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I was grinding away, step after puny step. I would look up, peer into the mountain heights, and what greeted me was more miles.

My head would return to the downward position like a pup scolded for investigating the pork chops on the counter. I watched my feet bear the brunt of each mile, as my body moved forward with a pace a 7-year-old could match.

I had ample time to ponder my life choices.

While I sweated through my shirt and lugged my 20-pound pack filled with 20 pounds of snacks, I realized that hiking a mountain is like FIRE but with fewer blisters.

FIREy Aspirations

Similar to the many members of the FIRE cult culture, I want to have enough assets to tee off to retirement before the traditional age. 9 to 5 until I’m 65 is not a theme I’m jamming.

Instead, 9 to 5, until I’m 51, sounds like a tune I could do Thriller to.

I’ve worked in government, private, and the nonprofit sector. Each gig had crests and crashes and that pitched me to the place I am today – a dream gig where I work with wonderful people.

Yet, I’m still speeding toward early retirement.  

The only thing constant is change and things will change. Some of that will go from boon to burden. As a type-A middle child (yes, we exist), I need a backup plan. The ultimate backup plan.

It’s a backup plan that dwarfs all others and is called, FIRE.

Per the sage sirens at theSkimm,

“FIRE stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” And basically means you save and invest up to 75% of your annual income by cutting way back and living well below your means.”

Currently, my retirement version isn’t a work moratorium, it’s a different work that involves more naps, relaxation, and exploration.

Basically, a freewheeling cat with fewer hairballs.

Instead of active work requiring real pants, I want to work on writing and volunteering while leaving space and grace for whatever else comes to be from consulting or part-time possibilities.

My FIREy plans have a launch date with a goal amount.

The number is large and includes more zeros than a Costco Cheerio sample but I’m purchasing the most expensive thing I’ll ever buy, my freedom.

A mountainous goal doesn’t go from zero to cheerio overnight. Instead of miles, this mountain is built upon days, months, and years.

Attitude Determines Altitude

Hiking a mountain is like FIRE because they share 3 stages. The climb up, the top, and the hike down.

¾ of the time is spent hiking to the summit.

I’m not alone with this equation.

The Corps of Discovery spent 2 years 4 months 10 days going 8,000 miles from Saint Louis to Astoria. Of that epic expedition, 2 years were spent going up the Missouri, over the mountains, and landing at the Pacific. Four months were waylaid wintering in Astoria and 6 months for the gaunt back to Saint Louis.

64% of their time was spent on the grind.

I’m in a league of champions.

Since a majority of my time is spent ascending the summit, I’ve learned to love it.

The hike up is where I have brilliant ideas or intriguing inspirations. It’s where I dream of the top with its endorphin-filled views. It’s where I banter with Mr. BuLL and have breathless laughter.

I enjoy the journey because everything else is a memory or speculation, my only guarantee is this moment and this step.

The Grind

As with any big goal, from a summited mountain to a FIRE Hades would be proud of, the journey is long.

Since most of the journey is spent in this initial stage, I call it the grind. Step after step and repeat into infinity.

Each step is one measly step out of a million.

Sometimes the step is impossibly small like a $1, similar to going up a switchback where each step is higher in elevation and smaller than the last.

Sometimes the step is fast and $400 big like going down the backside of a hill.

No matter the size, movement is gained and momentum is obtained.

Milestones, Not Hailstones

Now and then, I pause, turn around and drink in scenic vistas.

I had to burn energy and release copious amounts of sweat to get to that point and I celebrate for making it that far.

I embrace milestones because it’s how I fuse self-motivation into the journey.

No one can hike the mountain for me. I have to summon the energy, belief, and motivation. Sometimes it’s easier to type than practice.

Looking back at how far I’ve traveled is a way to remember that I’ve accomplished more than expected and a reminder to relish what I’ve achieved. There is always a chance, I’ll never reach the top and that point could be the height of my journey.

It’s why I track my net worth too. My net worth will report when I’ve reached FIRE. Tracking the gyrations is how I reflect on the challenges I’ve overcome and the progress I’ve made.

Destined Destination

The top of a mountain is a brutal place that only radio towers thrive in.

The gale force wind will knock me to my knees if I’m not braced for her arctic fury. The landscape is barren outside of lichen and a few very lost insects. Plants, if found, are miniature. The summit residents are rocks.

Sharp, pointy rocks.  

If it wasn’t for the views and endorphins, the moon would feel more hospital.

Though coveted, the mountaintop is a short-lived destination. Once pictures are claimed, I’m refueled with food, and I’ve sucked in less oxygen with extra sunshine, it’s back down the mountain.

The other parts of hiking a mountain are longer than the time spent at the summit.

Hiking a mountain is like FIRE because both spend their time in building up or winding down versus enjoying the destination.

From what I’ve read, once the magic FIRE number is claimed, there is a celebration but it’s brief when compared to the buildup and withdrawal stage.

Controlled Descent

Though down is faster than the ascent, it seems to take the longest and requires more focus.

Between gravity and a downward slope, what was a normal step becomes larger and slidey.

Is it hiking or controlled careening?

Spoiler Alert: It’s both!

I’m in the FIRE buildup phase but I’m sure the other side of the curve is no different. Plenty of hazards are enhanced due to speed and uncertain footing.

Wise beyond my wrinkles, I’ll plan for what the descent looks like when that becomes closer to reality because what is valid today maybe invalid tomorrow.

Hiking a Mountain Is Like FIRE

Hiking and FIRE have the same structure: An extensive ascent, a coveted destination, and a controlled descent.

Though I have my eye on the top of the mountain, I’m enjoying the journey. As a goal digger, I find pleasure in the expedition because other less important things become blurred in the distance.

Shopping, gossip, and people leaving empty toilet paper rolls become less important when I’m grinding on my mountain, one step at a time.

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