By Lee Foster
I went alone into a nine-day Mammoth Lakes/Eastern Sierra of California trip in June 2018 with some fears in mind. I was then nearly 75 years old, officially so on July 23.
Mammoth was about 250 miles from Berkeley, where I live, including a high-altitude drive over Tioga Pass, the highest road pass in all of California, crossing the Sierra through the Yosemite High Country.
The trip required that I confront several fears, possibly common to many seniors.
My fears were as follows
Would I have a health issue as I drove eight hours from Berkeley to Mammoth?
I did not have a health issue, but the fear made the drive somewhat tense. I learned a few things. One was that it would be better for me to make a long drive with someone. It was a long trip at age 75. I have not had such fears in earlier decades.
It was good to know that I could still drive for eight hours over remote mountain roads and not have a health concern. Altitude was also a factor, up to the 9,445 feet at Tioga Pass, the highest automobile pass in California. Once again, fortunately the altitude didn’t bother me.
In practice, as it dawned on me that I might develop a new article “Back Roads California: A Tioga Pass Highway 120 Yosemite High Country Adventure,” and as I became focused on writing notes and taking photos, it seemed my fears dissipated somewhat.
Would my car have a mechanical problem, and would I be resilient enough to deal with it?
The car did not break down, but the fear made the drive somewhat concerning. It seemed to me that it would be better to make this drive with a comrade who could help if the car had a problem.
My 2014 Honda Civic is a dependable vehicle and has only 16K miles on it. Furthermore I had it serviced prior to the trip. Nevertheless the fear of it breaking down was real for me. How well would I cope if that happened? I have not had such concerns when I was younger.
I had supplies enough, such as water and food, to stick with the car for a while if it broke down. I had AAA for towing. I had my iPhone, but there were large stretches with no cell phone service. I was driving over some remote mountain roads.
Once I had arrived at Mammoth Lakes for the travel journalism meeting, would I pee or poop my pants if stuck for long hours on a tour with no bathroom?
I apologize to tender sensibilities for the graphic concept of these fears, but at 75 these anxieties can be a real concern for many elders.
Incontinence did not happen, fortunately. This has never happened, fortunately. But as I get older, this concern grows.
When at home, I am drinking iced lemon water all day but there I have a bathroom readily at hand.
When on the trip, and in the midst of a four-hour tour, I did not drink much and did not have to pee much.
It appears that I drank enough water, especially each evening, to keep my body hydrated and therefore not get constipated. In the dry mountains of eastern California, dehydration is a common medical issue, with a number of unfortunate consequences. I was glad to realize that my instincts were good when it came to liquid intake.
Would I miss my practice of drinking some chilled Chardonnay at lunch or dinner, whenever I wished, as is my practice at home, if the day’s activity on the trip took me far afield?
At home, while working through the day, I enjoy some chilled Chardonnay at lunch and dinner. This is my pattern. I do not consume excessive wine, but I do enjoy wine, when I want it. Wine does not diminish my work energy. In fact, wine seems to inspire my best work.
On the trip there were long stretches with no wine, such as the first day when we visited Mono Lake and the ghost town at Bodie State Historic Park. I found myself so engaged in the travel research that I did not miss the wine. This was comforting to realize.
Would I have the physical strength to walk for long distances and carry my backpack?
My backpack carries my Nikon camera as well as my Apple iPhone, and all the support gear, including a tripod. I also carry a filled water bottle.
The first day was a test. It included long walks in substantial heat and sun at Mono Lake and at Bodie historic park. I was OK.
Fortunately, I felt fine during that day and evening, and I slept well. My four colleagues on the walks were all younger. I was able to keep up, do my work, and feel OK.
Later in the trip, I did one walk, called the Discovery Trail, in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest of the White Mountains. The walk had about a 500-foot elevation gain at 10K feet. I took my time, and I was OK, luckily. But this was the upper edge of prudent athletic prowess for me in my 75th year.
I also worried a little about back pain. Fortunately, I am generally pain-free. But a couple of months before the trip my lower back flared up. What would happen if the back pain became acute during the trip? Fortunately, this did not happen.
Would I have the mental acuity and presence of mind to function well during the trip?
Though I am in fairly good mental shape, I am not as sharp as I once was. It is good to acknowledge this progressing matter. My memory is good, but not as good as in earlier decades. It seems as if I function reasonably well, though with a certain deliberateness, so as not to screw up.
So, as the trip progressed, it seemed as if I had confronted all of my fears, which are probably fairly normal at age 75.
I was able to enjoy the conviviality of 35 of my colleagues on this trip. We all gathered at the Westin Monache in Mammoth Lakes, CA, for this travel journalist conference. These fellow writers understand me and what animates my life, and I understand them. We are in pursuit of the same goal—doing travel research that we then present in writing/photos to consumers.
My fears were probably invisible to my colleagues, as their fears were mainly invisible to me. I am happy to report that I faced my age-related fears—and I learned. Perhaps the guiding thoughts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt could comfort me, at least for a while. Perhaps, for me and for now, as Roosevelt said, “Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.”