A friend of mine recently summed up aging and travel. It went something like this: “When you’re in your 60s, you go. When you’re in your 70s, you go slow. When you’re in your 80s, you go if you can. After that, all bets are off.”
Earlier this summer, I was invited to be a storytelling guide on a small cruise ship embarking on a tour of Desolation Sound. About eight years ago, I published a book called Adventures in Solitude, all about my family’s adventures in Desolation Sound’s oceanic wilderness. The tour directors thought it would be a good idea to have me on board to read and tell stories from the area.
I had never done anything like it, but agreed to try it. When it came time to meet the passengers on the boat at our launch point in Lund, there was a wide range of people and ages. There were folks from as far away as Austria, California, and Ottawa, and as nearby as Vancouver Island, Roberts Creek and Powell River.
There was also a friendly foursome of seniors who I assumed were all in their “go slow” 70s. I was shocked to discover that three of them were over 90 years old, one a spry 87. Together, they had braved the double-ferry Cannonball Run drive up the windy Sunshine Coast highway all the way to Lund.
All four of them were previously married and had lost their lifelong husbands and wives. All four lived on the North Shore and were great friends.
The guys were Jack Hardy and Elmer Helm, an incredible 91 and 93 respectively. The pals still play tennis together and once won a pair of B.C. Senior Games gold medals when no one else dared to compete in their advanced age category. Both Elmer and Jack are still upwardly mobile and had no problem maneuvering around the tight spaces and steep staircases of the cruise boat.
The women were Billie Sorensen and Pat Overgaard, 91 and 87 respectively. They too were very fit and able, and excellent conversationalists. All four of them had children, grandchildren and some great grandchildren. It was like being at sea with the cast of Cocoon.
Most of the foursome were born in the 1920s. They had all sorts of incredible stories to share as the cruise wound its way through the salt water inlets of Desolation Sound, making my personal stories — which date back to the 1970s — feel like nursery rhymes.
When Billie was 13, her family was amongst a convoy of boats trying to cross the treacherous North Atlantic, from England to Canada, during the Second World War. If the winter weather wasn’t bad enough, the sea was thick with U-Boats trying to destroy any suspected Allied boat. Billie told me that she clearly remembers North American supply ships bursting into flames on the ocean, having been hit by German torpedoes. Their convoy leader instructed all their boats to scatter. Luckily, the boat that carried Billie and her family safely made it to Halifax.
Nearly 80 years later, there were no such perils in sun-soaked Desolation Sound. Instead, we enjoyed visiting places like “Cougar” Nancy Crowther’s log cabin, paying respects to ancient First Nations pictographs painted onto rock walls, and spotting a pod of dolphins, a mama grizzly bear and her cub, and feeling the invigorating mist of a glacial waterfall on our faces.
Above all of the natural beauty and historic reminders of lives and cultures past, the biggest inspiration of the cruise was in the present: the nonagenarians (and the “baby of the group,” as Billie referred to Pat, the octogenarian).
These four hardy souls have spent almost a century on this planet, and yet they still will take a trip to the middle of nowhere, marvel at our natural world, laugh loud and long, relish a cold beer on a hot day, and offer a humble wisdom and energy that you and I can only wish for if we’re lucky enough to rock into our 90s.
Cheers and respect to Billie, Elmer, Pat and Jack. You’re damn right you don’t need sunscreen at your age!