At 60 – Man Still Plans and God Still Laughs

“What I look forward to is continued immaturity followed by death.” –Dave Barry

I remember my fiftieth birthday like it was last week. It’s incredible how fast ten years can pass by. A chapter in Twenty-four Years to Boston is about celebrating my fiftieth birthday with a thirteen-mile run along the Delaware Canal, and in the process I found the message for my first book—to motivate others to find their passion.

I had planned to hike the Camino de Santiago this summer to celebrate my sixtieth year of bumping around on this big rock, but life had a different idea for me. Instead I’ve been on this wild rollercoaster ride I can’t remember buying a ticket for. On the final dive from the highest ramp, two days before my birthday, I was lying on an operating table ten o’clock at night with a scope down my esophagus and in the deepest sleep I’d had been in for months–anesthesia induced sleep.

Hit the rewind button: I’m decked out in a hospital gown rolling down the corridor on a gurney toward the OR. A nurse reads me the riot act. “Only soft food and no strenuous activity for twenty-four hours after the operation.”

“But I’m going hiking on the Appalachian Trail tomorrow.”

“Then I’ll tell your wife the post-op orders,” she growled.

“And I’ll find out where your car is parked and leave the air out of the tires.”AT - Sign w Bella

Long story short, I was on the AT the next day with Bella, my golden retriever. I did make a couple of concessions. I rode my bike to pick up my Jeep at the hospital parking lot the next morning and promised that if I didn’t feel well after the ride, I’d bag the hike.  And I didn’t head for the mountain until mid-afternoon, which wound up being about eighteen hours after the operation. That’s as close to following doctor’s orders I’d come my entire life.

Backpack - Fully Loaded

Backpack – Fully Loaded

I headed up the mountain at mid-day in ninety degree heat, backpack loaded with thirty-five pounds of gear. Drenched and exhausted, I arrived at the overlook at Pulpit Rock. I sat and watched eagles, hawks and raptures gliding all around–therapeutic. I pitched camp on the top of the mountain, opened both flaps of my tent to let the steady breeze blow across my bare chest. Nothing could feel better.

Bella and I at Pinnacle Point along the Appalachian Trail

Bella and I at Pinnacle Point along the Appalachian Trail

I woke at six on my sixtieth, did yoga, read The Sun, ate and broke camp. I started out to Pinnacle Point at eight o’clock. Pennsylvania has a reputation as the rockiest state along the Appalachian Trail, requiring deliberate navigation unless you want to find yourself on your face. Bella demonstrated remarkable dexterity with four legs and found a comfortable spot to sack out when we arrived at the summit. I pulled out my notebook and wrote while the sun burned the fog off the valley below. A hiker made his way across the boulders toward me. He was the first hiker I’d seen since I set out on the trail the day before.

Bella chilling at camp

Bella chilling at camp

My fellow hiker, Wing-it from Brooklyn, was a through-hiker, the name given to those who hike the entire 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. He was on day 104 and estimated he’d finish in mid-September, a six-month grueling trek. I’d met through-hikers on the trial before; they are a hearty breed—intense, determined, tough, fun. The thing about through-hiking the AT isn’t solely the physical demands, but the mental toughness as well. Imagine being alone in the wilderness for long periods of time over a six-month period.

I headed back down the mountain the following day and ran into Queen of Bartow, a fifty-two year old woman from Gettysburg. The Queen was hiking Pennsylvania portion of the AT. She used balance poles and apologized more than a few times for her speed, which I found to be a good pace. It was good to have company for an hour, exchanging stories, enjoying the outdoors with another passionate hiker.

Contemplating 60 on the Pinnacle

Contemplating 60 on the Pinnacle

So I’m feeling the kickoff into my sixties was a smashing success and I’m looking forward to more adventure. The hip is fully healed and all of the systems are in working order. I need only to stay out of the ER and OR for the next decade to experience some exciting times. That ultra by the end of 2014 would be a good start.

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About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
This entry was posted in Health, Running, Travels and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to At 60 – Man Still Plans and God Still Laughs

  1. Nice work Jim – the decline seems mostly in the mind, as long as the body’s willing!

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  2. Jim, I’ve nominated you for the “Very Inspiring Blogger” award on my post for today. I’ve been enjoying your blog for va while now. Hopefully we can run a race in your part of the country some day.
    Andy

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  3. Happy belated birthday, Jim – I’m so sorry I missed it! What a way to spend it though. It looks so beautiful where you are, and I must say that running on the Appalachian trail is high up on my bucket list. I’m glad that health wise, things are heading in the right direction for you. You should absolutely, totally, and utterly run an ultra this year. I ran my first one last weekend, and it was hands down one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I know you have a few years on me, but I think it would be a very special journey for you, too, nevertheless! 😀 Incidentally, I’m signed up for another ultra in October, if you want to be training buddies in spirit! 😉

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  4. Mark Mangan says:

    Happy Birthday! Time flies! One question…who took the pictures?

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    • Jim Brennan says:

      Thanks Mark. Pictures are complements of a through hike from Brooklyn, NY. He was on day 104 of his journey from Springer Mountain, GA and estimated he’d be done in mid-September

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  5. Mark Smidt says:

    Sounds like a good start to a new decade and more epic adventures. Congratulations!

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  6. Happy Birthday and happy trails!

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  7. Welcome to the 60’s. It’s a wonderful thing to have the Appalachian Trail in our back yard (sort of).

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    • Jim Brennan says:

      You are the first to welcome me, Mary Lou. Thanks! I’m liking it already. And yes, the Appalachian Trail is a treasure I plan to spend much more time on this decade, as well as many others. Stay well, and keep moving.

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