Turning 60 is a big deal, right. It is one of those life stages where looking backward becomes easier than looking forward. My father was 60 when he first started telling me about his boyhood days growing up on a farm near Redding, Iowa. I heard a lot about the farm over the next thirty years, which was okay; it sounded like an idyllic place and time. But my dad, who lived to be 89, still had a third of his life to live.
Fortunately, he had a passion for photography and painting. That, and a feisty cocker spaniel named Smokey, pulled him forward into the future. His last 29 years were among the best of his life.
Ten years ago my 60th birthday caught up with me. So I decided to reminisce a little myself. I would go on a six-week, 360-mile backpack trek from Squaw Valley, California to Mt. Whitney traveling an average of 60 miles per week. Squaw Valley was where the 1960 Winter Olympics had taken place. Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 feet, is the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. It would be my sixth trip to the top.
I had been wandering between the two points up and down the Sierra Nevada Mountains for over 30 years. It had all started in 1974. I was serving as Executive Director of the American Lung Association in Sacramento and we needed a new fundraiser. More importantly, I wanted an excuse to play in the woods. So I proposed to my Board of Directors that we do a nine-day, 100-mile backpack trip fundraiser across the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Squaw Valley to the foothill town of Auburn.
“You’re crazy, Curt,” was the response of the Board. And they were right. I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself why oh why didn’t you listen more carefully as I led 61 people aged 11-69 on a marathon trek across the mountains. The steepness of the mountains and canyon trails was nothing in comparison to the steepness of my learning curve. It was straight up. I’ll tell the story some day when the trauma wears off. (Grin)
As we hiked into Auburn on a 104-degree day with blistered feet all I could think was thank goodness the Trekkers didn’t lynch me somewhere along the trail. I made myself a solemn promise: I would go back to sending out Christmas Seals. But the Trekkers had other ideas. Like: “Wow, this is the most incredible experience I have ever had!” to “Where are we going next year?” I had half killed them; they had almost killed me; and here they were, eager to go again. It was a few months before they persuaded me that their logic made sense. Pain is good.
With the addition of 3 and 9 day bike adventures, Treks would go on to become the most successful special event of ALA of Sacramento (now Breathe California) and I would go on to become the American Lung Association’s national consultant on Trekking– after I persuaded the national organization to try the event. Millions of dollars have since been raised for the fight against lung disease. Even today, 40 years after I created the ALA Trek program, a number of Lung Associations still offer three-day bike treks.
Having made the decision to do the 360-mile adventure to celebrate my 60th birthday, I invited people who had backpacked with me over the years to join me along the way. I also instituted a vigorous plan of training. Sixty-year-old bodies lack the sense of humor that thirty-year-old bodies have about putting on 45-50 pound packs and hiking over 12,000 feet passes.