[cdt-l] Average CDT age? OT downsizing

Jeffrey Olson jolson at olc.edu
Thu Jan 11 15:48:23 CST 2007

Just these couple posts have let me focus in a different way on a 
thru-hike in three or four years.  I hear the wisdom in "downsize."  ON 
my first long section hike 15 years ago my girlfriend and I downsized to 
a four foot wide 10' long storage space.  I have a friend who downsized 
to ten boxes of books and important (to him) papers and what he could 
carry in his car before moving to the east coast and a new relationship 
(he's now 46).  My three cars, racing dinghy, nearly complete woodshop, 
extensive library - little furniture luckily - takes a 24' truck to 
move.  I did it last a year and a half ago. 

I read the posts of those coming out of college or a couple years of 
jobs and remember, and chuckle.  Now it's a bit more complex only 
because of the accumulated possessions.  Also, the medical thing. 

The former involves the process of preparing to die - isn't this 
elemental to downsizing?  I think we Americans are taught to think we'll 
live forever, and somehow, material accumulation is the measure of our 
life's worth.  When we contemplate something like a thru-hike this 
usually unquestioned assumption is illuminated and deeper thought can 

I think we discover it is time that's valuable, and filling it with 
family and friends and adventure is time's other side.  I've always 
realized possessions are the ball and chain on the spirit's freedom, but 
now as I work with persons from the Lakota culture, listen to my brother 
a cloistered Buddhist monk, and contemplate a thru-hike marking another 
life change, I think the next long hike will send me into a lighter 
life's footprint and the next phase of living. 

I do think this is part of preparing to die, part of taking 
responsibility for dying well.  I remember reading Plato's "The Phaedo" 
while in grad school.  If I remember correctly, its the story of 
Socrate's death.  He was tried for subverting the minds of Athens' youth 
and convicted.  He was given the choice to be banned from Athens, the 
source of the phrase, "a fate worse than death," or to drink hemlock and 
die.  He chose to drink the hemlock and die. 

While a thru-hike sets up a lifelong restlessness in a young person, one 
that keeps him or her from sinking into middle class mediocrity (I 
hope!), for those of us on the other side of youth, I think it sets up 
the possibility to make what sociologists call second order change, a 
paradigm shift, which is probably different for each of us.  Second 
order change involves radical shift in attitude and priority that causes 
permanent behavioral changes.  First order change involves talk about 
change, and maybe some new behaviors, but no change in attitude - lots 
of say one thing and do another. 

Going on a thru-hike doesn't involve second order change.  I've headed 
out a couple times and that's what I've discovered.  A thru-hike can 
involve second order change, change in attitudes and priorities. But 
it's not a given.  The planning for and doing a thru-hike in the third 
quarter of life offers this possibility, I think, perhaps better than in 
the first or second quarter - which seem much more formative in focus.  
I know I'm generalizing, and each of us has a unique story.  However, 
this is what reading the short offerings in this thread have suggested 
to me. 

Ive always thought about the meaning of my own eventual dying, and now 
as my parents are in their 80s and increasing infirm and demented, I 
more clearly see the trajectories my last 30 years can take.  I love my 
work and don't consider "retirement" in the sense my folks have retired 
- stopping going to a job.  Two or three years before the active 
planning stage I have great curiosity what will occur! - in the 
planning, the hiking, and what I plan to do afterwards. 

I've always said, "I don't want to be on death's door and look back and 
see what I did I really didn't want to, or see what I wanted to do and 
didn't."  In my 20s and 30s I "knew" this and lived as much as possible 
with this in mind while moving from job to job, relationship to 
relationship, house to house.  The 40s were for me a time when I earned 
an MSW and Ph.D, so I found a measure of material success - I earned 
over $26,000 for the first time in 1999, when I was 47 years old.  Money 
never mattered.  Doing what in retrospect as I die out of this life did, 
and does matter. 

The other part that seems important, is the medical part - how to 
protect what assets one has from being eaten up by catastrophic illness 
or injury and being reduced to living on medicaid.  I think many of us 
50 year olds hold back from living a more adventurous life because of 
the "fear" this kind of thinking engenders.  I hear that this fear is 
not insurmountable, and some of the posts on this thread talk about this. 

I don't have many assets, and will do what I can to protect them as I 
leave for a year of hiking and visiting.  At the same time, I want to 
understand how this learned fear influences my decisions.  On one hand 
it's real.  On the other it's a way of approaching life, all about 
attitudes and priorities.  I look forward to sorting through all this, 
and reading about how others in similar situations are approaching 
hiking, as a hike, as a metaphor, as a way to effect second order change...

Jeff, just Jeff...
Martin, SD

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