Since Todd and I are almost five years apart, he says he likes to use me as a gauge. If I am not falling apart at nearly 65, as he turns 60, he shouldn’t be too freaked out. Except, as of late, he has felt as if he is falling apart. It’s moving and maneuvering massive chunks of logs as he positions them into place to carve. It’s the constant chainsaw carving and its toll on his body, as he leans unnaturally forward while holding a heavy saw. His back often hurts, and he’s done something to his knee, making it swell, hurt and limp sometimes. We’re once, again scheduled to return to New Mexico to attempt to finish hiking the 500 remaining miles of the Continental Divide Trail in October and he is worried.
I try to get him to do yoga with me in the evenings. I select practices that involve twists and back care positions to help him. Usually, he gives me a very hard time when I ask him to join me. Although I remind him that he would be doing it for himself and for his own well-being, and not as a favor to his wife. He complains that he just finally sat down and ceased moving since he woke up at 7 am. I usually let him go. Except now he is 60 and we are only 3 ½ months from when he must hoist his pack on his back and hike for weeks. The thought of having to quit because he is too feeble has over-powered his disinterest in doing more with his body than he already does.
He’s not interested in seeing a doctor for his knee. He’s afraid they’ll tell him they need to cut it open, get him a new one and tell us we can’t hike this fall. I tell him that no one can make you have surgery or stop you from hiking, except your own threshold of pain. So, I noticed as of late, as he approached his 60th birthday, that he has been more agreeable when I ask him to join me on a hike or a bike ride or even a yoga session. My plan is to work his muscles in his knee and get them stronger, as cycling causes no pain. Then, start to hike more, and add weight after the pain is gone and his strength has returned. Put him on glucosamine to promote healthy cartilage, and curcumin, for pain and inflammation. Use an ankle weight to do knee exercises to build strength and continue stretching with yoga, despite the fact that it feels “as if his back and knee is about to break in half” when he does certain poses. To me, that just signals a certain level of tightness that needs to be stretched.
Our 80+ year old friend and sage, Lila Fretz, said “Stay on him. If he doesn’t learn to manage it, he won’t be able to have fun with his grandkids someday.” That did it. We expect to play a major role in grandparenting adventurous grandkids: summer camp, llama pack trips, paddling excursions, and many more. All the fun things we did with our own kids. I even have a great idea for a new book, Kids in the Wild- Round Two: A Grandparents’ Guide.
We’re not ready to quit. Not by choice at least and we definitely still do have a choice. And someday, if Todd has to be reduced to carving smaller pieces instead of 8-foot hulking trees or get himself a machine to help move them and stand them upright, so be it. Carving “ducks on sticks” can be postponed until he is in his 90s, not his 60s.
As his supportive wife, I also wasn’t going to let him get away with becoming too comfortable in his “old age.” This year, on the night before his actual birthday, we drove to the camp sites on the Weiser State Forest tract above Port Clinton. Two of our cycling buddies, DJ Duncan and Dave Broomhall, surprised him and arrived after we made camp. They brought their mountain bikes and the plan was to ride across the top to Hawk Mountain and back and then enjoy a good birthday meal around the campfire. On our return, I threw down my bike at the fire tower and yelled to the guys, “Let’s see if we can climb it.”
“No way,” they all chimed in. “It’s against the law. What if the cops come up and catch us? There’s probably cameras streaming video of trespassers.”
I suddenly realized that ten years ago, when Todd turned fifty, Bryce and I took Todd on a ride on our mountain bikes across the top of the Blue Mountain from Hawk Mountain to the Port Clinton fire tower, only from the other direction. Todd did not want to climb the tower then either, but we made him. Bryce said that his Padre had to do something reckless and daring on his 50th birthday, especially it being a decade birthday, in order to stay young. The fence door was locked of course, with razor wire up top, but the bottom of the door had been yanked open, making a gap. If one of us yanked harder, someone could slip under, albeit smashing their face and skin into the dirt and occasional glass chard, but we managed to slide through. We climbed the tower, which is always a treat, and were well-rewarded with fantastic views and returned to earth without getting into any trouble.
Here we are exactly ten years later and I told Tod we had to climb it, again. The three men were not convinced, especially when I realized that another stretch of fencing had been added to the door, making it impossible to pull out at all. Bummer. The boys were not even walking over to me and the fence, just remained with their bikes a good distance away, showing me they were all in agreement with Todd- playing it safe.
Then, my eyes shifted to the fence next to the door and lo and behold was a massive hole, cut out with wire cutters. I hadn’t even noticed it, so intent was I on trying to get the door to move. I went right in and yelled to the guys, “Come on, it’s wide open!” and began to climb. So what could they do but follow.
The views were fabulous. The night was crystal clear and the evening shadows long and warm. We traced the great Blue Mountain and saw where it descended into the Port Clinton/Rt 61 gap and the Schuylkill River, saw where it made a jog and went up to Hawk Mountain, saw Owls’ Head point, Hemlock Heights, the Pinnacle; saw into Schuylkill County, back into Berks and a ways into Lehigh; saw our great land that we call home…so much wild land and forest, and beauty
We descended the tower carefully and slowly, rode the last stretch back to our campsite and I felt very, very satisfied- for encouraging my husband and the boys to stretch themselves and take a risk, even a small one like climbing a forbidden fire tower. Doing things like that (as well as stretching in yoga), will help to keep us young and see another ten years of adventuring.
Some delinquent felt the need to throw a television off the top, as it lay smashed to smithereens at the tower’s base. The guys told Todd that if he can still get into the tower ten years from now and climb it, we’ll let him throw a TV off the top to celebrate his 70th birthday!
Posted in: Life's Moments and Lessons