How to Lose Your Age on the Trail
Does it matter how old you are when you hike a long trail? I recently returned from two weeks—12 days with a few zero days—on the Pacific Crest trail. I hiked 180 miles. I am 70 years old. It was my second two-week venture on the trail this year.
No one tells me I’m too old to do this when I’m on the trail. Young hikers on the trail talk to me and don’t ask how old I am. We talk about trail details, such as upcoming snowfields, water sources, exposure to sun. Every passerby greets me, often taking time to chat for a while. Only once, when I asked about an upcoming water source, the young hiker looked at me and said, “I don’t think you should go there, no you shouldn’t, too steep of a snowbank to get to the water.” I don’t know if he meant I was too old or too fragile to attempt climbing down a snowbank, but I did feel his concern for my safety. He gave me a liter of water he had just collected.
I rarely see my image when I’m on the trail and I forget what I look like. While hiking I’m predominantly in feeling mode, i.e. my body, my muscles, my feet, my exposed skin (what little I let be exposed), the weight of my pack. I get up in the morning, stretch, start moving, crouching, bending and within no time my camp is packed up and I’m walking, swinging my legs and arms, carrying my belongings. I’m no different from any other hiker in this respect, young, middle-aged or old. Hiking levels the playing field of living for all.
I train before I go on a long hike, I hit the trail strong and ready to hike and carry, 14-15 miles a day without ill effect. Maybe that’s the difference between being old and young: I train before I go the distance; I cherish my body and I hate pain. I hear the younger ones complain about their feet, their shin splints, a stress fracture, their back, disappointed that their bodies are letting them down. I wear my knee support, let my pack pull my back straight, so I don’t feel my bulging disc, put on my slightly heavier but supportive hiking shoes and I’m off on my hike. I don’t swallow vitamin “I” as they call Ibuprofen to deal with the pains of hiking. My shoes are big enough so that I don’t get blisters. I enjoy walking without pain, I rest when I’m tired, I hike an eight-hour day.
Society puts us in categories, age related categories, status related categories, place related categories, skin color related categories. On the trail you’re part of the trail society as long as you can walk and carry, no matter what your age, your skin color, or your financial circumstances. Our possessions are simple, a pack, a sleeping bag and pad, a shelter (or not), cooking equipment, a few clothes, food and technology for navigation and entertainment. The goal is to carry as little as possible, the goal is to have LESS rather than more. Transportation is the same for all of us: we use our legs and feet.
Young, older, or old, we have our reasons for being on the trail. We ask each other sometimes, the answer changes as the trail changes us. At age 26 I hiked to reach Mt Everest Base camp. At 70, I hike to live. I don’t hike the big miles. I surprise myself when a 20 mile day happens. I don’t have an end goal except to get to the next supply stop before my food runs out. I just go out for a few weeks, hike, take in the sights, have an adventure and loose my age on the trail.
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