Thursday, December 5, 2013
By Betty Adams email@example.com
AUGUSTA — Say good-bye to Chris Harnish. The Augusta man is leaving Oct. 10 on a five-month journey to scope out possible retirement home destinations.
Chris Harnish talks about his 30-foot motor home during an interview Thursday in Augusta. He plans to leave the city in the RV on Oct. 10, on a five-month journey south and west to find the perfect retirement location.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
Chris Harnish enters his 30-foot motor home during on Thursday in Augusta.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
"Nobody retires to Maine," he says, in a stage whisper, looking around to make sure he's not overheard in the 55-plus community where he lives.
A quick check on the website of the Maine Association of Retirees (whose 15,300 members receive monthly checks from the Maine State Retirement System) show the vast majority of those people, at least, remain in Maine. However, 611 members now reside in Florida; 59 in Arizona, 46 in North Carolina, 42 in South Carolina and 43 in California, all scheduled stops on Harnish's trip.
He's traveling by motor home rigged with a special front bumper guard designed to minimize damage should he run into large animals — caribou, moose, deer and big armadillos — or even other vehicles.
Harnish, 61, who retired Feb. 15, is headed south and then west in search of warmer climes and very good freshwater fishing.
An insurance adjuster by trade — and a professional caddy for a golfer on the LPGA Tour prior to that — Harnish has thought out every detail of his quest, following advice provided in the book "Where to Retire" by John Howells.
"I've been planning for this type of excursion for a year and a half," Harnish said as he showed off the 30-foot-long motor home with its queen-size bed at the back, a full bath and shower, two televisions, microwave, three-burner stove, oven and sleeping accommodations for up to six people.
The spacious storage area underneath will easily accommodate his must-haves, like the 17 rods and reels he's bringing in hopes of landing some spectacular fish.
Harnish speaks longingly of landing a 10-pound small mouth bass in Dale Hollow, Tenn. He has a 5 1/2 pound bass mounted on the wall of his Augusta home.
For his ideal retirement spot, he says, "I want decent fishing, freshwater primarily."
Harnish took the vehicle on a test ride around the Canadian Maritime provinces, covering 300-320 miles a day, averaging 11 miles to the gallon, and sharing driving duties with his wife.
But a recent divorce means he'll be hitting the road alone. He's advertised to get a fellow traveler, but so far it hasn't worked out, and friends who wanted to join him ended up having too many commitments to leave Maine for five months.
Harnish isn't waiting any longer. He said he survived life-threatening surgeries last spring, and a bout with cancer. He still has pinched nerves and poor circulation that can leave his fingers ghost white. "The warmer climate is so much more helpful to me," he said.
His first way station is a visit to family in his native Rhode Island. "They're going to provision me up," he said.
Then the trek starts in earnest, with stops in Bluefield, Va.; Asheville, N.C.; Augusta, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Dothan, Ala.; Oxford, Miss., Fayetteville, Ark.; Austin, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; Cedar City, Utah; Arcata, Calif., and Eugene, Ore.; Bellingham, Wash., and Vancouver, B.C.
He might be going in the wrong direction. A story by Sarah Mahoney in the October/November edition of "AARP The Magazine" lists Bangor among the 10 best cities "where you can live in comfort no matter how big or small your savings account."
Harnish is supporting himself and his trip on money he saved for retirement. He says he'll get Social Security retirement benefits next June.
"How much of a chance do people have to do this?" he asked as he locked up his motor home.
He hopes to send notes home about what he finds to aid other retirees seeking to relocate.
Betty Adams — 621-5631