“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.