We all need a mountain to climb (Part 1)

VentouxOne reason people give why financial independence is not for them is:

“I just don’t know what I’d do with my time”

The answer to this, of course, is to do what you enjoy doing.  This will be different for everyone.  Some people enjoy what MMM describes as “tapping shit into a computer”, other people enjoy learning a language, running their own portfolio, growing their own food, starting a business…whatever.

A lot of people say they enjoy their job.  Some even believe it.  If your heart soars at the prospect of your employer’s latest 5 year plan (anyone remember the Soviet economy was a crock of shit?) or filling out your performance review then you are lucky. Delusional perhaps, but lucky.

If you don’t know what you enjoy doing, then something is wrong in your life and somewhere along the way you have lost touch with yourself. One way to re-connect with what you love is to cast your mind back in time. What fascinated you when you were a kid?

Another way to think about this “problem” is to think about what fun activities did work stop you from doing? Whilst in the Prison Camp, I put off several cycling trips.  Particularly galling were the times I cancelled trips for pitches that we didn’t win. Life is what happens while we are making other plans.

Years ago my imagination was fired by a friend who one week put his bike on a plane to Nice in the south of France and then just cycled back to England with no planned route, no holiday reps, no tent, no pre-booked accommodation, no rules, no health and safety risk assessment forms to fill in…they just did it.  I thought then I’d love to do the same thing. But I never seemed to get round to freeing up the time.  It was not the task was impossible, it just seemed that way when I was trapped in my day to day routine.

Similarly, people often think that achieving FI is too big a task to contemplate for normal people. I used to think that. But when I stumbled over FI blogs a few years ago I started to realise it (FI) was possible.  I started to get a tingly feeling of excitement as I realised this might actually work!  I started to realign all my actions towards the goal of financial independence.  In some ways, the size of the task was part of the attraction. It gave me an over-arching goal to aim for.  The scale of the task demanded respect and dedication. This forced me to examine every aspect of my life and look for lots of small improvements because I knew that without those, I wouldn’t make it.

There are very few downsides of achieving FI. But one is that you lose your big goal in life. Having dreamed about it for 20 years, I became the dog that chased and caught the car….the question then becomes: now what do you do with it?

This is a really high quality problem to have. Its not difficult to solve. All you have to do is to find new goals.

Some people seem to think that just because you have quit the cubicle, you have lost ambition and your get up and go has got up and gone. Nothing could be further from the truth.  Escaping the Prison Camp is when you gain the ability to try new things…including projects which are outrageously optimistic.  FI is more likely to be the start of getting rich rather than the end.

I was recently mooching around, feeling like I needed a new challenge.  Then I remembered that I had booked myself and my bike a one way ticket to the South of France in May.  So my current goal is to cycle up Mont Ventoux and then all the way back up through France.  The trip is less than 2 months away.  That means a step up in my training and other preparation to ensure that the trip does not end in humiliating failure with me crying by the roadside in France, like a toddler that’s lost Mr Piggly.

Mont Ventoux is a volcano (hopefully now extinct) which stands alone on the flat plains of Provence.  For years, I’ve wanted to cycle up it.  Mont Ventoux is legendary amongst British cyclists as the peak that killed Tommy Simpson, the leading British rider of his day.  During the Tour de France of 1967 Simpson was competing strongly. Probably a bit too strongly with hindsight.  Strung out on a cocktail of drugs and unwisely fuelled with brandy in the boiling sun, Simpson suffered dehydration and collapsed about a mile from the summit.  Simpson was as long on determination as he was on amphetamines. Desperate to continue in the race, his dying words were “Put me back on my bike“.

You can get a sense for the mountain by watching this video although, lets be honest, its a lot easier to watch a video than it is to actually cycle up it.

I am looking for a bit of adventure in my holidays these days so I don’t want to make it too easy.  I will need to figure out how to cycle back to the English Channel from the South of France (about 530 miles). I won’t be booking any accommodation in advance or having any fixed itinerary as the whole point is to enjoy the choices and freedom of the open road. With a bit of luck, I won’t have to sleep rough in any ditches or barns but we’ll see…

What, you may be asking, is the link between a stretch cycling target and financial independence? Well the answer is that there are several.

1. Goals matter

Its important to set yourself goals that are meaningful to you. Regardless of what other people think. I appreciate this trip is not everyone’s idea of a holiday. But its my goal and someone smart once said that happiness comes from the pursuit of achievable goals.

2. Convenience is over-rated

If I wanted everything to be easy, I’d buy a mobility scooter and a drink delivery system with a sucky straw full of Bacardi and Coke and just drive up the mountain listening to some American Drivetime-style soft rock.

And then maybe I’d drive round a golf course in a buggy wearing a bright yellow shirt, brown checked trousers and loafers whilst bragging loudly to the other golfsters and paying a caddy to actually take all my shots for me.

But I don’t, so I won’t.

3. Most spending is discretionary

A holiday can be as cheap or as expensive as you choose to make it.

If I wanted to waste €10 for a beer, I would look for a hotel bar. If I want to pay €4 for the same beer, I’ll go to a local bar. If I want to pay €1, I’ll get it from the shop. The same goes for accommodation which I prefer quirky, authentic and low cost rather than corporate and soulless.

Like I said in How Much Would Sir Like to Pay for That? its usually our choice how much we pay.

4. The process demands honesty

It is no use lying to myself that I am fit for the physical challenge if I haven’t done the work beforehand. You can bullshit yourself or other people, but you can’t bullshit a mountain or the laws of physics.

Similarly you can’t bullshit the laws of finance. You can only invest if you spend less than you earn. You can only get equity style returns by accepting some volatility and you can only benefit from investment returns that are not swallowed up by adviser / fund manager fees.

You can tell the laws of finance that its been a tough month, the dog ate your homework and you deserve a plasma TV as a treat…but they really don’t care.

5. Focus on what you can control

The best way to prepare is to focus on what I can control. I need to find as many nasty hills to climb as the English countryside can offer in the next 6 weeks or so.

I can’t control the wind or the road conditions on Mont Ventoux but I can focus on getting to the start line in the best shape possible.

6. Accountability

By putting my goals out there, I have just made it harder to back out. I  will now have to account to you the readers at a later point.

Similarly, with hindsight, one trick I missed was not committing to the goal of FI earlier. At least to myself and a small circle of family / friends.

7. Dealing with fear

Life is pretty comfortable these days and I will be getting back outside of my comfort zone. Cycling in a foreign country (even one as beautiful and easy as France) entails unfamiliar surroundings, a bit of self-reliance and just enough physical risk to keep life interesting.

The descent from Mont Ventoux should fit the bill as a scary but potentially rewarding experience.  Just like the next equity bear market which I know will feel scary but won’t kill me.

Take a look at this incredible video of the descent from the summit of Ventoux. The rider achieves speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour. Watch the first 2 minutes and look out for him overtaking the camper van that can first be spotted at 36 seconds in and then two cars at 1.19 and 1.23 minutes in.  Gulp.


  1. “I just don’t know what I’d do with my time”
    This sentiment is very popular in the U.S. as well. Very sad. I don’t know why people are like that — all I know is I would go crazy if the only point to my life were the meaningless tasks I do at work that should (and will) probably be done by a machine anyways.

  2. SpreadsheetMan · · Reply

    Respect! Some proper cycling among the mountains of Europe is on my FI list too.

    I’d love to try the crazy 3 different route ascents of Ventoux in a day challenge, I’m sure that would be both marvellous and hideous in equal measure🙂

  3. Good Luck Mr TEA, Mont Ventoux is on my list as well. I did a trip round France and Belgium a few years ago and LEJOG last year. My only advice would be to stay away from cities, they are full of arseholes, slow you down and eat up your time!

    Well up for some proper mountain climbs at some point. Always good to have a long term goal to train for. It’s time trials this year, which are agony. Even the 10 mile ones on the flat.🙂

    The comparison between the laws of physics and finance is a good one, there is no hiding from either🙂.

    I also think the long term nature of trying to achieve FI and a stretching cycle align quite well. It’s no good sitting at the start of a 100 mile day on the bike and thinking about the whole 100 miles stretching out in front of you. It’s too much. Gotta break it down, sweet in 15 miles I can stop for a pee etc. Same applies to the FI journey, it’s all to easy at the start to get battered down by the enormity of it all and not even get going. But if you break it down a bit, it’s more manageable. Small changes and all that.

    Keep us updated on how the training is going and how the trip goes.

    Mr Z

    1. Thanks Mr Z will keep you posted…

  4. This sounds like a fantastic trip. Forget the training, the only thing you need to do to prepare is to read the excellent:

    French Revolutions: Cycling the Tour de France by Tim Moore

    One of the funniest books i’ve read. If you’d like to borrow my copy let me know and I can either mail it or drop it off if you’re passing my prison camp.

    Bon courage!

    1. UTMT – Many thanks, French Revolutions is a great book that I have read (twice!). I might have to add it to my recommendation page….

  5. Billybow · · Reply

    I feel you have encapsulated brilliantly the ‘personal re-invention’ required for FI in this blog entry.

    It is so difficult to explain to people who ask; ‘What do you do with your time?’ that achieving FI means ones mind is soon free to consider new/alternative uses for the time that is generated. In many respects, it requires a ‘leap of faith’ that a lot of people are frightened to take, even if they are in the financial position to do so. Many see it is a scary prospect to leave the order and control of working life. They may hear our encouragement equivalent to ‘Come on in, the water’s fine’ but they feel safer on dry land. I sincerely hope that those people read this blog and are inspired to take the plunge.

    Good luck with the training and every success with the your French adventure. As you peddle through the Alps etc, I myself will be fulfilling a personal goal of touring the the USA from South Coast to the Canadian border and capturing the five remaining states that I haven’t visited. However, as a ‘softy’, this will be on four wheels not two!

    1. Wow, that’s high praise Billybow. That US trip sounds great.

  6. MrMustard · · Reply

    Great post and an exciting adventure ahead. Good luck with the training, I’m doing Lejog in September so also riding some nasty hills in preparation.

  7. You make several excellent points, but I suspect you can’t know quite how hard Ventoux can be…..I’ve done most of the Hors catégorie climbs and imho Ventoux is the nastiest – it gets horribly hot and extremely windy… Good luck !

  8. Off with the Mrs in the summer to do 3 weeks cycle camping through Germany, Holland and Belgium. A great cheap way of seeing Europe

    My FI initial goal in 3.5 years time when I retire at 53 (I hope!) is to cycle through every country in Europe on one trip. You are a poor hobo when you travel like this – cycling & camping. You have few possessions but all the time in the world to absorb the scenery.

    Hopefully then I can repeat the experiece through every state in the US and then perhaps Africa.

    Have a dream & go for it – why not?

  9. Good luck, I did Ventoux last fall with my son. It was so much fun the he did it again the next day.

  10. FI and cycling, fascinating. I’m the same. What’s the link here. Introversion?

  11. Some of the points you make ring true for me but I have a slightly different perspective.

    Firstly my heart definitely does not “soar” at my employers latest five year plan but on the other hand work is not that bad, in fact the role that I have is probably the most fun that an accountant can have as I spend a lot of time working on interesting projects, travelling and meeting some nice people. Would I rather be doing some else? Most of the time yes but the fact is that my work pays a wedge of cash that enable us to spend money pretty much indiscriminately.

    On the other hand is there other stuff I like to do. Of course there is and I really want to spend a whole season skiing and some of the cycling challenges you mention are also on my radar. But do i want to do those things a lot more than keeping the cash rolling in. Well, mostly yes but its a reasonably close balance.

    My point is that the equation is not black and white and for me its about tipping the balance from one side to the other where one is able to enjoy ones hobbies without any worry about money. My tipping point is approaching fast.

  12. I did the London marathon in 2011 and it really changed my perspective of what is possible. I’m just a normal guy who could barely run a mile but each week with practice I could run a little further and was chipping away at that great mountain of a goal. So it is with FI!

    Great post!

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