Retirement Reality: I am losing it!

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Echo Lake California.
, photo by Ralph Carlson.

You can’t stop the aging process!

Aging is not for wimps. Each day abilities slip, balance declines, muscles weaken, stamina drops, posture slumps. The only thing not getting worse is the denial that tells you how well you are holding up. In a normal day it isn’t hard to believe that lie. Household tasks don’t stress the body much. It is when you get outside the routine and push the envelop that the ugly truth is hard to hide. You are getting old! Last week I took a cold, wet mackerel in the face. I took a hike in the nearby mountains.

The Planning was good.

I’d been planning this hike for some time- a twelve mile round trip from Echo Lake to Aloha Lake in the Sierra Mountains. In preparation I was walking three times a week. These were long walks of three or so miles and I was speed walking not strolling. I was confident that I was ready to go all the way.

The first step was the drive to the trail head at 7,000 feet. The day was beautiful. I had fruit,bread and cheese in my backpack, plenty of water and a pullover in case it got cold. I was ready. The trail started at Echo Lake and crossed the dam to the East shore, then up into the granite face of the cliffs, The first half of the hike was described as a gentle trail through the pine Forrest surrounding Echo Lake. I wasn’t expecting the cliffs It became more demanding as I climbed up and down through the rocks and then settled into a routine..

But the action is different from fantasy.

My walking sticks were essential because I no longer have the balance on two legs to stay upright on rocky ground. They make me into a more stable quadruped. The leg strength to lift my body up uneven steps, or worse to keep upright moving down is gone. Without the balance and support of my sticks, I’d have fallen many times with who knows what damage and crawled up and down the steeper section.

So I made my way, more four-legged than two down the trail. I thought I was making good time but the end of the lake was still far away. Finally I passed the end of the lake. I had stopped a few times to rest and snack. I checked my watch. I’d been on the trail for over two hours and I had gone perhaps three miles. In my fantasy hike, I reached my final destination in two hours. I took my lunch break to enjoy the beauty and decide what to do.

Take it easy, old timer.

In the end, it wasn’t hard to decide. I was starting to tire and I didn’t know if the rest of the trail would be easier or harder. Aloha Lake could wait. I had conquered Echo Lake. I declared victory and started back.

Nearly five hours had passed when I dragged myself back to the car. Returning I passed several young people heading out and one older guy with sticks like mine. We compared notes. Then just as I could see the trail head, a couple with two children passed me. In contrast to my heavy plodding they were light footed and full of energy with the kids bounding up and down the rocks like mountain goats. I’d been building my hike up in my head., patting myself on the back metaphorically. “Pretty good for an old guy.” I’d been telling myself as I planned to go all the way next time out. But the sight of that family put the lie to my bluster. I am old and getting older. No matter how I fight, the process won’t stop. Old age always wins. But it doesn’t have to be an easy victory. I am going to fight it all the way.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Bob @ JuicyMaters.com October 13, 2010, 11:30 am

    Ralph, I have finally figgered you out. You are a classic over-achiever.

    I should have seen it sooner…after all, drunks, recovering or not, are the same way…one would think I’d have spotted it right off.

    You beat on your own writing…despite it’s being good. Hemmingway? No, at least not yet…but you are WAY WAY ahad of Snoopy’s opening line, :It was a dark and stormy night…”. You remind me of a dead friend of mine, Lewis Grizzard, a Great American, RIP, a fantastic writer, humorist, and stand up comic, a best selling author of over a dozen books…who never could figger out why the hell people ever paid to read, hear, or see him.

    And then The Walk. Dammit man…I’m not sure exactly how old you are, but I think you are a couple of years north of me…and you had the balls to attempt a 12 mile, 1 day hike in the mountains. Holy crap…many…MANY folks half your age would take a pass on that.

    Lemmee tell ya something. I live a half hour’s drive from Springer Mountain, Georgia, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I’m trying to hike the AT a bit at the time…a wekend here, 4-5 days there…starting the next walk where the last left off. 5 miles a day just tickles me pink. I’ve got a few friends who have thru-hiked the trai (one that is on his 7th right now), and most of them are happy with 10-11 miles a day, AFTER training for a year for the walk. The really fast ones average 15 miles a day.

    And you…a novice long distance hiker, are disappointed at not making 12 miles in a day?

    Ralph…you are too damn hard on yourself…writing and hiking.

  • Ralph October 13, 2010, 3:44 pm

    I’d agree with you Bob except that I never manage to over achieve.
    Ralph’s last Blog Post ..Retirement Reality- I am losing it!

  • Bob @ JuicyMaters.com October 13, 2010, 5:43 pm

    Ralph, how long has your blog been up.

    • Ralph October 14, 2010, 7:53 am

      January 2009

  • Bob @ JuicyMaters.com October 13, 2010, 5:52 pm

    Ralph, go over to Coots and scroll through the posts. Check Tweet numbers…see whose posts get the highest tweet numbers. Folks don’t tweet crap.

    • Ralph October 14, 2010, 7:54 am

      I know they have Tweets. Who do think Tweets them? It ain’t readers.

  • Janette October 15, 2010, 6:21 am

    Even the best hiker can be taken down by 1-2,000 feet in altitude. Try to take on something a bit lower. We used to have kids come up to Flagstaff (7000) to train for running because you gain more blood cells at a higher altitude. Before you go for a walk in those higher places- build up iron and water in your system. Go up to the altitude and spend a few days.Then take it on.
    Your not as old as you think.
    I had a neighbor who was almost 90 who hiked trails like a billy goat because he did it all the time- at 7000 feet.

  • Ralph October 15, 2010, 6:44 am

    Janette,
    I did know that the altitude would affect me but I wa surprised because it wasn’t obvious. There are some trails down where I live in the foothills (1,000 feet) but I wanted to go to the top. I think I was just surprised that it wasn’t a piece of cake. Anyway thanks for the encouragement. I’ll have to check out Flagstaff when I get tired of California mountains.

  • Dave Doolin October 15, 2010, 7:35 pm

    Dude, 12 miles? Are you nuts? Haha! Fight on, man.
    Dave Doolin’s last Blog Post ..7 Scenarios for Blogcasting which one is yours

  • Ralph October 16, 2010, 8:16 am

    Dave,
    Others think so. What can I say?
    Ralph’s last Blog Post ..Check out these great retirement blogs!

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