How Old is Too Old?
Verlen Kruger started his first big-publicity super-huge paddling expedition when he was 66, as I recall. His partner, Steve Landick was maybe 40 at the time.
(VK had done another ridiculous trip maybe a decade earlier, but it was more low-key. In a way. If insane can be low-key. That one was "Never Before, Never Again" -- paddling across Canada in one year -- I have the nice documentary made of it. No one has done it since, I'm pretty sure, so probably he was right. It's kinda a bad idea.)
Verlen did his last 1000 mile expedition when he was 80.
Al Widing, Sr., is a pro canoe racer and still does the top marathons -- and he's in his 80's. He did finally get a bit sick last year and skipped his first AuSable in eons.
I'm starting to know a buncha 60-yr-olds who still hammer, still split all their own wood, still do unsupported sleep-under-bushes bike touring.
When I first got into XC ski racing I was maybe 22 years old. Butch Stockton was kicking everyone's butt at the time, continuously, in both skiing and canoeing (where the money was). He was 44. I recall thinking "I can hardly wait until I'm in my 40's and am finally fast. Maybe I'll even have some cool wrinkles by then." Ha!
Sebastian Junger is a celebrity writer, who wrote "The Perfect Storm" before deciding to be a war journalist. He has an interview in this month's "Outside" magazine. Here's a quip that relates to my subject:
"I DON'T FEEL TOO OLD. I was in Peru once with my wife. We were walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and we were walking over passes at almost 14,000 feet, totally unacclimated, way harder than what I did with the soldiers—the altitude was just killing us. We had our personal stuff, but the porters carried the communal gear. And the lead porter, probably the fittest and happiest guy out there, was 66. I realized that probably up until age 70, to some degree, aging is elective. It's socially determined when you start to feel old."
Sounds about right.
Sure, some of us might/will keel over on the trail in our 50's. But Jackrabbit kept skiing til he was 100!
(The rest of the Junger interview: http://outsideonline.com/adventure/201009/adventure/travel-ta-sebastian-junger-restrepo-sidwcmdev_151488.html)
Then there's the idea of: What would you do if you lived "x" years? If your plan is to work then retire, what will retirement look like? If it's taking it easy and watching TV and travel: how long can you do that? What's Plan B?
I read a book called "The Long Pilgrimage" about the Sivapuri Baba. He walked around the world then retired to a forest to meditate and socialize (receive visitors). He was one of the oldest people ever, and active to the end. His life was set up interestingly and seemingly with intention. His first 40 years he raised a family, his 2nd 40 he walked around the world, his 3rd 40 was spent as the forest counsellor. He went 120+. He said that the practice he followed wasn't strict or anything, you could "have all the dahl you wanted to go with your chickpeas," or something like that. That is, he didn't restrict his eating but he couldn't imagine that people would want to eat badly or get carried away. It's a dandy book.
Then there's the idea of what is suitable activity for what age people. Being active your whole life, and living a long time, might perhaps not mean that you live in a frisky way like a teenager the whole time. Energy and activity might naturally be expressed differently at different stages of life. At the same time, we might have practices that we keep up our whole lives. Who knows! I'm not there yet... :)
I always fondly recall the "Utne Reader" cover that said "Fit for What?" showing muscle-bound people pushing baby strollers. Is fitness done for fun? For a thrill? If so, I'd imagine that it would become boring and need to be endlessly changed, coming close to a definition of living hell or a vampire-like state. Yikes! No way out and no other way to be developed...
I have a friend who does a daily walk and a tough daily calisthenic routine. He has committed to neither more nor less than this...and so it seems likely that he's been forced to go beyond it, to relate to it differently, since it doesn't seem likely to meet the usual desires for stimulation, variety, spontaneity, etc. It's a practice that he uses for life. It's kind of an Amish thing. I recall reading that they have each particular thing in their lives intentionally, able to be used as a reminder of higher things, and limited so that one would tend to be forced in that direction. Your desires want to push past the practice and the rule. In keep to the rule they're set free...
And if we make the efforts needed to be free we can then be creative at each stage of life. It won't by any means be that we'll keep doing races or hard trips for decades on end. Vitality isn't necessarily (best) expressed in frenetic or hours-long exertion. Two things would seem to persist, grow and evolve: contribution and community. So, let's see what we can do! We're all in for it, but everything else is up in the air! :)