Last September, I treked an area of the Colorado Path from Durango to Copper Mountain. A few nights into the first week, I wound up camping with a lady from Birmingham named Martha, and her dog, Angel. Martha and Angel were an inspiring set, not even if Martha conducted such charming conversation or because Angel supplied much-needed kisses and cuddles. No, it was Martha’s age that amazed me– she notified me she was in her early 70s, and Angel was about the very same in canine years. The two of them were busting out almost the exact same day-to-day mileage as me, a 29-year-old outdoor professional who lives at elevation year-round.
Let me open this piece by saying: it will continue to shock me how often working and recreating in the outdoors forces me to check my assumptions at the trailhead. Obviously, I figured there were 60- and 70-year-olds scattered out there, getting after the excellent stuff, bagging the exact same miles and peaks as individuals half their age, but I presumed they were outrageous. I envisioned they were sunbaked automatons with impossible reserves of energy, previous Olympians and athletic demi-gods. Martha, however, was just a nice girl from Alabama. She had gray hair and a self-effacing sense of humor. She had throbbing feet and no gold medals to mention. She moved carefully and intentionally and laughed when she mused over the length of time it took her to travel a single mile.
I like uncovering my own presumptions. I like busting up the assumptions of others as well– it becomes part of why I work for Outward Bound. Much of our task– whether behind the scenes like myself, or front and center in the field like our Instructors– has to do with teaching individuals how to recognize their own biases, how to bear witness to their personal paradigm, and then how to shift it that much closer to tolerance, resiliency and compassion. This is crucial work to do with teenagers. It is even more crucial to do with adults.
Most individuals who ask about my task are amazed to discover External Bound deals courses for grownups beyond college-age. They’re much more surprised to find that, for our 2018 season, the Outward Bound School in Colorado had almost 50 students aged 30 and up. Their next reaction, typically, is excitement– I can see them believing, that’s me! That’s something I could do! It’s a long leap from “might” to “can.” I’ll see these very same people a week later on and they’ve already thought up an entire list of reasons they can’t take a course. Something informs me it’s not simply lack of details that keeps them from registering.
The older we get, the more rigid we become. It ends up being more difficult and, let’s be sincere, less required to see beyond our social spheres. Plus, we no longer have moms and dads or instructors pressing us toward brand-new experiences. Instead, we have our tasks, our kids, our individuals. We have our spouses and only so much PTO. We have our route to the grocery shop down pat. What’s more, we don’t have time. And we do not have the very same bodies we carried out in high school.
Stop. Listen. There are stories we inform ourselves about every age and stage– our twenties were a great void, we say. Our thirties will be much better, we guarantee, then our forties, then our fifties, sixties, and so on. On the other hand, there’s all that dubiously anecdotal evidence drifting around in the culture at large, from old comedies and brand-new social networks, or from that a person crotchety neighbor down the street who’s afraid of everything. The proof they provide up firmly insists there’s no life after marriage, no time at all after kids, no chance or (worse!) no requirement to alter your world when your world feels made. This is merely not real, and even if it were, is that not an even much better factor to drop what we’re doing?
We’re so busy attempting to encourage the world we have it together– look! I’m a coach! I’m a supervisor! I’m a mom!– that we forget what it suggests to be a student. We forget what a present it is to be assisted. Being on course provides the chance to find out unabashedly from gifted outdoor educators experienced in pushing both difficult abilities and emotional development, not to discuss what a fellow student can teach you.
The brief night I spent camping with Martha ended with tea and stories about her grandchildren. We both took some ibuprofen for our pains and discomforts– my knees were killing me after some huge mileage and a heinous descent early in the day. It was difficult at that point not to seem like my body had actually betrayed me, however viewing Martha hum as she evacuated dinner and put Angel to bed helped to focus my perspective. I first started backpacking to show to myself and others that I was strong. It took me several years to recognize the reason I keep taking such trips is because they teach me, inevitably, how to be weak. Individuals desire to understand, even after I tell them External Bound is open to grownups, whether our courses are really only great for kids in trouble. I tell them yes, in fact, that’s precisely who they’re excellent for, and after that I challenge them to reveal me a forty-year-old who is not, on some level, another kid in problem. The entire point of an Outward Bound course is to meet our trainees where they are– emotionally, physically, psychologically. No matter your age or fitness level, despite your experience or understanding of the outdoors, there’s a place for you at Outward Bound. And as someone undoubtedly prone to believing “it’s too late,” I hope to take this opportunity to disabuse all of us of the concept that the time behind us dictates what we’re able to make with the time in front of us.
About the Author
Kate is a logistics organizer for the Rocky Mountain Program at the Colorado Outward Bound School in Leadville, Colorado. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana and currently splits her time between operating in the high country and relaxing in Denver, where she walks her sibling’s pet and eats her moms and dads’ food.
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