Outdoors After Fifty “A New Normal”

By Jean Drummond

I have lived in the Eastern Sierra for 17 years. I am so blessed to live in an area that offers so many world-class outdoor opportunities. This is a place where Olympic and professional athletes train and live.

I am an acupuncturist and I practiced in Mammoth Lakes for 12 years and now in Bishop for 4 years. I have been fortunate in my practice because people who live here are motivated to stay healthy so they can play in the outdoors.

Fall colors at Convict Lake in the Sherwin Range of the Sierras, a calm lake and mountains
Fall colors at Convict Lake in the Sherwin Range of the Sierras

My lifelong love of the outdoors and desire to be outside has not changed. However, my body has. In my mind, I’m 29—I think I can do anything at any time. But my 59-year-old body says otherwise. Everything hurts more. Discomfort and pain from years of wear and tear on the knees, shoulders, back and other body parts slows me down a bit.

I got a reality check this summer when I signed up for a 4-day backpacking trip in Yosemite. I wanted so badly to get out for an adventure since I hadn’t backpacked in almost 8 years. My young mind told me, “You can get in shape in 3 weeks!” But when I did training hikes and added more and more weight to my back, my body rebelled and my back seized up.

My lifelong love of the outdoors and desire to be outside has not changed. However, my body has. In my mind, I’m 29—I think I can do anything at any time. But my 59-year-old body says otherwise.

I had forgotten that just a year earlier I was in the ER with severe back pain from a herniated disk and have been plagued with back pain on and off since.  Needless to say, I had to pull out of the trip and was very disappointed in myself.

Lesson learned: there’s a big difference between hiking and backpacking. I was unrealistic to think that I could get in backpacking shape in 3 weeks—that’s my younger mind taking over and my body not cooperating. And the doubt creeps in that I will never be able to do some of the things I’ve wanted to.

A stripe of sunlight hits clouded mountains
Sunrise at Wheeler Crest

I always struggled with the phrase “I used to…”  I used to hike 10-15 miles easily. I used to barrel down hills on my mountain bike… I used to do this and that…

So I have accepted a new mantra: “A new normal.” What was normal when I was younger is different now. My new normal allows me to still do lots of things, but I have to work a little harder and do it a little slower.

I always struggled with the phrase “I used to…” So I have accepted a new mantra: “A new normal.” What was normal when I was younger is different now.

My new normal has actually been a benefit. I feel more connected to nature now than ever because I have learned to slow down and really engage my senses. You go a little slower, but stop and smell the roses and see and feel things you maybe didn’t notice before.

Since hiking is my favorite form of exercise, I used to power hike. I would just barrel up hills and see how fast I could hike a trail. In doing this, you miss a lot of details.

Now, I go out with intention to enjoy my surroundings. And since I am a photographer, having a camera in my hand is forcing me to slow down, to observe, and I have been getting more incredible pictures.

Jean poses with a camera ready in the California landscape
Jean and her camera – photo by Julianna Weise

Life changes that impacted my outdoor experiences was a breakup from a 23-year relationship which dramatically changed my fitness level. I used to mountain bike a lot, road ride, backpack, ski, camp and travel with my partner who would push me to keep up, to do more than I thought was capable. So, I stayed in great shape.

The breakup coincided with my 55th birthday and it’s then I really noticed changes in my body. Being single, it’s harder for me to get motivated to go out alone and I have to be mindful of where I go. When I hike alone, I tend to stay on trails where I know I’ll see some people for safety reasons. When I’m out with others, we will go off trail, go farther and I push myself a little harder to stay up with others.

Jean rides a mountain bike on the edge of a steep canyon
Mountain biking Rainbow Rim

What advice would I give to my younger self?

Follow my dreams. I wanted to be a forest ranger, but my dad told me I would be sitting in a kiosk all day and scrubbing toilets and not being outdoors like the rangers I saw growing up.

And I wish I had known about trail crews and other summer work I could have done.

I do lament my youth in this respect—I wish I could be out there living in the wilderness for the summer months, but my body now would not take lifting rocks and logs very well.

Living in the Sierras and in my profession, I have met and been inspired by many older women who are still out there hiking, biking, backpacking, and doing what they love. I’ve always wanted to know their secret. As I have aged, I think I might know— never stop moving!

Jean walks through a sagebrush desert
Jean on the move, camera in hand – photo by Julianna Weise

The most important thing for an aging body is keeping fit. These women I meet are being active every day, doing some kind of movement exercise. For me, I’ve realized that walking and hiking is not enough now to stay strong. I need strength training to keep my muscles and bones strong so I can put a backpack on again.

I have accepted a new normal and that still offers me plenty of outdoor experiences to pursue which ultimately makes me the happiest.

When I turned 50, I was in my best shape ever because I trained all year to climb Mt. Whitney. Since I will be 60 this year, I need to find a big goal to train for that will push me and motivate me to get in incredible shape again.

I have accepted a new normal and that still offers me plenty of outdoor experiences to pursue which ultimately makes me the happiest.

Images courtesy of Jean Drummond unless otherwise specified.

Jean Drummond is a wellness expert, photographer and writer with a deep love of the outdoors and the healing power of all things natural. Her mission is to inspire and empower women to connect with nature’s gifts to live life with vibrant health and soul-stirring adventures. Find more from Jean at thewellnesspotential.com and her new blog soothedbynature.com

2 Replies to “Outdoors After Fifty “A New Normal””

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