Recently, one of my patients took a motorcycle trip from Calgary, looping 7,600 kilometres through Canada’s north land to the Yukon and back. He and his buddies flew their bikes west for the start of their trip, the big issue being time and not money. He is pushing 60 and well established, his kids just about through university and almost launched. There is time, though barely, for him to do some long-delayed dream adventures, though it is squeezed time, to be sure.
Canadian Mountain Holidays has made compressed dream adventuring in the Rockies for grown-ups their mission – heli-skiing in the winter and heli-hiking in summer. And that’s where our 35 friends found ourselves, some more than others, anticipating how each day in the high mountains would unfold. All are solidly mature in years and experience. All are seasoned in work and responsibility, strapped for time amid work or family obligations. And every one of us was either sorting out physical issues or settling on defining limitations of age and injury. No one didn’t have some unspoken agenda.
More to the point, until you’re in the mountains, you may not even be aware you have those unspoken dreams. Odds are, you haven’t even framed the challenge to be met and surmounted. You may not have grasped the self-testing required to replace your doubt with accomplishment – the “can’t” with “can do” and the “OMG!” with “Done it!”
Of course, there is the issue of body parts that creak and groan and, frankly, can let you down with a thud. One friend dislocated her shoulder doing her first stretch class. It forced her to shorten her expectations and still cobble together a challenging experience because of the setback. There were hip issues, ankle problems and the unrealized effort to hike in thin air.
After two days to adjust to the demands of walking or climbing all day and creating a profound trust in our guides, the whole group mustered in a mountain canyon for the experience of zip lining. It’s like the down side of a roller coaster, except you are suspended off a cable without brakes high above glacial rapids.
The ultimate challenge here is overcoming your fear. Along with the zip lines – one across the chasm and an even longer one down its length – there was the suspension bridge that you had to get across. Sure, everyone was harnessed, helmeted and clipped into safety cables, but you still had to step across planks that opened when you looked down on the pale green foaming turbulence below.
This begs a question: Why would anyone with a fear of heights go to the mountains?
That day, in the canyon, I witnessed a three-ring circus, a bustling adult playground. It pushed these hugely busy and accomplished people across very different boundaries and gave them back a new and instant pride in their achievement.
For some of us, you would believe that no force on earth would permit us to step out on to that rickety bridge. But we all did it. We drew courage from each other in a way we likely hadn’t done for decades at work or home. We all talk about being “outside our comfort zone.” But for everyone on this trip – and we were all over 50 – what we felt for the first time was mortal fear. Then 10 seconds later, huge pride.
Our friends didn’t throw off their fears of heights, open spaces, narrow ledges or being off balance that afternoon. Perhaps, given that it was such a new-to-them challenge, they didn’t even fear failing altogether. As the personal injury lawyer said to me: “I didn’t like heights before and I don’t like them now. “ But it was not his wife, very aware of his fear, who got him onto the zip line. It was his own cheering section of retirees, a clutch of women beyond mid-life, who had revelled in the meadows with him and watched him flop down to take a fabulous photo of a giant marmot at eye level that captured equally his courage and trust.
And then there was the happy camper, another of our friends. For her, it was like being seven and going to summer camp all over again. She revelled in these grand and now very grown-up adventures, eager to try out everything they offered.
Do they want to come again, bring their friends, kids, spouses? You bet!
Canadian Mountain Holidays has a more than 90 per cent return rate for their winter skiing. Summer hiking is in a chase to catch up.