Boomers on the Trail

It all started with a routine physical with my internist, a man I’ve been going to for years. He’s a runner, a fit baby boomer only a few years younger than me.

“As you age, your lung capacity decreases, even if you’ve never smoked. You should expect some changes.” He probably said something about heart function but I can’t recall now. I was mad. I plan to die with my hiking boots on.

On Heartbreak Ridge

I again told him about the older folks in Carolina Mountain Club, some much older than me, but I think he’s heard it all before from me.

Last Sunday’s hike on Heartbreak Ridge was in the Appalachian District of Pisgah National Forest near Old Fort, NC.

The trail is 11.5-mile with a 3,000 foot ascent, which is considered strenuous. Eighteen hikers showed up, a larger number than usual. Carroll K. was leading this hike and this was his fan club. Carroll, who’s 87 years old, is the “poster hiker” of the fit, serious, all-day hiker who just keeps on going.

Still thinking about my conversation with my doctor, I took a survey of ages and their genders. I know that 18 data points is a very small sample size but it was a start. No one hesitated to give me their age.

The average age of the hikers was 61.6 years old. The women averaged 59.3 years of age (46 the youngest, 70 the oldest). The average for men was 65.1 years old (51 years was the youngest, 87 the oldest).

Not surprisingly Carroll was the oldest man and I was the oldest woman. That’s been true for a long time on all day-hikes. We seem to accept the disparity in ages between the genders but Bruce questioned it. Why?

I don’t know is the quickest answer. After all, Grandma Gatewood did her first A.T. thru-hike when she was 67 years old and again seven years later. The oldest person, a man, completed a thru-hike when he was 81 years old. Historically only 15% of the completers (2000-milers) were women, though the numbers are rising. See the numbers on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website.

I do know that the professional advice is meant to scare older exercisers.

“See your doctor”.
“Don’t overdo it!”
“Carry a cell phone, a stick, a ….”

After all these dos and don’t, it’s easier to just stay on the couch.

Why do we see fewer women over 70 on the trail or in the gym? Ideas?

3 thoughts on “Boomers on the Trail

  1. The oldest recorded pilgrim to complete the 500-mile Way of St James from St Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago on foot was 91. Male, of course. Carroll, only five years to go….

  2. Perhaps fewer women over 70 are hiking due to physical disabilities related to pregnancies in their youth. In my own case, I have severe arthritis in my knees and knee replacement isn’t an option due to poor circulation in my legs which is due to varicosities caused by four pregnancies and delivery of 4 large infants.

  3. Hi Danny,

    For me I would say it is decreased lung capacity.

    Currently recovering from a broken hand and rib from a fall doing a hike in SC. I can walk fairly comfortably on flat surfaces like paved roads with gradual inclines.

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