In the Spring of 2008, my mission to retire was rudely interrupted by reality. I was left penniless, at the crossroads of returning to software or trying something new. At about that time, I had an auspicious encounter with an old man (now a dear friend) that gave me a new and exciting vision of my future.
I met Old Man John at the Hills Garlic Festival in the Kootenays, an event he started 30 years ago. He was a magical looking character with long hair and a wispy white beard, like that of a benevolent wizard from Lord of the Rings. He was a quintessential hippie, not like one of the neo-pop-hippies of today, but a true maverick who had managed to squeeze through the golden years without frying every last brain cell.
Old man John was living the life that I had subconsciously been pining after, in my mission to retire. He was a self-taught carpenter who had spent the majority of time running around his property, building a small paradise of gardens, funky outbuildings, and little shacks for their assortment of animals. It’s not that I needed his exact lifestyle or location, but I admired his vitality and his curious lens on life. And I wanted his ability to construct whatever creative idea came to mind.
This is when I realized that I’d rather be looking through the window of a cool building, than the window of an LCD laptop. The Kootenays, where Old Man John lived was a little too sleepy for an infant carpenter to pick up work, so I moved to Whistler which was happily trucking along in it’s own little development bubble.
It was spring and the weather was pleasant, so I began living out of my car instead of looking for a rental. I started asking around about how a guy like me starts off in carpentry. From what I picked up, it wasn’t as easy as walking onto a job site with a set of shiny tools, price tags dangling. People wanted to experience and that generally came from a trade school or a couple of years as a laborer. I didn’t have that much time on my hands so I decided to give myself a one-week intensive course in carpentry; I told my parents I’d build a shed on their property that matched their house if they paid for materials.
Off I went on a seven-hour drive to my parent’s home. One week later, with much cursing and head-scratching, I had pulled off a perfect mini-box replica of their house. Unfortunately, four years on a keyboard hadn’t prepared my hands for the physical abuse that carpentry served up. I had been working 12 hour days, and the final few had given me severe carpal tunnel and tendonitis.
It took over a year for my hands to heal. But on the upside I took my new portfolio piece, presented myself as a competent carpenter, and got a job the next week on a multi-million dollar home, overlooking Alta Lake in Whistler. By the time they saw my new shiny tools and my dubious living situation, it was too late. I was hired and working as hard as I could to prove my ability. I was deemed worthy and they kept me. But they did, however, tell me that next time I should drag my tools behind my car for a couple of kilometers on the way into town so as not to look so obvious.