Pat’s Wildways: Getting Older, Still Adventuring

By Pat Foster-Turley

It’s hard to admit, even to myself, that I am getting old. Somehow, this was never going to happen to me. I have always had an adventurous, active traveling life, and am known for taking risks in the name of excitement. My mindset is still the same, but, alas, my body isn’t.

This recent trip to Belize showed the flaws in my magical thinking. I still want to kayak, and canoe, and climb in and out of boats, and swim in wild waters. But wow, is it getting more difficult now. Here’s one example. Bucko and I were ensconced in a luxury resort in the Maya Mountains of Belize, surrounded by jungle vegetation, and beside a calm, clean river. Great! On our first day, all I could talk about was getting in the river. The resort provided inner tubes for floating and canoes for exploring but Bucko, being the overly cautious person that he is, said, let’s go down to the river and check it out before we get involved in anything serious.

Bucko divides his attention between his phone and Pat in the Macal River in front of him. This waterway was one of the ancient Maya’s superhighways, linking urban, trade and ceremonial centers and connecting the interior to the coastal trade routes.

We carefully walked down the sloped walkway, holding onto the railings, but then, closer to the river, the railings ended, and we were faced with a bank of steep stone steps leading down to the canoe launch area. We gingerly climbed down these steep steps, careful to not fall and ruin our vacation. But once at the water’s edge, I just had to wade in. The current was calm, the water was clear, it was shallow, no problem. But as soon as I stepped in, I slid on the algae-covered rocks and was prone in the water. I saw a pole nearby and half crawled along the slippery rocks in the shallow water to get there, to hold on for stability. Bucko watched from the bank, his attention split between me in the water and the miraculous internet connection on his phone deep in the jungle.

Pat hangs onto a pole while sitting in shallow water on slippery rocks when the river current dramatically increased.

I was happily hanging onto the pole, then floating, enjoying the natural water surrounding me. But then, all of a sudden, the current started raging, stronger and stronger. My hold on the pole tightened, and even though I was basically sitting on the rocks in the shallow water, I started getting concerned. I fought the current and scooted back to Bucko on the shore, only maybe 15 feet away, and managed to get out without falling on the algae-covered river rocks. What was with that changing current anyway? Was it raining upstream or something? But no, later we found out that there were three dams upstream that periodically release water without warning. Had I not been holding onto the pole, I would have been swept away downstream for who knows how far, and more than likely, Bucko would have jumped in after me. I can see the headlines now, “Elderly American couple washed away in Belize.”

But that didn’t happen. But what did happen was even worse. Here’s where the aging part comes in. Remember those steep stone steps without a railing that we traversed to get down to the canoe launch? Well, we had to climb up them again. And we almost couldn’t. Bucko tried first, then started losing his balance and tilted downwards. I managed to grab him, and holding onto each other, we mounted the steps one by one, a pitiful exit if there ever was one. We had to stop a few times to catch our breath on the way up. Finally, we made it up to the pool level and plopped into some comfortable lounge chairs, exhausted from our ordeal.

Even five years ago, this would not have been an ordeal at all. We would have happily climbed up and down those stone steps, and I might have even gone a bit farther out in the river beyond the safety of my pole. But now, suddenly, it seems, we are weaker, have less balance, and far less stamina for climbing.

From the comfort of our poolside chairs, Bucko asked me if I would have gone into the river if I was alone. And he knew the answer, “Yes, I would have. The draw of the water would have compelled me in.” I refuse to let my aging body stop me from these bits of adventure. I know I might regret it someday. But more than that I will regret not even trying. I am not ready to give these things up.  No, not yet, but those days are coming …

Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]

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Peggie Weeks
Active Member
Peggie Weeks(@pegweeksgmail-com)
16 days ago

Oh my, dear Pat! Thank you for your honesty. How true that our mindsets are the same and our capabilities are not! I am grateful that you live to tell the tale and look forward to many more of your amazing stories.

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