With spring in the air and my 50th birthday coming up this summer, I'm a
walking cliché-fest: "life begins at 50," "50 is the new 30," and so
I've always been an optimist. I suppose I could dwell on the gray in my hair
or the pouch of extra fat that seems to have taken up permanent residence just
below my ribcage, resting like a pet in my lap when I sit down. I could bemoan
the fact that I can't work the Sunday New York Times crossword without my
reading glasses or that my skin is as parched as the Dead Sea Scrolls. But I'd
rather throw a few highlights in among those gray hairs (they say "all French
women over 50 are blonde" -- cliché!), buy jeans that fit my changing shape, and
celebrate the fact that I still have the mental acuity to work the NYT puzzle.
As for that dry skin, I'll just ask my sweetheart (or Paco
the Pool Boy) to rub another dollop of lotion on my back. Talk about a silver
Youth Is Wasted On The Young (Cliché!)
Honest to goodness, you could not PAY me to go back to being 25 -- or 30 -- or
even 35! I look at my nieces, my daughter-in-law, my stepdaughter-to-be, and I
do not envy them their trials and tribulations. Sure, "if I knew then what I
know now" (cliché!), that would take some of the sting out of being their age.
But "to everything there is a season" (cliché!), and all of the angst of
college, young adulthood, parenting, career-building, and everything else that
goes with finding your way in life are necessary rites of passage. I can't do
it for them.
Nonetheless, I sometimes want to grab one of those young women by the
shoulders and shake them. I want to say, "Don't WORRY so much!" "Who CARES if
so-and-so at work doesn't like you?" "Don't BELIEVE the crap you read in
magazines or see on TV!" "Be KIND to your man (your kids, your friends,
everybody!)" "ENJOY yourself, for God's sake!"
In other words, I'd like to
tattoo the serenity prayer (acceptance of what you can't change,
courage to change what you can) on their foreheads, or, more to the point,
embed the knowledge of it in their hearts. But I can't. I can just be grateful
for having done my time, learned my lessons, and found my own way.
Outdoor Life At 50
So what does all of this have to do with the Great Outdoors, our shared
interest and our focus here at The Sportsman's Guide? Quite a bit, I think.
There are so many things about my outdoor life that are improving for me as I
age. In large part, that's because of the wealth of experience I have
accumulated over these past five decades. The love of camping fostered by my
parents in my first decade, those early bike and road trip excursions with
peers in my teens, embracing running and skiing in my 20s, adding water sports
and hiking to my outdoor repertoire in my 30s, expanding my geographic
experience through travel and learning to golf in my 40s -- it all adds up to a
wealth of background, a wealth of now-familiar activities from which to choose.
And speaking of "wealth," it's also true that wealth in terms of a bank account
built up carefully over time doesn't hurt, either.
With so many choices, it's up to me to do the choosing. In that regard, too,
it's good to be 50. At this stage of life, I know my own mind, I know what I
like, and I choose accordingly. I'll still try new things, of course, but not
just because "everybody's doing it," because it's the fashionable activity, or
because my significant other thinks it's important. Life is too short -- do
what you enjoy.
But what about the down side? What about the inevitable slide into old age and
infirmity? Well, what about it? In truth, I'm probably more fit today than I
was at 25. I don't agonize over whether to work out, I just do it. My body and
my mind are in fine shape, and I'm not particularly interested in comparing
them to anyone else's, young or old, male or female. I'm just interested in
getting out there and USING my gifts, whatever they are day-to-day and
Sure, I'm going to get older (at least, I hope so). To some degree, I will
likely get slower and/or weaker and/or decline in other attributes associated
with youth. So what? One reaction is to bemoan that. Another is to get outside
and do what you love NOW, while the getting is good. I choose the latter.
Sally O'Neal is the author of hiking, bicycling, and travel books and has
been a contributor to sportsmansguide.com since -- well, since before she was 40!