the author in Vietnam with Hmong villagers Julia Hubbel

I can't wait to see what this decade brings. Notes on turning seventy today

In Irish folklore, and I am 17% Irish, the banshee's caoine, or keening, is the sound of imminent death. My banshee sounded last night at midnight. It was the end of another decade, perhaps the most remarkable decade of my life.  So far.

My sixties.

At a time when the ugly decay of ageism has crept into the veins of America as a disease worse than Covid, I threw myself into my sixties with the kind of abandon most consider the purview only of youth. I wasn't young but I was youthful. And that was the primary difference.

This day ten years ago I was scuba diving in Costa Rica. That afternoon I would go horse riding for hours on the beach and in the forests. The gallop on the beach that day would propel me towards a brand new life, a return to what I loved: riding, and a life of extraordinary athletic achievement in many other sports. I needed to get back outside in a very big way.

By the end of the year I had summitted Kilimanjaro. My body was transformed by training. My mind had been transformed by the combination of commitment, discipline and the unwavering belief that I could indeed, do a great many things no matter my age.

By the end of the decade I had traveled to some of the world's more remote places by horse, kayak, camel, elephant, Range Rover, bush plane, river raft and foot.

I  bungee-jumped, skydived, river rafted, cycled, paddled, hiked, dog-sledded, paraglided  and explored places that most people read about, hear about and dream about. I went there.  Alone. Often came back bumped up, only to heal up and head out again.

No question that I am no natural athlete. But I have the grit, determination and perseverance that comes only with trial, training, experience and a thousand thousand failures, faceplants and flops.

Last night the banshee wailed for the end of my sixties.

The last ten years didn't just see extraordinary travel. I sold my home in Denver and moved to my beloved Oregon under Covid.  Oregon was a long-held dream that now feeds my soul at so many levels that I still weep at the sight of the dunes stretching to infinity south towards Florence  as I drive the 101 to Yachats.

I adore winter storms where I can watch the sleet slap against the windows of my motel, while watching the waves crash against the rocks below.

I gave myself that gift, but it was my Millennial friend JC Spears who inspired it. I'd spent two years researching towns from Taos to International Falls. A great lover of Portland, JC suggested Coos Bay.

That simple suggestion not only changed the trajectory of my real estate search, it also changed my life. I had forgotten the Oregon dream. I unearthed it, and now I live it.

Part of the journey of the last ten years is who I have gained and lost as I've aged. I've lost some very old friends, thanks to divisive politics and a fundamental shifting of values.

I have gained a variety of new ones, and deeply committed at a whole other level to some with whom I have partnered at the hip for the hardest of all efforts: spiritual and personal evolution. Said evolution comes at the cost of my ego, my frailties, my ridiculous notions of self-importance.

The cost is high but the resulting gain is steep.

My sixties have taught me that there are mountains far harder to climb than Kilimanjaro or even Everest. So many of the lessons I learned during my many adventures had twin lessons about the release of pride, challenging old beliefs about what I could or couldn't do, and what happens when we trust our instincts and physical intuition.

Above all the last ten-twelve years were a master course in comedy. I was constantly challenged to prove myself by people half my age or less, whom I left behind on a mountainside after being told I couldn't possibly keep up.

On the other hand I was just as constantly reminded that hubris was the hubcap on the wheel to humility, a tire which never tired of pulling me under and setting me back on my feet dirty, muddied, and ridiculous. Forgive the clumsy analogy, but this is precisely how it felt.

Run over, stuck in the wheel and spat out dirty and busted up.

That is the best source of comedy on this green earth. But only if you can see it as such and stop taking life so seriously.

As I gaze out over the Pacific, the ocean doesn't feel as broad as it used to. Travel does that, but so does time past fifty. The shores onto which I will step when it's my turn to leave this life are closer. By how much is anyone's guess.

The way I see it, it's time to get busy getting back in full fettle. What I do with that when my docs release me is still to be determined, but I have my sights set on Mongolia. As with the first year of being sixty, I had absolutely no clue what lay ahead. By year's end I was a completely different person.

This is what a friend of mine refers to when she says that after 70, the developments in our lives come faster and faster. Some call it deterioration. She calls it development. Words matter, for they form how we respond to changes, and how we choose to embrace them.

Today I scheduled the last of the key reconstructive surgeries which will allow me to return to hiking, running, biking.  April 5th. That means that by the end of summer, I will be ready for fall hiking. My 70th year looks to be all about refocusing, rebuilding and redirecting for the first six months.

What to keep and what to let go? What to commit to and what to release?

Those are discussions I am having with myself this week.

It's grand to be alive. It's terrific to be 70 (well, really, it's the start of my 71st year but let's not admit that just yet). It's just....good.

I hope you are, too. Because whatever age you are, it's not over til it's over. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and live.

Photo by Houcine Ncib / Unsplash

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