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August 2013 Issue
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Tramping improves with age

Since retiring, Pete Lusk chooses his weather windows for more enjoyable tramps. Photo: Supplied

Getting old is something trampers should relish, not resent writes Pete Lusk

‘What a drag it is getting old.’

So sang the Rolling Stones in the late 1960s. I took the words at face value back then. I was just beginning to tramp seriously and thought to myself, ‘Better do as much tramping as I can while I’m still young’.

Now I have a totally different attitude. With only one month to go until I retire, and having already chucked in my job, I find getting old is unbelievably liberating.

For a start, I go tramping only when the weather is fine. For a four-day trip I guarantee myself four days of beautiful weather. There’s no more getting held up by flooded rivers, no stumbling about on rainy mountaintops and no need to stay in huts.

In fact, most of the time I don’t even put up a fly. I simply lay out my sleeping bag under a tree with the smells and sounds of nature close at hand.

I even do this when I’m at a hut and have it to myself. Recently I camped outside the new Buckland Peaks Hut in the Paparoas. It has double glazed windows and lots of insulation in the ceiling and walls so there’s no way you’ll hear anything in there. But outside it was a very different story. I heard more kiwi calls that night than I’ve ever heard before. And that’s despite my poor hearing.

About five years ago I noticed I was getting a lot of joint pain. I’d start off OK in the morning but after a couple of hours my hips would start to ache. By the end of the day, my knees were playing up too. I have friends who are still good trampers in their eighties and I want to be like them. So I tried slowing down and resting for 10 minutes every hour. The results were amazing. The joint pain went away completely. It was as if the hips and knees re-lubricated themselves in the breaks.

Another advantage of getting old is that younger tramping mates expect you to be slower and don’t object when you creep along at the beginning of the day and stop for smoko and lunch at the regulation times.

Being able to tramp in fine weather is the biggest bonus, but close behind is the advantage of not worrying if you’re a day or two late getting out. For the last 45 years I’ve stressed about Mondays – what will the boss think if I send a message from the wop wops saying rivers are up and I’m delayed a couple of days?

No worry about that now – I only have to answer to my wife and she doesn’t tend to worry.

Central to having an enjoyable time tramping in my old age is keeping my weight down. The first casualty were my big leather boots. Now I wear lightweight porous models which are also cheaper and more comfortable. The open weave means water drains out after crossing a river. They are not as durable as my old boots, but by placing my feet carefully I protect them from unnecessary wear.

My pack is a lightweight Macpac Ravine, another cheap item but it does the job. I don’t generally carry a cooker, preferring to just light a small fire if I need hot food. By avoiding gas I’m not burning ghastly fossil fuels, either.

Apart from these concessions, I take the usual clothing like polyprops and a sleeping bag. However I am careful to avoid any food item that has water in it. This way I keep my weight below 12kg for a four day trip. In fine weather and with a light pack you can travel a long way in four days.

One thing that sets tramping apart from most other sports is the fact you can start at primary school and still be doing great trips in your seventies and eighties.

What a buzz it is growing old!