Financial Advice From Hike

Financial Advice from the Pacific Crest Trail

David B. Armstrong, CFA Weekly Market Commentary

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I spent the last 12 months planning a long-distance backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail which ran through a large section of the Sierra mountains in California.  As some of you already know, I took a fall at the 190-mile mark of the 220-mile journey and couldn’t continue.  I’ve unfortunately re-injured my knee, and it looks like I’ll require surgery again – a 3rd go around.  I feel like I need to get one of those frequent shopper cards that get hole punched for a free sandwich.  To use a golf analogy, completing 190 miles out of the planned 220 was “inside the leather” and I picked up for par…as one former President might put it, Mission Accomplished.

It was an epic journey. Most of the hike was above 10,000 feet in elevation with the highest point at 13,500 feet.  Any time I found myself below 10,000 feet, I was quickly hiking back up steep switchbacks to above 10,000-foot level.  Time below 10,000 was short lived.  I endured hail storms, rain storms, a river running under my tent and no appetite.  I trekked into town for a resupply in Independence, California to learn that my only dinner option was the Shell gas station. That night I had a frozen microwavable cheeseburger and a half gallon of whole milk.  My feet hurt every day and at one point my entire group was essentially out of food 24 hours and 12 miles before our next resupply.  Thankfully, someone from the group of 7 was successful in catching 14 trout from the nearby river where we were camped.

Sequoia National Park Forester Pass

The best part of the journey was the group of guys I met and spent most of the trip hiking with.  They became true brothers, and I’ll never forget them.  Ever. They initially only welcomed me into the group because I had Snicker Bars and I was a new audience for the stories they have been telling each other for 30+ years, but after a day of hiking, it was clear we were going the distance together.  They were with me when I fell.  When it was clear the high afternoon winds would prohibit the helicopter from hoisting me out, they helped hike me down (read: basically carry me) 1.5 miles off the hill to the helicopter landing zone.  This is a group picture of the whole crew on top of Pinchot Pass.  From left to right it’s Ken, Pat, Hans, Kevin, Mike, me and Mark.

Hiking Group Pinchot Pass

Financial Advice Fresh Off The Trail

I often found myself thinking about the correlations between the hike and the financial advice that we give our clients.  For example, before I left for the trip, I preplanned where I would camp each night and loaded it up onto the internet map that tracked my daily location.  Jessica summed up my journey yesterday as we were looking at a paper map of the route.  She remarked, “I looked at the GPS map online every morning after your location was updated.  I was amazed that every day you were close to exactly where you planned to be.  No matter how far your hike was that day, how slow you were going, how steep the pass was that day or how many peaks you had to cross, you always ended up roughly where you planned to finish the day.”

Imagine that – me with a plan.

Financial Advice from Hiking One Foot in Front of the Other

I’ll sprinkle in stories about my journey over the next month or so. I feel like some of the financial lessons and experiences are better communicated in pieces rather than one long blog.  It was probably the most grueling thing I have ever accomplished.  The altitude, the steepness, the ruggedness of the terrain—Any one of those things or even a combination of the three made progress at times seem impossible.  There were times where I was literally, LITERALLY, taking steps no greater in stride than heal to toe. What was amazing to me was that if I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what, I got where I planned to be. In this picture from day 5, I started my hike at 7am from roughly 10,900 feet at Tyndall Creek to 13,200 feet on Forester Pass, the highest pass I crossed over.  It was a 4 hour, 5 mile climb, but I got there.  One foot in front of the other.

Investing Baby Steps

The Worst Part

The worst part? People passing me.  People FLYING by me.  Striding up the mountain as if it was a stroll down Main Street at sea level. No stopping to catch their breath. Bounding over rock step-ups as if all they had in their pack was one Clif Bar.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Step by painful step.  I overcame the emotions of feeling like I’d never get where I was going.  I fought off wanting to scream when I rounded a corner thinking I had reached a top of a climb only to see it was a false summit and there was another 800 feet of climbing left to go. Convincing myself that I should not pay attention to the last fifteen 20-something-year-olds that just passed me as if I was some out of shape, overweight, 51-year-old dude with no business being out there on that hike.  I don’t even want to comment on the woman who was 6 months pregnant who overtook me on the trail and encouraged me with a “you can do it, keep going” over her shoulder and over her 45-pound pack. (True story.)

Financial Advisor Hike

So What?

What’s the point?

Sometimes putting one foot in front of the other is really hard and you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere – like investing.  Sometimes being an investor is like my experience hiking up over Forester Pass – out of breath taking slow, painful baby steps while others are passing you by.

Here’s a picture of my hike from the perspective of an investor in the S&P 500 who has been on the trail since 2008, putting one foot in front of the other despite any temporary adversity.

S&P500 Climb

Instead of challenges like altitude and steepness, investors persevered through all sorts of global and domestic issues like credit crises, the Gulf oil spill, the EU Crisis, the Debt Ceiling Crisis, the U.S. Credit downgrade, European debt problems, the U.S. Fiscal Cliff, the Boston Bombing, the Government Shutdown, ISIS, the oil price decline, terror attacks, the refugee crisis, the China Slowdown, Fed Rate Hikes, Brexit, the 2016 Election

However, look where an investor got by having a plan and just keeping one foot in front of the other.

Keep looking forward.

Dave

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About the Author
David B. Armstrong, CFA

David B. Armstrong, CFA

David B. Armstrong, CFA, is a President and Co-Founder of Monument Wealth Management. Along with his role as the firm’s chief investment strategist and portfolio manager, Armstrong is viewed as an industry leader in several areas including innovative practice management, discretionary asset management, digital marketing and social media. Dave is the writer of Monument Wealth Management's weekly "Off the Wall" Financial Blog and Market Commentary, and is frequently sought after by journalists and event coordinators. Visit his full biography here.

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