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Aging while Living

February 29, 2020


How old are you?!  A question I was asked many times this past winter.

It was also raised last summer, very often.  Are we not supposed to continue living our lives as we get older?  Why is it so unusual that we can and want to do things we did 40 years past?

While climbing the Andes Mountains of Colombia this winter almost every time I stopped my bicycle to look at the wonderful landscape or have a glass of mandaria, I heard the refrain.  Someone would interrupt my sipping of the very tasty tangerine juice to question me.  There must be an age we are supposed to sit down and wait for the end, or why else the question?   Are we supposed to listen to that valid advice?

This past 12 months, the “road” has shown me 3 very different worlds.  In late April my friend, John and I drove to Phoenix, AZ to begin a couple of week’s bicycle ride from there to Bisbee, AZ on the Mexican border.  I lived in Phoenix for 12 years and very much enjoy cycling the desert.  I suggested to John that we make Arizona this year’s spring destination.  It also served as an excellent warm-up for my upcoming tour of Eastern Europe.

We rode out of Phoenix, 2 old men headed off into the great western desert with little plan.  We would find that my way of travel was different than John’s.  Even though we had traveled together many times the desert highlighted our, sometimes dramatic, differences.  I ride each day to discover what the road has in store for me.  John likes to have a plan and to accomplish that plan.  Both are good ways to travel, but not always compatible.  Even with our conflicting distraction, the question was heard. 

Leaving John to return to Ashland, I flew to Athens, Greece.

During the next 3 months, I rode my Soma Saga over the mountains of Europe up the island of Evia, North Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany, and Belgium.  An unexpected left turn at Budapest found me in Brussels to watch the first stages of the 2019 Tour de France, instead of continuing to Nordkap, Norway, as I thought at the beginning of the journey.  But, regardless of where the path took me, the question kept recurring.  

A few years ago I solo canoed the Missouri river, from its naming place, in Three Forks, MT to the where it showed the Mississippi at Saint Louis, that the Missouri was the longest river.  I heard the same question, over and over.  Why was this old man doing these things that only younger men should be doing?  He is violating our image of what someone his age is allowed to accomplish.  Doesn’t he know better?

I am past the middle of my 7th decade.  Is it time for me to sit with a good book, watch TV, take a bus tour or a cruise on a large, safe ship, with others who are obeying the rules? 

I have taken a couple of cruises.  My first trip to South America was on a cruise ship.  That was the least expensive way to find my way to my last continent.  I talked the cruise line into letting me put my bicycle in my cabin and at each port, I would go for a ride around to see that place my way.  The crew loved the idea and would guide me to the wonderful places they knew and sometimes meet up for a beer.  That sailing lasted about 5 weeks, ending with a 3-month cycle journey through Uruguay and Argentina.  Iguazu Falls and Córdoba were truly worth the effort of turning the pedals.

This winter saw my fifth bicycle ride on the South American continent as I followed the very steep and difficult ending of my journey the length of the Andes.  It is a happy thing for me to know that my body does not agree with the thought behind the question.  It complains and tries to make it harder for me but in the end, it cooperates and keeps not listening.  Is there a lesson my body is trying to teach us all? 

In the small cafés and restaurants of Colombia where I sat sipping a wonderful cold jugo or coconut milk, the conversations around me were of my age and about my bike.  Someone would lean toward my table and ask how many years I had.  That is the Spanish way, not how old are you?  For me, it asks the correct question because I believe we earn our time in life.  It is not about a passing but an exploration and living of each day as it is presented.  Seeking the possibilities that waking up with our eyes and minds open allows. 

No, those who question our stepping out of the mold of age should not be our guide.  We should always discover our own life.  

Cartegna: Trip Complete
Trip Complete

—Bill H.

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