When I Go Down It’ll Be with a Smile on My Face

Author's version of living in her golden years

Do you worry about getting older? Does the phrase “senior living” scare the pants off you? Are you cutting back on activities because you think you’re too old or in less-than-perfect shape? Are you terrified of your golden years?

Living in fear is for sissies

I ride motorcycle.

To be honest, I ride in the thickly-cushioned backseat with side speakers, a cup holder for my pink sparkly monogrammed beverage cup (thanks, Honey), fully wired for communication to the gentleman in the driver’s seat.

I’m not a thrill seeker, an adrenaline junky, or even terribly brave. I am, however, addicted to adventure. And riding motorcycle is a thrill like no other.

I’m this way because I turned 61 years old this year. I’ve had a decent life. Lots of travel in my younger years and my fair share of heartache. I survived a relationship so toxic and abusive that my cardiologist told me it shortened my life by five years.

But now it’s time to face the music — I ain’t gettin’ any younger

Until five years ago, I was bulletproof. I could lose weight when I wanted, merely by eating less and speed-walking to China and back on the treadmill every evening while carrying 3-lb. hand weights. My hair was thick and strong. And I slept well at night. I was single and quite happy to be so.

Then I fell into the greasy, toxic slime pit known as a relationship with a covert, malignant narcissist, and it all changed. I gained 30 pounds, my hair fell out, I stopped sleeping and my heart decided to strike up the big brass band at odd times of the day or night. Oh, and my blood pressure skyrocketed too.

So I dumped his sorry you-know-what.

I was 59 years old. And my relationship bank account was bone dry empty. I was on my own with no one to play with. No one to have my back. No one to watch movies with, go dancing with, or sleep with. No one to eat with, and no one to hold my hand. No one to tell me he loved me.

I was completely and utterly alone. And I LOVED it.

Do you know how liberating it is to drag your battered soul out from under the crushing weight of a deadbeat “lover?” Someone who takes and takes and takes but never gives? Someone who almost literally sucks the life out of you?

Survival will do that to you. It’ll make you relish each day like it could be your last. Carpe darned diem. There’s no freedom quite like it.

And that was when I decided that the rest of my life would be devoted to adventure.

I don’t mean the kind of adventure that comes from scaling Mt. Everest or running with the bulls at Pamplona. Or even the adventure of traveling solo to a foreign country.

For one thing, stratospheric altitude isn’t for the likes of this recovering computer potato. I prefer gentler cows to bulls (and… I don’t run). And traveling solo just doesn’t sound like much fun to me — I want to share the experiences with someone close to me.

No, I’m talking about adventure right in my own back yard, so to speak. Taking road trips by myself. Learning to shoot a better game of pool. Joining a singing group. Getting involved with the local arts council. And enjoying the very act of being single and older, which to many is a terrifying state, but which to me was heaven on earth.

And then I met someone… and he rides motorcycle.

Author and Mr. Right on motorcycle enjoy senior living
Cruising through Texas (He now wears a helmet and protective eyewear)

I hadn’t “biked” in 10 years, and even then, it was only for a couple of hours here and there, skipping from bar to bar on the back of a city bike. (The driver drank diet soda, I drank fun stuff.) The kind of bike designed for the driver, but not so much for a passenger. The kind that had a tiny 11″x11″ passenger “seat” on the back, kind of like an afterthought.

Compared to how I ride now (and the gentleman with whom I ride), that was little pastel ponies compared to thoroughbred racehorses.

This is riding on steroids. From Texas to Colorado and back. 2300 miles of rain, snow, blistering heat and high altitude on highways and tiny back roads. Now that’s riding motorcycle.

You should hear the doom-and-gloomers ...

“It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when...’ ” “My parents had an accident once — they picked glass out of their skin for weeks...” “You should hear my wife’s stories from the ER of people in motorcycle accidents...” And my personal favorite… “Oh my gosh, at YOUR age?!?”

Various

Yeah yeah, I know. Somehow motorcycling is seen as the greatest personal danger of all time. And it’s true in a sense — drivers of full-size vehicles often don’t see bikes and bikers. We’re small and we don’t take up visual space like full-size vehicles do.

(Though my Honda Cr-V seems to be invisible to drivers who have better things to do than, you know… drive.)

Which is why bikers need to be extra vigilant. The seasoned vets are. They have to watch out for the oncoming driver who wants to “make the light,” even after it turned red 2 seconds ago. They have to watch for the folks who check their blind spots in the mirror but don’t turn their heads to make sure. And they’d better watch out for sleepy or otherwise preoccupied truckers who are in a hurry to make deadlines.

Still, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of riding at 70 mph in the open air with only two wheels beneath you and nothing overhead. It’s the thrilling equivalent of dining al fresco.

Traveling by motorcycle thrusts you head first into your road trip.

It’s the only way to smell “road perfume,” whether it’s skunk in the country, roses in the suburbs, fast food grease in the city or the occasional ripe fragrance of roadkill.

Riding to the top of Pike’s Peak, a steep sinewy strip of asphalt curling ‘round the mountain and marked with constant hairpin turns with nary a guardrail in sight, left my stomach so strangled in knots that only three pieces of Rocky Mountain Fudge could unwind it.

Why do I do this? Why not spend my “golden years” in more sedate pursuits?

Author and Mr. Right enjoying a little of their golden years at at the summit of Pike's Peak
Living the dream at the summit of Pike's Peak

To heck with the "golden years"

I do this…

  • because my children are grown and on their own.
  • because all of my financial affairs are in order. I have a will, I’ve appointed the executor, and she has all the various contact and account information.
  • because I’ve done my job, paid my dues and done right by everyone else, now it’s time to do right by me.
  • because I don’t take any sort of medication and feel young enough to still have something to offer.
  • because I still have a lot of “piss and vinegar” left in me.

Most of all, I do it because I'm too damned young to be old.

When I’m at home, I’m crafting and blogging about it. Or about my views on life as a salty 60-something redhead. But I refuse to let my various aches and pains stand in the way of my adventures. Because to do so, to give it all up and sit on the sidelines, means dying a slow death. And that’s why I’m devoting the next 20 years to as much adventure as this weathered body can handle. Part of that adventure involves buying a motor home and cruising the countryside, visiting states I’ve never been to and exploring my own country.

I want to sip a fine Cabernet from a crystal glass by sunset in Napa Valley. I want to go camping in Alaska and watch the Northern Lights by the light of a campfire. I want to experience the majesty of Mt. Rushmore up close and personal. And I want to crack lobster in Maine like the “Maine-iacs” do.

We’ll travel overseas. England in spring is on my bucket list. Visions of rose-covered cottages, tiny villages and lambs frolicking across verdant pastures have danced in my head for the past 30 years. A European river cruise is on the adventure menu, as are Russia, Italy and Ecuador. Maybe even Turkey.

Then it’s back to buy a piece of land and build a country cottage. Something that looks like it belongs in the country, not a lump of brick and mortar transplanted from the city. A house that’s painted a soft pastel. Maybe green, or blue or yellow with black shutters. A country house with a white picket fence to support billowing antique roses.

We’ll grow flowers and crops and raise chickens. It will involve hard work, and I might do it slower than younger folks, but I’ll still do it. (Have you ever raised chickens? Talk about adventure…)

And the Harley will be our constant companion.

My cardiologist is annoyed with me.

He became almost belligerent during my last visit as he insisted motorcycling would be my downfall. This, as he stubbornly tried to force me on blood thinners and statins using his strongest fear tactics. (More on that in a future story.) Turns out, he used to have a Harley, and his wife made him get rid of it. “For the children,” she said.

I told him this:

“I can either sit in a corner taking your blood thinners, afraid of my every movement, or I can live the adventure life’s supposed to be. Either way, when it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. I’ll be damned if I die your way.”

Now get out of my way, doc — I have places to go and people to see. On the back of a Harley.

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."

Author and Mr. Right - two seniors who met dating online
Me and Mr. Right in Colorado

P.S.

  1. I fired the cardiologist and found one without Harley-jealousy issues.
  2. Mr. Right now wears a helmet and eyewear on ALL outings.
  3. We’ve since been to Mt. Rushmore – that’ll be a future story!
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Hi, I'm Shea!

Hi, I'm Shea!

Do you prefer handmade to store bought? Would you rather make something than buy it? If you want to tap into your inner creative genius and say, "Yes, I made that," stick with me. From greeting cards to soap to old-fashioned desserts "from my mother's recipe box," (sprinkled with tales of life as an almost-senior), you'll learn that handmade beats the socks off store bought!

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