There are constant reminders that I’m not the man I used to be.
I still am young at heart, but not in body and energy.
Yeah, I’m getting old. Not real old, but still 67 years of age. And like a lot of people my age, I wonder where time has gone.
I can still remember my younger days when I took a multi-day float and camp trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. When I could take long hikes through rugged country, When I didn’t hesitate to slide down into mysterious Ozarks caves to explore. When I would climb up and down the riprap of Kansas dams without fear.
I couldn’t do that anymore. My sense of adventure is still there, but my mind and body often say, “You’d better not.”
These days, I often have to contemplate my next step. I have diabetes, I am overweight and my balance isn’t what it used to be.
I don’t think I would be able to take a float trip where we had to drag a canoe or johnboat over riffles in an Ozarks stream. Similarly, I doubt I would be able to go on a long canoe trip into the Boundary Waters as I once did.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for pity.
I am still loving life, and I still enjoy the outdoor lifestyle, albeit in a much milder style.
I still look forward to fishing at Riss Lake in Parkville, Mo., where my wife and I live. And I still get excited about road trips into the Missouri Ozarks and the Kansas Flint Hills.
I also stay busy writing about the outdoors for magazines, websites and blogs. In many ways, my life is better than ever.
It’s just that I face the reality that I am now a senior citizen.
My wife Jana and I laugh about an incident that happened just the other day. We were waiting in line to buy tickets to attend a high school football game. When it was our turn, the women manning the gate said almost in unison, “You get in for free. You’re senior citizens.”
I remember in my early days at The Kansas City Star when I would constantly be on the lookout for an oldtimer I could feature in an article. I knew there would be plenty of colorful stories and information on “the way it used to be.”
Now, I am one of those oldtimers. Other media come to me to do stories on a guy who has spent a lifetime in the outdoors.
I tell stories about fishing with legendary guide J.D. Fletcher, about having a close encounter with a grizzly bear in Alaska, about fishing with a tribal chief’s daughter on Montana’s Flathead Lake, and about witnessing well-known bird dogs go “off-script” in quail fields in Missouri and Kansas.
Lots and lots of good days. And some melancholy memories.
It’s been a life well-lived, and I wouldn’t trade any moment of it. If you’re looking for a punch-line, such as that I am dying, you’re not going to get it.
The doc says I am in relatively good health for someone who has diabetes and is overweight.
At my recent checkup, my doctor told me, ‘You need to spend more time exercising and less time fishing.”
I told him, “Doc, the only time I’m not thinking about food is when I am out fishing.”
And he answered, “Alright, then you need to spend more time fishing.”
I hope to make many more memories in the outdoors before my time is up. My good buddy, Ken White, gives me inspiration. He is 89, and we still get together at least a couple times each year to go fishing.
I tell him that I want to keep our tradition alive and fish with him to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Look, I know that 67 isn’t that old in many people’s book. But every time I see that another fishing buddy has passed away or I go fishing with a young guy who is playing music that I don’t even recognize, it reminds me that I am now an oldtimer. And that makes me a little sad.