The Value of a Big Goal After 60: My Contemplations After Climbing Mt. Kenya
Many of us are content in our everyday lives. We go for walks in the park, help with the grandkids, or sip on tea or coffee in the local coffee shop. And that’s great. We all need those peaceful moments.
But we all need big goals too. Like signing up for the senior Olympics or entering to speak on TEDx. Climbing Mt. Kenya was my big goal for 2018.
This Year’s Adventure Story
The wire ladder had six rungs, and then we were just a few feet away from the summit. Just a touch over 17 thousand feet, with two sister peaks a bit higher right nearby. An expansive glacial lake lay below. Beyond us, in all directions, Kenya.
My team had already climbed the ladder and the guides motioned me up, one more man behind me in case I faltered. We’d been hiking for five days, and the last two nights I’d gotten barely three hours of sleep each.
I was exhausted. However, energized by the proximity of the peak, I swung my leg over the top rung and leapt to the rocks that marked the summit, right under the big sign.
The Day Before Getting There
Five years ago, almost to the day, I had done the same thing with Kilimanjaro. While Mt. Kenya is lower, it was much, much more challenging. The day before, we’d had to hike switchbacks up a very slippery scree ridge which took us nearly three hours.
Then, at the summit of that ridge, we’d had to slide down the other side in the dark, after hiking up for umpteen hours. I was so exhausted at that point that I was giddy and drunk on adrenaline.
I started a fart joke riff which kept all three guides in stitches as we slid at speed down the steep incline. I had to use my hiking poles like ski poles to keep me upright.
Our goal that night was a set of huts nestled in the woods, where people begin the summit attempt at about 3 a.m. It took us several hours to reach those lights, and once we did, I flopped exhausted into my sleeping bag.
My Commitment to Mt. Kenya
Back in July, I had committed to climbing Mt. Kenya and began a seriously challenging training program. I’m no professional athlete, and at nearly 66, like many of us, I deal with the periodic, encroaching limitations that sheer time and use have begun to place on my body.
That didn’t stop me from hiking, running, and climbing some 80,000 stairs here in Denver, running umpteen miles, and hitting the gym three times a week, along with yoga and other disciplines. That regime paid off handsomely.
While the climb entailed about nine miles of hiking over extremely challenging terrain (even the professional guides, who are used to Kilimanjaro commented on the difficultly of the adventure), I had pistons for legs and incredible endurance.
Still, I was spent. After the summit, we still had three full days of eight hours of hiking to complete the journey.
It Was a Team Effort
Perhaps what pleased me most was a combination of my team (eTrip Africa, which operates out of Arusha, Tanzania) and the quality of the guides.
Ben Jennings, who runs this outfit, has taken me now on three trips. We are already planning a fourth one for early 2020. The guides are superbly well trained, and I felt totally safe. I was the only woman, and the only white person on the trip other than Ben himself.
Before beginning the journey, we’d all been briefed at a remote hotel where I’d stated that I had no expectation that I’d summit, and the plan was to get as far as I could.
That set the stage for the adventure to unfold however it might, without the pressure of having to summit, which can be deadly if you don’t know when to rest, stop, or turn back.
Ben’s guides did medical checks every night – a very thorough process including BP, oxygen, pulse, and a long questionnaire checking for any symptoms of altitude sickness – and kept a wary eye on us as we made our slow way up this mountain.
That kind of professionalism builds confidence, and it’s why I choose them year after year for East African adventures.
The Goal of Any Adventure
However, the point isn’t just to summit. The journey of putting endless hours into training, eating well, and pushing myself to train on days I simply didn’t feel like it had other side benefits.
My nearly 66-year-old legs are in superb shape. And while I am now dealing with a bit of arthritis in my left hip, the truth is that as long as I’m moving, I don’t hurt at all. When I train, I teach my body to take care of itself.
This article from the Institute on Aging explores the importance of goal setting – whether this is for an elderly parent or patient, or if we happen to be the aging person who needs a little future focus.
Perhaps what I love best is the emphasis that for many of us, those things we always wanted to accomplish suddenly become more possible due to time and resources. Age need not be an impediment, but rather, the very opportunity we sought to make many of our dreams come true at last.
My Big Goal for 2019
I’ve already got my BHAG for 2019. In mid-summer, I’ll be flying to Northern British Columbia to take off for a month of riding in the high wilderness. That will also take work to prepare for, just like Mt. Kenya. This isn’t about bragging. This just happens to be what I love to do, and how I choose to spend my time.
What these goals and commitments do is inspire me to keep working hard, stay in shape, and have something incredible to look forward to. I may not make it the whole way, but that’s true for any part of life. The goals keep me focused, moving, and excited about the future.
No matter who we are, how old we are, part of the secret to staying happy and engaged is to always have a magical carrot out in front. Something that inspires us to continue to work, stay engaged, and keep moving. What’s yours?
What is a big goal you’ve set recently that keeps you excited? How do you stay in shape and focused on an exciting future activity? What have you done lately that has transformed your life? Please share in the comment box below.