Tag Archives: Seniors

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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Cycling in the southern Dalmatian Islands

“Pshaw!” said Cheryl. “They won’t blame you.” I wasn’t so sure.

Our long-awaited late-September boat and cycle trip through the southern Dalmatian Islands was to begin the next day. After two previous European cycle trips on our own, Cheryl and I had invited members of our outdoor club to join us in Croatia this year. We’d hoped for half a dozen. When the boat sold out 11 months ago, we had 17 in our group. Fantastic.

The southern Dalmatian Islands at dusk as seen from Srđ above Dubrovnik.

The southern Dalmatian Islands at dusk as seen from Srđ above Dubrovnik.

Or was it? What if the trip wasn’t what we’d advertised to our friends? A mismanaged trip, or even a bad guide, and our names could be mud. The weather was threatening as well. We’d arrived in Dubrovnik a few days earlier only to wade through an unseasonal deluge that one fellow-traveler described as “biblical.”

This storm over the Dalmatian Islands later deluged Dubrovnik, turning the stairs to cataracts.

This storm over the Dalmatian Islands later deluged Dubrovnik, turning the stairs to cataracts.

We were also a nervous about the hills. This had been the biggest single topic of discussion among our group during the planning stages. While most of us were cyclists, we did range from late 50s to early 70s, so it made sense to be prepared. Like many in our group, Cheryl and I made sure to get several trips under our belt over the summer in the islands near our home – but they averaged less than half the heights we were expecting here.

Before heading for the ship, Cheryl and I enjoy a final view from the deck of our Airbnb digs

Before heading for the ship, Cheryl and I enjoy a final view from the deck of our Airbnb digs.

Departure day dawned with bright sunshine. Arriving at the Port of Gruž by bus, Cheryl and I were buoyed when we spotted the elegant and modern yacht, the Harmonia, with more than 30 bicycles arrayed out in front of her on the dock. It was time to meet our two guides, the crew of six, and our 30 fellow-travelers. Besides our own group members, arriving in Dubrovnik on various itineraries, there were another 15 from other parties.

Along with a fellow-rider, Cheryl inspects the bicycles.

Along with a fellow-rider, Cheryl inspects the bicycles.

Of the 32 passengers, there was one American, a few each from Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark – and the rest were Canadian. On the previous week’s sailing, the majority had been German-speaking. The crew and the ride-leader guides were from various parts of Croatia, and like many Croatians we met, they all spoke excellent English. A good thing, as we found Croatian impenetrable.

Cheryl and I unpacked in our air-conditioned stateroom, which was bigger and better equipped than some hotel rooms we’ve been in. After that, our guides, Petra and Neven, introduced us to our bikes. While many in our group had brought their own pedals or seats, Cheryl and I decided we would live with whatever we got. After a few test rides around the dock, we were all satisfied: comfortable, easy-shifting, almost new, and well-maintained. Two of our group and a few of the others had elected to reserve e-bikes, and they were promised a complete lesson before the first ride.

Spending a few days in Dubrovnik is well worth it.  Try to avoid the crowds.

Spending a few days in Dubrovnik is well worth it. Try to avoid the crowds.

Our first formal activity was a tour of Dubrovnik with a professional guide. For some on the ship, this was their first visit to the city. Even though others of us had already spent two or three days here, we saw new parts of town and learned more of its thousand-year history. After some free time in town, we enjoyed the first of many tasty shipboard dinners featuring Croatian seafood and other specialties. The first evening also included wine and schnapps on the captain. “Živjeli!”

Captain Josip at the helm of the Harmonia.

Captain Josip at the helm of the Harmonia.

The follow morning Captain Josip set course across an incredibly azure Adriatic towards the first of our island destinations, Šipan. This was our test ride: fairly level and about 45 minutes each way from the harbour to the small town of Suđurađ. Everyone would have a chance to iron out any kinks in their bicycles … or legs.

Neven gives a rider a lesson on the ebike.

Neven gives a rider a lesson on the ebike.

The promise of this ride was encouraging. The bikes performed well. The roads were quiet, and with a few exceptions, well signed and in good repair. Just in case, our guides had provided each of us with maps of the island, with our route hand-traced. Along the way, we passed vineyards and other crops, fascinating churches or occasional ruins, and figs and other fruit growing along the roadside. The quiet coffee stop at the picturesque waterfront town of Suđurađ was an excellent introduction to the many small island villages we would be visiting over the week to come. As we dug into our hot lunch back on the Harmonia, we got under way to our next destination.

Our first kava stop at Suđurađ, on the island of Šipan

Our first kava stop at Suđurađ, on the island of Šipan

About the only thing that had been missing from the Šipan ride were panoramic vistas. On Mljet, that would be remedied. We would pay for it in lengthy hill climbs and “undulating” roads, making it the “hardest ride of the week.” That turned out to be smart strategy on the part of the organizers, although some of the e-bike riders who hadn’t quite got the hang of their rides elected to sun themselves on the Harmonia as she sailed the length of the island to meet us. For the rest of us, as we contemplated the island summits each morning, we could always say, “Well, it can’t be as hard as Mljet!”

Starting up the first hill on Mljet, above Sobra.  Why are we leaving this idyllic spot?

Starting up the first hill on Mljet, above Sobra. Why are we leaving this idyllic spot?

The crew and the guides on these trips work long hours and hard. Yet somehow they manage to remain up-beat and friendly all the while. Besides three hot meals a day and the on-demand bar, great Croatian coffee was always ready before seven, and the last drinks were served after 10 pm. Once and often twice a day, the entire stock of 35 bikes had to be unloaded from the hold and readied for the next ride. (Those e-bikes are heavy.) There was always something interesting for us to do while the staff worked.

Even a boathouse for a PT boat sports that azure water

Even a boathouse for a PT boat sports that azure water

Before our ride on Lastovo, some of us toured decaying Cold War era tunnels on the small connected island of Prežba, until recently an off-limits military base. Others kayaked lazily around the bay, or sunned themselves top side, while taking in the spectacular scenery.

Succulents line this waterfront road on Lastovo.

Succulents line this waterfront road on Lastovo.

On Lastovo, we had another glimpse of the challenging job of ride leaders. As fifteen of us are in the same outdoor association, many of us have had experience leading bike trips of from ten to thirty individuals. We know how challenging it can be to provide suitable guidance, watch out for road safety, and still allow riders to set their own pace and enjoy the ride. When we arrived at the town of Lastovo, it came out during coffee and beer, that one of the riders had continued through town and not returned. His companions had become concerned when he didn’t show up, mentioning that he was “getting on in years.” Petra and Neven managed to spend a couple of hours searching the far end of the island, while coordinating others of us to help, and the rest to get back safely to the Harmonia. In the end, the wayward rider showed up unassisted at the ship, having spent a couple of hours drinking beer and discussing wines with a local farmer in his barn. All in a day’s work for our hard-working guides.

In Lastovo, each chimney is different, and reflected the home's social status

In Lastovo, each chimney is different, and reflected the home’s social status

There was a little bonus from the adventure. While Cheryl and I were out searching Lastovo with a friend of the missing man, we stumbled upon a tiny home-based winery, and were invited in for sampling and a mini-tour. Our companion was happy to buy a very inexpensive bottle of a very local wine. By policy, the tour company does not do winery stops in order to avoid dangerous afternoon riding conditions.

Two of our club members approach the summit of Korčula.

Two of our club members approach the summit of Korčula.

Our next trip was the first of two across the island of Korčula. Although the rides on Korčula were not as long as Mljet, they included some of the biggest hills of the week. A couple of them were more than five kilometers of uninterrupted climb, although never more than a 10 percent grade, and more often six to eight. Not impossible, but definitely a challenge if you aren’t used to hill climbing. Our club members all made it, but some of the other passengers sometimes pushed their rides, or made use of the e-bikes (which often meant they led the pack.) On most days, the guide who was “sweep” at the end of the group would start out with an e-bike so that they could swap if someone tired on their regular bicycle. This was not advertised, but it really showed the effort taken by Petra and Neven to ensure the trip worked for everyone.

How could you resist a swim in the beautiful anchorage at Prigradica

How could you resist a swim in the beautiful anchorage at Prigradica

Hey, did I mention the swimming? Most days, there were one or two opportunities for swimming off shower-equipped back of the Harmonia. It was impossible to resist. The water was stunningly clear, and that distinctive azure blue that characterizes the Adriatic in this area. It was also warm enough to get in and stay in. That despite the late September date following the “worse summer in decades.”

The water's great at Prigradica on Korčula

The water’s great at Prigradica on Korčula

After three days of hilly cycling, some of us were glad of a day off for a side trip to Mostar in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. Others might have preferred not to break up the rhythm of the cycling. On the one hand, it was a two-hour bus ride each way, with lengthy stops at both Croatian and Bosnian customs in both directions. Mostar was hot, and rather overrun with tourists. On the other hand, it’s an iconic place, in terms of both its ancient and recent history.

A quiet moment in one of the mosques in Mostar

A quiet moment in one of the mosques in Mostar

Our guide, Senad, was interesting and informed, and I found it engaging to discuss with him some of the aspects of the recent ethnic conflict, together with his hopes for the future. With a little effort, we were able to visit places with fewer tourists, such as the interiors of some of the mosques that dot the city. In the quieter spaces, one could reflect on the significance of the cross upon the hill, or the war-damaged buildings. We could appreciate our return to our peaceful port that evening. “Mi smo tako sretni!” We are so lucky!

A peaceful evening in Gradac on the Makarska Rivijera

A peaceful evening in Gradac on the Makarska Rivijera

The entire tour had a satisfying cultural component. In addition to Dubrovnik and Mostar, we also had a professional guide in the old town of Korčula. For all the other islands and towns we visited, Petra gave an interesting historical or cultural presentation somewhere along the way. Although I’m sure she was well-versed in Croatian culture, it was obvious she put a lot of preparation into her job. Often, the guides went beyond the strict requirements of the job description. One morning, a half-hour Croatian language lesson lasted for 90 minutes; we were such eager students, she said.

"Good Morning!" While under way, Petra (wearing her Croatian flag skirt) leads us in a class in Croatian.

“Good Morning!” While under way, Petra (wearing her Croatian flag skirt) leads us in a class in Croatian.

One evening, as a special treat, Petra spent several hours giving us her personal view of some of the challenges of life in Croatia. The country suffered considerably during the multi-year war that followed its declaration of independence in 1991. Many industries have yet to recover, and the very personal scars of the war run deep. The country was hit hard again in the global crisis of 2008. Unemployment currently sits at over 17%, and the average gross income is less than $18000 per year. Petra had spent several years working as a nanny in the UK and the US before returning to the country she loved. As an independent guide in a seasonal industry, staying employed was always a challenge. Yet, she also knew that she was better off than many of her compatriots who would have to leave Croatia to find work. Croatia’s recent EU membership was not embraced by everyone. There have been some losers.

Like Croatia, Bosnia suffered horribly during its war for independence (photo taken near the bridge at Mostar)

Like Croatia, Bosnia suffered horribly during its war for independence (photo taken near the bridge at Mostar)

It was an engaging evening, and we definitely appreciated Petra’s frank and sometimes emotional delivery. We felt we were getting more than just the canned tourist spiel, and were grateful for it. Perhaps in return, we all opened up a bit more. On this trip, I learned things from some long-time friends that I’d never heard before.

Cycling hundreds of meters above the bay at Pupnatska Luka on Korčula

Cycling hundreds of meters above the bay at Pupnatska Luka on Korčula

Back on Korčula again for one of the longer rides, the hills no longer seemed so forbidding. They were just part of the journey, and we knew that each one led to views more stunning than the previous. At the end of the longest climb, it was a cool delight to encounter a roadside fruit stand, where we quickly demolished more than one juicy watermelon. Riding along the seaside into Korčula town that evening, I felt a little sad knowing we had only one more day of riding.

A leisurely sea-side ride into Korčula town

A leisurely sea-side ride into Korčula town

That last day, for the first time all week, we woke to gray skies and whitecaps on the water. Given all we’d heard about the eastern Adriatic’s “year without a summer,” we thought ourselves lucky to have enjoyed the past six days of blue skies and sun on our shoulders. Our final day of riding took us through the old town of Ston, a salt-drying region since Roman times. The surrounding countryside is protected by a huge wall, second only to the Great Wall of China. Leaving Ston, we had to make a decision on whether to climb the final hill, which, on clear days, would offer “the most spectacular view yet.” Just then, the sky darkened and we heard the rumbling of an approaching storm. Our guides explained that coming down the hill could be dangerous in the rain, and advised that we might do better taking a shortcut down the Split-Dubrovnik highway. What to do?

Thunder rolls ominously overhead as we decide to avoid the final hilltop climb

Thunder rolls ominously overhead as we decide to avoid the final hilltop climb

We broke up into groups of three or four, and cycled down the paved shoulder at two-minute intervals. It was busy, although not as harrowing as I’d expected. In the end, it was almost certainly the better option. The storm broke just as we reached the ship. Had we gone over the hill, we would have found ourselves right at the top just when the deluge hit. Although riding in traffic is something I try to avoid, the last half hour in traffic reminded me that, for the entire rest of the week, we’d had the roads almost to ourselves. We often rode for an hour or more without seeing a single car. I even wondered why they kept such well-maintained roads for so little traffic. Whatever the reason, this was one of the best weeks of cycling I’ve ever enjoyed.

A rider demonstrates her e-bike on one of the many quiet back roads

A rider demonstrates her e-bike on one of the many quiet back roads

I needn’t have worried about letting our group down. Comments ranged from “awesome” to “best trip ever!” September is a great month for riding here, and the best month for swimming. Apparently, this is true even in an off year. This was a well-organized tour; the crew and guides were personable and highly professional. A beautiful part of the world, with history stretching back for millennia, the southern Dalmatian islands are a great place to swim, boat, and cycle. Or just to sit in the sun, watch the world go by, and enjoy a coffee, beer, or ice cream – national favourites, all. Some of us will be back.

"This trip was awesome! When's the next one?" (aboard the Harmonia)

“This trip was awesome! When’s the next one?” (aboard the Harmonia)

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If you want to follow in our tracks:

The tour company is Island Hopping, based in Germany. They operate similar tours in Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Turkey, and Vietnam. Others in our club have been on a number of these; all reported great trips. Their organized approach is evident. As with our Dalmatian trip, Island Hopping charters local ships and crews, and contracts independent ride leaders and guides. Their tour list sounds like our bucket list.

Harmonia and friend await us for lunch and a swim

Harmonia and friend await us for lunch and a swim

We booked this trip through BikeTours.com (formerly Bike Tours Direct.) This is the second trip we’ve booked through them. You pay the same rate whether booking directly or through BikeTours.com, but we have done well going through a company we know, and in our time zone. The small team at BikeTours.com are all riders themselves – sometimes they’re spread a little thin when they’re out reviewing rides, but that’s the good news. They know a lot about the tours they sell. Simon & Richie did an excellent job of helping us coordinate the plans of 17 riders. (That may warrant a post of its own!) We look forward to dealing with them again. Meanwhile, here’s the tour: “Dalmatia from Dubrovnik

At the top, a placque commemorates the defence of Korčula from a Turkish attack in 1571.

At the top, a placque commemorates the defence of Korčula from a Turkish attack in 1571.

“The Best Grandma Ever”

I’m sitting here this morning listening to Andrea Bocelli sing the exquisite “Sancta Maria” from Pietro Mascagni’s famous opera, “Cavalleria rusticana”. It’s one of a handful of CDs and photographs we carried away from an out-of-town family reunion, brought together for the memorial for Cheryl’s Mom, Anne, who passed away last month.

As she had in life, Anne continued to bring together her extended family. We spent the three days renewing old acquaintances and making new ones, talking about old times we knew about, and many we could only imagine. Prior to the gathering, we had put considerable effort into digging up old photos, piecing together Anne’s family history, which seemed shrouded in

Grandma to be in her 20s

Grandma-to-be in her 20s

mystery. Like many in her era, she didn’t talk much about her often-challenging past, and like so many in our era, we didn’t think to ask about it … until it was too late.

I – and even Cheryl – didn’t get to know Anne well until she lost her husband about twenty years ago. Perhaps the two of them had “lived in each other’s shadows” for her widowhood propelled Anne into a series of new adventures: traveling solo and striking up conversations with unlikely strangers, enrolling in self-development workshops, and, of course, visiting us more frequently (all despite her fear of flying.)

It was also during this time that Grandma joined us for a spell during our half-year in Costa Rica. She and two friends toured some of the back roads with us, sleeping uncomplainingly in bug-infested mountain shelters that let the light through the walls. I recall one night when we stood on a barely cooled lava flow of Mt. Arenal, watching and listening to orange-red rocks tumble toward us from the glowing peak. I could tell that she was nervous, but she wasn’t going to let that get in the way of a good adventure.

Mount Arenal at night (This was the 2008 eruption.)

Mount Arenal at night (This was the 2008 eruption.)

Our two boys, now young men, had nominated Anne as “best grandma ever”. When they were still too young to fly alone, they began a practice of each visiting Grandma for a solo week every summer. They must have been good times as both boys continued these annual visits well into their late teens – at least one of them had his first legal drink courtesy of Grandma. (The drinking age was lower where she lived.) More so than the boys’ parents, Grandma was game for the kinds of restaurants and movies that teenaged boys appreciated: Star Wars, the Matrix, Bruce Lee, and who knows what else. They drove her golf cart and probably lived in a junk food heaven.

Grandma also collected her extended family on other occasions. In the late 90s, she discovered Maui. The occasion of her discovery was not a happy one: the favourite aunt who’d invited her passed away while out in the surf. We were quite surprised when Anne elected to return to the same condo the following year,… and included all of us: kids, spouses, and grandkids. “Do you mind that I’m spending your inheritance?” she’d ask Cheryl. No one objected.

The last time Grandma took us to Maui

The last time Grandma took us to Maui

She did this twice more over the ensuing years, hooking the family on Hawaii forever. One of our boys talks of moving there, and both of them were quite happy to join the reunion a couple of years ago, which Grandma was unfortunately not well enough to enjoy. I suspect that Maui will be a spot of choice for future family reunions.

Anne was also a thoughtful conversationalist, well read, and interested in many subjects. Always when we saw each other, she and I would start conversations about politics, or demographics, or religious fundamentalism – and then continue them for months afterwards by email. While she held strong opinions, she was always open to persuasion by a good argument.

As for her opinion of me, her son-in-law, I’d say that once she’d sized me up and decided I would be good for her daughter, she was content to trust us, and never interfered in our lives. This sizing up took place quite quickly, thirty years back, and she’d reached this conclusion despite the fact I’d appeared out of nowhere, had not yet officially divorced my ex, and Cheryl and I had just applied to immigrate to Australia. I’d like to think Anne was a good judge of character: she was “no nonsense” and would size people up quickly. She also knew that “hands off” was the best policy once her kids had left the nest: a good example for Cheryl and me with ours.

One of our earlier visits

One of our earlier visits

Whatever challenges Anne may have had in her early life, she continued to have quite a few in her later years. Her husband died young. Several members of her immediate family became increasingly ill in their later years, and relied on Anne for daily care. By the time the last of them had passed away, she was exhausted. And determined never to set foot in a hospital again. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

Like Mascagni’s sacred aria “Saint Mary”, which comes from an opera about seduction, revenge & adultery, Anne had her contradictions. Despite her generally healthy lifestyle, she was a lifelong smoker, and in the last few years, it caught up with her. Her declining health pushed her away from the activities she loved: golf, championship bridge, and time with friends. As she weakened, she resisted suggestions to move into an assisted living complex, … until it was too late, and she landed in a hospital ward instead. Over the next couple of years she bounced back and forth between the hospital and a senior’s complex. It took a toll on her “can do” attitude, and affected her family as well.

Grandma with our niece

Grandma with our niece

The last time I saw Grandma, she had made it out to visit us at Thanksgiving. She and I were discussing the idea of cohouseholding, one of the themes of this blog that Cheryl and I are investigating for our retirement. Anne turned to me and said, “You know, Paul, here’s what I wish I’d done 15 years ago. I wished I’d gotten together two or three of my widowed friends, and all moved into a big house together. I wouldn’t be in the condition I’m in today.” I had to agree.

In preparing for Grandma’s memorial service, I learned things I’d never known about the impact she’d had on our boys. One of them, now a producer of marketing videos, put together the DVD for the celebration of her life. He was relating to me one of his favourite memories about Grandma, one that was unfamiliar to me.

At the time, he was 12 and Grandma was traveling with us in Costa Rica. We were on a tour of a number of smaller locations around the country. All the arrangements for these two weeks had been made by our guide and driver, Alexander. This particular day, we were staying at a hotel run by an expat who thought himself above the “help”. He had put Alex in the “servant’s

Already the "world's best grandma"

Already the “world’s best grandma”

quarters” and hadn’t invited him to join us for meals. My son told me that Grandma would have none of that. She insisted that Alex be treated as part of the group, … or else, … and offered to pay extra if necessary. She must have had her way because Alex ate with us for every meal.

Clearly this had a deep impact on my son, and he clearly still sails by her sense of fairness a dozen years later. Such is the impact that the “world’s best grandma” can have.

When and if our turn comes, may we rise to the task.

PS. Here’s a link to my post about my own Mom.

 

 

 

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:

Meeting Up

As described in our last post, Cheryl and I are looking at our options for finding or building a community to live in.  While working on that, we’ve made some progress in more limited community aspirations.  Here’s one of them.

Last year Cheryl and I decided to form a local Meetup.

Meetup.com claims to be “the world’s largest network of local groups.”  As the company advertises, “Meetup makes it easy for anyone to organize a local group or find one of the thousands already meeting up face-to-face.”  (Meetup’s mission is to “revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize.”)

A beach bar at Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic became our Meetup emblem

A beach bar at Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic became our Meetup emblem

Paul had been attending Meetups related to his profession for several years.  Last year, we decided to investigate groups more in line with our hobbies, travel, and retirement plans  Since then we’ve joined about ten communities related to travel, travel writing, outdoor activities, photography, foreign languages, and small-business networking – in fact, so many that we have yet to actually meet with some of them.

There was one topic we had trouble finding, and that was the theme of creative retirement around which this blog is centered: “adventurous financial independence without waiting for a net worth of two million dollars.”  We didn’t have a lot of friends who wanted to investigate these kinds of ideas so we decided to form a local Meetup for just that purpose.

A year and a bit later, with very little direct publicity, our Meetup has over 100 on its mailing list, and – pretty much every month – some 15 to 20 of them get together in an informal venue for presentations and discussion.  We’ve covered topics such as Collaborative Housing, Financial Independence, Life Transitions, Making Travel Pay, Financing a Travel Lifestyle, Planning a Round-the-World Trip, and various other travel secrets.  In addition there have been social nights and photo nights with no set agenda.

Our AirBnB evening was at an official accommodation

Our AirBnB evening was at an official accommodation

Meetup.com has been a helpful platform for organizing, advertising, and managing these events.  By means of a suggested $5 donation at a member’s first meeting of the year, we have covered all expenses, including site fees, with a small contingency fund carried forward.

Along the way, we made several discoveries.  One thing we learned was that most of our peers were not familiar with Meetup.com.  Many of our new members had never joined a meetup prior to ours.  As such, they are sometimes hesitant in coming out to their first event.  We’ve found that pre-screening new member profiles and requiring pictures helps put people at ease.  (Before we started pre-screening, we did have one or two incidents involving inappropriate spam from new members.)

Another surprise was how far people were willing to drive to attend a meeting.  We’ve had participants from as far away as a 90-minute drive – and return the next time!  For Cheryl and me, a 90-minute drive usually leaves us scanning AirBnB for overnight accommodation.  There is clearly a real hunger for this kind of face-to-face connection.

Writer Darlene Foster introduced members to the joys of travel blogging

Writer Darlene Foster introduced members to the joys of travel blogging

The most pleasing discovery was how well people fit together.  Our Meetup members coming together around a common theme seem to feel relatively at home, and open up quickly.  Many of our meetings have the flavour of old friends coming together, even when half the participants are first-timers.  We’ve been able to schedule events with no agenda and expect that good conversation will develop.

Of course, it takes some effort on our part to make sure new people feel welcome, and are introduced to others when they arrive.  We also make sure that everyone has name tags – a helpful icebreaker.  A realistic program and agenda helps manage expectations.

Thankfully, we’ve had several members offer to host meetings.  Most of our events have taken place in private homes, or sometimes in apartment common rooms – although we have rented rooms for larger events.  As the number of members continues to increase, we expect to investigate other venues such as area restaurant meeting rooms.  We know of some that only have a $5 minimum per person for such uses.  For now, we can usually squeeze 18 or 20 into most of the living rooms in the area, even if some of us are on the floor.

Even more important, most of our presenters are “home grown”.  While we have brought in outside experts for some topics, many have been ably handled by members.  Often we’ll have two shorter presentations in one evening.  We’ve attracted an eclectic mix of people in various stages along the retirement path, and many of them have complementary skills or learning that they are willing and able to share.

One of our speakers described a tiring retirement project

One speaker described a tiring project

For our minimal troubles, we’ve met a collection of interesting people – and get together with some of them on a regular basis.  We’ve learned some very helpful information about traveling cheaply and making money on the Internet.  We’ve had a chance to reflect on some of the deeper issues of ageing and retirement.  We have a sense that we’ve helped others expand their retirement horizons.  All at very low cost, and with a good helping of fun.  In the future, we envision  joint travel opportunities, and maybe some long term friendships.

Starting a Meetup was definitely a good idea.  We’d definitely recommend joining one or two – or a dozen – and if you can’t find what you’re looking for, then why not start your own?

Meetup:  “using the Internet to get off the Internet.”

Let us know how it goes.

Why Live Alone

A few years back, we learned of a successful experiment in communal retirement living pursued by some old friends of ours in Australia.  They had joined with two other couples, and built a special home to their requirements.  While each couple has private sleeping quarters, they share most of the 3500 square-foot house.  They love it!

Collaborative retirement household featured in "A group solution to growing older", Sydney Morning Herald, June 3 2013

Collaborative retirement household featured in “A group solution to growing older”, Sydney Morning Herald, June 3

What first caught our attention was the possibility of saving money, retiring sooner, and traveling more.

However, the more we looked into it, the more we discovered that the real value of their arrangement was the new community that came with it:  something equivalent to a new family.

As we approach the next phase of our lives, we can feel our old communities slipping away.  Our kids are preparing to leave home – we think.  When we retire from our current jobs, we will quickly lose touch with former colleagues.  Our friends are beginning to retire and move away – some to the countryside, some overseas.  We ourselves plan to move out of the City, and expect to spend more of the year abroad.

We watched what had happened to our parents, aunts, and uncles.  Many of them ended up living alone for the final years of their lives.  Some of them were shepherded into assisted living complexes when living alone became too uncertain.  Even for those who managed to stay independent – often with the help of several nearby grown children – the solo years struck us as missing something.  Was there a better way?

The tranquil view from our former island cabin - too much solitude now?

The tranquil view from our former island cabin – too much solitude now?

Cheryl and I have valued our privacy over the years.  We started our family in a development of five and ten-acre wooded lots.  We later enjoyed spending time with our boys at our off-grid island cabin.  Our retirement dream at one time included a 40-acre spread of wild countryside.

Now our perceptions are changing.  Selling the island cabin may have heralded this change;  we thought it would be too isolated as we got older.  Our experience with our own parents was pivotal:  we would probably live longer than they did, and – like most boomers – we have fewer children to rely on, children who are unlikely to live in the neighbourhood.  The same demographic shift likely means that the cost of assisted living will escalate while the quality of life in those complexes will decline.

Our reading has also underscored the importance of community.  The declining birthrate worldwide will make it harder to replace the old networks of support we are losing as we transition into the next phase of our lives.  Initiatives such as Blue Zones have shown how critical maintaining community is to our health and happiness as we age.  This aligns with advice on nurturing your communities in books such as Flourish and Younger Next Year.  We have all read by now how we can keep our brains younger by engaging in mental activity such as language skills and problem solving.  Living with other people is one way to ensure that kind of mental workout.

We recently joined an outdoor association, and were surprised to find so many retired or almost so.

We recently joined an outdoor association, and were surprised to find so many retired or almost so.

We’re now in the process of realigning our personal tradeoffs between privacy and community.  Can we construct a future for ourselves that replaces the communities we are losing?  We’re taking steps to reach out and join or create new communities for various activities.

What about collaborative living?  Is there a solution that will work for us?  Our friends in Australia had known their housemates for many years before moving in together.  When we took inventory of our own circles, we found very few possible candidates – when we broached the subject with some of those, they soon announced they were moving out of town.  Coincidence, we’re sure!

Can we find new partners for such a venture?  Perhaps.  It’s not a trivial exercise.  The householders and our friends call themselves The Shedders – primarily because of the physical and emotional baggage they had to “shed” in order to make living together work.  Will our circumstances dictate a different form of collaboration?  How far are we willing to go in trading our privacy for community?  We are grappling with now with these questions.  We’ll share some of what we learn over the months ahead.

Solitude or community - in the Marais district of Paris.

Solitude or community – in the Marais district of Paris.

Here are some of the sources that have influenced our journey.

  • Shedders:  This is Heather Bolstler’s personal blog about the journey to their collaborative retirement home.  The earlier entries are now available in this eminently readable Kindle eBook.  The Shedders are by no means the only ones to have made this work.  “My House Our House” profiles a group of three women who turned a preexisting house into a collaborative housing venture.  With an ageing population and lingering economic malaise, we predict a lot more of these in the coming decade.
  • A quiet home on a private acreage no longer the ideal?

    A quiet home on a private acreage no longer the ideal?

    Our own recent experience – such as our recent cycle trip in Provence – has underscored our own need for community.

One of our reasons for starting this blog is to reach out to a wider circle in our search for community.  We’d love to hear from you on this subject.