The term “Middle Age” is rather indistinct. It refers to the time after young adulthood and spans from ages 40 to 60, depending on how long one plans to live. As a matter of course, middle age is more easily identified in others than in one’s self.
Husband (at mirror, sucking in gut): “Honey, did you get a look at Bob today? He’s got some middle age paunch going on.”
Wife: “You mean your younger brother you outweigh by 20 pounds?”
Husband (releasing stomach): “What?”
Middle age is a time to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going. It brings about questions such as, “Why am I paying for my kid’s college when I still have student loans?” “How much do I need to leave them, anyway?” And, “Am I even going to be around to enjoy retirement?”
It was the last question, and the ability to work remotely, that prompted my wife, Sue, and I to buy an old RV, hit the road and find some trails to hike. We wanted to see El Capitan and Yosemite Falls, be held up by bison herds on the roads of Yellowstone, walk among the Saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert, and we didn’t want to be that couple who always planned on taking such a trip, “if only” something hadn’t happened.
The advantage of being a middle age hiker is that you can skip over all that bother of tents, sleeping bags, framed backpacks and excursions on the Appalachian Trail that are cut weeks or months short by broken ribs or chafing in sensitive areas. Middle age hikers travel with beds and bathrooms and satellite TVs in tow — or they make reservations at Airbnbs.
Whether your hiking excursion is a months-long trip around the country or a weekend outing to a mountain lake, you are going to need some basic equipment and supplies:
Comfortable boots and wool-blend hiking socks are critical hiking gear. Buy one without the other and your feet will be a blistery mess. But, you can’t just buy a pair of boots and go hiking. Middle age feet have bunions and fallen arches and misshapen gouty toes to which boots must conform.
Sue and I braved ridicule as we walked around our Daniel Island neighborhood in the middle of summer so our boots would be broken in prior to our big trip. There will be holes in the soles of those boots before we buy another pair.
On the trails you will see no-polers, one-polers and two-polers. There is a correlation between the age of a hiker and the number of poles attached to his or her forelimbs. That’s because there is also a correlation between age and wisdom, as well as age and broken hips.
In middle age you can eschew the bravado of no-poling for the added balance of one-poling or the security of two-poling. From a practical standpoint, two-poling also transforms hiking to a full-body workout allowing your back and shoulders to ache as much as your legs after a climb up and down Table Rock Mountain.
Famous two-polers include Sir Edmund Hillary, who was pushed up Mount Everest by Tenzig Norgay, his no-poling Sherpa guide. And, do we really need to continue on with a list that includes Sir Edmund Hillary?
Sometimes nature wants to maul our faces and dine on our entrails. While such encounters make for great campfire stories, and even better Leonardo DiCaprio movies, the survival rates are depressingly low.
Bear spray is essentially a fire-extinguisher-sized can of mace strong enough to stop a grizzly bear – provided the wind is not in your face. While bear spray can also be used with some effectiveness on mountain lions, wolves, wolverines and Sasquatches, it is most definitely effective against the scourge of the trail, fellow human
beings who are up to no good.
Not to be confused with trail mix — a combination of nuts, dried fruit, and, if you get the bag before your spouse, M&Ms — trail food is literally food that you find while hiking on a trail. It is an important nutritional supplement because one can never pack enough food for a hike.
Trail food kept the middle-aged Donners alive when their party was snowbound in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Older Donners were trail food.
Trail food may be berries that are in season as you happen by, apples from an abandoned orchard or even dandelion greens. For the more adventurous, it may be carrion that you have secured from wolves or vultures.
More rarely, trail food is food that has been dropped on the trail by other hikers. One time, it was a packet of cashews that we found near the end of the Palmetto Trail near Awendaw. Recently, it was some kind of honey-ginger energy gummies that we found on our way up Table Rock and ate as we soaked in the landscape.
So, to my friends of middle, or any, age, don’t just plan for your future, for the one day that you may hop on a plane or load up the RV and see all the world has to offer. There’s plenty to see around you if you’re willing to grab a pair of boots, some hiking poles and a can of bear spray.
May all your trails be happy, your “if onlys” be few, and may all your trail food be Donner-free.