The older and more fragile traveler

Fragile flower (courtesy Agata heartart at Flickr CC)

More fragile but still holding on; that’s the older traveler (courtesy Agata heartart at Flickr CC)

I’ve never been a big jock, but 20+ years in the U.S. Navy kept me in decent shape. There was never a destination that particularly tested my physical abilities, and I’ve logged a lot of miles tromping around both big cities and rural areas.

Then, I hit middle age, specifically the late 40’s/early 50’s (I’m 52 as of this writing.)

What the HELL?!!

All sorts of minor ailments began plaguing me, and suddenly travel was a lot harder and not nearly as enjoyable.

With an old torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) left knee getting very fussy, a hip that decided that it was tired of compensating for the knee, a weight gain from becoming a sedentary blogger once I left the Navy, a random battle with painful shingles and the latest fun – frozen shoulder – I’ve become the whiny, limping, cautious, pain-reliever-popping, pudgy slower traveler that I held in contempt when I was younger and less empathetic.

I couldn’t power through a day anymore, I was petrified of slipping and falling while on an ice walk in Jasper, Alberta, I woke up in pain and went to sleep in pain, and a heating pad or ice pack were constant companions.

The nadir was slogging through the Denver airport earlier this year, staying to the right of the human traffic flow because I couldn’t move quickly, trying to pull my carry-on suitcase with my good arm, huffing and puffing my out-of-shape, decreptic self up a ramp that I could have taken at a sprint just a few years ago.

You know that “run to catch a flight” thing? Yeah, not happening. I couldn’t have run to a gate at that point to save my life.

It was a low moment.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  — Dylan Thomas

I wanted to wear some sort of big flashing sign that said….

“Hey, I may look like a mess right now, but I used to have it together. Don’t laugh; it may happen to you someday. Piss me off and I bet I can still take you.”

Slowly, slowly over the next few months, I got better. Physical therapy and time have almost healed my frozen shoulder, so I’m easing back into the pushups that I did all the time in the military. I’m back out running around the track several days a week, although I’m being kind to call it “running.” If I have to move quickly through an airport, I can do it although it sure ain’t pretty. Afternoon naps no longer seem like an absolute necessity, and although I’m still huffing and puffing too much, I make myself take those stairs up to my hotel room.

When I travel now, I open doors for slower people even more often than before. I see a cane, a walker or a wheelchair and I admire the person who is out there moving despite their ailment. I pace myself through a travel day, and don’t try to drive or sit on a plane 3-4 hours straight without taking a stretch.

For the younger Padawans: be kind to yourself as you become an older traveler. If you can’t imagine being old, at least be kind to those of us who are wrestling with aging as best we can.

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  1. Sheila Scarborough August 22, 2013
  2. Michelle August 22, 2013
  3. Kay August 22, 2013
  4. Sheila Scarborough August 22, 2013

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