Five Ages

by Alan Stark on November 10, 2011

There is a significant birthday in my near future, and I’m a tad bummed by the number. But the minute I write the number is the minute you categorize me. That’s the problem; I don’t want to be categorized by my age.

So now your bullshit detector is flashing red like a bike commuter at 6 p.m. in December going north on Folsom.

“No way I judge people by their chronological age. It’s all about what they can put-up, not some number.”

Sure.

So let’s say that my next birthday will make me seventy years old. This same dude, who doesn’t know me, is going to think, “Good God, he is 70 years old … almost dead. Hell, I know folks who died climbing before they were thirty-five … half his age.”

Yeah, but let’s say at 70 a person can still jog five miles in the mountains, ski the backcountry all day and handle a raft in class 3 water. Maybe this person lives with a great companion, and supports his various bad habits with odd jobs. But you’ve got 70 in your brain and your brain is telling you that 70 is really old.

Fine. Now let’s say the big number I’m looking at is 30 years old. That I’m suffering all this angst because I can no longer claim that I am in my extreme late 20s, that I’m 30 and than implies adulthood.

Given that the median demographic of Mountain Gazette has Boomer written all over it, the age 30 causes a good deal of condescension. So if the huge number I’m facing is 30, here is what I’d expect to hear: “As slightly aged adolescent, you have no idea of what life is like. You really haven’t dealt with that much death, divorce, defeat, dependency or duplicity. While you may think living out of the back of your truck, climbing all week, and working only when you absolutely have to is a viable way of life, you ain’t Fred Becky.”

“Yeah, but at 30 I can see things very clearly as good, bad, right and wrong. I don’t spend much time with ambiguities and I don’t get caught up in any details that could slow me down. I can drink all night and climb all day and then do it all again the next day. Life is good.”

Okay so, I’m not thirty … I couldn’t even spell ambiguity in my 30s, much less give much of a crap what it meant.

But let’s talk about 60. If you are on the leading edge of the boomers, 60 has passed you by. What used to be a six-pack above your belt is now unnumbered six packs hanging over you belt and as you ladies in large shirts snicker at this description of your mates, please note that a good rack is now also somewhat closer to your belt.

You’d think that 60 might just be on the other side of the hill — and we aren’t talking the backside of the hill with the bowls and chutes, we’re talking the frontside with groomers and two-hour lunches at the bar followed by a nap in the Suburban.

But you would be wrong about 60. It looks to me like a time when there is real freedom to explore. The job is over or nobody listens to you anymore, the kids are gone, the living parents are in assisted care and if you are careful, there is some extra money to do some of the stuff you have always dreamed of. So the 60s can be very cool.

Suppose I said that I faced the dreaded BIG FOUR OH. Yeah, now there is true angst for you. Forty has got to be the toughest birthday. There is simply no getting around the fact that you’re Forty Fricking Years Old! That when you were a kid and your Dad turned 40, you thought he was really an old fart and that your Mom at 40 looked grandmotherly and you were only seven or eight at the time and didn’t need another grandmother.

This is when the recurring knee twitch turns into ongoing pain; the idea of writing a book or cruising downwind to Maui on a 36-footer are just as far away as when you first thought of them and you wake up in the middle of the night not looking for a roll in the hay but for the ibuprofen and a pee.

But you would miss the point about being forty. This is when people actually listen to you when you speak; this is when you can actually make some decent money because people believe you. But most important is that it’s in the 40s when you begin to figure out what love means — that maybe this person you picked is wrong and you have got to move on; or maybe, just maybe this blue-eyed person is the one you will travel through time with, and you just learned that after 15 years of being together.

Okay, so what about 50? You’re thinking stuff like the, “The boss is 50 and he’s a jerk.” 50 means you can’t do anything anymore just tell people how to do things. 50 is the Highway Patrol guy who never made corporal and busted you for a DUI when you were mostly sober. 50 is the barkeep who 86ed you for rude language. 50 is the banker who looked at your loan application and broke out laughing.

Yeah, but 50 is the best. You actually know what you are doing and do it well. Your parts may be a tad twitchy, but you can still crew Leadville from Winfield back over Hope Pass and on to Twin Lakes. At the top of a chute, you may pause, but drop in, keep your wits about you and scoot out at the bottom yelling at the top of your lungs. And this person who was looking real good 15 or 20 years ago, well it is amazing how good they look to you now. There is a wrinkle and softness to their smile and a look that says laughter and passion and warmth on a long winter night.

So, are you going to stop making judgments about people based on age?

Probably not, but there is a good chance that you might also think about what they can put up before you make a judgment.

And how old am I? I’m somewhere between 30 and 70. It depends on what I have put up in the last day.


A passage is about movement, motion and traveling. I have a mantra that has kept me alive in the worst of times, both in the mountains, when everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and in my head, where my fear of impending doom can simply shut me down. It is just this: “Keep Moving … Keep Moving … Keep Moving.”

Alan Stark is a very slow trail runner, has a road bike with a number of miles on it and has led three sea-kayaking trips off Vancouver Island and usually returned with the same number of people he left with. He is a partner in Boulder Bookworks and shares a home with this blue-eyed person.

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