Staying Young Is The New Growing ‘Old’


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. 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.


17 replies on “Staying Young Is The New Growing ‘Old’

  • Tom Mrotek

    All hail Fred Beckey! I got to hang out with him for an evening and he inspires me years afterwards. I often taunt my friends (and myself) with the “Fred Beckey’s still out there…” line.

  • Jayson Cardwell

    “Crush it, Grandma!” is classic. Great article, some people you’re just in awe about because of the ease in which they accomplish things others struggle so very much with. Kudos to your mother. Coming from Iowa and bagging a 14er the next day….that’s pretty epic.

  • Rick O

    How many people during your bike tour said, “I wished I had done that when I was your age.” I told them they still can, and that was before I met a 75-year old dude touring solo.

    • brendan

      And that is why we are bros, Rick! We were actually on about mile 2,800 when we met four people who were in their early 60s, one with an artificial hip, starting across the country on recumbent bikes. Dude with the artificial hip was going to get both knees replaced, but was waiting until he had finished the cross-country trip, which was his third. Rad.

  • Sar

    Excellent! I’m well into my 40’s and as an mtb guide I see lots of “old folks” putting the screws to the younger crowd. And I look up to my father, who will be turning 75 on the eve of his 30th Bolder Boulder 10k this year.

    When I asked a 56 year old climber how he continued to be so athletic, the wise man told me he just never stopped. I intend to follow his lead.

  • Ariane

    DUDE, I love this post so much that I am pathologically-driven to comment everywhere and share it, too. Honestly, it’s so true: we can keep on being awesome long past when we’ve been told we’re too old for it. Screw that! Like I said on your FB (and mine and everywhere else I can bla-bla-bla about how much I love this): at 49 I know I am going to keep ROCKING THIS SHIT as long as possible. Great to feel so inspired by you. You are really awesome. Don’t stop! XO

  • Diane Winger

    Age is just a number. If we focus on doing what intrigues us, challenges us, excites, thrills, or inspires us, we’ll find that we can do tons of things that defy any stereotype of what we “should” be doing at some age.

    I just turned 60. My biggest inspiration to keep on keepin’ on is my husband, Charlie, who’ll turn 75 this year. He’s out on a peak-bagging trip this week, which was a difficult decision for him since he usually climbs at the Ouray Ice Park about 5 days a week during the winter (yes, he leads). He has to return by mid-week, since he’s teaching a cross-country ski class and a snowshoeing class next weekend. He’s been asked to teach some other mountaineering-related classes in April, but we’re scheduling carefully since we hope to spend at least a week climbing in Joshua Tree before we get into the season when he’ll be going on some mountaineering trips…

    So, I work out daily so I can try to keep up with him, but wonder if I ever will. The fun is in giving it my best shot.

    “May you stay forever young.” ~ Bob Dylan

  • ELG

    I think that guy named Bruce ought to act his age! Does he think that he is “Canyon Tough” or somethin? He SUCKS!

  • Greg

    Dead on, dude!

    Thanks for calling out my hero, Bruce…

    We all need a shove out the door to run, hike, bike, whatever once in a while……and Bruce – more times than not – is that shove for me –

    So thanks Brendan for sayin’ it and thanks Bruce for livin’ it! Peace……..

  • Kim Kircher

    High-five Mom. Bravo. It’s very easy to let life slip away simply by getting on the “I’m-too-old” bus. But once that Greyhound leaves the station it’s a non-stop to the grave. Getting older beats the alternative.

  • Tom Harrison

    Great story. I like to think I’m ‘blissfully unaware” of my age as it is, but nowhere near Bruce or your mother’s league, so that’s something to aspire to!

  • Chris K

    Great story. I’m 54 and don’t think of myself as “old” – and cringe when people on my SAR team that are 10+ years younger than I complain about being their age.

    I totally agree that the answer is not to stop. I started learning to ski last year!

  • Scott

    So true! Great post. I turned 50 in 2012, my wife, late in the year, turned 60. From Aug. to Nov. of that year, we pedaled the length of the Rocky Mtns. from Jasper to Mexico. On tricycles. With out dog. We often get “If I were younger” B.S. from people, and then Jodi tells them she’s 60 and counting. She fired a 5.10 two days ago.

    Keep on truckin’.

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