A Surefire Way to Celebrate Big Milestones: Physical Challenge

Reading: A Surefire Way to Remember Big Milestones: Work Up a Sweat

Fitness at 40+

A Surefire Way to Remember Big Milestones: Work Up a Sweat

A big physical challenge can be both an adventure and a way to celebrate the body that's gotten you this far

By Marianne C. Bohr

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow what a ride!”  ― Hunter S. Thompson

My husband and I were about to turn 60 and were restless for adventure. We planned a special birthday dinner at our favorite restaurant, but wanted and needed more. Our 35-year marriage was punctuated by outdoor escapades. We had paddled down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in a dory, completed the canyon’s rim-to-rim hike, done significant treks with our teenaged children, tackled strenuous climbs in the Rockies, and circuited Mont Blanc on the TMB through France, Italy, and Switzerland during a week high in the Alps.

We believed adventure didn’t have to end when we reached a certain age, and we wanted a brand new challenge worthy of our 60 years. 

To celebrate this new milestone, we decided on two weeks of hiking and camping across the mountainous French island of Corsica, to challenge what it meant to grow old. When I told friends and colleagues our plans, they said I was crazy. “People your age don’t climb mountains. You could get hurt.” 

 “That’s how we know it’s an adventure,” I replied. 

Although the French have vacationed on Corsica for years, few Americans have discovered this somewhat exotic corner of France. So off we went in the summer of 2016, in hiking boots, lugging new backpacks, a tent, sleeping bags, and trekking poles to face a 124-mile trail across a rocky island in the Mediterranean.

 Preparing for the adventure was an opportunity for me to take care of my body as the important vessel it is and say thank you for all it had been through with me. It had gotten me to 60-years-old, and I needed to pamper it with extra special care. The skin I’m in got me through childhood as the eldest of 11 children; a painful, anxiety-filled adolescence; a demanding college education; the birth and raising of two children; a multitude of outdoor adventures; successive demanding careers; and now keeping up with our grandson. 

Yes, I have pains, but every day I celebrate what my aging body can do.

You may say, “Why undertake physical challenges outside your comfort zone? In the wilderness, no less. Why?” 

The easy answer is getting in touch with nature’s beauty, but in reality, it’s so much more. Unless we try new things and go new places, especially remote, natural ones, we never get to experience the wonders of the brisk, fresh air, the solitude, the restorative effect of being outside, the sense of freedom and timelessness, and how our muscles ache, in a good way, at the end of a long day. 

Adhering to patriarchal rules and perceptions, we women don’t necessarily see ourselves as athletes and competitors, as tough and sturdy. But we can be and we are, even though female conditioning might not encourage it.

I was always an unlikely athlete, told exactly that by my father when I was a chubby girl of 12. But challenging myself with physical endeavors mustered my resolve. It helped me connect to my external power and discover inner strength. I experienced what I could do and it made me even stronger.  

You don’t have to go so far as to bisect a Mediterranean island on foot, or complete a grueling thru-hike, to reap the benefits of a physical contest. But you could start by identifying a challenge and a goal that excites you, learn what your body can do and how far you can push yourself, and then go just a little further. Yes, failing joints and weakening muscles may be part of our reality, but as a wise hiker once told me, “The motor will be more in your head than in your legs.” 

If the motor in my head helped me, yours can help you too.

We all live life at different speeds, and so for some, a physical challenge may simply mean doing something athletic you’ve always wanted to. Like biking the full length of the trail that winds through and around your town, taking up yoga or Pilates, walking three miles every day for a month (that’s ninety miles!), running a 5K, a 10K, or a marathon, walking your dog around the circumference of a 12-mile lake, or taking fly fishing or snowboarding lessons. 

And where might the idea for your particular adventure come from? Your neighbor, a friend, a colleague, your doctor, or someone in your book club. Never underestimate the power of listening carefully to what others say and do. You’ll be surprised to find that what you consistently seek and think about, you inevitably attract. 

Time has a way of vanishing quickly, especially as we age. One day flows into the next, weeks turn into months, and before we know it, a year has slipped by. Years ago, friends and I talked, trying to remember what we’d done to celebrate our 30th, 35th, and 40th birthdays. 

“How am I supposed to remember those things when I can’t remember what I did yesterday?” one friend said. We went around the table and few of us had answers. What did we do to celebrate these significant events? The last milestone anniversary of our wedding or retirement? A well-deserved promotion? Our youngest child’s graduation from college? Did we do something to mark these events, or did they get lost in the miasma of time? 

And then I shared my strategy that helps decelerate my days: marking life’s milestones with physical adventures. Doing so puts down markers that give time more substance and helps me remember what I did and where I was to celebrate important events. Do something exceptional (whatever that means to you) that will commit a milestone to memory — something physical that won’t let you forget.

Researching and then choosing my challenge and marking it on my calendar puts time in a container. Here I am today, rolling up my sleeves and looking toward a future date, and between now and then is a pathway of weeks and months to plan, train, prepare, and anticipate. That pathway helps distinguish one day from another, one year from the next. And then, in the end, there’s the exhilaration of execution and then reveling in and remembering my success.

We humans crave ritual and celebration. In fact, we’re born with an intrinsic longing for them. And if somehow they go missing, we feel deprived. 

The deep need to mark the most important milestones of our lives — from birthdays and weddings to college graduations and holidays — with ceremony in the company of those who matter to us most has resulted in rituals that heighten the experience of these profound moments. They are the punctuation marks of our lives, providing a sense of structure and building an indispensable bank of memories. 

And so here we are, my husband and I, on the back side of COVID, which threw a monkey wrench into plans for a65th birthday adventure. But 68 is just over the horizon and restlessness is back with a vengeance. 

The seeds for our next physical ritual came from a fellow writer and trekker who casually mentioned hiking across England. 

“That’s it!” I said. “Our next adventure.” 

It is now officially on the calendar. We’ll do the Coast-to-Coast Walk across England from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay, 188 miles from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, in about three weeks’ time, our trusty dog trotting behind us.

And so, now it’s your turn. Picture yourself stepping out your front door, on your way to a challenge you’ve designed just for you. And then imagine yourself coming back up those stairs, muscles sore, endorphins rushing, head held high. 


Marianne C. Bohr, author of The Twenty: One Woman’s Trek Across Corsica on the GR20 Trail, married her high school sweetheart and travel partner. She has two grown children and is the eldest of 11. She follows her own advice and hits the road at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Park City, Utah, where, after decades in publishing, and many years of teaching middle school French, she skis, hikes, and writes.


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