I’ve tried a few new outdoor things over the last year or so, wondering at times what it would be like to try something really daring, like, say, running with the bulls in Pamplona.
I’m not about to run with the bulls, not now, not ever, because there must be far better ways to check out than getting driven through the plate-glass window of some tapas joint, my last glimpse of life that of someone sipping a delightful red sangria as my gored hide goes skittering across the bar. That happened in our last union negotiation. One goring each lifetime is plenty.
A trip last summer to Alaska, a place I’m pretty sure is free of both bulls and tapas, had me soaring through towering pines on a zip line. Yes, at this stage of my life, to zip line is to court danger, albeit without the dread fear of looking over one’s shoulder to find a pair of flared nostrils and two pointy horns.
For me, zip lining turned out to be a lot like my visits to the eye doctor. No matter what the test, no matter what my respect for the white coat in front of me, I jam both eyes shut every time the doc comes within an inch of my eyes. It makes for very long annual checkups.
The doc is usually good about it, although I got this semi-tolerant wince and slight shake of the head from her in my last visit when, apologetically, I offered, “Sorry, but I bet I’m not the only one with this problem.’’ There is no sound quite so silent as the one that confirms you are uniquely nuts.
Zip lining, if you haven’t tried it, is really without risk. Sure, the two trees that support the thick zip line of heavy-gauge wire could snap, or the line’s anchors could fail. But to worry about all that would be like constantly fretting that one of your car tires is about to blow. Not worth the angst (take this from a man who clamps his eyes at an eye exam).
The zip line experience, as I witnessed from others in my group, should offer a sensation of flying, liberation, near-weightlessness. A harness around your midsection attaches via another steel cord and clips directly to the zip line, and away you go, zipping all the way!
There is absolutely no need 1. to hold on to the top of the cord that clips to the zip line or 2. close your eyes. Of course, I did both. On every run. For about $75, I spent an hour squeezing that cable until my hands nearly bled and feeling like I was soaring through the dark. Where else can you get that for 75 bucks?
By now, you’ve diagnosed that I have trust issues. Good for you. It would mean a lot to me, if I trusted you, or anybody.
Kayaking is way better than zip lining. I’ve done that at least a half-dozen times in the last year, usually in rentals on the Concord or Charles rivers, although, as I mentioned here last week, a recent family vacation to northern California had eight of us all kayaking along a part of the Elkhorn Slough south of San Francisco.
It was a magnificent experience, full of wildlife and exercise, two things I enjoy at this stage of my life nearly as much as I once appreciated a Yankees-Red Sox doubleheader. Lately, it’s the latter that makes me want to shut my eyes, and keep them shut.
I can keep eyes wide open when I kayak, so that’s a plus right there. And even though I am an atrocious swimmer, my trust issues aren’t so deeply ingrained that they prevent me from putting full faith in a personal flotation device, double-strapped around my chest and back almost the way Hannibal Lecter was constrained in a straitjacket in “Silence of the Lambs.’’
Didn’t flotation devices used to be called “life jackets”? I’m guessing someone in Cambridge took offense to the term, and now we all have to call them flotation devices out of respect to . . . what? . . . life? OK, fine. What do I know? I live in a town that recently banned the sale of bottled water, I’m told, because of recycling issues and potential pollutants and, I suppose, gamma rays.
Many of the stores that can’t sell bottled water anymore do continue to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products. I don’t really know what to say about that, but I’m pretty sure it’s better to grow up sipping on a Poland Springs than it is sucking on a Lucky Strike. Although there’s probably someone in Cambridge or Brookline who’ll try to convince me otherwise. Next they’ll tell me kayaking is bad for me or bad for the river. If I paddle faster, maybe they won’t catch me.
Bike riding has been my other late-in-life add-on, resurrected from my childhood in the 1950s and ’60s. I’m on dangerous ground here, because regular readers of this space know that I have a general disdain for those I’ve come to refer to as “ten-speed terrorists.”
But I’ve grown to appreciate that there is a huge difference between bike riders and pack riders. Even a kid on a tricycle can be a jerk, of course, but it’s the pack riders who, at least by my experience out here in the bucolic ’burbs, too often hog the road and often blatantly disregard traffic laws.
When I hear pack riders coming up from behind me, with their loud chatter, fiery panting, and tornado-like whir, I do what I can to angle my bike off the road, dismount, and let them finish their stage, claim the yellow shirt that clearly awaits them around the next bend. Often as they pass, one or two flash me a thumbs-up. Generally, I deftly conceal what I’m flashing their way.
All in all, it’s been an interesting mix. The zip line thing was a one-and-done, but kayaking and biking have made it into my semi-regular rotation. I don’t need to compete with any of it. I’m not out to win anything. It’s OK when “Just Do It” means just do it.
On days when someone wants to come along, great, although my one impression of three-man kayaking was that two’s company and three’s a crowd. Or it could be that it was just too hard to be the guy in back.
None of this, like I said, is meant to get me to Pamplona. For the race I’m running now is toward the sunset, which means preservation is key, speed is an enemy, and staying ahead of the bull has been a life’s race won.