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Solo motorbike trip at 53 – part of a life of continuous learning

Ulrike Rodrigues, 53, with her Honda dual-sport 100cc motorcycle which she rode more than 2,000 kilometres around southern British Columbia. She plans to return to India for five months to write a book. After that, she’ll pick up work in whatever interests her.

Robert Shaer

This story is part of a Second Careers series that looks at people who are making major career changes after 50 – workers who are staying relevant and thriving in today's job market.

When Ulrike Rodrigues was first profiled two years ago, she had left behind two decades as a graphic designer in Vancouver to head to India on a six-month solo bicycle trip: Avid cyclist, 51, gears up for new career.

Upon her return, she went back to school and then took up a job at a bicycle distributor as a Web marketing employee. Now, committed to her goal of lifelong learning on and off the job, she's just finished a 10-month contract job with the City of Vancouver as a mobile-content specialist.

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In November she will pay off her mortgage on her condo. Then, she plans to return to Goa in India for five months to write a book. After that, she'll pick up work in whatever interests her.

When Ms. Rodrigues finished her contract with the City of Vancouver this past summer, she knew she could look forward to an exciting winter.

A publisher offered her a deal to turn her Girl Gone Goa blog, which documented her two-wheeled travels through the Indian state, into a book. She's leaving for India in November, but Ms. Rodrigues, now 53, wasn't about to pass the interim simply by spending time in her hometown.

Rather, she bought a red-and-white Honda dual-sport 100cc motorcycle, packed it full of camping gear and rode, by herself, more than 2,000 kilometres around southern British Columbia.

"I've been riding a bicycle for more than 40 years, but I like to try new things, I like to learn, and I like to travel," Ms. Rodrigues says an interview at an East Vancouver coffee shop. "I just thought, I'm going to learn how to ride this motorbike.

"It was an awesome trip, and nothing went wrong," she adds. "It was only on my return that people were rocked by how this woman could ride this little, tiny bike solo around B.C., over mountain passes, and survive. … Being a solo female traveller and being open and curious to experience new things, and not allow society to impose fear on me, is so freeing. And it's super fun."

Ms. Rodrigues says that the motorbike odyssey is very much a metaphor for the way she handles her professional life.

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"I love riding a bicycle, but I wanted to do something different, learn new skills, and have new adventures," she says. "That's been my approach to my career as well. A long time ago I made a promise to myself that I would pursue continuous learning. With any job, I like to review after a year's time to make sure I'm doing that."

She may have an adventurous spirit, but Ms. Rodrigues describes herself as pragmatic as well. She has long contributed to RRSPs, has a tax-free savings account (TFSA) plus other modest savings accounts, and doesn't own a car.

"If you reduce the number of things you have to pay for, you can work less," she says.

She's had a financial adviser for the past two decades, checking in with him every time her income has gone up or down, depending on her job situation, to adjust her budget accordingly. She made a point of setting up accelerated mortgage payments and, when times were flush, making lump-sum payments as well.

"So here's me: a solo female in Vancouver who likes to travel and who has paid off a mortgage in about 20 years," Ms. Rodrigues says. "It all comes down to basic financial planning. I was given awesome advice on prioritizing reducing my principal. That made a huge difference. This marks a huge milestone in my life."

Ms. Rodrigues wanted to celebrate that achievement, which is why she'll spend the next several months in Goa, where her father was born, rather than in her paid-off condo to write her book.

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She's already let her contacts know that she'll be looking for work again in the spring, most likely on the West Coast, though she's open to overseas contracts as well. When she returns, Ms. Rodrigues plans on taking a closer look at her financial situation.

"I want to know how I can start making my investments work for me," she says. "Should I buy more real estate or invest in stocks and bonds, which I don't know much about? One of my expressions is: 'Work smarter, not harder.' That's what I want my investments to do."

As for "retirement," Ms. Rodrigues thinks the term itself should be retired. She has no plans on giving up work even when she reaches the age when most people do.

"When I hear that word, I imagine grandkids and rocking chairs and driving around in an RV, and none of that applies to me," she says.

"My intention is to keep working. I enjoy my work. It's fun. It gets me out of the house. I ride my bike to work. I'm working with interesting, intelligent people and I want to keep doing that as long as I can. When my work gets boring, I'll retrain again for a different type."

Advice for others

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Be passionate. Be curious. Keep learning.

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