club who just turned 90, and who challenged the world record for fastest 20 km in his his age group, 90+.
On her 65th birthday, Elva felt inspired to write of her Florida experience in these words:
Et me voici!
Here I am
With my team, the Caloosa Riders
Maintaining their 18-mile speed
It’s stimulating and rewarding
I’m in a paceline
On the road
The group signals are helping
Walker up; Bikers up
Car back; Passing
Car right; Stopping
Car left; Slowing
Take the lane; Going”
Now I’m second in line
Right behind Keith’s back wheel
Keeping the pace, I’m watching
For the signal will be coming
Here I am
To the front I go
It’s my turn to take a pull
My turn to yell out the signals
Will I be turning?
I gave my very best
To my right, five riders pass
“Good work! Great job! Good pull!
Thank you! Look at you go!”
At the end of the paceline now, I smile
2017 is off to a great start
On the designated bike lanes
Near Fort Myers
I’m more confident and I’m stronger
Here I am
Enjoying every ride
Et me voici
De nouveau sur mon vélo
Ce matin, Jean-Paul reste en avant
Moi à l’abris du vent
J’ai beaucoup appris ici
Et c’est plaisant
En ce 4 février étant avantagée
Je réussis 73 km à la vitesse désirée
Mais quelle belle façon de souligner
Qu’aujourd’hui je suis officiellement une aînée
Que je suis choyée!I was ready for retirement. I didn’t know it in 2013 but I know it now. Like anything else in life that’s important, a successful retirement doesn’t just happen. You have to prepare for it: financially, physically, and spiritually. You have to learn to let go of things that gave you status - that made you feel important when you were career-focused. I’ve discovered that I can now tell people what I really think instead of what I know they want to hear. I no longer have a career to protect. Honesty is liberating.
Florida is not a place you go to get old, it’s a place you go to stay young. We’re making plans already to return to Fort Myers in 2018 and for many years thereafter. We’ve made friends here and will make more. Our cycling buddies have encouraged us to come back and resume our place in the paceline. What could be better than that?As for American politics, in the six weeks we’ve spent here, I can honestly say that the topic has not come up. Americans are very different from us when it comes to their world view. That’s certainly true, and now more evident than ever. But, fundamentally, we’re guests in their country. We’re not here to pass judgment or to argue that ours or any other system is better. The society they’ve built here is the sum total of the choices they’ve made. It’s up to us to decide whether we can adapt. And adapt we have!
We hope to reconnect next year with good friends, Fleurette and Gilles, and Lana and Bob. I was great to see them again!