Aging With Adventure with Eric Weld: A time to shift gears

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  • Jan Alicia Nettler of Northampton hikes with her 8-year-old poodle, Lexi, in the Mineral Hills Conservation Area in Northampton on Nov. 19. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Glen Bombardier, right, 69, of Florence and friend Walter Chudzik, 74, of Hadley ride the mountain bike trails at the base of Mount Hitchcock in Hadley on Wednesday morning, Nov. 24, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Jan Alicia Nettler of Northampton hikes with her eight-year-old poodle, Lexi, in the Mineral Hills Conservation Area in Northampton on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Glen Bombardier, 69, of Florence rides the mountain bike trails at the base of Mount Hitchcock in Hadley on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jan Alicia Nettler of Northampton hikes with her eight-year-old poodle, Lexi, in the Mineral Hills Conservation Area in Northampton on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Glen Bombardier, 69, of Florence rides the mountain bike trails at the base of Mount Hitchcock in Hadley on Wednesday morning, Nov. 24, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Glen Bombardier, right, 69, of Florence rides the mountain bike trails at the base of Mount Hitchcock in Hadley with friend Walter Chudzik, 74, of Hadley on Wednesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Glen Bombardier, 69, of Florence prepares to ride the mountain bike trails at the base of Mount Hitchcock in Hadley on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Glen Bombardier, 69, of Florence rides the mountain bike trails at the base of Mount Hitchcock in Hadley on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Glen Bombardier, 69, of Florence rides the mountain bike trails at the base of Mount Hitchcock in Hadley on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO

  • —STAFF PHOTO

Published: 11/25/2021 3:57:02 PM
Modified: 11/25/2021 3:56:46 PM

I talk a lot about adventure these days with a range of adventurers. Some of these adventurers are adrenaline junkies, thrill-seekers, forever on the lookout for the next risk-defying challenge. More power to them.

Others love adventure but have always preferred to — or have no choice but to — get their fix vicariously by reading about or hearing stories from others detailing their daring feats.

Then there are those somewhere in the middle. Like most of us. Those who have always been energized by adventure and who partake in adventures, but for whom the parameters of that concept have changed and continue to evolve as they age.

Adventure means different things to different people, as I often repeat. Fundamentally, it entails doing something out of the ordinary, overcoming some kind of challenge and learning something new.

That covers a lot of territory.

Adventure is personal

Whenever I consider aging with adventure, I am careful to maintain a broad perspective. Adventure isn’t always nor does it have to be about physical challenge or pushing to the limits. For some, a virtual online tour of Seville is equally thrilling and edifying as an actual trip there.

And depending on your circumstances, a walk around the neighborhood could be just as much of a challenging achievement for one person as a bike ride across America is for another.

The point is, adventure is somewhat subjective. Its definition is personal, and varies from one adventurer to the next depending on ability, imagination, level of need for fulfillment, and preferences for what types of activities deliver that fulfillment.

One person’s grand adventure might be another person’s daily routine. For me, cooking a full course meal for six kids would seem like a monumental achievement rife with risk and challenge. Yet for my mother, in the years when my siblings and I were growing up, that was something she could do with her eyes closed.

Not less, just different

This is good news, this relative and subjective definition of adventure. Because it means that the wide-ranging benefits of adventure are accessible to everyone.

As we age, this is an important point because our capabilities change. In order to maintain the advantageous adventure mindset, most of us need to adjust our definitions according to our changing realities and personal preferences.

That doesn’t mean less or less-fulfilling adventure in our lives as we age. But it might mean different adventures or different types of activities in various life stages. And it does necessitate a malleable regard for and approach to adventure.

“You never know where you’re going,” reminds Jan Alicia Nettler, a 76-year-old adventurer from Northampton. Nettler has filled her adventure card many times over with activities including scuba diving, downhill skiing, piloting an airplane and studying Spanish. She often leads groups on area hikes as a volunteer trail guide for the Appalachian Mountain Club.

“You never know when you might start falling apart,” she says. “But you have to keep in mind, even when you do start to fall apart, you can still do things.”

It’s an important point for Nettler, who says she really only started pursuing adventure in her mid-50s. It started for Nettler with a snorkeling trip to the Bahamas, which led her to obtain scuba certification. That pastime was cut short when she tussled with cancer, and chemotherapy treatment left her unable to fill her lungs adequately for scuba diving. So she adjusted.

“That’s why I learned to fly,” she said. After taking a hot air balloon ride, as an alternative to diving under water, “I just loved it up there,” she said, so she enrolled in flying lessons and completed training for a pilot’s license. “If I didn’t have cancer, I’d never be a pilot. You just never know.”

Nettler’s pivot is a lesson in successful adaptability. If you can’t do one thing, do another. So you can no longer run a marathon? Perhaps take a long-distance hike instead. A 50-mile bike ride might no longer be attainable, but a relaxing kayak paddle down a local river could offer equal rewards.

I, too, know of this necessity of adjustment. I was a runner for my entire adult life, since age 15. I loved running, regularly joined races, completed a half-marathon and counted on the mental high that only running can deliver. But a mildly nagging lower back issue has flared up in recent years, forcing me to consider alternatives to the pounding that accompanies running.

So I adjusted. Primarily to cycling and hiking, snowshoeing/skiing in winter, canoeing and kayaking in summer. And camping, always camping. I’ve come to love these pastimes as much as I do running, but the fulfillment they provide is different — subtler, not as explicit.

“As we age, the things that we are successful with start to change,” explains Glen Bombardier, a doctor of internal medicine from Florence. “People’s ligaments start getting tight, the knees and joints. There’s really no way to prevent that.”

Lateral movements and sudden sprints that we once lit into with ease in our 20s, say, may no longer be in our body’s arsenal. As we age, “we can still hike and run a marathon, maybe, things that are steady, like biking and swimming,” Bombardier says. Just not as much sprinting and sudden bursts of movement.

Adapting to adventure

We humans are incredibly adaptable animals. We can live in nearly any climate on earth. We can thrive within a broad spectrum of parameters. And we are able to sense our bodies’ needs and limitations and change our habits accordingly in balance with our desires.

“I’m slowing down,” Nettler acknowledges. Her traverse over the challenging Seven Sisters trail along the Holyoke Range isn’t as fast as it used to be. “There are days I can do those hikes. Other days ... I get tired.” But that doesn’t stop her.

Adventure remains available to us all through our lives, emphasizes Bombardier, 69, an avid mountain biker and hiker who ran five marathons before his knees started bothering him. But adventure requires more mindfulness when we get older. And thankfully, we develop a cumulative wisdom through our lives that accommodates the change we need.

“When we are younger, our bodies were way more capable than our brains,” Bombardier says. “When we get older, our brains become way more capable than our bodies.”

We can use that dichotomy to our advantage by creating and approaching adventures with intention, in balance with our bodies’ shifting circumstances.

Like Nettler, we can hike more slowly, as necessary. Like Bombardier and me, we can trade in the pounding of running for more sustainable biking and hiking.

The definition of adventure is capacious and open for interpretation. No matter how long our lives endure, we retain the capability for adventure. But it’s up to us to seek it out, adapt as we need to, and decide what it means for us.

There’s no hurry.

Eric Weld, a former Gazette reporter, is the founder of agingadventurist.com.




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