Staying in the Game after 60: It’s a Journey

Turning 60 was not a happy event for me. As an occupational therapist working in home health with the aging population, I have daily experience with what can happen as the body and mind age, especially when we pay less than 100% attention to how we live. For me staying mentally alert, physically strong, and spiritually fulfilled are personal goals that require constant attention if I am going to live the quality of life I want.

At 60 I had the wild thought that I would walk a mile for every one of my years. I found a friend who was willing to do a backpacking class to test if we really were up to it and if we would get along to make it a pleasant adventure. Our fabulous backpacking instructor felt confident in our ability to meet the goal. So my wild idea turned into reality as I began hiking and backpacking. One year later we completed our first section of the John Muir Trail (JMT). It included more than 60 miles of walking through incredible scenery in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

We chose to make it an annual event with great success until 2011 when the deep winter snow left the trail too covered for a safe and enjoyable trek. In 2012 I was unable to complete the next section due to a health event that happened on the trail. And it was then I realized I needed some help to get back to better health and regain my strength. My relationship with my backpacking instructor led me to Jeremiah just in time for the next challenge. I wanted to finish the last 100 miles of the JMT in 2013; 50 miles with a friend and the last 50, to Mt. Whitney, solo. It would take all the self-management skills for the wilderness I had acquired, some physical adjustments, and a sufficient increase in self-confidence to make the trip successful.

After a comprehensive discussion and evaluation with Jeremiah, we were able to identify what I needed to do for a successful adventure. Jeremiah provided insight and guidance in a way that challenged and fostered my personal growth. Working with Jeremiah helped me improve the critical abilities needed for the longer and partially solo hike. My dynamic and static balance improved and I learned better mechanics in using my legs and core. I developed quicker feet and better footwork. I learned to lift my 40 lb. backpack from the ground to my back with ease, reducing the risk of a lower back injury. My confidence in my ability to go solo zoomed as Jeremiah continued to teach me the techniques that would help keep my body strong and my mind keen.

With a good friend I met the challenges of the first 50 miles well. The ascents were tough and the descents challenging. Yet I always had good energy in the morning, which made me ready to continue. Since I wasn’t exhausted, I was able to keep my attention wide to enjoy all the splendors of the backcountry. I never had a moment of pain, which meant I was using the techniques I learned with Jeremiah. The strenuous eleven-hour hike out of the wilderness included a short climb followed by a steady 6,000 ft. descent over eight miles on a trail full of rock, rubble, and brush. I really pushed my body much harder than I had before and in some hot temperatures. As I rested the day after the trek, I experienced a type of exercise-induced heat rash on my leg, called golfer’s vasculitis. Consequently I had to abort my plan to finish the JMT solo that year. Four days of rest, elevation, and ice returned my leg to normal. I was thankful that I was not on the trail when the vasculitis erupted. I was disappointed not to continue, but grateful that I could recover quickly. It was a good reminder for me how important it is to know how to respond appropriately when the unexpected happens.

In 2014 I prepared to finish the hike, but had to abort due to a virus which I unknowingly had within me as I started up the mountain. Fevers and backpacking are a bad mix! Disappointed to leave the mountain, I appreciated Jeremiah’s wisdom of the imperativeness of knowing your body well enough to know when you are putting yourself at risk.

Now, a few years older, wiser, and remaining physically strong I am looking forward to hiking my final section of the JMT during the summer of 2015. Every day I use the techniques Jeremiah taught me to keep my body strong. It requires vigilant mental awareness and allows me to create rich and satisfying personal experiences. The quality of life that I have often exceeds my expectations.