To the Young People on the Trail

When you see me and my friend coming up the narrow mountain trail, most of you put on your masks. If I ask, sometimes telling you that my friend has asthma, you willingly oblige or cover your face with your T-shirt, or even step off the trail to let us by. And then there’s the few who are totally oblivious.

I appreciate that most of you are more than willing to show respect to us, two women in our 70s. But I wonder if you’re asking each other: If she’s so worried, why is she on the trail? Why doesn’t she stay home and do what seniors are supposed to do: play cards, watch TV, knit, bake cookies, talk to your grandchildren on the phone or cuddle with your cat? I know there’s some resentment because my 18-year-old nephew confirmed that he knows teens who run on the trails, three or four abreast, without masks, carrying the defiant attitude that older people shouldn’t be out.

But why should I be not be able to do what I love because you won’t wear masks? I’ve been hiking these trails for more than 40 years. All winter long I look forward to getting up to the alpine lakes, seeing the waterfalls along the way, the steep hillsides of blue harebells, purple monkshood and Indian paintbrush. Every year I wonder if I can make it up to the high mountains again. I can’t go as far as I did when I was younger, can’t make it to the top of the pass or the farthest lakes. I go slower now and breathe with some difficulty; I try to ignore the aches and pains that I never had when I was in my 20s.

Even though COVID-19 should keep me at home, I need more than ever to be on those mountain trails. It’s not just to flee the horrors of the pandemic, the cruelties in our social and political culture or the threat of climate change. Like others that I see crowding the trails now, I seek the comforts of nature—the song of birds, the antics of chipmunks, the wildness of the tallest peaks. But unlike younger people, I’m measuring the time I have left. How many more years can I ford the streams, climb over the rocks, withstand the strong winds and cold temperatures at high altitudes? How many more years will my heart pump efficiently enough and my legs stay strong enough to endure these rocky trails that I once climbed so easily and thoughtlessly?

So, dear young people on the trail, I don’t want to inconvenience you, force you to wear masks when you feel perfectly strong and healthy. I’m willing to take some risk in order to keep doing what I love. All I’m asking is for your understanding. You won’t always be young and strong. Some day, you’ll be struggling up the trail and, like me, unwilling to give up on what you love to do.

—Kathy Kaiser

6 thoughts on “To the Young People on the Trail

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  1. At 77, I’m fat and out of shape and can only dream about the hikes I used to enjoy in my beloved mountains. It saddens but no longer surprises me that there are still people on those trails who don’t respect others. They are probably the same people who don’t stay on the trail, don’t pack out their trash, and make enough noise to scare away all the wildlife.

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    1. I have seen more trash on the trail. I just read that more people who never hiked before are using the parks and trails–probably because other places (like stores) are closed. I just hope they come to appreciate nature enough to be more respectful.

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  2. Hello, I’m a newcomer to this blog. I’m 74 years old and I don’t yield to younger people just because they are young. I am as much entitled as they are to living life to the full. There is room for everybody. Young peolple need to get to know us, senior citizens, to understand that.
    In 2003 I went back to college for a master’s in Portuguese History, and in 2010 and 2016 two different courses in Gerontology , and never had any problem with my fellow students. On the contrary, they were kind and helpful and respected the fact that I had been around for much longer. It is an experience that a recommend to us, older adults. There are no special courses for senior citizens in my country, so we must enroll in the regular courses – where even the teachers are younger than ourselves:-)!!
    best regards!

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