An old man, a bicycle and Corinth

During May of 1987, I met an older American man, who had recently retired.  His wife had died, his kids were grown and gone, and when I met him, he was on a bicycle, wearing spandex shorts and a shirt that matched.

It is only now becoming clear to me why I remember so vividly meeting John 30 years ago.  It wasn’t his strength, his commitment to taking on the difficult or even his facial features.  I have no memory of his mannerisms, either.

What sticks out are exactly 2 things.

First off, we met in Corinth, Greece, deep in the ancient mountains of the Peloponnese, surrounded by Greek architecture.

Second, he was riding by himself and was on his way to London.

London to CorinthYes, that is a trip of 2,000 miles, all on bicycle.  Between Corinth and London are more than just a few challenges.  He had to traverse mountains and roads of Greece without any practical knowledge or experience reading Greek road signs.  Next comes Kosovo, Serbia and Slovenia, three countries that are anything but flat.   Follow that up with the Alps of Austria and Switzerland.  Just when his legs are familiar with climbing, he hits France and rides flat roads to get to the French coastal town of Le Havre, where he puts his bike on a boat and crosses the English Channel before the final push towards London.  He knew which roads he wanted to take and how far he wanted to go each day, but he didn’t have any hotel reservations.  He had great rain gear and spare bike parts to keep the Greek military in business for years to come.  But, he didn’t have a clue what or where he would have his next meal experience.

We met him as he pedaled up to the Corinth Youth Hostel at the end of a long day in the Greek mountains.   We talked for just a minute or two before he said that he wanted some company and offered to take me and two other friends out to dinner at a local hole-in-the-wall.  We asked him just as many questions as he asked us.  Ask we complemented him on his “cool trip,” he gave us a tidbit of wisdom that still survives.

“You have to plan for these things.  All the money and time in the world don’t make up for a lack of fitness.”

As my friends age, they typically have more free time and more disposable money, especially once the children are out of college and are married away.  However, they lack the ability to take on the wonder and magic of the trips of their dreams, as their chronic lack of investment in their health accumulates.  Obesity, knee replacements, lack of energy, high blood pressure and an overall lack of strength and endurance take a cumulative toll, and they can’t join us.

Now that I am in my mid-50s, I see the current rendition of the dilemma this one-day-in-my-life man encountered 3 decades ago.  I would LOVE to cycle all of Europe, but there just aren’t many, if any people who have the fitness to tackle this challenge.

For those of you who are young and reading this, please take your head out of the clouds and ask the question, “when I am 60 and I don’t have the time and money constraints of my youth, what is it that I dream about doing before my head strikes the bed at the end of days?”  I am not talking about going to car shows or golfing more.  I am talking about the dream trip to the south pole, the multi-day dive in the great barrier reef, or the trek across Norway and Sweden.

Sure, life mandates you work your butt off from age 25 through 55, but the act of neglecting the Biblical call to treat our bodies like the temple of God creates a blend of shame and powerlessness.  My wife’s parents are aging and dying, and my father in law told me this last weekend that he has had a line item in his retirement for travel, but he hasn’t been able to use it for years.  My sister had originally committed to running the Annapurna Ultra-marathon later this year, but her failing health has led her to withdrawal.  We can all add stories of people whom we love to this list.

In the South, we socially get to inspect the failed temple on Sunday at local restaurants after church. Folks who have both time and money, gather with family to a post church meal.  What goes unspoken is their lack the ability to really “do” life with their family, so instead the get together, sit around and talk at a restaurant.  They have lost the ability to adventure.  Wheat belly, diets too rich is processed sugar and a lack of structure in taking care of the temple of God all get replaced by a place at the table where they embark on activities that make the situation worse.

Their circumstance is preventable.  Yet, the cost to prevent their physical degradation means neglecting other areas of life.  There is an unspoken social pressure that exists that tells us time spent away from accumulating wealth has potentially unforgivable consequences, as we may go broke in retirement.  Without using words, we allow this myth to shelter us from God’s command to treat the our bodies as the temple of God. However, the investment of 3 or 4 structured hours of exercise each week  back into your long-term well-being comes full circle at retirement.  When those who have given up head to the buffet, you can head out on an adventure.  For too many, their huge payday in retirement comes from the railing of a cruise ship.  I want to be like Mr John, who can do the cruise ship but can also ride for a couple of months, with adventure a part of every day.   He has freedom, when having freedom is most valuable.

Harvest time, with all the fruits looking at you…even as you look at the mountains in the distance

Let this last graphic help you write your retirement planning song.  Invest now in what you will REALLY need when you retire-a body that works and let’s you explore and tap the inner child who is antsy to get out and play, meet new people and learn new things.


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