A gift from my second Covid vaccine. I think.
I was in Lycra. I’m always in Lycra. I was looking down at several different groups of women, all much younger than I was. Their smooth faces looked up at me expectantly. Intuitively I knew they had been formed into teams. I also knew that they had already chosen who was going to be on each of their teams, and I was last. I knew that they were looking at me: my aging, wrinkled face, my body, my reality, and wondering why on earth anyone would want this old person on their team?
If you’re anything like me, you were always, always last to be picked for school teams. Anyone but her. Hurts. In some ways it kinda always does.
As is the way of dreams, the next thing I know I have grasped the wooden dowel of some kind of contraption, swinging my body through it with the grace and ease of a trained athlete. From one obstacle to the next I used my powerful arms and core strength to move from one part of the course to another. I was unstoppable. Graceful. Beautiful, even.
At some level in this dreamland I knew the teams were watching, assessing me. My performance, or non-performance, would determine whether or not I got to play in whatever competition we would be facing.
I swung, climbed, hurtling through the course as though I had been born to the trees. Never fell or slipped once, utterly confident.
This is me. This is life.
Then I woke up.
I had a headache. The left side of my body ached, the vaccine site annoyed. Still, I got up, padded to the kitchen, scanned the breathtaking blossoms that adorn my entire hillside yard, had a touch of caffeine. Then I climbed back into the warm, welcoming featherdown of my bed for my daily fifteen minutes of thanks, gratitude and, well…. lemme think about this dream now.
I haven’t had a dream for a long time, at least one that I recall. This one was interesting for several reasons.
In the spring of 2015 I had plans to hike Annapurna, having hiked the Everest Base Camp the year before at 61. Barely a month before my departure, Kathmandu and parts of Nepal were leveled by an earthquake. I scrambled to redirect. I had to choose a part of the world where it was easy to get a visa, or I didn’t have to go through a lengthy process to secure one. I chose Thailand, where I’d been before, and where I knew a few words of Thai from my first trip.
As any professional climber (and I’m not one) will tell you, Annapurna and Nepal in general in May are unbelievable. That’s prime climb time, with the last of the spring snows and avalanches mostly done for the season. That’s not the case for Southeast Asia. Not the snows: it’s just the opposite. Thailand and Myanmar, my destinations, were at their hottest in May. Temps would be well past 100F. I can attest; when you’re hiking up several mountains past treeline, 100F and no breezes, it can get, well, challenging. Especially because it’s also very humid. Having grown up in Florida, this is familiar. Doesn’t make it any less difficult.
I chose Phuket, as they have plenty of outdoor activities. Off season, you also get great prices.
Here’s where I’m going with this. Outside Phuket, which is party central for Thailand, I stayed in a tiny Muslim community. I rode horses on the beach at 5 am when it was only in the nineties, and explored nearby where there were no loud tourists. There was an obstacle course carved out of the jungle. Suffice it to say there were no crowds when I showed up.
Here’s the place:
Tarzan Adventure Phuket
Phuket Thailand, Zipline and Canopy Tours in Phuket. Included Flying Hanuman, Cable Jungle Adventure Phuket, Xtrem…
During cooler months, the place is jam-packed. Nobody was there when I arrived but for a few staff. They had very mixed responses: first, here is this old lady.
Second, it’s just incredibly HOT. She really wants to do this NOW?
But I was hot to trot. This young man was my guide. The two of us would traverse the course. He was resigned. You could tell from the tone and the comments of this coworkers that this was going to be a joke, leading this ancient old woman around this difficult course, high above the tropical jungle. Just watch. She’s gonna quit. Wanna bet?
If you’ve ever done one of these before you know they’re a collection of challenging obstacles which demand strength, focus, balance, body awareness, and above all, a tight focus on your guide. Do what the guides do, you’re good to go. That kind of intensity gets you through just fine, because you don’t get distracted by height (I love heights) or difficulty.
Because this is what we always forget: the courses are designed to be hard, not impossible. Thousands, if not millions, have done them. The ropes and harnesses are solid safety measures as long as you do precisely what you’re told. I have no idea why folks freak out, but they do. Maybe that’s part of the fun, but not freaking out is part of the fun for me. People get hurt or killed on zip lines because their IQs drop 100 points, they pull stupid stunts and don’t remember to brake in plenty of time to avoid being turned into road kill by a massive tree trunk. Stupid doesn’t begin to address it. But I digress.
We hit the course running. And I mean, running. My guide was probably in his late twenties. I got the impression that he was going to not only show me up, but show off in front of his mates in the tree house, all of whom were watching this ancient old woman.
This ancient old woman was right on his ass.
In fact, several times I was a little too close, because he made the tactical error of slowing down. I guess he thought I needed a break. I nearly knocked him over, having watched his moves so closely that I was his mirror image as we crossed from one huge tree to another negotiating a series of complex hanging ropes.
Look, at that point I’d been living in Colorado my entire adult life. I trained by running thousands of stairs at 6200 feet. This much oxygen for my lungs was like a drug. Oxygen is a drug. And I was high as a raptor, swinging, scrambling, climbing, hanging backwards over at 200-foot drop. Laughing.
I fucking LOVED IT.
My guide, bit by bit, didn’t.
I could hear the comments from the tree house begin to shift in tone. I understood enough Thai (not any more I don’t) to notice that they were not only gobsmacked that a woman could keep up, but this ancient, doddering woman was right on his butt. After all, we were the only entertainment that day.
The heat shimmered through the jungle. I could feel the sweat pouring down my back. My hands were slick. Occasionally the ropes would slide a bit. That’s why I always wear wrist bands: handy for a lot more than just your face.
What’s the worst that can happen? You take a header into mid-air. No biggie. Because you’re attached to a safety line. You get reeled in, get your bearings, get going again. Kinda fun to get aired out a bit.
We made it to the end. Apparently in record time, because a) nobody else slowed us down and b) my poor guide, in an effort to demonstrate that he couldn’t possibly be shown up by an old white American woman, kept speeding up.
Fine by me. I was right on his ass. Right to the end.
We shed our harnesses. The guys in the tree house were silent, but grinning. I had to coax my guide for a photo with a tip. He wasn’t happy. He knew he was in a for a solid ribbing the moment my cab hauled me away. You let that old farang (white person) keep up with you?
Part of me would love to go do that again. Would, too, if I am back in Phuket. In fact I’d prefer to go off-season if for no other reason than this way you can push really hard, not get stuck behind folks who freeze in fear.
I had a dream.
The dream I had last night in so many ways reminded me of that wicked-hot day in Phuket. The incredible, life-affirming joy of hauling my aging ass through that obstacle course, barely slowing down, emulating my guide’s confident movements. It had been an exercise in focus, strength, body confidence, and the pure, unadulterated, ridiculous celebration of being in this good, strong body.
There is no way in hell I would have attempted such a thing at 20, or 40, or even 50.
Here’s where I’m going with this.
When she was 78, Betty Goedhart took up trapeze lessons. Eight years later, she soared into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest trapeze artist in the world. That was two years ago.
Now granted, Betty was a figure skater in her youth, so it’s arguable that she already had the discipline and the body confidence.
But I wasn’t. I was, and still am, Klutz Central. But that didn’t stop me from taking on Kilimanjaro at sixty, which was the gateway to everything else I’ve done since. Including that obstacle course at 62. You do not have to be a super geezer to have a dream-filled life.
Are you too old to dream? Do you bark at folks who are aging well and simply call them “lucky,” or accuse them of having it so much easier than you do?
Betty’s not “lucky,” any more than I am in that sense. She had to do the hard, slogging, endless labor to learn to master figure skating. She already knew going in that taking on a brand new sport at 78 was going to be a journey. It took her eight years and boom, now she’s “an overnight sensation.”
Yeah, like all of us are overnight sensations, and somebody dropped off an Amazon package of magic dust which, by dribbling a bit on our greying heads, means that by the next morning, suddenly we can head out and do obstacle courses or distance running or trapeze work.
Will you just kindly grow up.
A while back, Crow’s Feet editor Nancy Peckenham took up hiking. She’s not a lifelong outdoor athlete that I can tell. However one of her more recent pieces showed her hiking in Utah, her jacket tied around her waist. That didn’t happen overnight. None of this does. We have to get out, get active, build strength, endurance, eat well, be patient, accept failures, and keep right on going. But first we have to decide.
You are welcome to your opinion and, boy, do we have them. The way I see it is that if folks spent half the energy they invest in being pissed off at others for living interesting and engaging lives after sixty putting some time in to make their own lives interesting, it sure would be a different world out there.
I am, of course, in this article not addressing the social limitations placed on BIPOC around access, nor am I addressing those who are disabled, or a whole host of other perfectly legitimate categories of folks who for one reason or another really cannot find their way to do the work in a safe way. Before you haul off and gaslight me about YOUR life and YOUR reasons, look in the mirror.
Because folks in wheelchairs do sports. Folks with cerebral palsy compete in body building (I recently posted a video about this on my LinkedIn profile). Folks with severe limitations such as missing arms AND legs get out and get active anyway. They hurt, they fail, fall, are subjected to ridicule and harassment. Beautiful large Brown and Black women hike and bike and run endurance races.
Kindly, I have to ask, what on earth is our excuse?
You’re too old for this shit?
To that, ladies and germs, I say, unequivocally, I am too goddamned old for THAT shitty excuse. I am running out of runway. If I don’t do my dream NOW, all I have is excuses, reasons, and well, shoulda-coulda-woulda.
Not my kinda life.
What is your dream?
After a year in quarantine, I got my second vaccine yesterday. I still have a headache, and my arm still hurts. AND I did pullups on the crossbar in my office. AND I will be working out downstairs as soon as I finish this and publish it. Because at some point soon, the world will beckon. Is beckoning right now. I have already reached out to my safari planner and am thinking hard about heading to Colombia, where I already chose a city, and know where I want to spend the darker, wetter months of the Oregon season.
What is your dream?
During quarantine I hired a trainer to improve my riding skills. I hired a trainer to push my fitness. I hired a sports chiro to push and inspire me. Yeah, I sat too much, but I also fractured my toe twice, so there’s that. But here we are in April and I am back up to my 100 pushups four days a week, the gym and the hiking and running which will allow me to engage in my living dreams.
I am most certainly not alone.
Some of my commenters have told me the most amazing stories about transforming their lives. About not just shedding weight, but shedding old versions of themselves along the way. Allowing them to come into the fullness of their potential late in life, when so many other things that used to seem so damned important fall away. For my part I hardly even began to live until I reached my middle fifties. For so many of us, it takes us that long to wriggle out of the constricting snakeskin of others’ demands, expectations and desires. To shed the bullshit of shoulds, and walk into the wonder of what we can be, no matter our age.
And kindly, this isn’t solely about the physical, for if that isn’t your thing, then it’s something else. Still, if we don’t move, if we don’t care for our aging bodies, it’s awfully damned hard to dream of much of anything other than an unimpeded bowel movement.
Do you dare to dream?
I am right now. My body is changing every single day. My face is getting older even as I rebuild my deltoid muscles, and prepare for what I sincerely hope is my last shoulder surgery. I learned a long time ago to train right up to the day of surgery, and that will guarantee me a swift recovery.
I have a world to explore. I don’t know what your dream is. But for me to make mine come true I have work to do, weights to lift, pushups to punch out and hills to run. This has nothing to do with bragging rights. It has every single thing to with living my dream.
Quarantine is lifting. We’re getting vaccinated. It’s a year later. What are you going to do with the rest of your life? If right now isn’t your time then kindly, when is?
Now is the time to dream, prepare for, and then live your dream, whatever that looks like.