Mountain Man Mike is the first in a series of articles about boomer adventurers. Some adventures like Mike's are physical but still have a significant emotional component. Others are less physical and more cerebral. But each reflects a desire to achieve something deeply personal.
A few weeks ago a best friend started hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, recently featured in the film The Wild. It spans 2,650 miles from the Mexican border through California, Oregon, and Washington. The man his friends affectionately call Big Mike will turn 70 on his trek. He's planning to pause in Ashland, Oregon after 1,750 miles, and finish next year. Mike's a big guy at 6'4", and a bearlike build, and in combination with his long, gray beard he resembles a grizzled mountain man. He plans to hike 17 miles a day with a 70-pound pack and he's trained at that level for two years. His journey will take him over mountains, across deserts and through forests.
The Right Stuff
Mike prepared all his meals from high quality ingredients because he felt the freeze-dried meals sold for camping aren't sufficiently nutritious. He purchased a solar powered GPS from which he sends his current position daily. His tent weighs a pound and is supported by two walking poles. His sleeping bag is ultra-light. His stove weighs barely a pound. An ergonomic backpack distributes the load perfectly. His hiking boots are light-weight, and waterproof, and he'll go through several pair.
Mike will be resupplied a dozen times along the 1,750 miles. My friend Tony and I will meet him in Tuolumne, California. Mike's sons are hiking with him for several days, but Mike's on a solo journey that has been his fantasy for decades. Mike's hero is John Muir (1838-1914), the naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club, who frequently wandered in the wilderness for long periods of time with just a pack.
The Pacific Crest Trail Association has given Mike the nickname, OMW, Old Man Walking. They only issue 1,000 permits a year, and fewer than 200 hikers finish. This is no small feat for a young man, and it's a major achievement for a seventy-year old.
Mike has an edge over some of the men who take this challenge. His wife of 35 years has supported him completely since he decided to embark on this adventure. She drove Mike to the start on the Mexican border and she's resupplying him several times. Her willingness to remain alone for more than three months is also support.
And Mike has the support of a close group of men friends, all of whom have been getting together a few times a month at each other's homes for dinner and a few hours of conversation for 25 years. Mike has talked about this trip for the past two years, and his enthusiasm has only increased.
Until his late 30s Mike was a high school biology teacher, after which he became an IT expert. He takes his friends on weekend mushroom-hunting trips and points out all the edible plants along the way. Mike knows his way around the great outdoors, and he's truly happiest when he's alone in it.
I'm relieved when I receive Mike's morning GPS report, which shows his current position on a Google topography map. He's keeping to his 17 miles per day schedule. He's planned his hike carefully and knows the exact date, July 1, when he'll meet Tony and me to get resupplied.
Seventy Isn't The New Anything
I'm not suggesting that today's 70 is the new anything, but rather that at 70 there are still a myriad of adventures upon which a boomer can embark. Health can be a potential limitation, but boomers who have taken care of their bodies still have nearly unlimited physical potential.
Follow Your Bliss
You don't have to share someone else's dream, you can follow your own. And your dream doesn't have to involve a physical adventure of Mike's magnitude either. The Peace Corp, some sort of physical and/or non-physical personal adventure, going back to school, starting a new career, getting fit, and a myriad of other adventures are possible. But first you have to make a commitment to accomplish something that's perhaps difficult but achievable that you'll carry proudly in your soul for decades to come.
Where There's A Will
Mike's a hero to every boomer, but not just because of the monumental scale of his adventure. He's a hero because he's following his dream. Pretty much anything's possible when there's the will, determination, and courage to succeed.
Next up, a new career adventure.