Adventures in Our Back Yard

“Hey, this isn’t so bad!”

It was our first hike in our second season with the local outdoor club, and we’d just made it up to the top of a pretty big hill.  A mountain, in my lexicon.  (Technically, it was our second hike of the year, but we didn’t think the popular New Year’s Day “hangover hike” counted.)  Coming back down proved to be our undoing.  We limped around the house for three days, helping each other up the stairs.  By the next weekend, however, we were ready to try a higher peak.

The 'higher peak', seen from the 3/4 point

The ‘higher peak’, seen from the 3/4 point

Joining a local outdoor club was another of the fortunate steps we’ve taken lately as we try to replace our dwindling old communities … with surprising benefits.  Cheryl and I had been casual hikers, casual cyclists, and infrequent paddlers for years.  Fair-weather adventurers.  Our last camping experience – when the boys were young – had us wrap up the soggy tent after three days of rain, and buy a last minute special to Mexico.  We thought of ourselves as reasonably fit … “for our age.”

We did like to get out for shorter hikes with a few friends.  Now the years were taking their toll on our circle – with injuries, operations, and just plain lethargy.  At times, we couldn’t find a single person to accompany us on a weekend hike.

With some trepidation, we found and joined a local Outdoor Association and booked ourselves on one of their upcoming outings.  We fully expected to be the “slowpoke seniors” in a group full of energetic youths.

Hikers at Windy Ridge, overlooking the Mt. St. Helens crater

Hikers at Windy Ridge, overlooking the Mt. St. Helens crater

Much to our surprise, we found ourselves among the youngest on the trip – although it took us a few hikes to get past the “slowpoke” part.  As we’ve continued to do hikes and bike trips with members of the group, we’ve met close to 100 of the 250 members, and almost all of them are our age or older.

So many of these hikers and cyclists are inspirations!  It’s quite something to spend six or seven hours hiking up and down mountain terrain only to discover the septuagenarian we’ve been struggling to keep up with has two titanium hips or knees.  The senior hard on my heels has just done her 100th marathon.  Some members in our club, often retired for decades, have medical conditions that would keep most people chained to their easy chair – instead, they’re using a bit of chain to get past a few feet of scree on a mountainside.

A club cycle ride usually has 10 to 20 participants

A club cycle ride usually has 10 to 20 participants

So we’ve been inspired!  We’ve done a number of hikes we would never have done on our own.  We cycle 40 miles or more on a Saturday ride without giving it a second thought.  We’ve been camping again – so far just tailgate camping, with folding cots in the tent.

The surprise was how we fell into a new community of people in our stage of life, either retired or contemplating retirement.  Not a retirement of slowing down – instead, one of taking on new challenges and adventures.  Many we’ve met share our passion for “back roads” travel, and many of those have found creative ways to finance their lifestyle.

We’ve also been reintroduced to travel in our own part of the world.  In search of new horizons, volunteers in the club have put together multiday hiking or biking adventures in locations from the Mexican border to Alaska – plus the occasional one overseas.  Much as we’ll continue to visit other continents, we now foresee more travel close to home.

A happy wanderer, overlooking the North Cascades

A happy wanderer, overlooking the North Cascades

We’re also seeing that we won’t have to settle for being “slowpoke seniors” – we’ve got lots of counter-examples all around us, and we’re starting to catch up.  At this year’s “summer camp,” Paul read over “Younger Next Year,” and has started this program, using the burst of summer hiking as the “kedge” to jump-start his program.  Today, we head out to a four-day kayak camp.

For next year, we’re looking for a hike or cycle route that we’d feel confident leading.  That would be a first for us.  We’ve also found a some members who are interested in joining us on our next year’s European bike trip: a solution to the dilemma posed by our Provence trip earlier this year.

Exploring Mt. St. Helens beyond the Visitor Center

Exploring Mt. St. Helens beyond the Visitor Center

What can you do if you want to find a similar group to get you moving instead of slowing down with each passing year?  There are many options, but it may depend where you live.  We have no idea whether other outdoor clubs tend towards an older membership – ours didn’t advertise the fact.  The club is 40 years old and perhaps the membership has aged with it.  Still, retired people often have more time for such pursuits, and a stronger sense of “use it or lose it.”

We found our group by doing Internet searches for “hiking club” and the like.  It turns out there were quite a few in our City, including special interest groups like “dog-friendly hikers.”  We picked ours primarily based on the region it served.  We’ve since discovered that many members belong to more than one group, so finding one quickly leads to others.  Many states and provinces have umbrella associations for various outdoor groups, and often publish directories.

The view from the top always makes it worth the slog

The view from the top always makes it worth the slog

Another way to locate groups for outdoor activities is though Meetup.com (which we wrote about in our last post.)  In our experience, the Meetup groups tend to be looser, and some members are frustrated with a lackadaisical attitude towards event planning.  (Our own club is well organized, with a full executive, plus sub-committees for hiking, cycling, snowshoeing, and paddling.  Experienced members volunteer to plan and lead individual events, while newcomers learn the ropes.)

However you do it, joining an enthusiast group of active hikers or cyclists will get you out there when you just “don’t wanna.”  Try it out.  And see you on the mountain!

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

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