But what if neither spirit nor flesh is willing? No pressure, says Kathy Buckworth, who discovers motivation is personal.
“You can do what you want. Or you can do nothing,” our host Kevin Tiemersma advises leading me through Tipiliuke Lodge, a unique and exclusive hunting lodge and resort nestled in the foothills of the Andes mountains in Patagonia, Argentina. I’m here as a guest of the Eddie Bauer company, which has organized a team of journalists to live their brand in the field. #LiveYourAdventure. That’s the Twitter hashtag we are being asked to use for this trip. It certainly beats out #LiveLikeYou’reFifty, which had started to become my unstated life hashtag. In the year since I’ve turned 50, I’d pushed myself. In B.C., I careened down one of Canada’s highest ziplines in Whistler; splashed through white water rapids on the Elaho River; hiked Canada’s largest monolith, The Chief, in Squamish; and skied my first powder bowl in Panorama. In Blue Mountain, Ont., I swung through a high ropes course and now, in the last month before I turn 51, here I am, brushing the dust from a Patagonia mountain biking trail off my well-worn running shoes. Orthotics included. When I was invited to Argentina, I was a few (grey) shades of 50. That is, 50-50: partly excited about the aspect of taking my fitness regimen out of the gym and out into the natural workout environment and partly worried that this might be the trip that shows me the 50 ways to leave my dignity in a pile at the bottom of a mountain. I’ll admit that seeing Spa Treatments as an activity choice made me squeal a little. I’m (now) used to being the oldest one on a press trip, at a party, in a meeting or even, yes, in my own home. So I’m not surprised to dis – cover that the other journalists and photographers gathered for the trip range in age from 28 to 48. And here I am, at 50, the reluctant outlier, but by no means veteran. Their Brand Guide is Melissa Arnot. She has summited Everest five times. The female record holder, Arnot was at Everest when 16 Sherpas were killed this past April, in the mountain’s most tragic loss, which resulted in the cancellation of most of the season’s expeditions. Arnot was active in search-and-rescue efforts. She is 30. I had given birth twice by the time I was 30, which also involved deep breathing, strength and perseverance. That being said, I’m pretty sure I admire her accomplishments more than she mine. (Maybe Eddie Bauer should extend their range to maternity wear as well.) “I’m good at walking slowly up hills,” laughs Arnot. The simplicity with which she states her accomplishments inspires and intrigues me. I ask her what the hardest part of the climb is – as I’m indicating lung versus legs, and she points to her head. “It’s all up here. Every time I climb it, I find something else, some other reason I should be there.” And now I know why I need to be here, in Patagonia. Not to take on every physical challenge I can before ultimately breaking a clichéd hip but to be comfortable enough to just challenge myself, not the other younger people. “I am very self-motivated. I think that’s what makes the difference.” Arnot says as she talks about the marathon she will be running a week before heading back to Nepal. As one does. The motivation to accomplish things has to come from self-motivation, not competitive or relative motivation. I’m taking this advice to bed as I prepare for our first day of unstructured activities. I start my own adventure this day by choosing to hop on the back of a horse, which is more or less my speed. I’m pretty sure I hear the words “gentle” and “older lady” between the gaucho and my host but I feel good about riding the range. This is Day 1. And it is spectacular. As is the pain in my thighs. I continue to try new things, including eating my weight in red meat at most meals. I abandon the downhill mountain biking, however, after it becomes clear we have to actually bike down a mountain, and I forsake the early morning three-hour mountain climb for a catch-up session of email and writing. I feel my adventurous spirit waning a little, per – haps under the weight of the afore – mentioned carnivorous activities. I decide to try the fly fishing, figuring that it’s a little more my speed, and the risk of breaking or spraining something is minimal. I discover quickly that while I didn’t have the energy to hike for three hours, I also don’t have the patience to cast out a fake fly over a river for three hours either, no matter how gorgeous the setting. Meanwhile, some of the group are readying for a hike up Tipiliuke Mountain. As I’m visibly debating it, I hear “I don’t judge,” from Arnot. “Your challenge is your own.” While part of my own challenge would be seeing how my legs looked in the short shorts Eddie had sent along and not wanting to be climbing ahead of a photographer from a national magazine, I realize climbing this mountain isn’t an item I had on any sort of goal list. My challenge is indeed my own, and I need to own that. I can enjoy the satisfaction and accomplishment others find in their own challenges. This life lesson I’m going to be taking back to my professional and personal life as well. It’s okay to see others succeed in their own field – whether that field is thigh-high grass with wild boars running through it on the plains of Patagonia – or whether that field is full of paragraphs or images. So don’t cry for me down here in Argentina. I accomplished what I set out to do. In my own way. My own isn’t a 50-nifty kind of way. Arnot sums up her own skill set like this, “I’m just very consistent. One foot in front of the other.” Whether that takes one to the top of Everest or toward a less adventurous pursuit, your choice is to keep moving, at your own pace. Or do nothing at all.
This post first appeared in Zoomer Magazine, November 2014.