The article details the adventures of retirees who opt for weeks-long hiking expeditions along trails, rivers and mountains, complete with kayaking, horseback riding, and biking, rather than staying in place. Mountain Travel Sobek, an adventure travel company, says that 25% of its guests are between 55 and 64, and 21% are over 65.
A recent “Your Money” feature in The New York Times reports on alternative approaches to recreational activities in retirement, from hiking to kayaking and camping in national park.
Dave Roberts, 72, a retired teacher and software engineer, is on a mission to navigate the United States powered only by his two legs and two arms. He camps out at night and lugs 25 pounds of equipment—including his tent, sleeping bag and food—on his back, the Times reported.
“I expect to keep doing it until I get tired of it,” said Roberts, who is currently on a 3,000-mile “ramble” across Texas, weaving through at least 40 national parks and averaging about 23 miles a day, the Times reported.
Some people retire to golf courses. Others travel. And then there are those who enjoy physical challenges, traversing hiking trails, rivers and mountains, the Times reported.
Twenty-five percent of the guests who travel with Mountain Travel Sobek, for example, are between 55 and 64; 21 percent are over 65. The oldest is 88, according to Kevin Callaghan, the adventure firm’s president. Not all of them engage in strenuous activity, but even the least demanding trips typically involve a fair amount of walking or modest hiking, the Times reported.
About 20 percent of REI Adventures’ business comes from customers over 60; most of Nomadic Expedition’s clients are between 60 and 65, and about 65 percent are female. Twenty-seven percent of Backroads’ walking and hiking guests come from this age group, the Times reported.
Christina Shrewsbury, 68, a musician in East Amherst, N.Y., and her husband, Ron, a retired analytical chemist, have taken six trips with POMG Bike Tours, a cycling outfit in Richmond, Vt. “We’ve biked up to 100 miles a day,” Shrewsbury said. “It’s very important to have goals and a plan. Now is the time to do it.”
Besides the joy of being outdoors and letting the wind blow them where it will, the appeal of these endeavors varies. For Dale Sanders, 80, who calls himself the Gray Beard Adventurer, it’s about breaking records. Last year, he became the oldest person to solo paddle the Mississippi River, while raising about $23,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Times reported.
For Bernice Ende, 61, a former ballet teacher who goes by the moniker Lady Longrider and says she has logged almost 30,000 miles across the United States on horseback, it’s about a return to a childhood passion. For Janene Bray, 60, who spent 45 days trekking the Camino de Santiago, which follows an old pilgrimage route for 500 miles across northern Spain, it was about doing something for herself after her three children left home, the Times reported.
“I needed to prove to myself that I could do something alone,” said Bray, an artist in Prescott, Ariz. “My kids thought for sure I’d kill myself.”
Sunny Eberhart, 77, a retired eye doctor, who goes by Nimblewill Nomad, lives mostly out of his pickup truck. “Put me in the great outdoors, preferably the mountains, and you’ve got a happy camper,” said Eberhart.
Most of these adventurers do it on the cheap, living off Social Security and incurring minimal expenses. Bray spent about $3,000, with airfare, on the trip to Spain; Roberts’ biggest costs have been replacing equipment that was lost, stolen or ruined along the way, the Times reported.
The lure of adventure also motivates people to stay strong. To prep for his excursions, George MacNaughton, 70, a former executive in Nahant, Mass., hits the gym a couple of times a week and does chores outside. He derives as much pleasure from planning a trip as actually taking it; he can easily spend a month poring over maps, checking out the latest equipment, calculating mileages and projecting times for any given trail, the Times reported.
“I’m racing to beat the aging cartilage in my knees,” said MacNaughton, who has been retired for about 15 years and has nine children. Last year he hiked and camped in Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior; and MacNaughton Mountain in the Adirondacks; canoed on the Androscoggin River in New Hampshire; and backpacked the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier in Washington with Fitpacking, an adventure travel company, the Times reported.
Roberts has always been adventurous; he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia in the 1970s. But then life took over. He married, raised a daughter and divorced in the 1980s. In 2002, he quit his job and rejoined the Peace Corps. When he returned home, he bought a boat and sailed across the North Atlantic, the Times reported.
In 2014, he and his daughter hiked all 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. He then cycled the 3,000 miles to Key West, Fla., before heading to the 1,300-mile Florida Trail. From there, he rode from Pensacola to Minnesota, some 1,500 miles, the Times reported.
He sold his bike, picked up a kayak and paddled the Mississippi River to New Orleans. He chronicles his expeditions at DavidOwenRoberts.com, and has self-published a few books. Roberts now plans to hike the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide trails, which, along with the Appalachian Trail, are considered America’s hiking Triple Crown, the Times reported.
There have been some mishaps along the way. His kayak was stolen, and it cost $1,500 to replace. Another time, when he washed in a Florida pond, he found it was infested with mites, causing unbearable itching, the Times reported.
Greg Ferris, 67, a retired economist and friend from the Peace Corps days, joined Roberts last November on a cycling trip from Annapolis, Md., to Chapel Hill, N.C., riding about 40 miles a day, the Times reported.
“It was brutal,” recalled Ferris, who persuaded Roberts to sleep in hotels a few nights. “One evening I was probably lamenting our luck with the rain and midteen temps when Dave responded with, ‘If nothing goes wrong, it’s not an adventure.’ I thought that notion cut right to the chase.”
Richard Sojourner would agree. Last May, Sojourner joined Sanders for his record-making trip on the Mississippi. But 15 days shy of the finish, Sojourner, 71, a former police officer who had an artery bypass operation in 2004, got heat exhaustion and aborted his mission, the Times reported.
“Oh, Lord, it burst my bubble for sure,” said Sojourner, who did a do-over in October and completed the leg of the trip he missed. “It was a big letdown.”
But he is philosophical. “We’re issuing a challenge to old people,” Sojourner said. “They may think we’re crazy. Both of us have full white beards. You see these two old bearded folks and you wonder, ‘What in the world are they doing on that river?’”
“Whether I set a record or not—it doesn’t matter,” he added. “It’s more for my grandkids: ‘Look at what Paw-Paw did.’”