Christmas Eve, 2011, I am going to throw up on a spin class bicycle. Sweat is raining off my temples and pooling on the floor beneath my bike. This is my first spin class ever.
Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is playing, and is now the soundtrack in my evolving vision of what hell is really like. Our instructor is peppy, chattering away and pedaling at least twice the cadence I am, and I am convinced she doesn’t even need the microphone she is speaking into. I am going to die in here the day before Christmas. My odds of vomiting before the end of class are 5:2.
I don’t even look over at my mother, who I know is next to me pedaling away, sweating like hell as well, but without the look of dread and fright on her face, like I have on mine. This was her idea. When your mother is 61 years old, you think that maybe you’ll be able to keep up with her. But no. I mean, 33 years ago today, my mom was 8 1/2 months pregnant with me. Hell, I feel old sometimes. Why doesn’t she?
My mom ran for years, several days a week, entered a few 10Ks, but mostly ran just to run, as much as she could. She laments the fact that she can’t run anymore because of knee pain. And then she asks you if you want to go for a walk, and you say yes, and a few blocks into it, you realize you’re out of breath because she’s walking 4 mph uphill while telling you a story about her grandkids, walking with her hands balled into fists.
For her 59th birthday a couple years ago, I told Mom I could take her out to hike up a Colorado 14er, which I thought would be pretty rad for a grandmother from Iowa. We planned to hike up Quandary Peak’s east side, which tackles 3,400 feet of elevation in a little less than 3 1/2 miles. Which is kind of a big deal for most folks. She flew in from Des Moines the night before, declined to eat breakfast, ate a donut and drank 12 ounces of coffee at 6 a.m., and was on top of the mountain right next to me about three hours after we started, asking me if it was time to drink the two Starbucks Doubleshots I had packed for us. I think she could have done a 17er on that donut and cup of coffee.
I meet people sometimes who say things like “I’m too old for that shit,” and sometimes they’re only 35. Or they say things like, “Maybe in my younger years,” as they pat a beer belly and laugh.Â Usually, I say something like, “You know, Fred Beckey is still climbing, and he’s in his late 80s.” And I’m sure some people think Fred Beckey is a freak of nature, but he’s not. He’s a role model. At least in the passion-for-something respect, he is.
When people are “too old for that shit” and proud to announce it, I think maybe they should meet my friend Bruce, who retired from the corporate world at 54, started working as a wilderness guide at age 57, and when he was 61, decided to start his own guide service for Grand Canyon backpacking trips. A few weeks ago, I went to the climbing gym with him, and afterwards, he wouldn’t stop kicking himself about not sending a 5.9 roof route that he had climbed a few weeks before, even though he had gotten up a 5.10 on the other side of the gym earlier. I didn’t know what to say to him. I guess I think if you’re still pulling down 5.10 in the gym on the eve of getting Social Security benefits, you’re doing pretty good, but his brain doesn’t work that way. Which I think is a pretty good way to approach things. Age has never been something he really noticed. After working his way up to executive positions in his career, Bruce went back to school as a retiree and graduated with a bachelor’s in linguistics.
Plenty of us let the world dictate what we can and can’t do, as far as age is concerned. We work work work, and let fun slip away, and day by day, we get a little more out of shape, and one day, we can’t get in or out of our cars without grunting, or pick up something heavy without complaining about back pain. But I know a handful of people who are blissfully unaware of what they “should be doing at their age.” Including Bruce and my mother.
A couple days after our spin class, which I survived, I took my mom to the climbing gym for the fourth or fifth time in a few years. My brother and my 4-year-old niece, Mary, came with us, my niece’s first time ever climbing. She had a blast. Maybe the best part for me was getting to teach Mary one new word. I belayed my mom on some 5.7s, and talked her into trying some 5.8s, and when she got up the route a ways, Mary would yell up,
“Crush it, Grandma!”
I like that my niece is going to someday have a memory of going to the rock gym with her grandma.