For the past several years, sea kayaking along the California coast has been my workout of choice.
A precarious goat trail brought me down the face of a 300 foot cliff to a rock-strewn beach during my weekdays off, where as often as not I'd greet a couple of 50- and 60-something surfers I was friendly with who shared my irregular schedule.
The Pacific was my gym. Harbor seals trailed me on routine paddles out and back from the neighborhood buoy.
On the hard to predict magical days, I might enjoy the crystalline art of a jellyfish floating by, a sleek pod of dolphins on the hunt, or the blow of a migrating whale.
Today I paddled 90 minutes from the cove where I'd kept my kayak secretly stashed to a nearby beach where I was able to load it onto a cart, wheel it up to my car, and secure it to my roof racks.
Come Monday, I am planning to sell it on Craigslist.
To Everything There Is A Season
I've thus far eluded the common traps that ensnare men my age: the marathon or Ironman competition that has proven irresistible to so many former college classmates according to recounted tales of bravery and achievement in the pages of my alumni magazine.
As a med student, I'd vowed that my doctor hobby would be scuba diving instead of golf. Years later, I got married and had a kid in rapid succession, and reading the additional high risk rider for scuba on my life insurance policy made me reconsider. Instead I stuck to bodyboarding, which I'd enjoyed since childhood, until a couple of years later a friend turned me on to sea kayaking and eventually surf kayaking (done with a specialized kayak that rides ocean waves).
Kayaking could range from peaceful to exhilarating, but it always felt restorative. When an ER shift chewed me up and spat me out, I found solace after an hour or two on the water.
Today's paddle was bittersweet. An uncharacteristically rainy winter created a superbloom this Spring, with ecstatic color combinations of wildflowers bursting from every patch of dirt. I floated past swirls of uplifted rock strata punctuated by fields of rust, green and gold that brought to mind Bob Marley albums whose rhythms seemed perfectly timed to the rise and fall of the tide.
Past Prime Pastime?
In the past year, something changed. The effort and time required to get on the water seemed more of a barrier than it had been in the past. A more regular sleep schedule meant that my mornings off were consistently my most productive time for writing, getting household tasks done, and completing my exciting new administrative role.
Suddenly a leisurely 2-3 hours of kayaking came at a greater opportunity cost. This perception happened to occur during a newfound interest in cycling.
Instead, I could awaken around 6:30 AM and (following my morning constitutional) take a 6+ mile/40 minute bike ride up a couple of challenging hills, making it back in time to have breakfast with the kids before they headed to school.
This early win would create an accomplishment snowball - that feeling akin to the old Army recruiting commercial, "We do more by 9 AM than most people do all day!"
The potential down side? I'm average height and weight, so the ropy musculature and modest arm and chest definition I'd developed from kayaking were welcome additions to my otherwise plain vanilla frame. I'm hoping the used bench press and dumbbells we bought a few years ago off of Craigslist will help offset any loss of tone.
Although I'm keeping the surf kayak, it still feels like the end of an era.
Do you have pursuits you left behind in middle-age?