The summer I turn sixty I plan to ride my bike around Ireland. At first I thought about walking around Ireland but since a friend of mine who has done this before and who I am hoping will seriously consider doing it again says biking is the way to go, biking it is. I normally don’t plan that far in advance, but I do need to study the language you know.
I also need to do my homework. My sister-in-law, who is an avid biker and has donated much of her time and youthful energy to biking long distances for charity, will be a big help for useful tips. I’ll be studying maps of small villages and large cities, history books, and catalogs of rain gear.
I have my reasons for this. One, it is pretty there. I’ve seen pictures, and my son Michael spent some time there some years ago. Also, we do have some ancestry in the old country, though “McCormick” can’t possibly be an easy lineage to trace. Still, doing so just might spice up the journey a bit. And, of course, like most dreams, this one just latched on to my thought process and won’t let go. That’s how it happens, for me anyway. Ideas for work or ideas for travel get a hold of me from somewhere inside and maneuver their way into my bloodstream until the only way to excise them is simply to follow through. They are in charge, after all. We all know that.
Still, I thought I was done with riding bikes decades ago.
When my family first moved to Virginia from New York I was just about to turn fifteen. We actually left Long Island the very day I finished ninth grade and drove the whole way south that evening in the rain. So I spent the first summer in Virginia not knowing a soul. Since I could not yet drive, I occupied myself until school started by biking everywhere. Some days I would ride along the oceanfront, through the state park, down to the southern beach near the Carolina border and home, with total distances at least once a week of around one hundred miles in a day; the other days about half that. I was bored so I biked. Other influences encouraged me to take it up a notch, and the following summer I planned to ride across the country on what was known at the time as the “Bikecentennial” path, from Williamsburg to Oregon, in 1976. That dream never occurred, of course, and a few years later during my sophomore year at college someone stole my bike so I moved on.
Jump to now: Yesterday I was in an office with a few colleagues, one of whom is much older than me. He was talking about the things he never did when he was younger, including dreams he had as late in his life as my age now. I hear this a lot from people I am surrounded by. You slow down when you get older. You can’t do the things you used to do, they often say. Those dreams died a long time ago, they say.
Left turn: I wrote a piece a few weeks ago for a journal. I’d spent a lot of time on it some years ago and it simply never worked. It takes place in two different countries and for some reason I was always married to the idea of writing it chronologically, which is already against my nature. But that idea climbed inside and locked in. I edited, added, cut—everything, and the piece simply never worked how I wanted. Great story, crappy writing. It happens. Then a few weeks ago I found it while looking for something else and while reading it over, one paragraph on page four stuck out, like the numbers at NASA in A Beautiful Mind—total illumination. I immediately realized that paragraph needed to be the beginning of the essay, so I rearranged the order of things. I sent it and they accepted and I am happy.
Not everything we do happens in the order we thought it might. Sometimes ideas need to work themselves out. Lao Tzu was right: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
So apparently I didn’t dream in the right order. Who knew? Some of the things I dreamed of doing when I was young I’ve not gotten to yet, and other ideas I thought of and carried out immediately. Timing is everything, in relationships, in art, in dreaming. Sure, I’ll never be an astronaut, a baseball player, or an ice cream man (that one died when 711 put stores on every damn corner). But I’ve got several buckets filled with possibilities, and whenever I let go of the “it’s too late for that” mentality, the younger I feel and the more energy I have.
Maybe sometimes we give up on things because of what we believe instead of what is true.
Some dreams clearly require compromise. I’m not going to ride from Williamsburg to Coos Bay, Oregon—just not driven to do so anymore; but I will from Dublin to Galway. Nowhere in my plan did I include an ambition to break any land-speed record. I might ride at the same pace as Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story when he rides a tractor across the country to visit his brother. But he got there, and so will I. Age is only a factor insofar as the method is concerned. Jack Nicholas once pointed out when winning the US Open in his forties that he didn’t need to be as strong as he was at eighteen, he just had to use different clubs.
I think sometimes people don’t lose the ability, they lose the will.
And for the record, I calculated the distance already. The average length from birth to death is about eighty or so. Subtract from that the fifty-six I’ve already spent, and I’m down to twenty-four, or about the time it took my son to get from birth to now. In there is work, sleep, sitting around and staring at the water, and, of course, writing. That leaves the “active” part of what’s left at about three weeks, or so it seems. I can ride that out, for sure. I’ll rest when I’m done with it all. And anyway, some dreams I had in my twenties are just now cycling back.
By the way, if anyone is interested in Ireland during the summer of 2020, start training. Ireland’s coastline is 1970 miles long. That’s about twenty days at the summer of 1975 speed. Rearrange some routes, eliminate all expectations except to enjoy myself, multiply my age and divide by eyesight, and it’s going to be a long summer, but a great summer.
Sixty is the new fifteen.
Oh, and dear naysayers: Cornelius Vanderbilt didn’t start buying railroads until he was 70; Katsusuke Yanagisawa climbed Mt Everest at 71; Margaret Ringenberg flew around the world at 72; Bill Painter climbed Mt. Rainier at 82; and Frank Schearer was waterskiing long after he turned 100.
Maybe I should wait a few decades.