When I was in my twenties I could run forever, lift weights, build houses, work in the garden until the sun went down, stay up late then get up early and do it all again the next day.
When we built our home in the mountains I helped dig the footings, pour concrete, move bricks, landscape gardens, dig dams, move huge sandstone boulders and do all the other things that needed doing to set the place up.
Twelve years ago when the horrendous Blue Mountains bushfires threatened the house I was up for nearly twenty hours chopping down trees, cutting them into bits, stacking the timber, clearing the undergrowth and putting out fires and getting up again the next day to help others in the street to do the same to their homes.
What went wrong?
I don’t feel old and people tell me I don’t look old, but my body seems to have decided it’s time for me to listen to its own idea of what’s achievable.
Take today, for example. Today I went to my girlfriend’s house armed with a chain saw and lots of enthusiasm. The task was to trim back some monstrous fig trees that have been growing ever skyward to the point of blocking out the sun. It wasn’t really a huge task, or at least that what I first thought, but it did involve climbing a ladder in the rain and hauling the chain saw up with a rope, and then once in position cutting the thick branches whilst perched precariously out on a limb, if you’ll pardon the pun.
After an hour I was feeling the burn in my arms from holding the chain saw out at full stretch, which was the only way to reach the offending branches.
After two hours my legs were shaking as I tried to hang onto the swaying trunk with my knees whilst balanced some six or seven metres up in the air.
A break for a cuppa gave me some time to regenerate a bit of energy, but almost as soon as I got stuck back into it I felt the tiredness coming on again.
Three hours into the job I was saturated in sweat, my eyes were stinging from the fine sawdust and throat was thick with sawdust-encrusted crap.
My enthusiasm for lumberjacking had waned significantly.
It wasn’t simply a matter of dropping the branches either; I had to also cut them up into small lengths and stack the timber, as well as stack all the leafy bits on a pile so that when the leaves dried out they could be used for mulch.
The job took me all of four hours, but by that time I was completely spent. Packing up was a chore as I dragged my sorry arse around putting things away and raking up the last vestiges of the tree that were littering the lawn.
I didn’t think I’d become unfit, but I now realise this retirement caper I’m on has made me a bit soft, and that perhaps I need to get back out there and do something strenuous again.
I know I can’t run marathons any more because my knees complain too much, but the walking I’ve been doing on my treadmill just isn’t cutting it. I need to do more.
Cycling is out, because the streets I need to use around my place to obtain any aerobic benefit aren’t conducive to staying alive – the traffic is too densely laden with semi-trailers and there’s little room to manoeuvre on the roads.
I hate swimming too. I was never taught the correct breathing technique as a kid, so now when I swim it’s with my head up the whole time which just gives me a sore back.
I guess I’ll just have to work out some method to get the heart rate up to pump some aerobic fitness back into my ageing body, along with perhaps lifting some weights to improve the muscle strength.
Or I could just accept that at 56 years of age it’s time to slow down a bit. I mean, I skydive, and that’s an exciting sport that most people don’t do, but then again I tell my students on the courses I run that skydiving is 95% mental and only 5% physical, so I’ve basically shot myself in the foot there.
I’m going to ache like a bastard tomorrow, and it’ll be even worse the next day, so for now I’ll just have another glass of wine, relax, and think about what can be done to improve the situation.
I’m sure I’ll come up with a plan…