55 and going long

My buddy Alan and I celebrate our birthdays (they're a day apart) by doing a mountain bike ride that's the average of our combined ages. This year, we rode 58 miles.

As I was poring over the results of Sunday’s Off Road Assault on Mount Mitchell, I was surprised to see that of the nearly 400 riders who finished the 63-mile race, only five were older than me. (I was less surprised that all five finished ahead of me.)
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been; at 56 years of age, you might think that wisdom would finally overpower the need to punish one’s self, thus keeping contemporaries away.
Apparently not.
I became curious about my fellow silver cyclists and discovered that, indeed, we are not becoming sedate and reflective in our golden years. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, the number of mountain bikers age 55 or older grew by more than 41 percent in the past decade. In 2011, there were 383,000 mountain bikers who were eligible for 10 percent off their curly fries at Arby’s,  up from 271,000 10 years earlier. (Curiously, the overall number of mountain bikers dropped 5.5 percent during the same 10-year span.)
Mountain biking was no anomaly. The number of 55ers working out at gyms climbed 614 percent during the period, the number of 55+ kayakers rose by 350 percent, the number who did aerobic exercise increased by 226 percent. Growing interest in these more active pursuits outpaced growth in activities typically associated with a graying population: golf, darts, fishing and bowling, to name a few.
This week, Ultimate Hike Raleigh began its recruiting sessions in the Triangle and, again, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the number of people in the audience who also looked like they remembered “Fernwood Tonight.” At the end of Tuesday evening’s info session Tuesday at the North Hills REI I struck up a conversation with a 50-year-old woman who had signed on for the 28.5-mile hike to benefit pediatric cancer. She spoke about taking challenging hikes in the Smokies with her 20something daughters — and about how both loathed the experience. Neither were out of shape, she said. They just didn’t like hiking for that long.
We speculated as to why mom enjoyed the hike, her young, fit daughters not so much. Are you more accustomed to suffering the older you get? Do your performance expectations diminish to the point where you don’t care if it takes all day to do something? Or does it take so long for your body to get warmed up that when you finally get there you simply don’t want to stop? Does it really matter, since we’re the ones happiest with epic adventures?
Again, apparently not. Perhaps reflective of another benefit of aging we concluded that time was short and dropped the topic in favor of one more appealing.
Our one day, 28.3-mile Ultimate Hike.

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