In exactly 366 days I turn fifty. I think that makes me a Centurionette, which sounds like a Centurion in a skirt. It definitely makes me middle aged.
I like the idea that the milestone birthday celebration sets the stage for the decade to come. I can’t remember my 20th birthday, probably testament that I did it right. My 30th was a surprise potluck thrown by my husband and a bunch of friends, and its happy chaos was a harbinger of the era of starting a family and balancing a career and being surprised at every turn at what the hell I’d gotten myself into.
When I turned forty, my sister and I went to Cowgirl Camp on a dude ranch in Arizona. Thanks to the summer camp I attended growing up, I’d been a fearless horseback rider all through my teens and twenties, cantering bareback and riding horses into lakes and barrel racing. I’d fall off, brush the dust off my butt and get back on, once even after a horse had clipped the skin on my chin open with his hoof as I slid beneath him in the corral. But after I became a mom I suddenly lost my nerve. I kept picturing myself having horseback accidents and my husband having to explain to motherless girls that my need for equine speed had deprived them of a parent. It kept me on the wrong side of the corral fence for almost ten years.
So at forty, when the girls were older and I was feeling less fragile about everything, Cowgirl Camp seemed like a good way to get my mojo back. My sister (who has always been a more fearless and talented rider than me anyway) and I had a blast at the dude ranch outside of Tuscon. The four days culminated in a team cattle penning competition where she and I had to cut three longhorn cows away from the herd and drive them into a small pen; by the time it was our turn to ride out, my horseback riding fears were so far in the rear view mirror that I plunged straight into the herd and their sharp, pointed horns, yanking and kicking and screaming at the top of my lungs until the job was done. During the barrel racing competition, I beat my sister’s time by about a half second. Though the judges gave her the 1st place ribbon made of hand-tooled leather. And if you think we’re not still discussing that a decade later, you don’t have siblings.
In retrospect, Facing My Fears was exactly the right way to celebrate, ten years ago. I’d just had my first few essays published and was girding my loins to step away from corporate work and hang a shingle as a writer. It was a scary time – was I any good or were those essays a fluke? How would I earn a living? Remembering how it felt to sit on the back of a beautiful horse again, more satisfying than any fear could sabotage, helped me take the plunge.
So what’s the right theme for celebrating my 50th next year? I think it’s going to be A Long, Long Walk In Another Part of the World. It ties in two things that I sense will be important for the next decade: trying to keep my aging body from hitting the skids too quickly, and having a new time consuming hobby to distract me from the kids being gone.
When my husband turned 50, he started planning a super-challenging bike trip in Italy with his buddies, to take place a year later. That was a good twelve months for him: he was riding like a madman, researching fancy bike parts, preparing with his buddies. The actual trip was only 10 days long but it kept him busy for a full year. And even though he sent me a postcard from atop a punishing mountain climb that said, “If I ever say I’m going to do something like this again, tell me no,” he was rightfully proud that even if his fifth decade, he could take on something physically challenging, and conquer it. I’m a solid daily 4 mile hiker now, but I figure if I start adding miles incrementally over the next 12 months, I’ll be ready to handle the fourteen-miles-between-really-fancy-inns experience I’m aiming for to kick off my second half-century.
And there is no end to the places you can go on a hiking trip. In four short years, this nest will be empty. I don’t want to stick around it any more than I have to, for fear of catching a glimpse of an unslept-upon bed that will make me cry. I want to stay on the move, and if those moves can be made in lovely parts of the world, so much the better. If the hikes have to start from my front door, I’m fine with that too.
My sister and I have started researching self-guided hiking trips through Scotland. We’ve never been there and even if I can’t stand drinking Scotch, I love bagpipes and Scottish accents something awful. This time around, we’re trying to convince our brother to come. His schedule makes it tricky; then again, he just forwarded me an article about a Scottish hotel that wants to have beer taps in every room, so maybe he’s leaning yes.
All I know is if there is a speed-walking competition at any point on the journey, I’m taking home the 1st place ribbon in my suitcase.
Can you imagine? When I looked for “Story of My Life” on YouTube, the top result was the song of the same name by OneDirection. As if.