spacer
Thrive logo
spacer
spacer Log in | spacer
corner spacer corner
spacer
spacer
corner browseissues corner
spacer
spacer
spacer
corner spacer corner
spacer
corner popularlinks corner
spacer
spacer
spacer
corner spacer corner
corner spacer corner
spacer
spacer
spacer
spacer
corner spacer corner
spacer
spacer
corner spacer corner
spacer

The Oldest Person On The Bus
By Joseph Longo

My 65th birthday was looming.

For the last ten years on my birthdays I always pushed myself to do something extremely physical, something to confirm that I wasn’t getting old, like climbing a heart-pumping incline usually somewhere in the Santa Monica Mountains. For my 65th, I wanted to do something that would push my physical limits because this birthday was bumming me out. For many, 65 means retirement, the end of the road, a sedentary imprisonment. When my parents were 65 they were old people, exhausted, tired from a life of hard work. I did not want to be tired and old. I wanted to be active and alive.

I have been a serious hiker for almost twenty years. My partner and I hiked all over this country. We hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and to the top of Yosemite Falls and through the winding canyons of Zion National Park.  We had been told that Costa Rica was a wonderland for hikers. It was also the perfect place for an extreme physical vacation. Bob is a nature buff and especially wanted to see the Arenal Volcano, which was Costa Rica’s most active volcano and one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. It has erupted over the years and in 1968 there was a major eruption that destroyed three small villages and killed 87 people. We were told that the lava was constantly flowing and were assured to see an active volcanic display.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country, lush and green, mostly rural with one small city, San Jose, and many rain and cloud forests, rivers, mountains, jungles, and a staggering variety of colorful birds and wild life, including different species of  monkeys. It is not a rich country – but it didn’t seem especially poor. We didn’t see the sprawling slums that you see in other South and Central American countries.  Most people lived in small, brightly painted houses.

We hired a cab from our hotel located in an isolated cloud forest surrounded by a thick jungle – where we rarely saw the sun – to take us to the Arenal Volcano, which is located in the northern part of the country. We were to meet up with our guide in La Fortuna, which was the town nearest the volcano. Driving to La Fortuna, we caught our first glimpse of Arenal. It was a majestic, classic, cone-shaped volcano. It was – to our disappoint – inactive that day. No lava or steam was issuing from it. Not a whiff of smoke or a flake of ash was detected.  The day, however, was pleasant and clear, with white puffy clouds hovering above the cone.

We met up with our guide. He was a pleasant, humorous, heavy-set fellow in his mid thirties named Walter, a Costa Rican whose English was pretty good. He led us to a bus and we took the two remaining seats. There was a mixture of people on the bus: all of whom were in their early to mid-twenties. I was the oldest person on the bus. My fellow travelers were a healthy, athletic, outdoorsy looking bunch, a polyglot group: speaking French, Swedish, German, and even Spanish. Two girls – one seemed pregnant – talked incessantly in both English and a language I could not identify. An attractive French couple – a pretty blonde woman and a handsome young man – sat in front of us. We drove on a bumpy dirt road. It seemed that most of the roads in Costa Rica were bumpy dirt roads. We stopped twice to view wildlife, but all we saw were two sloughs lazing, almost hidden in trees.

We arrived at Arenal Volcano National Park and filed out of the bus. The hike started easy enough. Walter led us through a field of palm trees that would take us to the base of the volcano. As we walked he regaled us with facts about Arenal. It measured at least 5,358 ft, was conically shaped with a crater spanning 460 ft.  He informed us that Arenal is geologically considered a young volcano and its age is estimated to be less than 7,000 years.  He told us to keep our eyes open for wildlife. He said there was a chance we would see monkeys. But none materialized. He pointed out lava trails that were caused by the 1968 eruption and showed us where two houses had been that had been destroyed by lava flows. He pointed out trails of leaf-cutter ants that were all over the ground. They carried bits of leaves – reflecting bright green in the late afternoon sun – on their backs.

Photography is one of my passions. And on my back was my knapsack filled with my equipment: cameras, lenses and accessories. Attached to the knapsack was a small, cumbersome tripod. I also wore a long-sleeved white shirt to protect me from the sun and bugs. I happily snapped pictures as we walked along. I especially got some cool macro shots of individual leaf-cutter ants.

Walter called us all together and asked whether we wanted to take a long
or short hike up the base of the volcano to our destination, the Lava Flow Summit. He said both hikes were moderate. The group opted for the longer, moderate hike. But I wondered if this moderate hike was going to be the challenge I wanted for my 65th? However, the word moderate had lost something in its translation from Spanish to English.

We started the assent. I was in the middle of the group, clutching my camera, my knapsack as yet weighing not too heavily on my back. I lingered to take pictures – lovely shots of the light streaming through the trees and leaves. At first we traversed a gravel path. Then the terrain changed. We were walking on chunks of jagged lava. It was like walking on spikes. The young people blithely walked along, seeming to hop over the lava spikes like rabbits hopping through a field.  Then abruptly the trail became vertical.

I fell behind and my interest in taking photos diminished. My camera and the knapsack became encumbrances. The tripod attached to my knapsack began to hit my legs, and the sound it made bounced off the trees. The two women who talked incessantly in the bus were talking incessantly now. They walked behind me. I sensed they were annoyed with my increasing slowness causing the group to get further ahead of us. Their voices irritated me. I moved off to the side. When they passed, they sneered, as they jabbered on in their mysterious language. They were probably saying this old guy is so ill-prepared for this trip – with a heavy knapsack and an awkward tripod. Or was I projecting my annoyance with myself on them?

I began to fall further behind and was now covered with sweat. My knapsack was a bolder. I am too old for this, I said to myself. I wanted a challenge but I could not muster the strength to meet it. My heart pumped faster, beating loudly. Was I going to have a heart attack? Everyone in my family had had heart attacks before they reached my age. Was it my turn? My knapsack was now a definite burden – a cross to bear. I stopped and took it off and then removed my long-sleeved shirt. My t-shirt was drenched. I used the shirt to mop my face and head. I was pouring sweat. I had to drink water or else I would dehydrate. I took a long swig. I started to climb the jagged, tortuous lava rocks again. This time holding my camera bag in my hand and mopping my face with my white shirt – which was losing its whiteness quickly. After a bit, I saw Bob waiting for me.

“Are you OK,” he asked. “You don’t look too good.”

“I don’t think I can make it.”

“Sure you can,” he reassured me. I could see that he too was suffering, but thankfully not to the degree that I was. “Rest for a bit,” he said. “Drink more water.”

He offered to carry some of my burden. I gave him my tripod.

I rested, caught my breath, and my pounding heart subsided.

“It’s the altitude,” Bob said. “And these jagged lava rocks. We are not used to them.”

“Go ahead, “I said. “I’ll follow.” I could barely get the words out.

He walked and I trudged behind him. Every step was an undertaking. The trail got more vertical, the rocks sharper. There were no plateaus, no easy parts. It was just straight up, straight to heaven, or was it hell. The volcanic rocks cut into my shoes and my feet started to hurt.

I thought about having a heart attack again. What if I had one? How will they get me off this volcano? Would a helicopter have to alight somewhere? But where? There were no open spaces. Members of the group would have to carry me down. The humiliation of that thought made my climb more difficult.

Each step over the jagged black rocks became an ordeal. I couldn’t go any further. I had met my match – a hike that I could not complete. I had prided myself that I could finish any hike I started. But I wasn’t going to finish this one and would have to be carried off this rock – humiliated and defeated.

Bob was waiting for me again. This time he was with the pretty French girl I had seen on the bus. She smiled as I approached them. Her English was excellent; she said she had studied at a Montana college for a year. She spoke to me in reassuring tones, her accent was even reassuring, telling me to sit down and rest.  I told her I was holding everyone back. She said that that was nonsense; that we were a team and all in this together. Her name was Alise.

Then Walter joined us. He asked me if I was OK. I said I didn’t think I could make it. He replied that we didn’t have all that much more to go before we reached the Lava Flow Summit. But I could see no summit ahead of us. He told me to give him my knapsack and whatever else I had, and that I should drink as much water as I could and to take it slow. That was an understatement. Slow. I could barely take it slow or any way at all.

They started up and I followed them. I did not think I could take another step. Just put one foot in front of the other, I said to myself. One day at a time. One foot at a time. Bob and Alise walked ahead of me chatting. He was telling her about our trip to Paris three years ago. (How could he chat so easily with her while I was dying?) Occasionally they would shoot encouraging looks back at me. My mind, however, was in a dark place. The birds were now vultures waiting to gnaw at my flesh? The trees were an army poised to annihilate me? And the sky was ready to crash down on my head? I wasn’t going to live beyond 65. I was going to die on this rock. But wait! There was a light at the end of the tunnel. I could see the Lava Flow Summit in the near distance.

I couldn’t believe it. I made it. I was not dead. My heart didn’t stop. My legs did not break off. It took me a moment to gather myself together. Bob told me to drink more water. Alise smiled her reassuring smile. It may have been the sweetest smile I had ever seen.

Walter came up to me. He too smiled and said the rest of the hike was all downhill on a paved road.

It was sunset and the sky was a mixture of pinks and blues. In my tormented state – soaked with perspiration, shaking from fatigue – I was stopped by the spectacular view, 360 degrees of breathtaking beauty. In front of me was the spectacular vista of rolling green hills. Beyond it was the mirror-like reservoir reflecting the pinks and blues of the sky, and in the far distance were the mountains going off into infinity. And behind me was the majestic volcano, basking in the pastel colors of the sunset.

I couldn’t help but believe that the others in the group were ignoring me, the old slowpoke. Then a young woman walked over to me. I had noticed her before, a bit overweight, but she still made the hike.  She told me if a helicopter was coming to rescue me, she’d get on to it even if she had to hang on the rudders. She whispered to me, “Several of the others feel the same way you are feeling.” I glanced at the rest of the group. None of them looked like me: a wet, tired, dirty dish rag. Yet her words were a comfort and I didn’t feel like such a burden.

What did I learn from this? I learned that my body could take it – mainly because I had exercised regularly for decades. That my heart was still strong, and that my legs and feet – which suffered from the ordeal – were OK. But the thought that kept coming back to me was would these twenty-somethings be able to make the climb when they were my age?  As the days passed, I was less bummed about turning 65. I was not twenty; I could not do what twenty did the way that twenty did it. Yet I climbed the base of the volcano – though at a slow pace and with great difficulty.   But I did it.

Joseph Longo Bio:

I was born in New York City in the borough of the Bronx.  When I reached 18 I travelled extensively through the United States and Europe. When I stopped travelling, I worked in the film industry for a number of years, and then in my late twenties, I tired of the freelance film industry lifestyle, settled in Boston and went to college. I received a BA in English and Education. Then I received an MA in mass communications.

As a graduate student I started to teach English on the college level, and after graduating I continued to teach but also returned to the film industry, where I worked mainly as a scriptwriter for training and educational media: films, video, slide shows, DVDs and audio presentations. I currently live in LA with my partner of 16 years and our three cats. I continue to maintain two careers, writing and teaching, and currently teach on-line English courses for Santa Monica College. My partner and I love to travel, and we are avid hikers.

Back to Stories

spacer
COMMENT (1) | aging, hiking, inspiration
spacer

Comments

One Response to “The Oldest Person On The Bus”

  1. Anonymous
    December 26th, 2011 @ 7:53 pm

    Joseph,
    What a wonderful and descriptive account of accepting our limitations and doing the best we can – wherever we are in life

Leave a Reply





spacer
spacer
spacer
spacer
spacer
corner spacer corner
spacer
corner spacer corner
spacer
newsletter
spacer
spacer
spacer
corner spacer corner
spacer
corner comments corner
spacer
  • Alice: Helping someone with this issue is hard. And even more if you love him. I know that very well. We struggled...
  • Union Alarm: The best way is to leave such a person as it is not worth making your life miserable with such a person....
  • Nancy Flora: I think what you mean is a non-drinking member of an alcoholic family. Alcoholism is a family disease....
  • Amanda: The family is waking up Sunday AM and my alcoholic husband again makes another nasty comment to me. The...
  • Angel: I learned how to detach from my drunk husband! Than my mother passed away. All gloves were off after that. My...
  • Lorraine: Married thirty seven and a half years to an alcoholic. But he is a good person. And he does good deeds for...
  • jw: I have been with my husband twenty one years. We have three children together, ages 5,7, and 9. He is a...
  • Richard Berman: A emotional story well written with bright eye ups and sad eye downs. A story I could relate to. My...
  • Gina: Love this. Just what I needed to read. Thank you for your courage to share this.
  • Tired: I am struggling with detaching, but still trying. I have been with my other half off and on for 5 years. The...
  • Debra Grossman: Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. It nourishes my soul to learn of such special...
  • Jack russell: Really enjoyed reading the website. I have also have a website about this great dog.
  • Anonymous: Thank God for your blog. After 37 years of being married to an alcoholic,I’ve finally reached my...
  • Anonymous: Thanx 4 da truth
  • Sandra: I am from USA, i am 36 years old, i want to gladly give My testimony of how a spell caster dr.mac@yahoo. com...
  • g: Thank you for your words. As I navigate through marriage with children (11, 5, 3) and I am a stay at home mom, the...
  • Catherine Ellen Pettway: My husband and I married in 1988. He occasionally drank beer but not everyday. He came from...
  • Nic: Thank you Mike for your honesty and vulnerability. It helps to feel a connection with someone who understands...
  • Robert Goldsmith: Thank you for sharing that very intimate experience and your story. I’m married to an...
  • MANDI: Is this group still going? I love my husband and I knew what I was getting into when I married him. I knew he...
  • Kelly: Dear Keith, I hope you are at peace now. You are missed by many.
  • Delilah Campos: Dear LaVora, Thank you so much for sharing this intimate experience. I am deeply touched and...
  • Mary Ellen Bennett: Thank you so much. I am married to an alcoholic and I have watched him go through rehabilitation...
  • Tracy: Thank you for sharing your story with me Ivor. I’m so glad you had a loving supportive Aunt to guide you...
  • Daniel Fontana: I know those kids,especially Snezana.Please send me their contact information.
  • Neyhaaa: I can’t thank you enough for sharing this. Yet, thank you.
  • Amy: My daughter is five and her dad is an alcoholic. I know we need to leave. We both own our house and I...
  • CPC: I think this is among the such a lot important info for me. And i’m happy studying your article. However...
  • online festival: Every year, people in India find different ways to celebrate the same festival, and perhaps this...
  • Karol: Listening to all the mother’s on here is overwhelming for me. I think about what all of you are going...
  • Vicki Osheka: This is my second marriage and I came from a non drinking family. Didn’t realize what I was...
  • Elle: Wel written article. My husband is walking around totally beligerant. Where he ends up making messes, he has...
  • Maren: Thank you for this! 3rd day on Cipralex and a glimmer of hope.
  • Anonymous: I ‘gave in’ recently. I am more hopeful than ever that things will improve for me after...
  • LindaJane Riley: I apologize to everyone who has commented. I didn’t know this story was still active. I would...
  • Rahulbh28: Dear Members, Please help me. . . I’m sharing my painful moments which my brother and my family...
  • rene: Yes i too lived the nightmare for 45 yrs..when in my marriage the last. 10 yrs my alcoholic lived in the same...
  • Grace: I typed in Google search, overcoming childhood loneliness because I am paying attention to some habits that I...
  • Casadina: I am so thankful that I found this website. I am like others on here and my alcoholic is passed out snoring...
  • Grateful: I cannot express how much I appreciate your story. I have been with my alcoholic for 11 years and I do not...
  • Vic: I stumbled upon this beautifully written article because I just “gave in” today. I just picked up my...
  • Carol: I have recently begun to admit that my husband is an alcoholic. My heart is broken… I am pissed… I...
  • TJ: Thank you for this article. You are the first person who seems to understand why I am still married to an...
  • sariah: I wept as I read your story. I am currently learning to detach as well after 20 years of marriage to an...
  • LaVora: Good luck, N. My experience may not be yours. However, I deeply believe that happiness is our birthright. You...
  • nk: Lavora, I am exactly here in my marriage – trying to turn it around. Rgds, N
  • Suzanne: Hi Martin and Cathy. Watched your documentary. You are a wonderful family. Everyone has their struggles, no...
  • admin: Thank you for letting us know. The link is now set to the their new WEB page. We have our dog from them.
  • Linda Jane Riley: About a year ago I was forced to take a step back from all things related to alcoholism. My...
  • SHerry: Your link to the rescue adoption site is for sale with no other info on the dogs.
  • Marleen: Thank you for sharing your story! That’s real inspirating!
  • Julie: Its 4:50am here. I can hear him snoring in the nursery. I brought the baby to bed with me.. He only snores...
  • ld: I thought I was suffering alone. The advice and comments make me feel better and gives me the strength to go on....
  • Sam: Hi Mike, Very poignant, “There are no grown-ups. We are all children in adult garments” is right on...
  • TJ: Thank You!!! Like “judy” commented above my mind was racing and I felt out of control… My life...
  • Karunakaran: It’s very nice.
  • judy: Thanks for ur writings… it really help my mind to calm down…. where can i go to talk with alot of...
  • Tanya Sousa: We certainly do have to change the way we respond, don’t we Paul? I’m encouraged though. I...
  • Paul Trainer: Thank you, Tanya, this is all so true. As someone who adores starlings too, I know that it is only when...
  • Cathy: In reading I see how difficult it is to be married to an alcoholic husband for 30 years and have now...
  • carrir: You took the words right out of my mouth. Xoxo
  • ceri: What an amazing story of love between step son and step father
  • Caney Texas: Hello! I’ve been reading your site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and...
spacer
corner spacer corner
spacer
Copyright 2010 thriveinlife.ca. All rights reserved. | Privacy Statement
spacer
spacer