by James Fell Six Pack Abs
Universal Studios Orlando seemed determined to kill me.
That damn Rock and Roll Roller Coaster lacked anything resembling head support, and my neck was screwed for a month afterwards. And the big G force pull on the Hulk roller coaster caused a brain pulsing semi-aneurysm that made me feel like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction when she accidentally snorted a line of smack and her eyes rolled back in her head.
A couple of weeks ago I watched my kids go from stomach-churning ride to cervical-craning coaster at the Calgary Stampede, and I thought: I am officially too old for that ****.
And this was nothing lamentable. I did not for a moment regret that my body was not up to being whipped and wailed on by questionably maintained and carny-operated mechanical methods of mayhem in motion.
Because I do stuff that my kids are afraid to. I pay taxes. I go to the grocery store on Friday after work. Let’s see them do that.
I also can’t imagine them riding a bike the way I do. I have an expensive, carbon-fiber road bike, and she’s a speedy machine. There are times I’ve been racing down a hill with the wind at my back and I’ve reached speeds of “I-can’t-see-too-good-because-my-eyes-are-tearing-up-I’m-going-so-damn-fast.” At such moments, I’m praying my mechanic is competent and wasn’t hungover the day he tuned my bike. This **** is scary, and if I’m not in complete control it could spell real, body-wrecking disaster.
And I love it. In the summer I experience such speeds at least a couple of times a week. I also take my bike on windy paths with blind corners and have to dodge dogs and kids and people who think they’re still in the old country and walk on the left side of the path. There is a reason why I have a first aid kid in my seat bag.
Yesterday I took my sea kayak into unexplored territory, by myself. I saw no other kayakers and few boats. There were periods were I was more than two miles from shore in freezing water, all alone, with nothing but Led Zeppelin for company. Several years ago I had a frightening experience in a nasty storm (story contains many F-bombs) and it put me off big waves for a few years, but last year I decided I didn’t want to live in fear any longer, and purposely took my kayak out into a storm. I made sure to stay close to shore, and found an area where I could spend half an hour battling head first into waves that were crashing into my chest, then five minutes riding them back the direction I’d come from, and then did that a few times more. It’s kind of like back country skiing, where you put in a ton of effort to slog your way through the slow-paced uphill portion for a short period of adrenaline surge while riding back down.
Speaking of skiing, I’m too old for the terrain park. My friend Craig and I used to do it all the time. He’s a paramedic in the ski town of Banff and refers to it as the “trauma park.” He and his fellow medics were calling snowboarders with dislocated shoulders “GoPro Heroes” before GoPro coined the term as a marketing gimmick.
Anyway, about half a dozen years ago Craig did a lip-stand off a jump and knocked himself out cold. I saw it happen, and it was nasty. He was out for a solid minute then came around making a noise like a harbor seal giving birth to a porcupine. His face was a mess.
After that, Craig wasn’t much for the jumps any longer, and since he’s my #1 ski buddy I was fine with retiring too, but it doesn’t mean we don’t still tackle the roughest **** the mountain can throw at us. No, we do not purposely try to wipe out. It’s actually fairly rare for either of us to crash badly enough to even lose a ski, but we’re going hard all day, at high speeds, through some gnarly routes.
That’s one of the benefits of getting older: you learn more about your capabilities and know where the line is. You can dance with that line, and test it gently, and pull back from the edge just a little to prevent injury.
Because injury sucks, especially when you’re old.
I get plenty of adrenaline in my life, and I don’t regret not going on roller coasters or the Zipper anymore. I don’t want to learn to skateboard, but I’m happy snorkeling through a bunch of barracuda like I did last spring. I’m not going to jump off the roof like I did when I was a kid just to see if I can do it, but I’ll map out a cycling route that I know will leave me sweaty, smelly and exhausted by the time I’m back home. I don’t need to do silly Jackass-style stunts that put lumbar discs and mental facilities in jeopardy, but I can run a trail at a fast pace where all my synapses are focused on placing my feet in precisely the proper place so I don’t face-plant.
See, it’s all about managing danger and minimizing risk of injury while still having a good time. That’s one of the benefits of getting older: you gain some wisdom. No one gets through life unscathed, and chances are you’ve banged yourself up here and there along the way, and hopefully you’ve learned from this. I love going out and challenging myself and pushing hard and persevering through some perilous situations, but I don’t want to wreck myself in the process. I have some ego, but I’m never going to do something where I know the risk of injury is unacceptable.
Because I don’t want what I do for fun, excitement and an adrenaline rush today to interfere with my ability to go out and do it again tomorrow. While I’m riding my bike or skiing or trail running there is a real risk of injury, but if I don’t wipe out then I come through it just fine. Nothing hurts afterwards, and it actually makes me stronger.
Push your limits gently. Take some risks. Have some fun. But always remember that with age, you heal slower, and so you must understand what your capabilities are and choose adventures when the entire process isn’t about battering the bejesus out of your body (*cough* CrossFit *cough*).
I’m not going to try and relive some lost glory by playing tackle football or full contact hockey, but I won’t sit still either. There is plenty of challenging, adrenaline-surging adventure out there that, as long as I’m smart, isn’t going to wreck my body.
Doing so keeps me happy. It keeps me feeling young. It can do the same for you.
Go find your adventure.