Baby boomers with active lifestyles? That’s our theme here at BoomerCafé, and as it turns out, that’s the theme of the future for Bethesda, Maryland author Marianne Bohr, who with her husband, has just retired, but only from work. And why? Well, the title tells it all: Turning Sixty.
Long ago I learned that if I have no definite travel plans, no future dates inked on my calendar, I’m blue, untethered, uneasy. Having a trip on the horizon keeps me happy. The prospect of getting away, the break from routine, the novel – it all keeps me connected and, curiously, sane.
So while most people celebrate their sixtieth birthday with a dinner or weekend at a spa, the prospect of turning sixty made my husband and me restless for adventure. We wanted to challenge what it means to be sixty and opted for a trip to Corsica, to hike what is considered Europe’s toughest long-distance footpath.
Turning sixty is an anniversary some find terrifying. For us, it meant retirement, the end of our workaday lives and the beginning of journeys curbed only by our wallets and the bounds of our bodies. It also meant celebrating a high school romance that grew into thirty-five years of marriage. We were ready to mark both milestones, thirty-five and sixty.
What is the appeal of such an outdoor challenge? It’s the brisk morning air, the solitude, the sense of freedom and timelessness. It’s how our muscles ache, in a good way, at the end of a long day. Certainly we hike for the views, but it’s also for the chance to be alone with our thoughts, for the opportunity to meet interesting, like-minded people, for the photos, and yes, for the effort. Completing a difficult hike goes a long way towards gratifying our competitive sides.
But the true allure of an extended trek to places inaccessible by vehicles and technology is what it does for our minds. It’s a detox during which we leave contemporary clutter behind. We think clearly, without distraction, about what’s most important, with no alarms, no deadlines, no beeps, no bells. We put one foot in front of the other. Stress and anxiety wither as we share the same wild wonders together.
So off we’ve gone in hiking boots, lugging brand new backpacks, a tent, sleeping bags and trekking poles, to tackle a one-hundred-and-eighteen mile trail, the GR20, on a rugged island in the Mediterranean.
The Grande Randonnée (GR) Hike Number Twenty bisects Corsica diagonally and follows its mountain spine, from the northwest to the southeast corner. It’s one of hundreds of GRs, meaning “big hikes” in French. Although not well known in the U.S., if you ask a European hiker about challenging trails, The Twenty always comes up. Rocky terrain, scree-strewn granite slabs, and steep inclines, some of which require chains to ascend, have earned the trail its reputation as arduous and relentless.
We signed with the British company KE Adventure Travel, in large part because we couldn’t find a U.S.-based outfitter that does the Twenty. Yes, we are hikers— but we’re not well-schooled in camping— so we’re going into the wilderness under the direction of a seasoned team that secures permits, reserves campsites and shelters, and will be responsible for feeding us. And most important of all, we’ll be part of a group with a guide who ensures we don’t get lost.
Over the course of a fortnight, we’ll camp, bunk in coed dorm-style rustic réfuges on platforms in our sleeping bags, and on a few lucky luxurious nights, stay in gîtes d’étape — small private hostels with actual beds. The physical and mental challenges of the GR20 will be significantly greater than those of anything we’ve undertaken before. This outdoor escapade will test our 60-year-old hiking mettle, not to mention our thighs, and stretch the limits of our “senior” resolve.