As we age, we face the inevitable judgments about our abilities to engage in vital activities, yet these activities are necessary for us to remain vital in our senior years. The pointed commentary comes at us from all sides, from healthcare professionals, to those who mean well but don’t understand the importance of staying active to retain our fitness, to those who have given up on themselves. Frankly, I’m tired of it, and I’m not giving in.
The other day, Duane was at his annual physical. He had his medication adjusted because his anti-inflammatory was not working effectively so his knees were aching when he backpacked. As he sat in the exam room, the nurse came in to take his vitals, weight, blood pressure, blood oxygen, pulse, the usual. Over the last few years, he had lost 42 pounds and kept if off for over two years. Duane was ecstatic. The nurse said, “you should just give up backpacking. You’re too old.” His doctor said that the hiking is what’s working for Duane. Hiking is keeping him young.
I routinely share our posts and videos about backpacking with my friends, well, all over Facebook. Of course, our work shares the fact that backpacking is tough. It is also exhilarating. Backpacking asks me to monitor how my body is working. It makes me live up to my expectations for working that hard–and for feeling that good. To be able to backpack, I have to work out a lot. Generally, I ride my bike for 90 minutes a day, going between 20 and 24 miles, depending on how good my knees feel. If I can bike up the hill, I do, for a total of 22 miles. If not, I ride to a beach and back along the waterfront for 20 miles. I post images from my bike rides, mostly bald eagles, sunrises, and sandhill cranes.
Sometimes, I day hike or backpack locally. Other times, I do more formal workouts, such as martial arts or other programs, especially during the winter when it’s not suitable for biking and maybe too blustery for skiing or snowshoeing. These activities ensure that I am in condition to hike. Recently, I invited my high school girlfriend who does some of the same activities if she would like to backpack with me. She said, “I’m too old to hike.”
I take an anti-inflammatory for my knees. When I bike and hike every day, my muscles are strong, and my knees feel much better than when I don’t exercise. This year, when I stepped on the scale and weighed 15 pounds less than I expected, I was ecstatic. This summer I am leading several of the hikes we have planned. I wish I had more time off from “real” work to do more of this other work that makes me feel so good in such a different way. Don’t get me wrong, I love helping working adults meet their life goals by shepherding them through courses I teach at university. I also love feeling myself get stronger as I prepare for and carry out my hiking plans each year. I am not too old to hike.
Backpacking is not just work–it is effort expended that results in the kinds of rewards that make life meaningful. Sure, there are 13- or 14-mile hikes. Trails can scale ridges tangled with roots and strewn with rocks, but the views go on forever, well, at least to Canada. Mostly, though, Isle Royale hikes are between 5 and 9 miles with 12 to 14 hours each day to do them.
We plan the trips so that are doable for the specific people hiking them. Beginners start with 21 miles in 4 days. The pace can be at one mile an hour or less, and sometimes it is. Built in are day hikes to add another 10 miles if the hikers wish. There is an optional route that changes the 21 miles to 25. Even the longest hikes can be broken into manageable pieces, but planning must account for the actual hikers’ levels of fitness and hiking experience on similar terrain.
To backpack, you need solid research, strength of will, stamina, accurate self-assessment, and real practice with your gear. You need good gear and sound planning with alternates in the event that you want to do more or wish to do less than what the itinerary says. You need a sense of adventure and a desire to do the work that is required to be fit and capable for the excursion you plan. Keep in mind, too, that there is no rush to be too old to hike.