Tag Archives: Health

Kedging for Fun and Non-profits

In sailing terms, kedging is the process of moving a ship forward by sending an anchor out ahead of it, and then pulling the ship forward by hauling on the anchor. This slow and laborious process can be repeated indefinitely.

“Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond”

As the book “Younger Next Year” explains, the same process can be used to pull yourself through the slow and laborious process of a daily exercise regime. The idea is to set a physical stretch goal that will keep you moving forward when the couch is softly calling.

Last year, I had used our upcoming fall cycling trip to the hilly Dalmatian Islands as my kedge, and the thought of those climbs got me out riding our local hills on many a summer’s day.

This year, I elected to participate in a late-August two-day bicycle ride to raise funds for cancer research. However, the real fun began when I elected the optional “challenge” route of 290 km (180 miles.) The longer Day One would be close to double the longest ride I’d ever done.

As I started my training rides, I soon realized that my trusty hybrid cycle was not up to the task. At a top average speed of perhaps 22 kph, I’d be at risk of not finishing before dark. I also wanted to join the local road-riding club for extra weekly motivation, and they had a “no hybrids” policy. So, in April, I acquired an entry-level road bike, the first since my 20s. Shortly after that, I persuaded myself to try “clipless pedals” – so called because the cyclist’s shoes are clipped into the pedals – go figure!

As anyone who’s had their feet attached to the pedals can tell you, a few slow-motion falls are to be expected, especially on days with high cross winds. It hurts a lot less if you land on flat ground rather than a roadside planter. Ouch!

Trying out the new "clipless" pedals

Trying out the new “clipless” pedals

As spring headed towards summer and I worked my way towards 225 km a week, I inched my average ride speed from 22 to 24, then 25, and finally 27 kph. That was the point I’d told myself I’d be ready to join my first group ride. An informal ride was advertised for Tuesday morning: “Pensioners’ Easy Ride.” That sounded good.

I arrived at the meeting point with a slightly bloodied knee – remember those cross winds? The collection of sleek carbon-fiber machines looked intimidating, and some of those “pensioners” must have taken very early retirement. For 20 km, I managed to keep them in sight – although it nearly cost me a lung – after which, they disappeared from view. At the end-of-route coffee stop, they gently suggested the “other” club might be closer to my speed.

Towards the end of the summer, I did manage to get out with the “other” club a few times, and while the rides kept me moving, I was able to hold my own. Good thing! I had my hands full learning the hand signals and other techniques for riding in close formation. This was a very different style of riding than what we do in our recreational club, and I came back from a few “white knuckle” rides with aching fingers.

Fellow riders on the bike trail into Cascade Locks, OR

Fellow riders on the bike trail into Cascade Locks, OR

Meanwhile, our recreational club kept Cheryl and me busy this summer with a number of great rides including a three-day circuit of Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, a multi-day exploration of the BC wine country around Oliver, and a couple days of riding on Washington’s Whidbey and BC’s Pender Island. I knew my training was starting to have an effect when fellow riders remarked on how my hill climbing had improved, and sometimes complained that my “easy” pace seemed to be quickening.

Despite all this, by August I was growing concerned that I still hadn’t proven to my own satisfaction that I could do the ride at month end. So I pushed myself to do longer rides, and ten days ago, I completed my longest ride ever. Although I was still only at 75 percent of Day One, I knew I still had the reserves to do that last 25 percent — and before sunset to boot. Not a moment too soon, as our training advisors soon told us it was time to taper down for event day.

Now, with the ride only a few days off, the kedge has done its work. It got me out cycling on the days I otherwise wouldn’t: when it was too hot, or sprinkling, or when my road bike needed repairs and I needed to take my hybrid. It got me out earlier, later, and longer. My attitude towards hills shifted from “OK, if I have to” to “Bring’ em on – I need the practice!” A 70-km cycle went from being a full-day’s outing to a shorter morning ride.

Cycling Friends, on the ferry to Lummi Is, WA

Cycling Friends, on the ferry to Lummi Is, WA

It got me trying new things such as close-formation riding on a new type of bicycle. I met a whole new set of people I wouldn’t have found otherwise. And it kept me focused on my goal while dealing with a number of mechanical problems such as bent derailleurs, broken spokes, and the need to replace a wheel. And ergonomic problems – I had to hire a bike fitter to implement the recommendations of my physiotherapist. It’s definitely helped my fitness, including loosening a couple of joints that had been over-tight since last October.

This particular kedge has also done something else. It’s allowed me to raise several thousand dollars towards cancer research. For many riders, the fundraising part is the hardest – and many struggle with it. In my case, a number of generous friends, associates, and family members made the job painless. All I had to do was keep them entertained with my painful cycling pratfalls.

Taking a break from cycling on Pender Island, BC

Taking a break from cycling on Pender Island, BC

With only a few days left, I’m looking forward to my weekend ride – forecasts of showers notwithstanding – and already wondering what my next kedge will be. While Cheryl and I plan a 400-km cycling trip in Vietnam early next year, it doesn’t seem solid enough for the purpose. So, I’ll have to come with something else. Stay tuned. I’m off for an evening training ride.

What experience have you had with your own kedges?

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Transitions – Part II

It was a different kind of travel these past months.

In January, I reported that I was transitioning to “advancement” a.k.a. retirement.

The transition has gone according to plan, … mostly.

Cheryl’s resolve to go on working was thwarted by a meltdown at her employer. In March she resigned, and is now looking for a year-long contract. Despite the unexpected tightening of finances, I’ve been fairly good at not abandoning my Declaration of Self-Actualization in favour of going back to work. I wish Cheryl could join me in this new endeavour, but for now, she’s committed to being a working woman.

i-Minds by Dr. Mari Swingle

i-Minds by Dr. Mari Swingle

You may recall that my transition was to have three distinct phases: Endings, the “Neutral Zone”, and the New Beginning.

My journey through the “Neutral Zone” was interesting. Limiting Internet usage to four evenings a week proved highly challenging – life is so Internet-centric these days! But I mostly succeeded, and it gave me a new sense of freedom, not to mention more time. Among the many books I read was “i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media Are Changing Our Brains, Our Behaviour, and the Evolution of Our Species.” It definitely added to my rationale for taming the iBeast.

For the last five days of my Neutral-Zone period, I engaged in a “mostly silent” retreat at the seaside Krishnamurti Centre of Canada in rural Metchosin, BC. I knew nothing about Jiddu Krishnamurti before I went, and chose the location primarily as it offered a nearby opportunity to spend some time in contemplation. I spent most of the time strolling in the gardens or on the beach, or contemplating views like this one. However, I did read one of Krishnamurti’s shorter books, and found his stuff intriguing. Somehow I’d missed him in the 60s.

View from the Krishnamurti Centre of Canada in Metchosin, BC

View from the Krishnamurti Centre of Canada in Metchosin, BC

I returned from my retreat energized and at peace; work was a distant memory so the “Endings” were done. I was ready to leap into the New Beginning. An opportunity for a jump start presented itself in the form a weekend “New Warrior Training Adventure”, run by the ManKind Project as a “modern male initiation.” And that it was! I returned from the weekend part of a new community and ready to take on the next stage of my “advancement.”

I’m happy to say that I’ve started my 3rd Act Career – although there may be no money in it, … or not for a long while. I’ve started a practice of working every day on writing a novel, something I’ve wanted to do for years. On an author friend’s recommendation, I began with the system outlined in “Writing a Book in 30 Days: A 60-Minute Masterclass.” At my current rate of progress, I’m estimating 30 months will be barely sufficient. But I’m having a lot of fun. My nascent plot spans three continents, so Cheryl and I are both looking forward to the location research projects.

Camp Pringle - one of the locations of the ManKind Project's New Warrior Training Adventure

Camp Pringle – one of the locations of the ManKind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure

Since my writing muscles are now engaged daily, I’ll likely limit future posts this year to travel reports. While we decided to postpone any overseas travel until next year, we have a pretty full schedule of outdoor activities closer to home. This month, we’ll be hiking in Utah, and cycling some of Washington State’s coastal islands. Stay tuned!

Cycling will be a big part of this year’s activities. For my “kedge”, I’ve signed on to do the two-day 175-mile loop of the local Ride to Conquer Cancer. Since Day One will exceed my longest-ever ride by about 80%, I’ve to a lot of training to do. I’m out at least three days a week, and expect that to rise as the August ride date approaches. I’ve invested in a faster bike so I can ride with a local club later this season.

Cycling in the Valley

Cycling in the Valley with the Outdoor Association

While my novel file is growing and my average cycling speed is creeping upwards, a few of my other projects stalled. When the decluttering was about 30% done, we realized we weren’t likely to downsize this year, and put the project on hold pending the autumn rains. On the training side, I managed to pass only one of my two assessments, leaving the other to be rescheduled during those same autumn rains.

For now, the weather is great for some beautiful spring rides.

Related Posts:

For Further Reading:

“Freedom from the Known” by Jiddu Krishnamurti

Do Not Go Gently: Adventures in Aging

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)

“It’s started!  My body’s starting to die!”  Those thoughts flashed through my mind when, at the age of 30, I noticed that one of my front teeth had simply up and died.  Irreversibly.  For the first time it hit me that, as Aristotle pointed out, I am a man and all men are mortal, and … well, you take it from there.

More than three decades on, a blog post on the theme of aging got me thinking:  the signs of getting old can be a spur to new adventures.  That seems a better way to view it.

gettingOlderMy own mother had been a shining example in the last months of her life.  Diagnosed with a terminal cancer, she seemed to grow in peace and grace as the illness consumed her physical energy.  My siblings and I felt ourselves in awe as her spirit expanded with each passing day.  Somehow, the approach of death had moved her to a new level.  How different, I thought, from others I had known who grew bitter by the same measure.

On much less demanding aspects of aging, I’ve noticed that I often gain something new as each part of my body loses its shine.  My own good doctor has helped with this.  A man of my own age, he eschews pharmaceutical solutions where possible.  He also has an annoying habit of co-opting my complaints.  I went to him with a sleep problem – an “inevitable sign of aging.”  His response: “If you’re playing computer solitaire at 3AM, look for me online and we can play together.”  Instead, I tried a biofeedback clinic and got a lot more than I bargained for.  Using the biofeedback technology, I was able to reduce my overall stress levels.  At the clinic, I met a world-class peak-performance trainer, and learned new breathing techniques to increase my heart-rate variability.  It turns out increased HRV is a key marker for reduced mortality – not to mention increased willpower.  It was an exciting and useful discovery.

That was not last dose of my doctor’s empathy.  “Doctor, I’m really tired of late.  Do you think I need testosterone?”  He humoured me by running a test.  His prescription?  “You should try some volunteering.  Nothing like feeling useful to keep you alive.”  That was how I ended up mentoring new immigrants, a fantastic experience that’s still developing.

On my last visit to the doctor’s office, I was complaining about the lingering pain in my shoulders, brought on by a game of trampoline dodge-ball months earlier at the local “extreme air park.”  (Was the name a tip-off?)  “Yeah,” he said, “that shoulder pain really messes up my tennis serve.  But try strengthening the muscles in your back.”  So, I spent a few sessions with a personal trainer to develop a new travel-friendly exercise regime to add to my “Younger Next Year” program.  Not only are my shoulders in much better shape, but I’m starting to feel “buff”.

Promotional picture for Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park

Promotional picture for Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park

My aging libido has been a huge source of new experiences.  I was naïve enough to think that being slower to “get it up” might at least lead to more endurance.  Not.  This time I knew I could probably get a little blue pill from my doctor, but I opted for looking into some massage training and even some Tantra.  These areas turned out to be rich areas for fun and exploration, for both Cheryl and me.  Pursuing these activities also led me to find a great personal development coach (who became a friend), as well as joining a men’s support group, also a new and life-altering experience.  Even starting my bucket list grew out of this quest to compensate for dropping testosterone levels.

Another complaint as we age is how we lose our friends.  At first, they just become less active and available;  later, we lose them for good.  When Cheryl and I noticed that it was getting harder to get our friends out hiking, we joined an outdoor club, leading to many more friends, and brand new adventures.

Eulalia Pérez de Guillén Mariné (1765–1878), ca. 1870; published in 1900

Eulalia Pérez de Guillén Mariné (1765–1878), ca. 1870; published 1900

I sense a pattern.  If we embrace each challenge that aging brings, and rise to meet it, rather than settle for an ever-shrinking life, we can grow in new directions as long as we can still take another breath.  I know I’ve yet to be hit with the really big challenges of aging, like the one my mother surfed so well.  When I am, with her example, and through practice with the smaller challenges, I hope to do half as well as she did.

For now, I’m grateful to benefit from the upsides of the smaller aging setbacks, to see the possibility in each new skill I need to learn in order to battle entropy.

My current quest to create a post-retirement career has proven a challenging one.  May it prove rich as well.  I recently started working with a counselor to see if I could move things forward faster.  A top local hypnotherapist, this woman is a “poster child” for what’s possible career-wise.  Well into her 80s, she’s one of the City’s top practitioners in a field she only entered after retiring from teaching at 65.  I’m now working on transcending some lifelong beliefs I’ve held that have likely been a drag on my career success.  Once again, a crisis of aging is pushing me into exciting new territory.

Latin Funk Dance with Gustavo Ferman

Latin Funk Dance with Gustavo Ferman

There’s a playful side too.  One area we identified for growth was exercising my creative muscle, and in particular, the operation of my corpus callosum, that part of the brain that coordinates the left and right hemispheres.  One of the best ways to build up your corpus callosum is to learn some new dance steps.  So, after years of putting it off, I signed up both my left feet for weekly lessons in Latin Funk dance.  I’m loving it!  My new shoulders are holding out, too.  And, although the instructor is male, most of my classmates are not.  All those Latin-swinging hips aren’t bad for the aging libido either.

Related:

Younger Next Year

Paul is almost half-way through his first year on the Younger Next Year program.  Here’s his interim report…

We were headed out on a multi-day hiking “summer camp” with our outdoor association.  For reading, I had along a copy of “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge.

There must be some magic in the book.  Despite reading admonitions like the following, I resolved there and then to start the program.

“If you thought there was no easy answers to getting Younger Next Year … um, you were right. It’s a torture. And it lasts the rest of your life.  Serious exercise, SIX DAYS A WEEK, until death. How about them apples? How in the world do we sell a single book? But here’s the funny thing. We sell a ton of them and have, from the beginning. And readers write these amazing letters ALL THE TIME. About how much they like their new lives. And new waist lines. And the look. And the book. Weird.”

Cover of "Younger Next Year: Live Strong,...

Cover via Amazon

My experience has been similar.

I wasn’t exactly a couch potato six months ago.  Despite being a nerdy non-physical kid, long before my 60s, I was a committed exerciser.  I had acquired a Concept 2 rowing machine, which I used almost daily.  I aimed for and generally achieved three to four hours of aerobic exercise a week, and supplemented that with another four to eight hours a week of hiking and biking in the summer.  Getting out more on weekends got easier after we’d joined an outdoor club the year before.

Still, all this activity hadn’t been enough to combat the effects of growing older on maintaining my weight.  From around 155 pounds in my 30s (down from 175), I’d crept up over the years, and was on track to enter my 60s at over 200 pounds.  In 2010, I’d discovered alternate day dieting (a variant of intermittent fasting), and just before Christmas of that year, got back to 155.  I blogged that journey elsewhere.

Staying in that region for the next couple of years proved challenging, but possible.

Then, last June, a friend recommended Younger Next Year.  He wasn’t on it himself, but had received strong recommendations from others crossing the six-decade threshold.

By mid-July I was reading the book in the tent at the summer camp.  The prescription was pretty simple:

"Snow Camp": our group passing scattered snow at one of the summits in July.

“Snow Camp”: our group passing scattered snow at one of the summits in July.

One other feature was the concept of a “kedge” – as Younger Next Year defines it, “a serious adventure trip with friends. Hike, surf, bike, ski, run a marathon – whatever turns you on, even if you’ve never done anything like this before (maybe especially if you haven’t)  and get training.”  At the summer camp, we had the opportunity to do more mountain hiking than I’d ever done before, it was the ideal way to kick off the program.  I actually screamed and kicked very little.  I just started – with several 15-mile mountain hikes – and didn’t stop.

One of the finer points of the exercise program is the need for at least two of the daily exercise routines to be strength training routines.  I had no good options at that time, so I decided to postpone that modification until the Fall.  Meanwhile, between hikes and bike rides, I cranked up my rowing program to a minimum of 45 minutes a day – about 10,000 meters at my rate.

I was soon looking for alternatives to rowing, especially during our travel season when I was so often away from my machine.  I can’t run for miles without causing knee problems due to fallen arches.  A good  alternative is hill running or stair climbing, which allows me to get more exercise in a shorter time. By using a heart monitor, as urged by the book, I determined that I could keep my heart rate in the target range by finding a good hill or stairway, and alternating trotting down with climbing up as fast as I could.  One advantage:  it’s much easier to find a hill than a rowing machine.  We have a great set of beach stairs nearby – over 300 steps with a vertical rise of 150 feet.

By the end of the summer, I’d fallen into a good rhythm, and seldom missed a day – and never two in a week.  It was now time to take on strength training.  A shoulder problem showed me the way.  I’d been struggling with some rotator cuff problems since a game of trampoline dodgeball in the Spring.  Massage and physiotherapy were slow in making a dint in the pain and flexibility challenges.  My family doctor suggested strengthening my upper back muscles, so I sensed some synergy here.

I signed up with a very good local personal fitness trainer, and had her design for me a set of

Before I signed up with the personal trainer, Cheryl and I tried one of her boot camps. At the top of the beach stairs.

Before I signed up with the personal trainer, Cheryl and I tried one of her boot camps. At the top of the beach stairs.

strength training exercises I could do with little or no equipment.  I wanted a routine that I could take with me on trips, and not tie us to destinations with fitness equipment.  PJ came up with a couple of good one-hour high-intensity workouts that involve a lot of plank work, as well as one-legged and asymmetrical arm exercises.  One of its virtues – if you can call it that – is that it’s high enough intensity that I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself or even think about it much until it’s all over.

I’m now two or three months into incorporating these workouts into my daily exercise routine three times a week.  The results were apparent quite quickly.  Within a couple of weeks, I was making progress on both form and repetitions.  The icing on the cake came at the Christmas party for Cheryl’s swim team.  When her swim coach showed up, it was the first time I’d seen her since last year’s party.  One of the first things she said was, “You look like you’ve been bulking up.”  So, in just two months, I’d put on enough muscle mass on my upper body to be noticeable to a trained professional.  Sweet!

It’s a bit early for hard evidence, but I’m also expecting this routine to help with the weight control.  As I’ve been adding muscle bulk, I haven’t been adding weight.  So, my waist size is back at its lowest point reached three years ago, even though now I’m tipping the scale in the low 160s.  For just under six feet, that seems reasonable.

Meanwhile, we’re planning our kedges for the New Year.  We have a number of multi-day bike and kayaking tours arranged for the year.  The most demanding will likely be a week of cycling in Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands, with far higher hills than we’re used to.  Despite the challenges of a more time-consuming job, and despite her younger years, Cheryl has been hot on my heals in implementing the program.  And she’s way out front with kedges, signing up for her first half marathon, her third sprint triathlon, and her first open-water 3000 meter swim race this year.

Looks like the views in Dalmatia will be worth the 1600' hill climbs. This is the island of Vis.  (Photo: Bike Tours Direct)

Looks like the views in Dalmatia will be worth the 1600′ hill climbs. This is the island of Vis. (Photo: Bike Tours Direct)

My family doctor thinks this is a great program.  The only problem, he says, is where do you find the time if you’re not retired?  I’m convinced, and the book has played a big role in this, that it’s a matter of not burying one’s head in the sand about ageing.

I’m off to climb the beach stairs now.  What about you?  Will you be younger next year?

By the same author:

Ageing Heads in the Sand?

Cheryl and I attended a workshop last weekend called Ageing Well in Community, sponsored by a seniors’ cohousing initiative.  I think it was the “Community” part that attracted our attention, not the “Ageing”.  After all, we’re still young, right?  Our average age is still under sixty, just.  (In fairness to Cheryl, I’m contributing more than my fair share to that average!)

Biking the hills at Les Baux-de-Provence, France

Biking the hills at Les Baux-de-Provence, France

We joined the outdoor club and are hiking and biking more than ever.  I’ve taken up an exercise program called “Younger Next Year”, and I’m feeling good about it.  I’m  in better shape than I was a year ago, and back near my college weight.  Cheryl’s taken up sprint triathlons.  In our coming decade or two, we look ahead not to ageing, but to more travel.  We’ve signed up with Couchsurfing, and booked a biking trip in the Dalmatian Islands, so we’re definitely young at heart.  We both still work at demanding careers, and are working towards our next one.

We were a little surprised by the image on the front of the course workbook:  a man with his head in the sand.  Surely that wouldn’t be us?

We were pretty smug about others who had their heads in the sand about ageing.  We had dealt with relatives of our parents’ generation who had refused to make plans for independent living until circumstances forced them into assisted-living complexes.  By refusing to accept the fact of their ageing, they had lost their independence when it was no longer possible to do much about it.

We also looked around at our own peers who were talking about retirement and still not saving anywhere near enough to finance it.  We were often shocked at the statistics of baby boomers heading into retirement with significant debts and mortgages, and an expectation that their current salary would continue for decades past traditional retirement age.  They definitely were behaving like ostriches.

What, me worry?

What, me worry?

However, as we worked through the first day of the workshop, we began to shift our perspective.  We are getting older, and those “ageing things” are getting closer.  We’ve lost friends to cancer, and more in our circles are widows and widowers.  We notice that some aren’t as sharp as they once were and wonder if it’s the beginnings of Alzheimer’s.  Friends and relatives younger than us have artificial hips or knees.  Our hiking and biking companions are sidelined more often, sometimes indefinitely.  We’ve become good friends with our physiotherapists.  At present, I’m dealing with shoulder problems.  While I’m still hoping to resolve them, I may not.  For now, I’m having trouble reaching things from top shelves. Wow!  I’m one of those “old people” with “reduced mobility”.  Fast forward fifteen years, and it’s highly unlikely we’ll have quite the energy and stamina we have now.  We might not want the same demanding workload we currently carry.

Like a growing number of people, we also realize that the world’s rapidly ageing population is going to put serious strains on traditional models of healthcare.  No matter how we organize society, when the population is ageing, and the ratio of younger workers to retired people is dropping, the cost of that care is going to rise.  Except for those who are independently wealthy, we are all going to feel the squeeze.

If we put these thoughts aside and wait until necessity intrudes, we may find it’s too late to take the necessary actions to maintain our independence.  Like others we’ve regarded ruefully, we may wake up one day and realized we’ve missed the opportunity to create our community of support.

Our friends still like to play

Our friends still like to play

As we discussed in an earlier post, we’ve been investigating the role of community – including some sort of shared or collaborative housing – in staying young and providing mutual support.  So far, it’s been a Good Idea.  Good enough to get us to the workshop last weekend.

While the workshop exposed us to a lot of creative ideas for building community and constructing collaborative living arrangements, it also made us realize that these things take time.  If we wait until we need community support in order to remain independent or manage our health care, it will be too late to build it.  Developing a collaborative home or a cohousing development can take years:  we know of few who’ve done it in three or four, and many who’ve taken seven or more.  Even if all we do is move to a new community, it will take time to become integrated and establish new networks and friendships.  The time to start is now.

Coming out of the weekend, we have a new sense of purpose in building our future community, … plus a lot more creative ways in which we can get started.  As interesting as we find the traditional cohousing concept, we’re not sure it’s the model for us.  But there are plenty more to choose from.  It’s a good thing.  As boomers age,  more and more of us will realize it’s going to take some creative community building to meet the challenges of the coming years.  No one solution is going to be able to match the magnitude of the requirement.

In less than two decades, I'll have one of these!

In less than two decades, I’ll have one of these!

As I was writing this post, I was chatting with Cheryl’s mom, who is visiting us from her home in an assisted-living complex.  She was telling me about how she was too young to take up some of those exercise activities that the staff put on.  Maybe next year, she said.

For my part, I have acquired a new sense of urgency, not a panicked urgency, but a realization that the biological clock is ticking.  Having taken my head from the sand, it will not be so easy to bury it again.  We need to pick a direction and start taking concrete actions to make ageing well in community our reality.  It’s time.

Need more?  Check these out:

What’s your take?

Take your Kids on the Trip of a Lifetime

When our two boys were in elementary school, like many parents we knew, we had a dream of taking them on an extended trip overseas, the Trip of a Lifetime “one day”.  If this sounds like you, we hope Paul’s account of how we created our own family adventure inspires you to realize your dream.  Time is fleeting.  Make it happen!

The conversations at our place started about the time our younger boy hit grade one.  With the oldest only eight, we still had a few years to plan this, we thought.  Yet the years go by quickly, in a whirl of school calendars, baby-sitters, holidays, childhood crises, friends who need attention, and the demands of busy careers.  We had also taken on an ambitious project to create a small low-cost cabin on an island – a task that took four years to complete.  It would have been so easy to sail right through our parenting years without ever getting away on our dream trip.

The view from Paul's favourite spot on the windjammer (it wasn't the tiller)

The view from Paul’s favourite spot on the windjammer (it wasn’t the tiller)

Happily for our dreams, we had built a small network of friends and acquaintances who encouraged us in our ravings and fantasies.  We kept on dreaming, and talking about our hopes.

I had always had a fascination with sailing, and those who went on long voyages driven by the willful wind.  Real and imagined accounts like “Two Years before the Mast” and “Swiss Family Robinson” had been youthful staples.  Naturally enough, my first idea was to take the family on a yearlong sailing trip.  What could be more romantic and adventurous?  I’d even been sailing a few times, although Cheryl’s exposure was limited to a couple of Windjammer cruises in the Caribbean.

If, in those days, we’d had WikiHow, I might have been taken in by their two-page FAQ “How to Sail Around the World”.  A reality check convinced me that the full-time sailing life was not for us.  My skipper friends suggested that the business of sailing might not match my romantic notions.  One of them reminded me that Cheryl had already had a nodding acquaintance with “mal de mer” on the placid seas around the island of Sint Eustatius.

Did sailing in light airs off Sint Maarten give Paul a false sense of security about a round-the-world trip?

Did sailing in light airs off Sint Maarten give Paul a false sense of security about a round-the-world trip?

I discovered that the teenager who mowed our lawn had actually been on such a trip, sailing around the world over a two-year period with his family.  He and his mother even wrote a book.  Reading their account of Mom & Dad manhandling the tiller through hurricane conditions – with the two kids lashed to the mast and doped up with Gravol – had me see the dream could well become a nightmare.

Not wanting to give up on the round-the-world part, we edited the foundering sailboat out of the dream and started looking at commercial airfares.  While good packages existed for traveling around the world, we were still looking at a substantial outlay.  Meanwhile, the pencil ticks on the boys’ doorframes crept relentlessly higher, and their scheduled homework grew longer term-by-term.  We imagined a shrinking window of opportunity before our older boy hit his teens, and school and peer pressures derailed our plans.

We made our first real step when we sold our house to follow our kids’ schooling opportunities – the second such sale in five years.  Thinking we should “stay loose” if we were serious about traveling in the next few years, we returned to renting.  Paying off the mortgage and seeing money in the bank gave a big boost to our plans.

Island life around the cabin kept us busy for a few years

Island life around the cabin kept us busy for a few years

Our plans also continued to evolve.  We replaced the idea of spending most of our travel budget on airfare, and much of our travel time in airports, with a plan for extended “slow travel” in just one country.  Why not really get to know a place?  All we had to do was pick a country, … and set a date.  Ah, the dreaded commitment, that moment of stepping onto the roller coaster!  We hesitated.  The boys turned eight and eleven.

That year, we had our second break when a friend told us she wanted to do something similar.  Her kids and ours were playmates so doing something together might work out.  Our friend also inspired us to take the plunge.  If a single mother on a lower budget could do this, then what excuse did we have?  “What do you think about Costa Rica?” she asked.

Costa Rica appealed to us.  It was different enough yet not too scary: one of few Latin American countries that had never had a violent overthrow of government.  It had a good medical system, so we weren’t too concerned about the kids getting sick without help, or a bite from the deadly Fer de Lance far from anti-venom.  (Parents worry about such things)  Even in 2000, mosquito-borne diseases were limited to a few sections of the country, and we learned you could drink water straight from the tap almost everywhere.  Compared to my travel in Brazil in the 70s, this seemed quite manageable with kids.  I could get by in Spanish, so we could escape from English yet not be all at sea.  Best of all, we loved the focus on eco-tourism and outdoor adventures.  Oh, did I mention it was warm and sunny during our winter?

Paul and his two partners about a year before we left

Paul and his two partners about a year before we left

Cheryl and I held our breath, and made the commitment to go during the following school year, a little less than a year distant.  We began announcing our intentions and making arrangements.  Over the following six months:

  • We negotiated open-ended unpaid leaves for both Cheryl and me.  At that time, we both worked in a company in which I had a part-interest.  We had been talking about doing this for three years, so, it was relatively easy.  In hindsight, it turned out to be harder than we imagined, but that’s a story for later.
  • We gave notice on our lease.  Rather than keep our home – and a place to fret about – we chose to put everything we owned into a couple of portable storage containers.  Moving all the furniture and belongings from a typical four-bedroom house into some containers in the driveway sounds like a lot of work – but in the excitement of the impending trip, it didn’t seem so bad.  We arranged to spend the last few weeks before our trip at my parents’ place.
  • We formally registered our boys for homeschooling that school year, which would be grades four and seven for them.  In prior years, we had been part of a parent-managed Montessori school, and we chose it as our formal school partner for this registration.  The teachers offered us a few helpful suggestions, mostly around not worrying about it too much, with perhaps a bit of work on mathematics and Spalding Rules for spelling.
  • We all signed up for some elementary Spanish classes – not that the boys paid much attention.
  • We arranged to handle the finances that we couldn’t put on hold.  This primarily consisted of a good conversation with our bank manager, and enrolling my Dad to fill in any gaps.
  • We visited the local travel clinic and had all our recommended shots … and then some.
Our first discovery in CR was a local Montessori school

Our first discovery in CR was a local Montessori school

The Internet was just coming into its own as a place of travel research, so research we did.  We also canvassed our contacts for helpful ideas:  best flights, where to go in Costa Rica, what to see, what to do, best time to visit, and where to start?  By the time we said good-bye to my parents and boarded the plane for San Jose, we were about as ready as we could be.  In a future post, I’ll talk more about the planning for the trip, and the trip itself.  The unanimous vote:  it was the best six months of all our family years!

What’s your travel dream for your family?  What are you doing to make it a reality?

Best Tour Ever?

Cheryl and I recently spent a couple of weeks on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.  We had chosen to stay in a former small fishing village, now growing in popularity with European tourists.  With few North American visitors, there was little English spoken, something that appealed to our sense of adventure.

Gourmet seafood with new friends from the dive shop

Gourmet seafood with new friends from the dive shop

Adventures came from unexpected quarters.  An aborted snorkel trip had led to our befriending the French family who ran the dive shop, and we had joined staff at their home for a gourmet seafood meal.  We’d also put our travel technology to the test.  A family health emergency at home had Cheryl trying to manage doctors’ care and hospital transfers remotely, spending hours every day sitting by the pool on her iPod skype-to-phone connection.  Maybe the stress still won out:  she spent most of the second week knocked out by a nasty bug.  After a week of house calls at the small family-run hotel, the patient was old friends with the doctor.

Doctors still make house calls in the DR

Doctors still make house calls in the DR

On the last day of our stay, I insisted Cheryl treat herself to a massage.  The stomach bugs had canceled a couple of tours so we had a cushion in the budget.  Meanwhile, I spent the morning wandering around town with my camera, taking in the sights.  The air was warming, the sun was growing hot, and I was enjoying the rhythm of the place.  Pretty girls said “hi” in passing.  Everyone seemed happy.

A young man joined me with a friendly “Hola” as I was strolling up the street.  How was I enjoying his country?  He mentioned he was one of the security guards at our hotel.  I couldn’t place him – there were a couple of shifts of each day – but I didn’t let on, and we continued to chat.  I was happy for the chance to practice my Spanish, and he seemed willing to humour me.  He asked if I liked fishing, and said he had a cousin who could give me a deal on a fishing trip.  I smiled.  We’d been declining similar offers all week, and fishing wasn’t my thing anyway.

One of the sites around town that caught my eye

One of the sites around town that caught my eye

He talked a bit about his family, and told me he was worried about his baby son.  A doctor had just told his wife that the baby wasn’t getting enough nourishment, and that she needed to start supplementing with formula right away.  He wanted to get some today, but he didn’t have the cash.  He asked if I’d be able to lend him the money and he could pay me back at the hotel that evening when he got paid.  I thought to myself that I’d likely not see the money again, and immediately felt guilty.  I reasoned that I wouldn’t mind contributing a few dollars to a struggling family.  Our short stay in their town had shown us that many here got by on very little.  I told him I could help him out.

He thanked me and suggested the easiest thing to do would be to buy the formula together, and I could pay the store directly.  He knew a store up the street a bit where the prices were lower, but he was concerned they were about to close for siesta.  He quickened his pace considerably explaining that he knew the shopkeeper and it really would be the best place to go.  As I tagged after him, we continued to talk about some of the things we’d done in the past couple of weeks.  Struggling with more complex Spanish, I told him of our own medical challenges.  A couple of times, I suggested we could stop at another store, but my new friend appeared to dislike the thought.

Out for a stroll on Main Street - what will you see?

Out for a stroll on Main Street – what will you see?

By then we’d left the part of town frequented by tourists.  I suspected that a local on a security guard’s salary would find better deals in the less upscale neighbourhood.  Just as I was about to ask how much farther, we arrived at a small grocery store – with the metal shutters down.  My companion let out an exclamation, then asked a boy sitting out front something I didn’t quite catch.  “Good news!” the distraught father said, “My friend is still inside.”  He knocked on the side door, and it opened to admit us into the dimly lit interior of the closed store.  The shopkeeper behind the counter said hello, and the two men exchanged a few words.  The young security guard asked for the formula and the shopkeeper went to the shelves and brought back a box that looked like it would last until the baby was weaned.  I felt an unpleasant taste in my throat.  While I was still recovering my equilibrium, a case of disposable diapers appeared on the counter beside the box of formula.  At my urging, the bill was quickly calculated, and the shopkeeper held out his hand for the equivalent of about sixty dollars.

At that moment, the growing unease I’d been refusing to acknowledge for the last twenty minutes asserted itself.  I saw I’d put myself into a potentially dangerous situation.  Here I was in a part of town where tourists didn’t go.  I was inside a shuttered store, with two young men, both of whom now looked surprisingly burly.  The young boy outside was probably a lookout.  The young “father” had suddenly grown shrill and demanding – I had promised to pay for the milk, after all.  I was definitely past my physical prime, and with no fighting skills to speak of.

The candidate's message: a much bigger scam?

The candidate’s message: a much bigger scam?

My priorities changed rapidly.  My overriding objective was to get back out on the street.  Giving up sixty dollars to ensure my escape seemed a small price to pay.  I didn’t even blink when the young man grabbed the extra bills from my hand as I was paying the shopkeeper.  Pushing open the door, I burst out into the bright sunlight, stepped over the boy, and high-tailed it back down the street even faster than we’d come up it.  As the shuttered shop fell behind me, I counted my losses, about $75 all told.  I imagined the milk and diapers going back on the shelves.  I wondered how many times they’d been “sold”.

The next day, as Cheryl and I were taxied out of town, we passed the store, now open.  I briefly considered stopping and raising a scene, but figured nothing worthwhile would come of it.  Besides, they’d played a good game and won.  We continued on to the airport without interruption.  Losing the money had been one thing.  The blow to my pride and self-confidence had been much worse.  How had I let myself be taken in?  “I don’t know what you were thinking!” said Cheryl.

We visited this park on one of the legal tours

We visited this park on one of the legal tours

With a bit of perspective, the money ceased to bother me.  In fact, I came to think of this experience as just one more “tour,” an educational one this time.  The price of $75 was the norm for the higher-end tours in town.  I had to admit that this was the most memorable tour I’d had in the two weeks!

Talking to strangers, meeting people when we’re on the road, these are some of greatest pleasures of travel for us.  I’ve always tended to trust people’s motives until proven otherwise – and I don’t really want to change.  Cheryl doesn’t want me to change either, but she does wish I’d be a little less willing to suspend disbelief.  Frankly, I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t fall for a scam like this quite so easily next time, so I spent some time thinking about how I fell for this one, and how I might train myself to heed the warning signs sooner next time.  I’ll share some of that next time, as well as some security tips from travel gurus.

I trust no one reading this will restrict their travels as a result of my story.  In over forty years, Cheryl and I have traveled a fair amount – and I’ve been in a few dicey locations – but all told, we’ve had very few problems between us.  A couple of pickpocket attempts, one successful one during the Munich Olympics.  I’m sure we’ve paid more than we should have for the odd purchase abroad.  In Costa Rica, I lost my electric razor to a “fisherman” – I’ve traveled with blades ever since.

Many years ago, while serving tables in a small town in Germany, I lost a hundred Deutschmarks to a winsome young German lass – almost $150 in today’s money.  I learned from the “polizei” that many other young lads in town had been fleeced during her short stay.  She knew her marks!

This lovely old hotel was the site of Paul's first "tour" - still looks lovely as ever.  I wonder if Brigitte still visits?

This lovely old hotel was the site of Paul’s first “tour” – still looks lovely as ever. I wonder if Brigitte still visits?

What about you?  Have you ever fallen prey to scams or other petty crime while traveling?