September 29, 2013

Retiree plans road trip to find retirement home

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA - Say goodbye to Chris Harnish. The Augusta man is leaving Oct. 10 on a five-month journey to scope out possible retirement home destinations.

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The motor home has a three-burner stove and a queen bed but Chris Harnish says the most important attribute didn’t come standard: The vehicle is hauling his 17 fishing rods.

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Chris Harnish and his 30-foot motor home will be traveling from Maine to Florida to British Columbia in search of a spot to live out his retirement.

Photos by Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

"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) shows 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 is eager to get on the road. 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 stop is a visit to family in his native Rhode Island. 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.; Eugene, Ore.; Bellingham, Wash.; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

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.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

badams@mainetoday.com

 

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