So, as the clock tics its final tocs to closeout another year, I always find myself getting a bit reflective (and I’m not talking about my pasty Wisconsin-bred winter skin tone.) Like most people, I like to reflect on the year that was, and imagine the year ahead that might be. It’s an inspiring time of year for many of us. Time to remember the good, leave the bad behind and embrace a fresh start. For me, I’ve gained the most inspiration in life from the people I’ve met around the world, listening to their stories and hearing about their dreams. I’d like to share an experience that I had a few years back, one that continues to inspire me daily.
A few years ago I was hiking in the Canadian Rockies, up in Yoho National Park. I had just completed the most challenging hike of my life and I was sitting in my wilderness hostel one night, all alone, just nursing a few blisters. It was a shared room with 4 beds. Several hours went by and no one else had checked into the room, so I assumed I would have the room to myself. Later that night, while I was preparing to go to bed, an old man walks into the room wearing a headlamp and heavy winter gear and kindly introduces himself. He was layered from head to toe with backpacking attire, a bit out of breath and had an adrenaline high on his face as if he had just escaped the jaws of a grizzly bear. At first I thought he was the owner of the hotel coming to greet me, as his guest. Turns out he was a 77-year-old backpacker who had just completed the full Iceline Trail, the one I had just completed a shortcut version of a few hours earlier. This is a serious hike (at serious altitude). My shins and knees were still throbbing like teenage girls’ hearts in the presence of The Beatles in the 60’s. My first thought was to ask the man if he could spare some BenGay. It was probably the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done. A straight-up joint killer. This old man had hiked about 7 miles further than I did, the full loop, and he looked fresher then I had when I limped back off the trail several hours earlier (though he was 40 years older). As roommates for the night, we ended up chatting for quite a while. He was a very interesting person, one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He’s the type of guy who had done everything, been everywhere, and had interesting and adventurous story after story recounting memories that spanned every decade that I had been alive. He said he originally came from Hungary. As a child (from a Hungarian-Jewish family), he lived through the Nazi invasion and occupation during WWII. Lost some family members to the war and concentration camps. As a young adult, he joined the military and was involved in the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviets in 1956. He said he had traveled to over 80 countries in his lifetime. I figured he had been a nomad all of his life, getting an early start on his travels through immigration and the military, but he told me he didn’t start traveling until he was well into his 40’s, after a divorce and a fresh start in life after decades living under Soviet communist rule (and a dictator for a wife). He said he felt like he hadn’t lived until he started seeing the world and began carving out a new path in life. He told me that on his 75th birthday he made the biggest checkmark on his lifetime bucketlist, spending a week hiking through the Peruvian Andes and climbing up to Machu Picchu. He did this at 75. Two years later, as I would sit and speak with him, it was obvious that he was still going strong and chasing his next goal in life.
There’s no excuse why we all can’t have a fresh start in life. Health factors aside, time and age impose no limit to what we can achieve and when we decide to do it. The only obstacle is in our mind. Only our minds can create that illusion of expiration. I can only hope to have such fervor for life at the age of 75. To wake up and still feel that motivation, that drive, to do something you’ve always wanted to do…but just never did it. Why do we give up on our goals and dreams? When we ask ourselves why, the most common reason is fear…fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of an expiration date, fear of what people might think. Those are all just petty excuses for putting something off and avoiding change. If you think your “time has expired” to live a life that makes you happy or to pursue your next goal in life, you’re wrong. Some goals and dreams may not be attainable due to the timing of things, understandably, but if you’ve dreamed once in your life you can dream a million times more. Set new goals. Have something to get motivated for. (Like James Brown said: “You gotta have mooo-tivation!”) Who said we are only allowed to enjoy dreams while we’re asleep? We have every liberty and opportunity to enjoy and live out our dreams while we’re wide awake. And don’t let your mind conjure up an excuse for why you can’t start living the life you want today. Make a change if you’re unhappy. You owe it to the rest of your life. As the 77-year-old man with the backpack proved to me, any day is a great day for a fresh start.
Cheers to a fresh start…and Happy New Year!
(Iceline Trail – Yoho National Park, Canada)