I’ve been addicted to stuff – toys, tools, gear – for most of my life. At one time, I had lists upon lists of stuff I wanted or thought I needed. Bikes, canoes, boots, clothing, tents, packs. I was an outdoor-gear junkie, sure, but a lot of that gear was actually essential for my lifestyle. If I was gonna race bikes, I needed good bikes. If I was heading out for a ski mountaineering expedition, I wanted quality gear to keep me comfortable and (hopefully) alive.
But although I still bike, ski, and hike, the intensity has become toned down, quieted. The adventures are shorter and less frequent. My desire to get back to a nice dinner and a glass of wine is just as important.
A few weeks ago, I was working in the garage, and then later sorting clothes and stuff in an overstuffed bedroom closet. Looking at the three bikes hanging from the rafters of the garage and my four pairs of downhill skis and three pairs of cross-country skis and the ski jackets and bike shorts and hiking socks in the closet, I realized that I probably will never need a new piece of outdoor gear again in my life. Which was a liberating and simultaneously depressing thought. Unless I break a ski (before I break my leg) or wear out a pair of hiking boots (more likely), my current gear will last me the rest of my outdoor life. The rest of my life.
Years ago, when I was about 40, I was driving to Moab, Utah, to go mountain biking for the weekend. My girlfriend and I were discussing where to camp, what to cook for dinner, and as we drove I began doing some mental calculations. I realized that between my late 20s and that drive to Moab, I’d probably spent nearly 400 nights sleeping outside. And I’d never been a professional guide or outfitter – just an everyday outdoor junkie. A year of my life (over a roughly 10-year span – 1 of every 10 nights) spent sleeping in the dirt. We stayed in a motel that night, and had a clean shower after our ride.
I know I’ve gotten soft. But I’ve also become OK with that. I had many great adventures in the wilderness of Colorado, Washington, Alaska, California, and many other places. Yet even as I’ve slowed down, I’ve still hiked the Vienna Woods of Austria (extremely tame), the Triglav Alps of Slovenia, the highlands and islands of Scotland, and the mogotes of Cuba. In various mountain ranges – even in these “civilized” United States – I’ve set foot on patches of this earth that may not have seen another footprint for decades, if ever.
For awhile I had a bit of a competitive streak, although I was never really exceptional at anything. I raced mountain bikes, whitewater canoes, running races. I sought out new climbing routes. (In the climbing world, “first ascents” are a big deal, even if it’s a short climb a few yards from another line up the same cliff.) But I could also be happily non-competitive. I spent many rewarding years on a Colorado Search-and-Rescue team helping hapless (or frequently, clueless) souls out of the wilderness. Sometimes we couldn’t help them – their time had come and gone.
And I guess that’s the horizon I’m seeing. Not just in an outdoor adventure sense, but I can see the horizon line of my life much more clearly. I don’t think I’m fatalistic, but I realize our time on earth is finite. I realize the sunset over the edge of the mountains is quite a bit closer for me. And I think I’m completely at peace with that.
If I can get out for a hike most days; get on my bike occasionally; spend half-a-dozen days (instead of five dozen) on the ski slopes each year (more likely in the warmer spring days now, though); and keep fit and healthy enough to drink good wine and eat fine meals with my friends and loved ones… that will be enough.
I’d be happy to garden (a surprisingly significant amount of exercise) year round; maybe I’ll take up golf again (after 40 years off). I’ll probably… no, I’ll NEVER… paddle a Class IV rapid again. I’ll never again ski two days into a backcountry campsite to climb a peak in winter. I’ll never rock climb 5.11 again.
And it’s all OK. Because for the things I still can and want to do, I have all the stuff I’ll ever need. And someday – someday – I’ll have one hell of a garage sale of vintage outdoor stuff.