Reverse Retirement Plan

Second trans-U.S. bike ride, somewhere in Arizona

If you read the newspaper often maybe you have stumbled across, even just a couple of times, articles that described the tragic demise of recent retirees.  You know, stories like how a man who worked at a factory for thirty years dropped dead of a heart attack during a fishing trip a week into his retirement, or how a woman who faithfully served her employer for twenty years perished in an auto accident within a month of retiring.  Tragedies such as these are rare overall, but they still communicate something powerful: Middle-age retirement, something most of us work so hard for and look so forward to, can be lethal.

So I made sure that what happened to the two retirees above would never happen to me: I retired first, and then I began my career.  This plan, which my friend dubbed the “Reverse Retirement Plan,” is brilliant (he’s done it himself).  The point of the plan is that you get all your hiking, climbing, skiing, traveling, lounging, running, fishing, partying, camping, mountain biking, sleeping, and canoeing done first; during your 20s and 30s.  Once you’ve had your fill of fun – perhaps when you turn 40 – then it’s time to start a career to create financial and social stability that will ease you through your middle ages and perhaps into old age.  The premise is simple: If you do retirement first, and then suddenly perish before your career, your last thought could be how you loved living life to the fullest; not how you were steadily employed.

My Reverse Retirement Plan began in 1993 when I completed a two-year enlistment as a paratrooper with the U.S. Army.  Just 20 years old when I became a civilian, I already had a taste of structure, accountability, and discipline, something I didn’t particularly enjoy, especially at such a young age.  I knew the Reverse Retirement Plan was for me.  During the following two decades my temporary jobs ranged from grueling to gratifying.  The grueling ones included low-skill stints as a dishwasher, landscaper, mason, painter, and laborer.  In each of these I worked long hours, often in filthy conditions alongside men who were alcoholics, petty criminals, and drifters.  But if one of these jobs proved unbearable, I simply left, usually without notice.  That was the advantage to not having a career: to be able to walk off the job even if it was just because I was having a bad day.  Then I’d find another temporary job.  Some likely thought I was a shirker, but I was displaying something perhaps they wished they possessed: freedom.

Backcountry ranger work, Catskill Mountains

Backcountry ranger work, Catskill Mountains

The gratifying jobs included work as a backcountry ranger, Appalachian Trail caretaker, outdoor educator, sponsored adventurer, and professional trail builder.  Here I found opportunities to work with great people who were passionate about their work, valued strong relationships, and loved working alongside Mother Nature, no matter how foul her mood.  Let’s face it: You couldn’t beat my office.  By working for federal, state, and private agencies my work sites included White Mountain National Forest, Mount Mitchell State Park, Little Missouri State Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Adirondack Park, and the Catskill Park.  No walls, no roofs, no lights.

Wandering among the trail-less peaks of Maine

Wandering among the trail-less peaks of Maine

Getting paid to build trails, hike, camp, and educate was a great way to make a living between June and October each year.  In between these bouts of employment I managed to gain an associates and a bachelors degree by attending school each spring semester; January to May.  During my “off” months of November and December I was a nomad, driving around the country in, and living out of, my trusty Subaru wagon.  It was an era of wandering, life experience, and a lot of Ramen noodles.

But one can’t – or at least shouldn’t – eat Ramen noodles forever.  By the time I turned 40, which was just two months ago, I had hiked more than 10,000 miles, climbed 1,500 peaks, slept outside 1,000 nights, and mountain biked across the United States twice.  I concluded it was a good retirement while it lasted.  When I turned 40 I trimmed by beard, bought some collared shirts, and looked for a real job.  Despite an economy as sluggish as melting river ice, I found my career quickly: helping veterans, especially post-9/11 combat veterans, access social services and find comfort in a peer support program at a not-for-profit in New York’s capital city, Albany.

The streets surrounding my office are littered with trash, the sirens sometimes interrupt my concentration, and it’s likely that no one I see on the streets has slept in a snow cave, watched a sunrise from a summit, or designed a sustainable trail system.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever really fit into the urban environment.  My home is in the mountains, and on my days off you’ll find me among the hills, not the streets.  But if I live through the following twenty years, no matter where this career takes me, I should have a second retirement to look forward to.


– Erik Schlimmer

Erik is the founding member of Friends of the Trans Adirondack Route and is author of Blue Line to Blue Line.

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Just In Time For Hunting Season


With hunting season right around the corner and Darn Tough Vermont Hunt/Fish socks now available in eight new Cabela’s locations, we thought it might be a good time for a little giveaway. All you have to do is take a photo of the Darn Tough display in one of these eight Cabela’s outlets listed below and email it to us (

East Hartford, CT
Hammond, IN
Dundee, MI
Billings, MT
LaVista, NE
Lacey, WA
Tulalip, WA
Richfield, WI

We will pick one random winner to  receive a pair of the Hunt/Fish socks, so check back here on Friday, September 20 at 12 p.m. (EST) to see if you won. Let’s see your photos and good luck!


UPDATE – 9/20/13

We had many great submissions and it was tough to select just one, but the winner is …

1.) Terry Priest

If your name is listed above, please send your shoe size, mailing address and Hunting sock choice to and we will get a pair right out to you!

Thank you for all your great photos and have a great weekend!

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Light Cushion Hike/Trek Sock Giveaway


Darn Tough is coming off taking part in the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market last week, where it was able to show off its new socks for Spring 2014. Along the way the crew at the booth kept the crowd happy by handing out 3,500 maple creemees that were topped with more than 65 lbs. of bacon!


With OR on our minds, we thought maybe it was time to do a little giveaway and offer up two pairs of our brand new Light Cushion Hike/Trek socks that we featured at Winter OR this past January and will be available in retail this fall. At half the wool yarn weight of the company’s Cushion socks, these are a perfect fit for the demanding hiker who desires resilient cushioning in an incredibly low-volume sock. Gumption Gear just reviewed them and said, “Simply put, Darn Tough has just made the best damn hiking sock on the market.”

So if you want a chance to win a pair, tell us about the craziest thing that has ever happened to you or that you have ever seen while hiking.

We will pick two random winners to each receive a pair, so check back here on Friday, August 16 at 12 p.m. (EST) to see if you won. Let’s hear your stories and good luck!


UPDATE – 8/16/13

We had many great submissions and it was tough to select just two, but the winners are …

1.) Hunter Crumley
2.) Bryan L.

If your name is listed above, please send your shoe size and mailing address to and we will get a pair of the new Light Cushion Hike/Trek socks right out to you!

Thank you for all your great stories and have a great weekend!

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Let the Cold Times Roll

When winter gives way to spring and spring gives way to summer in New York State, where I live, I know what most people have on their minds: sun, warmth, the beach, travel, and vacation.  But the warmest months of the year give me images of trudging in heat and humidity and through stands of poison ivy, brush, and briars while being harassed by marauding insects.  In short, summer makes me think of my second-favorite season: winter (fall is my favorite).

Perhaps like me, lately you have been needing something to cool you off, something to take you away to a place that’s free of stifling heat and sticky humidity.  I can’t give you an airline ticket to the Arctic, but I can give you something that will help you daydream of cooler times: photos.

What follow are ten images from New York’s two biggest hunks of public land: our six-million-acre Adirondack Park and, the little sister of that park, our 700,000-acre Catskill Park.  Enjoy, and stay cool.

– Erik Schlimmer
Erik is the founding member of Friends of the Trans Adirondack Route and author of Blue Line to Blue Line.

Off-trail travel in the Ampersand Mountains, Adirondacks

Off-trail travel in the Ampersand Mountains, Adirondacks

Frosty towers on Mt. Utsayantha, Catskills

Frosty towers on Mount Utsayantha, Catskills

Ice on hardwood canopy, Adirondacks

Ice on hardwood canopy, Adirondacks

Untracked powder on footbridge, Adirondacks

Un-tracked powder on footbridge, Adirondacks

Samuels Point panoramic, Catskills

Samuels Point panoramic, Catskills

Sunset from Van Dorrien Mountain, Adirondacks

Sunset from Van Dorrien Mountain, Adirondacks

Southern view from high ridge line, Adirondacks

Southern view from high ridge line, Adirondacks

Overlook Mountain fire tower at 5 degrees, Catskills

Overlook Mountain fire tower at 5 degrees, Catskills

Alpenglow on Sentinel Range, Adirondacks

Alpenglow on Sentinel Range, Adirondacks

The photographer, somewhere very cold

The photographer, somewhere very cold

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Team Tecnu Moves Into The Top Five In The Latest World Rankings


At the halfway point of the 2013 Adventure Racing World Series Tecnu Adventure Racing is ranked fifth in the world after a second place showing at Expedition Africa. Darn Tough Vermont is a sponsor of Team Tecnu, who is the highest ranked team from the United States.

The latest rankings take into account the results from Huairasinchi (Ecuador), the Godzone Adventure Race (New Zealand), Tierra Viva (Argentina) and Expedition Africa (South Africa).


There are four more races this fall and then the World Championships in Costa Rica at the end of November.

Congrats to Team Tecnu for moving into the top five and good luck during the second half of the series!

Here is some more info on the team
Latest World Rankings
Insight into the AR World Series Rankings
Expedition Africa Race Report
Expedition Africa Photos
Packing for an Expedition Race

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A Trip On The World’s First Urban Long Distance Hike

If you had asked me a month ago what makes a foot-powered adventure a hike instead of just a walk, I would have said “nature.” After my most recent trip, a strenuous 5.5 day traverse of Los Angeles, I’m not so sure.

In April, I undertook what might be the world’s first urban thru-hike—a long distance hike entirely within the confines of a city. Much like a traditional hike, my urban adventure was designed to capture the world at three miles per hours. Despite LA’s reputation as one of the least pedestrian friendly places in the country, when much of it was built in the 20’s and 30’s, its early designers actually privileged those on foot by building public stairways—vertical parks formed into the hills that connect two parallel streets separated by elevation.

Urban art

These stairways are as much a part of LA’s transportation system as its highways. Similar to a mountain trail, a stairhiker goes where the car can never go and give the walker a view the driver will never know.


LA has more than 300 of these public stairways, which function as upright sidewalks connecting the knolls of the city with the flatlands we usually associate with the metropolis.  Don’t think of LA as hilly? Beverley and Hollywood Hills where the Hollywood sign can be found are some well-known highlands, but the cliffs along the ocean such as Pacific Palisades and Palos Verdes also provide elevation change.


The idea for a long distance stairway hike was conceived by Andrew Lichtman and Ying Chen, LA walking enthusiasts with a long distance hiking background (Ying has thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail). The two hikers confronted Bob Inman, guru of LA stairways and author of A Guide to the Public Stairways of Los Angeles, who, on their urging, developed a 180-mile, 300 stairway route traveling across the city dubbed “the Inman 300.” My hike is a hybrid of Bob’s route that also includes a well-traveled course developed by another stairway guru, Dan Koeppel, called “Stairtrek.” If you’re in LA, you should go on Dan or Bob’s free guided walks around the stairs of LA, either Bob’s weekly walks or Dan’s annual Stairtrek or Big Parade trip.

Hoover walk stair mural Liz

The urban walk does have a leg up on mountain walking in some respects. Urban hikers don’t have to carry a tent or sleeping bag (there are plenty of hotels along the way). Restaurants are easily found and hikers don’t have to worry if there will be a water source in the near future. I always knew that if I became injured, that unlike a remote trail, getting help would be easy.


The urban hiker’s backpack is a lot smaller than the mountain walker’s. I found sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to be musts for urban walking. Since cement is notably harsher on the feet than mountain trails, I’d suggest bringing extra pairs of Darn Tough Vermont socks. When my feet started hurting on this LA hike, I switched out my socks and was astounded how much better they felt. As backup, I carried a little water, food, and a headlamp. In case my phone battery died, I also had a paper map in addition to the street maps on my cell.

Arrow the right way

Urban hiking is a way better way to explore a city than a tour bus. It’s even a fun way to see new neighborhoods and “hidden” corners of your own city. I hope that my stories from the LA route might convince some veteran mountain hikers and even some city folk to strap on a pack and explore places on foot that can’t be reached by car, even if they’re only going on a walk in their own neighborhood.

-Liz Thomas
Twitter: @eathomas
Photos: Gilbert Garcia

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Second Annual Darn Tough Ride Set For September 1


Looking for a challenge this summer? If so, then sign up today to take part in the 2013 Darn Tough Ride, a scenic bicycle adventure through Vermont to benefit the Mt. Mansfield Winter Academy (MMWA) on Sunday, September 1.

This marks the second straight year that Darn Tough Vermont will sponsor the bike ride. After three years of running the successful Stowe Road Rally, organizers decided that a new route and new challenges were in order for the annual MMWA fundraising bike event in 2012 and wanted to design a bike ride that was as tough as the state it tours.

The Darn Tough Ride is a road cycling event featuring challenging ascents, exhilarating descents, and of course plenty of camaraderie. Last year was a huge success, as the event raised over $15,000 to support student-athletes scholarships at the Mt. Mansfield Winter Academy.

The full Darn Tough Ride is indeed Darn Tough! The complete route is a 100-mile loop from Stowe over to Jay Peak and back over Smugglers’ Notch. The total elevation is an impressive 8,000 feet, including two Category 2 climbs, one Category 4 climb, and six Category 5 climbs.  Riders are expected to complete the ride in less than 6.5 hours.

To satisfy the competitive spirit of its participants, organizers have incorporated two, timed hill climbs (Jay Peak and Smugglers’ Notch), where a king and a queen of the mountain will be named to stimulate a little friendly rivalry in the peloton.

Participants of all abilities can partake in the ride. Additional route options include distances of 65 miles, 45 miles, and a friendly 25-mile route along Randolph Road. The Darn Tough Ride is fully supported and will have rest and refueling stops all along the way. The ride concludes with a party at the MMWA with great food from Black Diamond Barbecue, live music, prizes and raffles.

Start recruiting your friends and working on your pedal power, as this will be a ride to remember! The ride will be limited to the first 300 entrants and online registration is now open.

For more information and updates on the Darn Tough Ride, you can become a fan on Facebook or visit:

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