'Life Is About Choices'

updated 07/20/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/20/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

We're fishermen. We know that only dead fish go with the flow," said Sarah Palin in a surprise July 3 speech to announce—and illustrate with a few sporting metaphors—that she was stepping down 2½ years into her first term as Alaska's governor. "We had no idea," says father-in-law Jim Palin. "Nobody seemed to know." As for her future? "I don't think anybody knows what's next, except for the governor herself," says one adviser.

First, fishing. After attending Juneau's Independence Day parade, Palin's husband, Todd, and some of their five kids took off for the family's commercial salmon grounds in Bristol Bay. In a Twitter post Palin, 45, wrote that she was "anxious to join 'em." Beyond that the former Republican VP candidate, who recently signed a deal to write a memoir, shed little light on what she'll do. But she did allude to several motivations for resigning, from the needs of her son Trig, 1, who has Down syndrome, to larger political aspirations, to family finances, which she claims have been ravaged by $500,000 in legal bills to fight 15 ethics complaints. (Online buzz about a corruption probe was quickly shot down by the FBI.) Friends insist she isn't reacting hastily. "I think she's got a goal—she always does," says family friend Helen Riley. Others speculated that Palin would focus on a 2012 presidential bid. "Now is the time to rebuild," she wrote cryptically on Facebook, "and help our nation achieve greatness!"

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