A couple weeks ago, my father-in-law asked me what plans I had for the new year. I mentioned an upcoming ski journey in the Arctic and he nodded, taking it in stride as if I’d commented on the week’s weather forecast. After a pause, he asked “Well, what are you going to do in the years down the road, when you can’t physically do these trips anymore?”
I tried to explain to him that I don’t look too far ahead, taking things one project at a time, trying to live as presently as possible. I did understand his point though. He’s an accountant and measures the cost/benefit analysis of everything. From his perspective (and society’s perspective), people should work hard and make money when they’re younger so they can coast comfortably in their "Golden Years." The older you get, the riskier it is.
Or is it?
There’s fear associated with physical adventure when the body begins to get creaky, and the fail-safe seems to be to just kicking back and preserving yourself for as long as possible. Well... screw that. If adventuring is your passion, I say use it all up. Squeeze out every bit of juice and vigor you have left. Climb, run, hike, paddle, ski and bike right into oblivion. As they say, move it or lose it. There’s always some sort of activity you’ll be able to do… and if you keep on moving, your body and mind will thank you. A La-Z-boy will push you closer to the edge of the abyss than any mountain summit.
Frank in 1995 - Frank Wolf on his cross-Canada canoe expedition in 1995
There are some recent examples of older adventure athlete icons I look to for inspiration. One of these people is Jon Turk. Now this guy is a DUDE. At 54 years old, he completed a mad 5,000-kilometre kayak trip from Japan to Alaska, and then at the age of 65—when most people retire—he became the first person to circumnavigate Ellesmere Island by kayak. It was a brutal, bold, 104-day, 2,500-kilometre journey that would push even the youngest and fittest of adventurers to their limit.
Another luminary is Don Starkell, who in his 60s came within a hair’s breadth (27 miles to be exact) of being the first to kayak through the Northwest Passage. It was another very physical journey by an older athlete that resulted in Starkell losing the tops of his fingers on both hands due to frostbite. He recovered and continued adventuring for years to come.
Looking at these accomplishments puts everything into perspective. Compared to the adventures of both Turk and Starkell, my journeys seem benign—and make me feel like I’m just getting started.
Keep following your adventurous passions right to the finish line, even if it means you might cut a few years off at the end. It’s better to have one crowded hour than a lifetime of regret.
Frank in 2018 - Frank Wolf on his 'Across the Barrens' expedition in 2018
Frank's first book Lines on a Map shares stories from his 20+ years of adventures around the world.