A Farewell To Arms…And Pecs

crispydoc Uncategorized 16 Comments

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?

Comments 16

  1. That is a tough choice indeed CD. I still would be hesitant to sell the sea kayak though. You are probably going through a phase where you need something different just for a change of pace but more often than not there will be a time where you want to go back to your original love.

    Unless you feel like declining physical ability will prevent you from enjoying this recreation it might be wise to hold on to the kayak for a season or two and see if this change is permanent or not. Of course you can sell the kayak and always buy one in the future but you might lose money in the overall transaction (but it would be such a small amount anyway that it would not be a major event).

    You are fortunate that you have the opportunity to do both activities where you live. Must be incredible on the open water to do that regularly.

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      You are right that it’s not difficult to score a replacement off of Craigslist with a little patience, Xrayvsn. My experience has been that if I don’t enjoy that sporting equipment in the moment, my kayak will become a wooden tennis racquet equivalent gathering dust as it grows outdated – it won’t likely be of greater utility for my having waited to offload it. Better to let someone else enjoy it until I am ready to commit once more.

  2. The prep time required for exercise has always been a factor for me. It is why we have a gym in the basement. Also why we paid a premium for a country property backing onto a biking trail system. I would love to say that convenience has made me consistently fit, but it hasn’t. I wax and wane and shift interests. I definitely get injured more easily than I used to and need to adapt my workouts. An injury is usually what sparks off a period where my pants all seem to shrink. However, having the entry bar as low as possible sure helps by removing excuses.

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  3. So I wrote a few weeks ago about selling my Corvette. In a way that’s my equivalent and I’m still coming to grips with it. For years I was the car guy. My wife use to say she’d never worry about me cheating as I’d be too busy watching the latest car that drove nearby. And yet here I am without a sports car for the first time in 15 years.
    But the actual desire to drive faded with kids and other time commitments. It became ownership simply because I was the car guy. So now I’ve sold the car. Will I ever go back to cars? Maybe in a later phase in life, but they just don’t fit now.

    Perhaps one day you’ll return to kayaking when it’s a better fit.

    1. I too drove sports cars for over 15 years until my first child was born. After 6 months of trying to shove a car carrier into a sports coupe I gave up and switched to sedans. Now an empty nester, I recently got a Miata, slow but incredibly fun to drive. Enjoy your current life and come back later if the itch is still there.

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        I like the idea of an itch you can revisit, GasFIRE.

        It’s odd to leave behind an identity you’ve held onto for a while, but there’s also liberation in knowing no one facet of your personality can completely encompass your totality.

        The Miata is a beautiful car, assuredly faster than my Kia, so enjoy it while you have the health to do so!

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      FTF,

      It is fascinating how hard it is to relinquish an identity, until suddenly you realize there’s more to you than that. (With apologies to Hemingway,) You left behind your identity as the Corvette guy slowly, then all at once. And it freed you to do other things.

      And you were completely fine – I’d agree that kids are another factor in pulling you away from old hobbies enjoyed in younger days. Odds are I’m past my halfway point of living – and I’ll regret time not spent with my munchkins far more than time not spent on the water.

      I like the idea that there may be some point in the future when I can become a kayaker once more. Thanks for not robbing me of all hope, FTF!

  4. Sad to hear you’re not kayaking anymore. I love kayaking. Something about being in the water that makes me feel free. Kayaking also brings me fond memories. For my wife and I, it was one of our first dates. She was on the rowing team at UCLA and always rowed at the Marina Del Rey aquatic center. It was fun kayaking with her because I didn’t have to do much work 🙂

    Btw, isn’t kayaking more for your Latissimus dorsi and not so much the pecs?

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      It’s a mixed blessing. The way I fram it, DMF, is that life has become full of so many cool projects I’ve grown impatient to tackle as many of them as I can every day! As a result, the time I’m willing to make available for 2-3 hour long activities like kayaking has been reduced because the opportunity costs can no longer justify such activities.

      It’s a deliberate calculus, and I’m enjoying the cycling (and the efficiency of that past-time) so greatly that I don’t mind it so much.

      Pecs are far less than deltoids/upper arms + core of the torso as you twist, including lats. The by-the-book stroke involves a push from the upper hand rather than a pull from the lower one, which does recruit some pecs.

      Kayaking must have been a wonderful early date to go on!

  5. Bench press is one of the best chest workouts out there and a great way to subsidize an average frame. I hit 210 max a few weeks ago and more defined than I have been in years. Your backyard playground sounds pretty amazing. Take care, Max.

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      Max,

      That’s a great suggestion – I’m hoping to offset the upper body workouts I formerly got from kayaking with weights. I can assure you, my backyard is a rusty bar and some minor plates stored out of the moisture, with a bench covered by a tarp.

      The “amazing” part is entirely the convenience and increased probability of use, not the equipment, but perhaps that’s what you were alluding to all along.

      210 is impressive – you should feel proud of your accomplishment and enjoy the definition. Perhaps with a little practice, we can both become weightlifters of Lake Woebegone – where all the frames are above average.

      Fondly,

      CD

  6. I have been running since 1988 (third year of med school). Initially, it was to get in shape after my girlfriend dumped me, but I really got into it. I love running- the freedom, the low cost, and the fact that you can do it anywhere (I have run on 4 continents).

    I have run competitively, on and off, since. 5k through marathon, road and trail. I had a second peak in 2013 (age 48), running a half marathon at a 6:45 pace and a 10k at a 6:25 pace.

    A peak indeed as it has been downhill since. More recently, arthritic issues have been cropping up, and I am looking for other ways to stay in shape. I like spinning and the competition at the local Cycle Bar. It’s expensive though and an effort to work into my schedule.

    My wife is coaxing me to go to her yoga/pilates/bar/spinning/boot camp studio, and that might be my next move. I also walk the dogs two or three times per day, between one and three miles per day, and I enjoy the time with them, outside, and listening to books and podcasts.

    As we get older, our bodies start to betray us, and I am painfully aware of it!

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      My wife is fond of quoting a former professor of hers from medical school: Aging means accepting terms that formerly would have been completely unacceptable.

      I’m pleased that you turned heartbreak into heart-health (even if the trajectory is toward joint ache, I’m counting those several decades as victories in the interim).

      I got into hiking and birdwatching for similar reasons – portability (day hikes in Santa Monica during residency, again outside of Everett near Boston during fellowship), low barrier to entry and minimal costs.

      Better still, getting to know trails and the birds you spot on them is like getting to know neighbors and their eccentricities. I still recall an enormous pileated woodpecker alighting on a tree trunk 20 feet away, crest aflame, like something out of a primeval fever dream. Another hike walking alone along a wooden platform extending deep into a bog to come across a newborn deer, fur slicked from being born within the past few hours, not yet able to stand. On the return hike it was gone.

      It’s true that as we age our bodies no longer tolerate those activities we once held dear; my hope is that our sense of wonder will lead us to new activities that use different kindling to spark the same flames.

      Fondly,

      CD

  7. If that’s what’s meeting your needs Doc then I’d say just go with it. I’m a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ outdoor sport guy. But my love affair with some of my sports has waxed and waned over the years. You’re right, road cycling is convenient because you just ride out the door and you’re on the workout. No driving required. I don’t rock climb as much as I used to but still love it, and I still love mountaineering but that requires flights and travel time.

    Glad to hear you’re getting into it though and keep pushing. And don’t worry about the skinny arms, we roadies show them with pride 🙂

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