Maintaining your ability to be 'out there'
Age-friendly fixes for enjoying your home away from home
Home is not only our four walls. Many of us have homes away from home, places where we feel safe, where we can be ourselves, somewhere that offers solace. It could be anything—a sidewalk bench, a neighborhood cafe, a view you enjoy—even a smell that conjures a memory. How can we be at home with growing older, not only in our immediate environments but also in these extended spaces which are so vital to our well-being?
My home away from home is the mountains and there, nights in my tent. Whenever I start packing my backpack, pulling out my beloved 38-year-old tent and inspecting my hiking boots, I kick into a different mode. I feel empowered when I connect to my hiking body and thus, to an ageless self. Out there on the trail, I come across people of all ages. There’s no ageism on the trail—out there, you’re treated like a fellow hiker—your speed or agility doesn’t matter.
Of course that means you have to be able to be out there and over time, the nature of being out there changes. On a recent road trip, I stayed at a beautiful, primitive campground set along a river stocked with fish. On my evening walk, I spotted an elderly man gingerly stepping down a precarious slope to the river’s edge to fish; probably something he had done repeatedly throughout his lifetime. Though perhaps risky at his age, he was in his element and unafraid, which gave him confidence.
I’ve been taking annual hiking trips with a group of women around my age for many years. Now in our mid-60s to early 70s, we’ve made some age-friendly adjustments. Instead of backpacking and carrying 30-pound backpacks, we have horses pack our gear into a base camp and do day hikes. The trade offs are that we don’t venture as far into the mountains as we used to, and our trips cost more, but going as a group makes it more affordable.
We’ve also taken age-friendly hiking tips from the ultralight backpacking movement. Thanks to a thriving industry outfitting this movement, there are many equipment options and new materials (not always cheap) that significantly reduce the weight you carry. Recently, I ran into an old backpacking friend, who’s embraced this trend. Starting with a very light backpack and tent, he takes freeze-dried food (adding water when he cooks), a water filter to reduce the amount of water he carries, and brings fewer, light-weight clothes.
Because they improve performance and safety, hikers of all ages and abilities have adopted various accommodations. Trekking poles, for example, now are ubiquitous. This summer we also crossed paths with long distance hikers, using hands-free umbrellas to protect them from the sun. I’ve often compared the process of adapting to an aging body and mind to practicing an extreme sport. We could all look to the well-tested gear long distance hikers or other athletes use, as we aspire to healthy aging.
As we learn to adapt and find the right tools to maintain healthy habits, our extended homes, from sidewalks to parks also need to adapt to accommodate users of all ages and abilities.
Grover Hot Springs for example, an expansive California State Park and campground on the eastern side of the Sierras has recently completed a beautifully laid out and designed board walk with benches spaced at intervals to enjoy the views of its magnificent meadow. It gave me great comfort that this is one place I could continue to visit over many years to come.
In urban environments, it is often uneven sidewalks that cause stumbles and falls and may prevent people from venturing out and staying mobile and socially connected. In many cities, deferred maintenance has made the task of repairs so insurmountable that it would be worth looking into low cost, imperfect fixes instead of doing nothing. What if cities provided homeowners and business owners with inexpensive, adhesive, brightly colored safety strips that would visually mark level changes in sidewalks in front of their property?
Our extended homes are as vital as our immediate environments for a healthy aging experience. What can you do to improve the use of or access to your home away from home? What can you do to advocate for more age-friendly environments? Here are a few practical tips from my home away from home. I’d love to hear about some of yours.
Resources for those whose age-friendly refuge is the mountains:
Understanding tents: https://coolofthewild.com/parts-of-a-tent/
Water filters: How to choose a backpacking water filter. Pay attention to the effort needed to operate the water filter.
Trekking poles: I use lightweight poles by Komperdell, an Austrian manufacturer.
Umbrella hats: I have no experience with umbrella hats, but here is a link to a website to start your exploration.
Supportive footwear: Foot wear is very personal. I go between heavy duty hiking boots and trail running shoes. Many through hikers (long distance hikers) wear trail running shoes.