The New Mid-Life Crisis Is: Being Awesome

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atlasIn March of this year, at a Kmart in Petaluma, California, I bought my friend Amy her very first road atlas. She’s 45, and we had talked about her upcoming six-week sabbatical from her job, and how it might just be time for a fuck-it-I’m-just-going-to-drive-around road trip in August, starting in California, maybe going north to Oregon, and then, well, who knows, just gotta be back in the office six weeks later.

Amy’s raised two kids who survived to graduate college and get jobs, stayed married to a hilarious rad guy who co-raised those two kids, climbed a whole bunch of big mountains, and juggled an impressive career. She hasn’t ever gone on a big road trip, and I guess it’s time.

Lots of us, when we see a guy in his 40s or 50s driving a convertible with the top down, assume the man is having what we’ve come to describe as a “mid-life crisis,” a sort of reassessment of life goals or dreams we have when we realize we’re not going to live forever. There are of course other things people do besides buying convertibles—drink more, start relationships with younger men and women, or buy flashy clothes.

We’ve now coined the “quarter-life crisis,” and someone’s even written about the “three-quarter-life crisis,”but really, I think all we’re saying is everybody gets a little lost sometimes, no matter what age. And maybe you do some stuff you’ve never done before but always wanted to.

My dad has been talking about Alaska in a reverent, curious manner for years now, and has tried to line up a group trip with friends and family, never quite getting it to work out. He and I talked about it like Emile Hirsch and Vince Vaughn did in Into The Wild (“society!”), as if it were some sort of dreamland. Well, I guess it is.

This spring, my parents started talking about doing a 500-mile bike tour in Alaska with a tour company. Then my dad started eating better and dropping a bunch of weight—something that had kept him from doing a few things in the past couple years. And suddenly he and my mom were doing 50-mile, then 70-mile bike rides on the weekends, and 30-mile bike rides after their 10-hour days at work, all so they’d be ready for all the long consecutive days of riding in Alaska. And so they wouldn’t be too tired to take out their cameras and get some shots of Alaska’s nature-on-steroids scenery.

Tomorrow, as I write this, my parents will get onto a plane to fly to Anchorage, and I might be more excited than my dad is. I told him at the end of their week in Alaska, he’s going to get on that plane back to the Lower 48 and he’ll already be planning his next trip up there. Maybe it’s all part of his three-quarter-life crisis, or some sort of just-before-retirement crisis, or something else we can come up with a catchy label for. Whatever it is, I hope it keeps happening.


Brendan Leonard is responsible for Semi-Rad.


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{ 12 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Doug SchnitzspahnDoug Schnitzspahn

    Sometimes a man stands up during supper
    and walks outdoors,
    and keeps on walking,
    because of a church
    that stands somewhere in the East.

    And his children
    say blessings on him as if he were dead.

    And another man,
    who remains inside his own house,
    dies there,
    inside the dishes and in the glasses,
    so that his children
    have to go far out into the world
    toward that same church,
    which he forgot.

    Rainer Maria Rilke
    translated by Robert Bly

  • bumbo

    I did something rad at 45 with a guy much younger and it was very affirming, Then my wife and I had a midlife honeymoon — when we were old enough to have the money and while we were young enough to enjoy it and remember it — both of those were very life affirming.

  • Robert

    I took my 72 year old father to Alaska last August. Rented a car at the Anchorage airport and spent the next 10 days driving around the Kenai Peninsula chasing Salmon, Halibut and gawking at the Chugach and Kenai Mountains. He even did the day hike up to Exit Glacier. A highlight . . . lifting micro brews. I had forgotten how cool it is to sit at a bar and sip a cool one with my dad. That was the best memory. He also lost about 15 pounds before the trip and has kept it off.

  • KatieSue

    I fall into the category of the 30 year old divorcee transformed from boring wife to kick ass outdoor enthusiast. I’m finding out all the time that there’s quite a few of us. I never went camping once in my 6 year marriage since I was working overtime to pay for our big house, BMW, Audi, Paris vacation, and a bunch of other crap. Post Divorce/Mid life crisis I traded in the Audi or a Subaru and the next six years took climbing in JTree, Squamish, Red Rocks, Yosemite, Indian Creek, City or Rocks and more. I just got back from a week of backpacking in Peru the other day. I spent the spring preparing for it by doing 5 day backpack trips in Chesler Park and Buckskin Gulch with a few weekend runs up Lone Peak to climb in the cirque and get used to the elevation. I get the comment all the time that I make the single life look good. Divorce sucks, but yeah, I think I make it look pretty good.

  • Clean Harry

    Yeah, with a little coinage and on track with my tax-deferred funds, I will be taking the summer off – this will be the first time since way back when I was a HS teacher.

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