Originally published May/June 2001 issue of SKI Magazine
People are always trying to be better than those around them, whether that was ancient man gathering food and fur or today's athlete seeking to run farther, ski faster and climb higher. However, most of us refuse to realize that there is an aging process going on that we can never beat.
There was a time in college when I could play nonstop basketball for three or four hours and never be tired. I could paddle a hundred pound redwood surfboard all day long and stay in the ice cold ocean without a wetsuit (it hadn't been invented). But as I look back on my very modest athletic career, I realize the sports I have chosen have changed with my advancing age.
In 1962, after surfing for 25 years, I gave it up completely and started racing sailboats. The race courses were not nearly as crowded as the waves in Southern California and the wind blew almost every day. Plus racing my catamaran didn't require the agility of a teenager.
I raced those sailboats for the next 20 years and when I started realizing I was sailing against people 20 years my junior and getting beat regularly I moved on with my life. There was a déjà vu period in my career, however, when Hoyle Schweitzer invented the Windsurfer. Here was a challenge to anyone regardless of age-or so I thought. A Windsurfer is a combination sailboat-surfboard with no one to hold up the mast except me. I produced a movie about windsurfing at the same time Mike Waltz put a mast on a short board and started riding big waves on the north shore of Maui. Now there was no more paddling to catch the waves so I could enjoy the best of both worlds.
Unfortunately, my body was getting older so I moved to Maui for three months each year so I could get the most windsurfing in before my body wore out. When I was 65 I sailed from Maui to the island of Molokai. At about the same time I came to realize that while I would never ride the giant waves of Hookipa, I could surf the small ones in front of our condo.
I can remember pedaling my bike to the top of Vail Mountain and then coasting down. I certainly didn't enjoy the pedaling up but I really enjoyed the coasting down. That was about the same time that Vail announced it would haul you to the top of Lionshead for five bucks. My wife and I spent $10 one day and did just that. We coasted from the top to Mid-Vail, where we had a nice lunch and then coasted on down the construction roads to the village. En route we passed a bunch of people who were sweating a lot while pedaling their way up the hill. We also passed the combination ski/bike patrollers who were administering first aid to a tourist who had ridden his bike off the road and hit a tree.
We coasted all the way home without turning a pedal. Were we lazy? Many people would say "yes," but at 65 I didn't see the necessity to tell all of my friends how quickly I pedaled to the top. The first liar never has a chance in these kinds of conversations.
Going down is another story. I didn't set any records coasting, but it was enjoyable. And even on my top-of-the-line Wal-Mart bike that cost $200 less than the cheapest one I could find at the custom bike shop in Vail, the wind in my face still felt great.
I've long maintained that "bumps on the mountain are like heartbeats. You only have so many of them in your knees and when they are gone they are gone." My knees wore out many years ago and I avoid moguls the same way I avoid political discussions.
However, with advances in grooming and shorter, wider skis to match my body, I can still ski down a hill and turn anywhere I want at a rate of speed that gets the adrenaline going. Sometimes I even think: "If I lost a ski or caught an edge right about here, my tired old body would hurt for the next week or so at least."
Is there a moral to this story? No.
There is a lesson, however: Don't try to be the oldest person in the group of people who are doing what you do for recreation. Recalibrate your values to reward joy, not physical prowess. No one keeps score on what you're doing except you. Are you the fastest man in the 50-and-over group to run up Baldy in your underwear and running shoes?
As I get older, I recognize my athletic achievements by the width of my smile. This of course won't get you bragging rights when some day you are sitting by the campfire at some senior citizens trailer park in Arizona or Florida, but why not move on to take a gentler version of your favorite sport? (No shuffleboard!) Why not add a new adult toy to your garage full of toys as you get older? If you enjoy what you are doing without keeping score, then keep right on doing it.
Climbing Mt. Everest is a very difficult thing to do. Remember, however, that a few years ago a young Norwegian rode his mountain bike from Norway to Katmandu, towing all his climbing equipment in a small trailer. Then he climbed Everest all alone. At the summit he took some pictures, then pedaled back to Norway and changed his worn out tires on the mountain bike a half a dozen times. No matter what you do, there will be other people who do it better. Do everything for the fun of it, and never mind the score.