When I was in Yellowstone National Park a few winters ago cross-country skiing, I met Doug. Doug was planning to celebrate his upcoming 90th birthday by embarking on an expeditionary cruise to Antarctica, the only continent he’d yet to explore. It was on a similar type of cruise in Alaska that I met Annie, an octogenarian who had everyone in stitches when she implored her kayaking partner (me) to try a canoe-style J-stroke when paddling among the floating “berg bits” in Glacier Bay. Then there’s Rudy, Mel and Suzanne, 70-something snow hosts at British Columbia resorts Sun Peaks, Big White and Red Mountain, respectively. Every time I engage with one of them, it conjures up the same thought: “I hope I’m still as active as they are when I’m their age.”
Maintaining an active, adventurous lifestyle is an obsession of mine, a goal I return to every time I plan a trip, whether it’s a weekend getaway, a seven-day cruise or an excursion abroad lasting several weeks. It’s always been this way. I was that kid who suppressed so much energy in my classroom that I frequently found myself fidgeting in the hallway. As an adult, my hallway expanded gloriously to include ski slopes, mountain bike trails and white water rapids. For more than 20 years now, I’ve even made a career writing, photographing and broadcasting about adventure travel.
Which brings me here. In the months ahead on Members Only Access, I will bring you a variety of ideas for “Aging Playfully.” I will share places and experiences I’ve personally tried in order to unlock your own “just try it” spirit. And, if a particular activity isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps the city, state or country will be.
Like many of you, I have realized through experience that it’s OK to do things differently now. For example, my knees — severely atrophied after five decades of ice hockey — felt much better after “porter-assisted backpacking” in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest than they might have without the help. A multiday trip to Arizona included well-portioned daily activities like trail riding, hiking and kayaking, all exhilarating sports that didn’t exhaust me. I took the same measured approach in Québec’s Laurentian Mountains, cross country skiing and snowshoeing on groomed trails. There, I discovered fat tire biking, a trending recreation that has become something of a winter passion for me, a “merrily we bounce along” with no post-ride lower back pain. Sometimes that’s how it happens: You go to a destination with the intention of doing a singular activity, only to be turned on by something new. That’s what keeps my mind (and knees) spry.
We use the term “soft adventure” in the travel industry to denote an oft-overlooked or unknown destination with minimum physical impact. As I approach 60, I see that “soft” adventure should be titled “sustained” adventure, the ability to remain extremely active outdoors by not going to extremes, to discover that adrenaline-fueled sweet spot that still produces endorphins (and justifies carbs) without requisite expertise or extensive risk of injury.
Speaking of fueling, is there any post-workout venture that compares with après, the brilliant post-ski gathering of like-minded souls who share trail tales amid mountains of nachos? That social connection and downtime is part of the winter sport ritual.
The adventures in Aging Playfully will take place at home and around the globe. For example, take a trek on Japan’s famous Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trail System, one of just two UNESCO World Heritage Sacred Routes. Several tour operators take care of the heavy lifting by offering “luggage forward” services so that we sojourners can focus on the shrines and sublime nature along the way.
Later on in the year, we will take the walking trails in England’s Lake District, made famous by Wordsworth’s odes to daffodils and Beatrix Potter’s magical garden creatures. Then we will jet back to the States and cycle and hike along the Erie Canal, a major component of the new 750-mile Empire State Trail (and we’ll likely pause in the Finger Lakes region, the finest wine territory in the eastern U.S.)
Bright lights, big cities
Though I always try to insert a bike ride, hike or paddle into my itineraries, there are many ways to move in urban environments as well, like Seattle’s 19-mile Burke-Gilman Trail. Or when I wandered Paris until my knees could take no more because, well, it’s Paris. Our urban coverage will concentrate as much on where to cool down as it does on how to work up a sweat. We’ll hit up some cities in the height of the festival season but also describe how to make the most of a cosmopolitan excursion during the off-season. As we roam the city, we will point you toward local clothing outfitters, the most interesting shopping districts and neighborhoods.
Like pedaling a plateau in the Peach State’s biggest city, Atlanta, not all our focus will drill down on hard-core adventure. We’ll devote plenty of space to the benefit of discovering low-impact practices like golfing, fly-fishing and bird-watching. As much as I love to zip down a mountain or run in the Canadian Rockies, I also try to golf anywhere I go. Most big cities are rife with spectacular links. I also count angling among the most sublime and carbon-friendly pastimes on the planet. Most big cities aren’t too far from a river or stream. And while I don’t count myself as an expert in any outdoor undertakings, I do have a degree in ornithology, so I know what I’m talking about when discussing birding. Many big cities have birding-haven estuaries in or around them. We’ll explore those, too.
Golfing, fly-fishing and birding may appear like three disparate pursuits, sharing little more in common than the fervent obsession of their oft-frustrated pursuers. What they do share, however, is the opportunity to work off some calories doing something you love. The hobbies also exemplify how seamlessly one can supplement any trip with an immersive outside experience.
We’ll provide plenty of other ideas when planning a week or weekend holiday, opportunities to add some adrenaline to an otherwise subdued situation, whether on a multigen family vacation, attending the Maui Food & Wine Festival or the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Listen to your body … and the experts
It isn’t just the 60-year milestone or even becoming a grandfather that reminds me I need to do most of my usual activities differently now, but also those pesky knees, a blood clot trend that started on a long flight to Tokyo, and flexibility that is, well, anything but flexible.
In determining how to avoid the aches and pains, information from experts in several medical fields, including physical therapists, nutritionists, sports medicine physicians, psychologists and even indigenous shamans, will be shared to get their opinions about how to get the most enjoyment from our exercise.
While heeding that sage advice from the medical experts, we will also investigate trends in travel and exercise gear, like heated gloves and e-bikes, to help ensure you are protected and prepared. As we unpack our new travel gear, advice will come with it so you can make your own informed purchases.
We haven’t forgotten those of you who seek adrenaline
We know getting that morning run in or jumping on a complimentary cruiser from the Fairmont or another hotel is a no-brainer for many members. For these folks, we’ll devote one column to going big, bigger and biggest by highlighting outfitters around the world who take you hiking all day, place a paddle in your hand for a lengthy white water rafting voyage or put a pedal under your foot for two weeks’ worth of bike touring. If you’re looking for that big trip of infinite thrills, rapids and hills, adventure awaits from Africa to Australia, Iceland to Antarctica.
Aging Playfully is designed to offer options aplenty. Our goal: get you out and about and eager to “just try it.” However you plan to play, we can’t wait to get going with you. We’re about to embark on a worldwide adventure.
Aging Playfully Series
Check out these columns, and stay tuned for more coming soon:
- Exploring North Carolina's Research Triangle
- E-biking Around New York's Finger Lakes
- Walking in England and Ireland
- Paddle Your Way Across Canada
- North American Gardens You Should Visit
- Four Days on the Central California Coast
Crai S. Bower is a Seattle-based freelancer whose work has appeared in AARP The Magazine, Afar, Alaska Magazine, AAA Journey and more. He is a recipient of a 2022 Lowell Thomas Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism for an essay that appeared on AARP Members Only Access.
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