Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 405 (145) Camping and biking

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

One night on the Serengeti Plain on the Masai Mara in Kenya  a herd of elephants walk right past my tent and through our camp. I never woke. Everybody else did. I saw the tracks the following morning. But I have always sleep soundly in a tent. Another night in Prince Rupert, British Colombia a bike thief sat on steeling our bikes stumbled over our tent guy-wires. I woke and lunged out of our tent at a fleeting runner. I missed, but he never came back. Another night at Gunsight Mountain, Alaska: a car pulled in late at night and did not set up camp. A young guy sat in the car as it continued to idle. I stole out of the tent with my pistol and sat where I had a good  view of our tents until he left. I felt responsible for camping in such an out-of-the way place with my mother and our children. And then there was Hanalei Beach on Kauai Island in Hawaii: We had a beautiful new Eureka Ranger tent and were the only campers for six days on this beach where South Pacific was filmed. Our kids were nine and six years old. It was paradise.  

What is all this about tent camping? It is one way to travel. Young people love to do it. It fits with their robust style and their budget. We retired folks tend to move inside for the night when we travel but not always. Tenting can remain part of our life after leaving our youth behind.

A couple of days ago some retired friends stopped by our house. They had just been camping out for three weeks – in a tent. The following morning - they raved about our beds.

Our friends, Rube and Ellie, are near eighty years of age. Ellie’s sister, Betty, is eighty-four. Rube is a watercolorist and just completed a workshop in Coupeville, Washington a small town south of us. They are on there way to Vancouver, BC.

They left Ruidoso, New Mexico three weeks ago. They’ve stayed in tents the entire trip. When I asked them how it was going the response was, “We’ve been having a blast”. Rube and Ellie have cots they sleep on. Betty uses a pad on the ground. They cook their own meals and carry yard chairs to sit on while they play scrabble around the camp fire. They try to stay in state or county parks and if possible where there are showers. “Up at dawn and go to bed when it gets dark”, Betty says. “You could have a lantern and read after dark, but we just go to sleep.”

They didn’t mention any negatives about tent camping. It reminds me of another acquaintance I have who is in her mid seventies and tent camps wherever she goes. She even goes in winter. “I love to wake up in the morning with snow all over the ground,” she says. “It is just so quiet and beautiful”. Sometimes she camps alone.

We have something else in common with our friends.  They are bikers. Betty – age 84 – just complete a 300 plus mile ride across Michigan in six days. “I do it every year”, she says. “Are you the oldest one? I asked. “I remember when I wasn’t, but I am now.” She laughingly replied. Then we launched into stories about other great bike rides they had done.

They biked down the Danube for two weeks. It was an Elderhostel trip and just fantastic! Germany, Austria, the river and beautiful bike trails. Elderhostel even furnished the bikes. They haul your stuff in a sag wagon. You bike free of extra weight. And in the evening everything is right there in your room. You get together in the evenings, eat, talk about the day’s adventures and go to bed happy.

They went on. “Then there is the Big Ride in Australia: 2500 people - maybe 500 outsiders and 2000 Australians. Once again everything is carried for you. They have a cook tent, bar and everything else. “They stop at every pub,” Rube adds. “Seems like there are about a hundred bikes around each one no matter what time of day it is”, he said. “We’ve done that ride twice.”

“We’ve bike cruise in the Caribbean five times. You only unpack once”, Ellie offered. Every day you bike a different island. They always stop for lunch where you can interact with local people: eat, bike or snorkel. And then take part in all of the luxury of ship board stuff: great food and entertainment. The have left from Porte Rico four times and once from New York. “These are all very affordable”, Ellie said, “We figure if we can go for one hundred dollars a day that’s a good deal. “They feed you well. You never go away from an Elderhostel hungry. And I’ve done thirty of them”, added Betty..

One of their best biking stories was one about biking in Mt. McKinley in 1956. They used three speed bikes from Sears and Roebuck. They put them on the train in Fairbanks and when they got to the park they biked in. It rained so hard that the bridges all washed out. The road was gravel and they had to ford all of the streams carrying their bikes. Hardly anyone was in the park. The following year they took an old van on the train and took it into the park. There were seven in the car. They had seventeen flat tires. Those were the days when you took the tire off, patched the tube and pumped it up again. They developed a flat tire routine that was perfect.

                       Ellie went on; “We found an old army barracks that was abandoned. They had left some old cots. They just had springs on ‘em. We used them. Around midnight I got up to go to the outhouse and saw just the top of McKinley illuminated by the moon. We had been in the park for a week and had never seen the mountain. It was always covered with clouds. I woke everyone. The clouds continued to part and the entire mountain was lit up. Then perhaps ten thousand caribou came into view. Massive herds. It was just an amazing sight. Rube walked down and mixed right into the herd with no problem. Quiet a night”, she said.

Camping and biking. The memories and stories they produce are priceless. And they don't have to end with retirement.

This is Retirement Talk with something to think about.

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