Sunday, December 18, 2011

Old

As a twenty-seven year old wilderness ranger, I was amazed when Valerie joined our seasonal crew. Admittedly she was in incredible shape: she surpassed us all on the firefighter "step test", as inaccurate and male-biased as it was. Her legs in Forest Service shorts were muscled and strong. But she was....forty-one.

I couldn't imagine being that old. How could she even strap on a seventy pound pack and hike the huge miles that we were doing? Now I know better, because I know I could still do it. But back then, getting old seemed like a death sentence. Sometimes I thought that I could beat it by running farther, hiking faster, moving across the country and back again. And it seemed like there was just so much time. Years and years, during which I would gain wisdom but not wrinkles, my life falling into place like a freshly opened map.

As I stare another birthday in the face, I am both grateful and sad. Of course I'm glad I'm still around when some of my friends aren't. But sometimes I really miss being young. There was so much room to make mistakes and rebound from them. The stakes weren't as high, because there was so much time left. No money? I can always fight fire for a season and earn some. No men? One would always come along. Nobody wants to publish my book? Plenty of time for that! No job? I'll clean toilets at a campground, no problem!  Marathons? Sure, I've got great knees!

So far there hasn't been any wilderness adventure that I have had to give up because of age, except for pavement marathons, which are no good for anyone's knees. I hope there never is, but I have noticed that the ranks are getting thinner around me. It's sad that people my age, which really isn't that old, have decided to give in to the couch. Luckily I live in a mountain town where seventy-year-olds still backcountry ski. Many of my friends are older than I am, and they take on amazing feats of wilderness endurance. It gives me hope. Many of them have their own challenges, but they still get out there.

Maybe it's not the body that changes but the desire. Unlike when I was younger, I have no desire to pay to run a race. I will, though, go out and cover that distance on my own. I've turned more inward: it's more about the solo experience or the one with a shortlist of friends, not the spectacle that I like now. I used to love the crowds, the aid stations, the cameraderie. Now I like it when I pass nobody on the trails or on the road. I don't even keep a training log anymore, but I remember everything.

Valerie only lasted one season, and we hardly ever saw her. Most likely she was over our immaturity, our bunkhouse parties, our firmly held belief that we would never grow old. You just wait, she probably thought. If I had to bet, though, I'd say she's still out on the trails somewhere. A little slower, perhaps. Older, definitely. But still out there.
Patterson Peak, 1995.

5 comments:

  1. I think you're right about the desire to keep getting out there. Heck, I'm not even 30 yet and I have a lot of friends that chose the couch for one reason or another.

    My local running club has some really great senior runners. Not because they're fast, but because they're still out there. Now THAT'S what I want to be when I grow up :)

    I think of you in that same category, not by age (cuz you soooo aren't even old yet), but of amazing adventurous people that keep going with whatever they have.

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  2. Love the photo...but the ones you've posted from this year are just as fit, and just as great. You will always have an adventurous soul...and will keep on inspiring and prodding the rest of us to "just get out there."

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  3. From Sitka:

    http://www.kcaw.org/2011/12/19/mass-wasting-event-destroys-popular-sitka-trail/

    Tom
    Fairbanks

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