Age-related risk aversion

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Robin's post on buying a SPOT2 prompts me to ask some geezer-related questions.

As we age, what is it that increases our perceived risk? Are we really at risk of something age-related, or maybe something else that involves bad life habits catching up with us, like a stroke or heart attack? Do we gradually become weaker without realizing it, and hurt ourselves trying to do what we used to do? Are we simply more careful or for some other reason tend to become more risk-averse (though the risks themselves are the same)? And what is it that keeps us safe anyway?

These aren't idle questions. I like to say I'll continue to do two Boundary Waters trips a year until I can't any more. But what does "can't" mean? How will I know? How would you know?

Thoughts?
 
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It's technology related. Back twenty years ago there were no PLB or emergency radio devices for paddlers. We always used the mirror and SOS signals then and just hoped and in our stupid youth assumed everything was alright. And we might have had less concern for how our families felt.

Now we have more technology and more ways to spread survival stories that long ago we would never have heard of. Also some of us have moved onto areas where we are unlikely to see a soul for the duration of the trip.

Can't means I can't portage..where the focus will shift to non portage trips. I see that happening a bit now. I simply enjoy less the prospect of 44 portages as I did in a 6 day trip in BWCA in 1973.

SPOT isn't a guarantee.. A person died where we had gone two weeks before.. But I do want the best prospects of seeing my grandkids again.

I think we as we age, become more aware of how we influence other's lives. And as we spread our wings to other areas , no the risks are not the same. Being hurt in Marshall Lake or Woodland Caribou is not the same as being hurt near a BWCA entry point.
 
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I think that as we become more experienced, we become more aware of just how many things can go wrong. Especially things that are beyond our control.

Immediately after my last wilderness canoe camping trip, I was convinced that I would never go again. A couple years of reflection, and a new PLB, have readjusted my attitude. I'm still aware of what can go wrong, but my arsenal of responses is broader.

Pete
 
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I'm not sure there's any one way to know that the time has come. In my job I keep saying it will be time to retire when I no longer can relate to the college students I work with. I'm in my 34th year here and still able to relate to them even though there's a huge boost in the use of technology (which I'm not as big a fan of as they tend to be) and I've gone from being their older brother - uncle - father and now grandfather in age. My guess is there will be something that tells you when it's time to pack it in. I also think that many of us have already made some changes in the way we do things in anticipation of "potential" troubles. YC's comment about no longer looking forward to a trip with 44 portages so she now looks for non-portage trips is what I mean by that.

For me, one of the changes I made was to get a new solo canoe that weighs only 26 pounds since I had to have a total knee replacement. This, along with packing lighter weight gear, not doing quite so many solo trips so I have help if I need it, etc., are the kinds of adjustments I've made. That being said, I've also upped my daily exercising and still swim 4 times per week so I can continue to have the strength, flexibility & cardio fitness so I can continue doing what I want to do.

I hope that all makes sense. If not, I apologize.

That's all for now. Take care and until next time...Be well.

snapper
 
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My changes have evolved from lots of little lakes with lots of walking to big lakes and seas, that have a different type but no less risk. It might be my kayak background resurfacing.
 
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After spending a lot of time in an Assisted Care center lately, I've come to the conclusion that if I had the choice between it and the BWCA for my last moments, I would choose the BWCA.

This is a heartfelt answer and I am not joking in any way.

Best wishes,

Cary
 
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Buck up boys (and girls)! Most of us can still outrun the youngsters on a multi day canoe trip. Sure, we might have major quad cramps in the middle of the night that make us whimper like beat dogs, and our backs might feel like someone is using it for a dart board, but in the morning, put your game face on, and when the youngsters are moping around in pain, pretend that you feel like a million bucks! Whatever happens, don't let them read this page!

They showed me no mercy last year when I asked to stop at the beginning of a 3 k port when my back was out. Comments were thrown at me like "Come on old man, get up off the ground". "Yur getting old!" Stuff like that. So this year I will make them pay, no matter how much it hurts me (here's praying the back doesn't go out on the second day again), I'm gonna work those 16 year olds into the ground!
 
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I know people in their mid 70's who still travel alone in the wilds trapping and hunting on a regular basis. I personally admire their fitness and wherewithal at their age and only hope I can be like that when I am their age. I also know that before the advent of Spot's, PLB's, Sat phones and even SAR people travelled in the woods all the time successfully and of course unsuccessfully. If you have a stroke or heart attack while canoeing in the wilds, I can't see any sort of electronic emergency device saving your ass.
It will however make the difference of life or death from a broken leg. In the early 80's I recall doing an survival exercise that gave you a list of items in a cabin to take in a survival situation and a leg splint was the wrong answer. I asked why and was told that it is presumed that a broken leg would mean your demise.
Last year I read a very obscure book called Extreme Survival about a plane crash in northern Ontario when there was a broken arm and leg in a group of 3 at the onset of winter and they survived till the following summer. It was a true story so have reconsidered the possibility of surviving a broken limb. Still, I try to focus on mitigating risks instead of relying on devices that are supposed to save my life like PLB's and Spot's. I don't have anything against them or people who carry them, I just choose a different approach to my safety.
I have never been faced with a real survival situation and I sure hope I never do, but feel confident that I will know what to do in almost any event.
All that being said, I am not afraid of death, I certainly don't want to die, but if it was going to happen, alone in the bush would be exactly where I would want it to happen.
 
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My feeling is that I owe it to my wife and my kids and my grandchildren, all of whom for some unknown reason seem to love me and want me to continue to be part of their lives, to do what I can to reduce the risks associated with my canoe tripping. So I carry a plb and when I am in grizzly or polar bear country I carry a shotgun and slugs. Also, it does give my wife some sense of comfort knowing that if I get in trouble I can probably get help. If it were completely up to her I'm sure she would prefer that I stick to the parks - but she is tolerant and I love her for that. The plb helps with that too.
 
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Still, I try to focus on mitigating risks instead of relying on devices that are supposed to save my life like PLB's and Spot's. I don't have anything against them or people who carry them, I just choose a different approach to my safety.

It's an illogical assumption to assume that people who carry devices rely on them. Of course the first action in trouble avoidance is to have the wisdom and the experience not to get into trouble.
 
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Of course you are right Kim, I shouldn't assume. I do know people who carry those and use them as an out rather than common sense, but because they do it doesn't mean everybody who carries one does.
 
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After spending a lot of time in an Assisted Care center lately, I've come to the conclusion that if I had the choice between it and the BWCA for my last moments, I would choose the BWCA.

This is a heartfelt answer and I am not joking in any way.

Best wishes,

Cary

I GET that. When I was sailing I used to think that when I got old I'd buy an ocean-going sailboat and head off around the world. But I wouldn't intend to get past the Southern Ocean. That seemed fitting. Now I think I might just get lost on a long portage trail in the BWCA.
 
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I have told my daughters that at some point I'm going to ask them to drop me off near a particular stretch of woods, and I will go off to die like an old dog...

Until that point, I think what increases my perception of risk is that creeping feeling of just getting older that I have... I'm 49, 50 in June, good cholesterol, not overweight, no "prescription meds", have never broken a bone, never had surgery, and think I'm in a lot better shape than many folks my age. I've worn glasses since I was 6, and my eyes are pretty shot... went to bifocals at 40, and trifocals at 45 (ahead of my peers, sadly.)

I started waking up in the middle of the night a few months ago with stiff fingers... hurt so badly they awakened me when I rolled over on them. Doc told me that it's the beginning of arthritis. It gets worse if I use the hands more than normal, less impact if I don't do anything with them.

In 2010, I screwed up my back and upon MRI-ing it, was told my L5/S1 is damaged and will continue to deteriorate... I made my first solo circuit of the St Regis Canoe Wilderness the summer after that (2011) with no issues. Last year (2013) I had a great deal more difficulty portaging my canoe solo. This year, I plan to bring a cart.

The other day, I strained my Achilles tendon just trotting out to my car and back for a forgotten wallet, re-igniting an injury I had when I was 22. It took three weeks for it to stop hurting this time, and still isn't "right".
I used to recover from a chigger bite in about 4 days... now, they leave a dark brown spot, and it takes about a week to 10 days to heal up.

Deep cuts used to heal in a matter of days, with no scarring. Now, the slightest skin break heals either white, brown, or dark purple, and takes anywhere from 4-10 days to completely grow back.

I have lived as South as I could get for years, most notably from 1982-84, 1990/91, 1995-present... In my teens and late 20s, I acclimatized to the heat (military training in AL, GA, KY, AZ, and duty in Haiti and Somalia), in a matter of weeks, and could work long after my peers shut down due to the heat. When I lived in TN (1995-2002), the heat was no issue... When I moved to warmer LA in 2002, I was good for about 7 more years, but by 2009 (age 45), I started to dislike it, and last year, had my first heat near-injury, overcome not working, but by simply riding around on my ATV in the middle of a hot day, having consumed a quart of water (lightly seasoned with Gatorade) per hour over the previous 4 hours... I no longer even try to do things outdoors in those temps.

My hearing is going... I caught a tank round without my helmet on (and thus no "ear protection) when I was 24 or 25, and after the ringing subsided a day later, I was ok... however, the last couple years, it's been hard to hear conversational tones when there is background noise... I can still hear well in the woods, even little noises, but any background drone drowns out any other sounds... In the past year, I've noticed a marked decline in my ability to hear things correctly the first time (and some of what I think I heard is hysterically funny.)

I can still walk 5-6 miles with a small pack (15-20lbs) without any trouble, but the next day, I'm a lot stiff, and it takes another day to be 'normal' again. I still climb in/out of tree stands/box blinds, and use a climber stand... but I've noticed my balance is not what it was... I get a little unbalanced turning around in my climber, like you do, when you go from 'climbing mode' to 'sitting', and it's even worse before dawn or after dark, when I'm working with a headlamp. This didn't used to happen even 4 or 5 years ago.

So, what's the point? I'm aware that I'm declining... there is nothing I can do to avoid it, only prolong some of it... so to get back to the OP's original question... the previous "symptoms" have increased my perception of "risk"... I'm aware of them... I mitigate them a couple ways... mostly, I think first... I don't get up out of a chair anymore without thinking "what else can I do while I'm up?" and "before I get up for just that one thing, is there anything else I can do?" This applies to my woodsplay... I think more about what I'm doing... the tree climber for instance... I take more time getting into it, "set" it more securely after each 'bite', and turn around VERY slowly. I am deliberately slower climbing out of a ladder/box stand now, and will make two trips (for pack and rifle) instead of trying to get it all in one trip. I am more careful about foot placement. I may even give up "single tripping" my portages. I am more inclined to look for a pot holder than just grab a pot quickly off the fire.

I don't know how I'll handle things that come with even more advanced age... heart problems, mostly, seem to worry folks... I don't have any right now, and don't have a family history... but not too sure a SPOT would help... even then, help is hours away.

I plan to be one of those old guys, about 70-75, you still occasionally see in the woods... going slow. that's how I'll mitigate it.
 
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It's an illogical assumption to assume that people who carry devices rely on them. Of course the first action in trouble avoidance is to have the wisdom and the experience not to get into trouble.

Exactly!

The great opportunity in aging is the ability to create an increasingly effective safety zone - between your ears. Forget about working the 16-year-olds to death or putting up with pain just to prove a point. Be smart. Stay strong and flexible. Exercise - and stretch, especially those psoas muscles (hip flexors)! Stay near well-traveled routes when you're out solo. Watch your step, not just on portages but around camp. Thimk, thimk, thimk. Learn to listen to that quiet voice of reason and wisdom. It's there, and as you age your ego should be getting out of the way.

They say the advice you give is what you need to follow yourself. (Looking in the mirror: hear that, fella?)
 
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To be honest, we have a plan for what we call the "Forever Trip". That is when we sell everything, head off into the woods with no plan to return.

In the meantime, since Christine's heart attack 2 weeks ago we are considering options other than making a fire and waiting. Not a SPOT or PLB, we would likely get a sat phone so we could speed dial the local fly in outfit and get help right away. That will be a serious consideration.

Karin
 
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Well, some random thoughts: I think I remember a line from Peter Pan; "Dying will be such a big adventure". Try as I might I can't find any maps for the other side, so I'll just have to wait and see. Might be something and it might be nothing. But I will, if I can, be paying attention. I do hold a ticket for the trip, as do we all.

Yep! I'm no longer able to go as strong as I did when I was young. But remember all the horrendously stupid things I did, also when I was young? Well, I've pretty much given up doing that sort of thing. On balance, I think I've gained.

The medical industry has understood for some time that there's no money to be made from dead people. That's why there is so much discouragement of anyone thinking about just when it won't be worth it anymore. I suspect that most folks have their own list; I know I do.

The way it stands right now, I look on my body much like my first cars, not much to look at, but runs with a little tinkering. Wouldn't want to dive it too fast or over rough roads, but it may last for a while yet.

Now about wives, kids and grand kids. When I was a daddy with kids at home, I honored any and all claims on me. I did my duty. Now that I've reached my ripe old age, I've declared myself emancipated. I may love them most of the time but this last little bit of time is mine. Let go of my boot laces.
I do carry a PLB, it's mainly for something simple like a broke leg or come to that, to get my dog back home.

I don't know if that answers what you were asking, Gavia, hope so.

Best Wishes, Rob
 
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A couple years ago I said to my wife "Honey, when I die, I'd like you take one last canoe trip with me. Please bring the kids along, and spread my ashes on that favourite lake of ours. Remember the one, where the kids played hide and seek around our own little island, and in the morning, we paddled away in the mist? We were together and happy. Remember that lake?" My wife thought about it, took my hand in hers, looked lovingly in my eyes, and said "Can't you think of somewhere closer? By the time you move on Brad, I might be an old woman. Do you think I'll be able to handle those portages?" Hmm, I hadn't thought of that. There I was, thinking that my final arrangements were all about me!
Life has a way of putting a kink in your rope, and a hitch in your plans. I'm not being glib or insincere when I say we must make lemonade, when all we have are lemons. I've seen dreams turn to dust, but that doesn't mean they weren't worth dreaming; nor does it mean I should give up on dreaming new ones. As far as canoe trips go, I measure them in smiles, not miles. The same goes for all of life's journeys.
 
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The same as some of you, I am facing a slow downward spiral. I may still be able to make the welterweight limit, but I definitely don't look like I did when I was 22 years old.
To some extent, we can all control how we age, although about half is out of our hands.

I have been quoted saying "Most people spend the first half of their lives ignoring their health, and then spend the second health reminded of it".
The time for mitigating risks, physical and health related, are long before the eventual toll manifests itself.
Don't smoke, don't stress, eat right, exercise and stretch, I've done this all my life and it has paid benefits.

Beyond all of the health and fitness, which is way over rated;), a touch of wisdom can go a long way to reduce risks.
Has anyone read "Between a Rock and a Hard Place"? The story of Aaron Ralves, the dude that had to amputate his arm to get free from a chock stone?
He was/is a bright guy, talented engineer, with a degree from Carnegie Melon. He took foolish risks, and unknowingly escaped with his life several times before his famous slot canyon escapade. Each time he escaped a bad situation (and there were many) he would become emboldened, and instead of learning a lesson, he moved on to greater and greater risks.
This behavior is generally self limiting...

The point in that Aaron Ralves reference is to take a clear, objective look at yourself, and thoroughly assess your abilities and fitness level. It's a difficult thing to do, to truly look at yourself. As mentioned upthread, modern technology can only help so much.

As for making the adjustment to a reduced level of activity, so what??!! Many years ago, I was in a horrific and life altering motor vehicle/bicycle accident. In an instant, I was no longer the man that I was. And you what? I'm still here, most of me, and that's OK.
As I continue to shrink, I'll not moan or cry about the things I can no longer do, but rejoice in the memories of what I have done.
So my trips will be a little shorter, a little easier, and maybe less frequent. Again, that's OK.
 
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I'm sure many of you realized that my last post was an attempt at sarcastic bravado. However, I'm only 52, and consider myself to be far from over the hill. Sure, I have pain every day and I don't run marathons anymore. And I'm finally fat, something I've worked hard on for the last four years. But I'm not dead yet, and it's not time to throw in the towel. In the words of Jim Morrison "I'm gonna get my kicks in before the whole s@@thouse goes up in flames". I don't solo close to any roads or people. Why would I want to? I go out solo to get away from people.

Two years ago on a solo around the Steel, I was on the notorious Diablo port in a cold rain. At one point, I had some serious suffering. My new quick dry pants (new because I was too fat to fit my old ones) had some kind of design flaw, and in the worst part of the port, they had dug a bleeding trench in my inner thigh. Each step was agony. So I took my pants off and finished the port in my gitch. When I landed on the little island a hundred yards from the end of the port, I was so glad to be alive, I stripped naked, poured a big gin, lit one of my few cigarrettes, and was completely content with my life. Suffering is good for the soul, our nanny state society has tried to mitigate and litigate risk into an illegal activity.

However, I'm not a fool, I've got a SAT phone, it keeps my wife happy, and a happy wife is a happy life!
 
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