Three Who Turned Fifty - Part Three
By Cecil Maxfield.
As you may recall, so far we've interviewed the birthday boy from Maine, Steve Pinkham and myself from Vermont. We'll take the same tack as we did with before.
Q: When and how did you start your outdoor life?
Mike: I remember taking my friends in the neighborhood to excursions at Nutts Pond in Manchester, NH. It was about a mile away from our homes and we would pack a small lunch and water. Looking back, I guess being a "trip leader" was probably something that I was made up of at a very young age.
Q: Were there any mentors or heroes you recall who turned you on to the outdoors?
Mike: None that really come to mind. My parents were not even close to being outdoorsy. Physically they were always out of shape and the thought of camping brings fear into their eyes. My first hike in the White Mountains was up Mt. Washington with my fraternity brothers one summer back in college. I had lived in New Hampshire all my life and had never known that such an extensive trail network existed. And the views from the summit....breathtaking! I was pumped! I bought hiking books, joined the Appalachian Mountain Club and hiked with them almost every weekend. I recall doing quite a few hikes with Gene Daniel who is the founder of the 4,000-footer club and current editor of the White Mountain Guide. I wouldn't call Gene my mentor but he certainly helped me get started.
Q: What are your 3 favorite outdoor activities?
Mike: Only three? Hiking is my favorite that includes backpacking, mountaineering and snowshoeing. Next would be skiing that includes alpine, backcountry and cross-country. And last would be kayaking.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory of any one event?
Mike: Like the past two birthday boys, it's difficult to narrow this down to only one event. I'm first proud of the major hiking achievements I've done such as hiking the Appalachian and Long Trails end-to-end, and reaching the summits of the 100 highest peaks in New England. I've also reached the summits of the following: Mt. Rainier twice (14,410'), Popocatépetl (17,930'), El Pico de Orizaba (18,850'), and Island Peak (20,320'). I've also attempted to climb both Denali and Aconcagua. My favorite memory would have to be the trip that defined who I am: my Appalachian Trail Hike from Georgia to Connecticut one summer. I was 23, had never been south of Boston and had only been backpacking once! I was so naive but I learned with the help of others as I hiked further north. I saw some beautiful mountain landscapes, met some fantastic people and discovered that strangers can be real friendly/helpful to each other. Yes, the human race is made of up of real brothers and sisters.
Q: Fifty's no small milestone in a lifetime. Have you noticed any changes in body or mind, as you've gained those years?
Mike: It's funny that as you get older your mind never ages. Your only as old as you think. The danger is that it can make you think that you can physically do the things you once did when you were back in college. So one has to be careful. I'm aging well as my peers at work think I'm 30. Physically I'm able to do anything I could when I was in my 20's. On really tough backpacking trips my knees are starting to give me problems but it's nothing that I can't handle. As I get older, with the peaks I've climbed before, I begin to lose the magic of making it to the top sometimes. I feel that I begin to take it all for granted. That's why I enjoy trip leading so much. I get thrilled when I take some new folks to a peak they've never been to before. To hear their enthusiasm and comments when we reach the top takes me back to how I first felt.
Q: Do you ever see yourself stopping doing these outdoor activities?
Mike: Stopping? That word does not exist in my vocabulary. I love what I do and will keep in shape to continue doing it! Will I ever have to slow down at some point? Yeah, perhaps in my 80's when I'll be limited to overlooks, ponds and waterfalls.
Q: What would you say is the biggest benefit you've gained over the years you've spent participating in outdoor activities?
Mike: Developing a positive attitude about life. When you've encountered hardships while backpacking or mountaineering, things really are not that bad once you return home. I've learned to keep smiling when the going gets tough, that karma depends on individuals having a vision of positive results, not to panic and not to give up. The outdoors have motivated me to stay healthy and keep up with a regular workout routine. It enables me to continue to do the same things I did back when I was in my 20's. Did I mention all the great friends I've made and my wonderful partner Jon?
Q: Do you have any advice that you'd care to pass on, from the vantage point of your advancing years?
Mike: This feels like a question that should be answered when I'm in my 80's! I'm only 50..gee when I was 20 I thought 50 was so old :-) I guess from a 20 year old's perspective I must have some wisdom to share? My advice is to:
1) Find a club or network outside the gay bar/club scene where you can connect with the gay community. I did the gay bar/club scene when I was younger and it was a lot of fun. But you need something to keep you "grounded" as you get older. Outdoor activities is definitely an easy one to get started with.
2) Use your "extra" time to improve mankind. Since most of you are not raising children, improve the lives of other people, straight or gay. I think unproductive "extra time" is how we get ourselves in trouble: overtime at work, drugs, alcohol, couch potato, overeating, depression, etc. For me that calling was to help others discover the joys of the outdoor world by trip leading and founding GayOutdoors.
3) SEIZE THE DAY! I realize that I'm not immortal...at least on this earth. I love life. I love being alive. This is such a wonderful place despite the hardships we sometimes face. Live your day like it is your last.
4) Get connected to the outdoors. The escape that it provides helps you heal your soul, sort out the confusion that goes on in your mind, and gives you a great attitude to handle whatever crisis comes your way. As you get older, this connection to the outdoors will help you maintain your physical and mental well-being.
For the older folks, get out more! I don't believe in the excuse that I'm too busy. Life is too short. Life will fly right by without you ever enjoying a beautiful sunset from a summit top, without you ever swimming nude in an isolated swimming hole, without you gazing at the billions of stars above you, without you ever seeing the snow sparkle under the light of the full moon.
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