Last week, I permanently deleted my Facebook account. I had been on the service for nearly 12 years, and over the last four years I had become very active in administering hiking groups, following the news of the day, and getting into a lot of pointless arguments with people I don’t know personally. At one time, it was a vital part of my life both because it enabled my to promote Afoot and Afield in an organic way but also because it enabled me to connect with other people in the hiking community.
Before I deleted it, I had to explain to a few key people why I was doing it. Strangely, the reasons for doing so seem kind of remote and hazy now. Something something Caimbridge Analytica. Something something time sink. However, having done it and having been off of the service for over a week, I realize now that the reason I did it was because it put me in a constant, low-grade state of irritation. If I had to assign a number value, I’d say that being on Facebook as often as I was had me anywhere between 2-4 on a scale of 1-10 as a baseline.
That notion of baseline is important because if I’m starting out at 3, and something happens, I would quickly go to six or even seven. I’d stay irritated for longer, and it was affecting important relationships and my ability to do certain things. Now, my baseline irritability is at 1 most of the time. When something irritates me, I go to three or four, and I come right back down to one a lot faster. I can only conclude that there’s something about Facebook that jacks people up in a bad way, leaving them at a higher state of irritability.
Lesson: quit Facebook.
There was also something about quitting Facebook that was inextricably tied to turning 40. I had an interesting reaction toward turning 40, which was a bit positive and a bit negative. On one hand, I didn’t have that experience that I recall from when my dad turned 40. I remember a lot of coffee mugs emblazoned with tombstones that said “Over the Hill.” I didn’t experience much of that ritual hazing that teases people about the best being behind us. Subsequently, I don’t in any way feel that the best is behind me, and I feel that life only keeps getting better. On the other hand, I began thinking about how bogged down I had begun feeling both physically and mentally, and I had started to become more and more aware that things, again both physically and mentally, are starting to change for me.
This came into focus on May 30th, when I took a birthday hike with several friends, all of whom I respect a great deal as accomplished hikers and good humans. As I made my way up Mt. San Jacinto via the Devils Slide, I noticed that the trail was harder than I remembered it from about 4 years ago when I was 36, twenty pounds lighter, and far more conditioned from all the hiking I was doing for Afoot and Afield. I was moving more slowly and struggling for breath. I felt the extra weight I was carrying. I was tired, even though I didn’t want to show it in front of the strongest hikers in the group, some of whom are older and in better condition than I am.
With about a week to process all of this, I’ve realized that what turning 40 means to me is that it’s time to do what I usually do before a backpacking trip: go through all my gear and reassess what I’m carrying, why I’m carrying it, and whether I want to discard certain things. Essentially, I’m not going to get younger or stronger by the grace of physics, so I have to take a look at all of the baggage I’ve accumulated and decide what goes in the rubbish and what stays in the pack.
The goal all along has been that I want to remain as strong as I am for as long as I can. I can still do everything I could do 10 years ago, and I probably do it all a lot better because I can pace myself and hike smarter. However, I feel that something is very slowly slipping away, and if I don’t take steps to counteract that, I’m going to wake up when I’m 50 and be capable of only 75% of what I can do now. That’s unacceptable in my view. The way I see it, the only thing that will lead to that is if I continue to take care of myself in the slapdash manner I’ve become accustomed to.
Just like with Facebook where my baseline irritability hovered around 2-4, my vulnerability to certain problems is now beginning to rise. If I set that baseline for physical issues around 2-4, then any little burp (like the Achilles bursitis which is still sticking around) will then jump up to 3-5 and take a lot longer to go away. If I can maintain fitness, that should lower my baseline to between 1-2, and the various hiccups I get from using my body should in theory attain less severity and shorter duration.
Thus begins an extended period where I begin to slough off all of the extra weight and baggage that I’ve been schlepping around. This pertains both to the emotional baggage and the physical baggage. That, essentially, is what turning 40 is about to me. I’ve had half a lifetime to develop an array of habits, attitudes, and postures. It’s time to decide what stays and what goes.