When we began this journey, we were both in our 40s. The idea of reaching for a goal like paddling in a canoe to New Orleans from Western New York seemed like something we could actually grasp some day. Of course, we laughed about the idea that “someday” would be when we were 90 years old and just barely able to push the canoe into the Gulf of Mexico. For me, the trip was about accomplishment and acquisition. Each year I wanted to paddle further each time we went out. Even though events like moving to New Mexico, and back six year later, or dealing with the death of parents kept us from getting out on the water as much as we wanted, the goal of getting there someday was always the prevailing metaphor.
In the last three years, I have felt a distinct shift. The aging process is part of that shift but even more is the process by which we do not acknowledge the new frontiers of aging. For instance, in an effort to be ship shape, I joined a gym in January 2014. I was getting stronger and muscles I did not know were there were popping out. And then one day, after swimming 1/4 mile doing the crawl, my back seized up. It had been up and down for several weeks. I had taken drugs which, along with a little stress at work, landed me in the ER one Friday afternoon. I went to physical therapy which I think helped but it would take a long time. Finally, a week before my departure to meet Karen in Columbus, Ohio, I called and told her I could not/should not do a big trip, far from medical care, not knowing how I would fare.
So, what our minds won’t do for us, our bodies eventually will. They will tell us to change our ways and our thinking. My body sent that message loud and clear. But because we have learned over the years that this is no longer about achievement but about process, we have learned to go with the flow. It has even become a deeply spiritual journey for both of us. So, we opened ourselves up to other options for the week we had both set aside.
We decided to try paddling the upper Allegheny River, ABOVE where we had put in years ago at the Kinzua Dam. We were excited because the river is wild there instead of dammed for navigation. There are little rapids to make the trip exciting. It had been many years since we paddled the wild part of the river from Warren, PA, to the first dam. Karen and Mark had done some reconnaissance a few weeks earlier and reported that the water was high but there were places to get in a bit downstream from the headwaters. So we were set to go on Thursday and start a new kind of journey while still adding to contiguous miles we had already paddled. It all seemed perfect. We were adjusting. And that is what life is all about.