Just shy of one month ago, the gods bequeathed your's truly a milestone birthday...a birthday that seemed inconceivable while wading through the sex, drugs, rock n' roll and "Mary Jane" haze of the 60's. Alright, alright...technically I was still a virgin in the 60's, but the rest is truth.
In college days, I would have bet the entire contents of the "nickel-bag" (well hidden in a clean pair of socks at the back of my underwear drawer) that I had a slim-to-none chance of making it to 40. Thirty seemed out of reach. 40 felt lightyears away at 19. Hell, it was a good six years beyond Orwell's classic "1984," which itself was so far in the future that I couldn't imagine being alive.
But miracles happen and here I am, having outlived all the bad judgement and wrong choices, like living on Nacho Cheese Doritos and Snickers Bars, washed down with Diet RC Cola...not to mention "recreational drugs" and a sweet tooth for Southern Comfort mixed with Coca Cola. Perhaps the most dangerous of my wrong choices was a seemingly genetic predisposition for souped up cars and midnight street races on Missouri's narrow, winding backroads.
I'm sure most of you have similar tall tales about past "fast times at Ridgemont High," stories you didn't dare tell your children out of fear it might trigger an as yet, dormant genetic predisposition.
We are shocked when our "children" are safely removed from our iron-fist edicts, well beyond the statute of limitations for teenage misbehavior, how the stories begin to leak out like oil from a '62 Chevy Corvair.
What can we say without being a big fat hypocrite besides, "Don't ever have children." Stories from high school trickled out from my only-child son (Caleb) as recently as his wedding. At nearly 40 years of age...respectably beyond Statutes of Limitations...additional revelations sent chills up my spine.
Seems Caleb and his swim team buddies mounted skateboard wheels on a 6 foot long luge, then took to the most precarious highway descents in the county...at night, with only the headlights of a trailing tail-vehicle's headlights to light the way. It makes me wonder what I don't know. Similarly foolish, it's proves that my conviction that I wouldn't make it to 40 was well founded. But here I am, 70 fucking years old, an age that none of my granddads nor great granddads had the pleasure to reach.
I thought 60 was a milestone...to the point that I was somewhat surprised to wake up every morning. You see, our Johnson graveyards are full of heart-diseased males who didn't live much beyond 60...including my own dad who died suddenly at 61, only a few months shy of retirement and collecting a portion of the Social Security he paid in.
As some of you know, I've had my share of "medical issues," most of which will accompany me the rest of my life. Things like thyroid malfunctions and heart arrhythmias that popped from my gnome in my late 20's. Then a latent genetic defect that predisposed me to blood clots raised its ugly head in my early 60's (could all those Nacho Cheese Doritos be the culprit?). After several blood clots, most of which embolized and went to lungs, I was prescribed blood thinners...for life, along with doctor's admonishments about living with a high risk of "bleed outs" from said blood thinners...for life. At the top of the list was a brain bleed as the result of even a minor fall. What? I fall all the time...it's what I do!
The Doc's prescription to keep me alive felt more like a death sentence. I was told to pretty much give up doing most of the outdoor activities that brought pleasure to my life. What about mountain biking? I asked hopefully. Sell it, he said. As most of you know, I didn't take his advice and instead went out and bought a brand new bike...full suspension, competition orange.
Having survived multiple clots and embolisms, and to help prevent reoccurrence, I take my Eliquis twice a day, thankful that I can (barely) afford it. I look at it as a "cost-of-living" thing. In the end, I guess I'd rather die from a "fall" more than from another blood clot. My epithet will read something like: "He died having fun, doing what he loved."
Thus, I'm 70, and still wake up a little surprised that I didn't die in my sleep. At 70, I am more cognizant of the gift of life, especially since my brother, Dan, passed away earlier this year. I realize I'm not far behind him, that I'm inching closer to "the precipice," if you will. I try not to dwell on it, but it's there, in the background, like a ticking clock that gets louder with each passing year.
With every foul diagnosis and subsequent hospitalizations from my seemingly expanding menu of "maladies," I've tried to adopt a common sense attitude...that worrying about something only invokes "laws of attraction." To a large degree, we are what we think. Dwelling on illness and/or death only ushers them forward, until one day you wake up and find you're standing at the front of the "line." Not to be caviler, but I really don't think about all the ways I could die by doing the things I love to do. Without those "things," I have fewer reasons to live. It's just the way I am.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that life is not a duality like, "Live free or die." Unfortunately, there are stages of disrepair between life and death. Most people my age, or even younger, have some degree of incapacitation/limitation. The dilemma of crashing/falling for me is not so much will I die, so much as it is what if I don't die? What if I'm caught in some purgatory for disabled/braindead/whatever that's actually worse than death? Indeed, there are things worse than death. I think about them more since I turned 70. Things like having a blowout on my mountain bike while zooming down "Monkey Mesa," noting later on Gaia that I reached 40 mph...a likely unsurvivable crash for someone on blood thinners.
The golden years are now more difficult. Sometimes I feel like there's a target on my back. At best, life is a crapshoot of car wrecks, cancer, and, now COVID. There's always something lurking, waiting to pull your "number." The advice I both try to take, and give, is: "Focus on the present, because, like it or not, the present is where we are destined to live.”
Look, if one lives long enough it's almost inevitable that our bodies will begin to wear out. It's especially true for those of us who abused them, be it via Nacho Cheese Doritos, drinking, or stupid misstep while on Eliquis. When that time comes, should you live through the minefield, life becomes both sweeter and more tenuous. The great polarity of old age. Still, I think we begin to appreciate things more, things we once took for granted are suddenly precious. We also become kinder, and let stuff we can't control, slide.
In conclusion I would recommend, no matter your age and health, live life to the fullest extent possible. Chase your dreams, empty your fucking "Bucket List." If nothing else, you will have earned permission to, eventually, when all your parts wear out, rest on your laurels, revel in accomplishments, and take pride in all the dreams you captured. Most of all, thanks to the gods or luck, you woke up this morning.
I can see me now, in a hospital-like bed surrounded by life extending machines, tubes going every which way. A pretty young nurse stands at my side. A computer rests on my lap as I page through the only thing I have left...the past. The pretty nurse at "The Home" seems impressed by all the mountains Bobbie and I climbed, the trails we hiked, the places we went, the mountain bike rides taken, and all the lovely outdoor time we spent together in wonderlands of the American west.
Until then, Bobbie and I hope our outdoor explorations and this blog conveys a ray of hope or inspiration or entertainment.
And now, some recent hikes and bike rides, and an extravaganza of red rock fire to warm your day...
|A long bike ride on BLM land near Zion and our boondock camp|
|I discover a new boondock cul-de-sac spot while on a bike ride...with good cell reception and Zion's cliffs in view.|
|We take a red rock hike with John and Charmaine. Thanks to Gayle for letting us know about this beautiful diamond in the rough, a long time ago.|
|What a surreal Disneyland this is...|
|Lunchtime with a view with John and Charmaine|
|Charmaine and Bobbie looking for a way down...|
|When it comes to red rocks, lavender is my favorite hue. A typical wash hike in Valley of Fire, Nevada.|
Go with the flow...
|Just stunning....freaking stunning|
|Out of the wash and onto a sea of colorful top-rock|
Peace out, Mark and Bobbie...still kicking in our 70's and extremely grateful.