I suspect more than a few people of my age try to avoid the reality of their own bodies. Inside we are the same we’ve always been. The brain is sharp. The self is in charge. We’re as ready for a challenge as we ever were. But we’ve also begun to avert our gaze from the mirror, haven’t we? That reflected face, lined, worn and lived in, isn’t us. Why can’t we look like the person we are inside? Why must our bodies hurt when we do stuff we need to do?
I had a deeply unsettling experience recently when I was in a shopping centre. An employee giving directions to a customer pointed to “that old bloke over there” and, swivelling around, I realised with rising embarassment that he meant me! A humbling moment. I blundered outside feeling stuff that I carefully disguised, but it marked the beginning of the demolition of an old friend; my image of myself.
Lately, in my internal world, as long as I don’t look in a mirror (why do they allow mirrors everywhere anyway?), or God forbid, look at photos of myself, I am of indeterminate age. I am just ‘me’, and I have become comfortable with that ‘me’. It’s the thread of connected consciousness throughout my life from early childhood. It’s the store of memories I deposit into and revisit. In the process these things have come to define ‘me’; the way I think of myself. Ever refining but adjusting itself but never challenged significantly, my ‘me’ has been a reliable constant. Until recently.
With increasing frequency and insistence, a changed reality has begun to knock on the door of my internal self. It refuses to be ignored and in time I expect it’s mechanism and effects will prove seismic. C’est la Vie.
I had begun to feel quietly proud (maybe even smug) that I had remained aloof from the usual compensating strategies so favoured by those staring down the barrel of the onset of old age. However what does a fellow do when he has a dicky knee, shoulder pain, carries a smidgen more weight than is good for him, and has recently turned sixty?
Yes, obviously, he buys a kayak.
Not for him the Harley Davidsons, or the high tech carbon fibre wallet busting bicycles and lycra suits, or the gym subscriptions that sucker in others of a similar age and ilk. No, not even a personal trainer and tailored weight loss and fitness program will serve to deny and delay the inevitable decline into old age.
At first I was a little concerned that I was trying to deny reality. Paddling a kayak is a young person’s game, or at least lifting it on and off a roof rack certainly is. Feeling vaguely foolish I perservered, eliminating problems and issues one by one. The first step was to walk into the kayak showroom. When the sales person didn’t appear too surprised to see someone with my body shape and vintage I stood up a little straighter and began to ask some of the questions I needed to. Would this one be big enough (a.k.a. “support my weight”)? What sort of paddle did I need? Life jacket? All the while I was acutely conscious of not feeling as if I belonged in this world of active sports. No one seemed to mind. There were no mirrors anywhere so it was easy to go with the flow.
Thinking of a clever system to assist the loading and off loading of the kayak from the car roof was a minor personal triumph, and cost about one tenth of the commercial systems on offer. Score one for experience!
The inaugural launching was planned with military precision and went well, as far away from spectators as I could manage. Pulling away from the shore I had a feeling of boundless well-being and of being united with the water and sky. Surely this in itself was worth the purchase price!
I have nothing to prove. Having nothing in common with a sun-tanned athlete I’ll be restricting myself to sheltered waterways where I can just glide across the surface when my shoulders get tired. Tide and current can be a bit of a bother too for an ageing kayaker so I tend to watch these factors too.
Life has a changed perspective on the water. The spiritual release is profound. From water level it’s possible to see clearly. I haven’t rediscovered or recreated my youth, but some of it’s memories and feelings come to revisit at these times.
The only remaining issue for me is to keep up my daily walks along with the paddling sessions. The body tends to be a little sorer after paddling and the temptation to sit it out rather than walk is powerful. Then again, I guess, no pain, no gain.
It’s not the elixir of youth, but it’s a pretty good substitute. Stay tuned for some more photos.