Trail Talk | The Best Decade Yet

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, author Craig Romano reflects on why he's relishing life at 60.
Craig Romano Craig Romano
Mountaineers Books Guidebook Author
September 04, 2021

No one ever thinks they’re going to get old. As Kenny Chesney reminds us - “don’t blink, because life goes by faster than you think.” And fast it goes.

I’m still in disbelief that I turned 60 this past spring – it seems like 30 was just yesterday. And while every decade-marking birthday presents its awakenings, this one hit me harder than past milestones. Between the pandemic and my recent Polymyalgia Rheumatica diagnosis (an auto-immune inflammatory disorder), it really hit home that my remaining time on planet earth is getting much shorter.

I love life, but I’ve always had the niggling feeling that there’s not quite enough time to do everything I want. I’ve done my best to treat my days as blessings not to be squandered. Sure, I haven’t used them all wisely. But I have tried my darnedest to seize as many moments as I can to get the most out of life before witnessing that last sunset.

Throughout my life I’ve relished physically challenging myself to really feel alive, experiencing the world in a more intimate way than passive travel and recreation could provide. By the time I turned 21 I had bicycled across North America three times, pedaling through 49 states and all 10 Canadian provinces. I started running marathons at 29, and qualified and ran the Boston Marathon a month before turning 30. I started hiking in South America, Europe, and Asia, finding myself more interested in national parks than sprawling metropolises. At 49 I took up ultra-running and successfully ran the White River 50 Mile Run to celebrate my 50th birthday.

An unwelcome guest

I was going to run my first 100 kilometer (62 mile) race to celebrate my 60th birthday until life threw me a curve ball this past winter in the form of an auto-immune disorder. While I’ve been physically healthy and active my entire life, I have long suffered from anxiety, depression, and stress - a trio of toxic enemies to the body. My physical performance suffered this winter and I grappled with the idea that my best days could possibly be behind me.

I was put on medication that almost immediately took away my pain and inflammation, and within days I was running up mountain sides again. My condition is lifelong, but there’s a good chance that I may be able to put it into remission and continue to live somewhat normally. But my diagnosis, turning 60, and living through the terrible COVID-19 pandemic forced me to deeply reassess my life and priorities, and to think about the time I have left.

If I treated my days like special blessings in the past, since my diagnosis I now treat them like manna from Heaven. In my six months since beginning medication, I have been able to once again complete 50K trail runs and hike long and hard into the wilderness. I cherish a long and challenging run like never before, for I simply do not know how many more of these days I have left.

Being present

This has all led to me finally focus on the present. Throughout my life I have spent far too much wasted energy lamenting the past and being anxious about the future. I am now working hard to accept my past and see that it was all meant to be part of my journey to get me where I am today. And for the future, I can only make sound and wise decisions each day and pray that the outcomes will be for the best To help aid my recovery I have made changes.

IMG_6537.JPGOn the Presidential Traverse, with Great Gulf in background.

To help aid my recovery I have made changes to my diet, routines, outlooks, and work habits. These changes have already led to positive outcomes, including healthy weight loss and an emotional and mental liberation from self-stopping and negative thoughts. For my 60th birthday celebration I completed a one-day traverse of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range - 19.5 miles, 8,700 feet of elevation gain, and seven peaks. It was something I could not have done in my 20s. Being able to do it at 60 with an inflammatory condition only made it so much more special to me. In fact, everything came together to make it one of my best birthdays ever!

The best decade yet

I am now excited about my 60s and have every intention to make this my best decade yet. The first step is being thankful for what I have and what I can do, not obsessing over what I don’t have and can’t do. While I’m still challenging myself, I have come to accept my limitations. I will never run a 3-hour marathon again, but I have only begun to push my limits when it comes to endurance running. Having decades of conditioning under my belt has its long-term rewards. On August 2 I completed Oregon’s Timberline Trail around Mount Hood in one day, covering 41 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain. I’m going to go for that 100K and other challenges that have not yet come onto my radar.

IMG_6572.jpegCraig crossing the Coe Branch on the Timberline Trail.

And even if I can’t do everything I enjoyed in the past (beating my 13,000-mile, 8-month bike ride would be tough to top at any stage in my life!) I can always set new challenges. One of my goals is to continue to ultra-run as much as I can until my body finally says it’s time to slow down. But whether that means one year, ten years, or more, quality supersedes quantity. I am hoping to live as long as I can, but I want my days and my adventuring to be about quality - not checking things off in a frenzy.

Aside from eating well and exercising daily, I plan on continuing to have deep and meaningful relationships with my family, friends, community, and other souls I meet and bond with along my life’s path. Isolation is an enemy to healthy living.

I also will continue to try to stay positive, see the good in people and in life, and make a positive difference whenever I can. I will continue to reflect upon and examine my spiritual self, constantly seeking guidance and meaning. Life truly is a journey. My trajectory will inevitably include slowing down, but that just might give me more time to see and appreciate things I missed in the past because I was going too fast. Turning 60 never looked so good.


Craig Romano is an award-winning guidebook author who has written more than 25 books, including Backpacking Washington 2nd edition, Urban Trails Vancouver WA, and 100 Classic Hikes Washington (Mountaineers Books). Purchase his titles in our Seattle Program Center bookstore, online at mountaineersbooks.org, and everywhere books are sold.

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2021 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive.

Lead image of Craig on the Timberline Trail around Mile 38. Photos courtesy of Craig Romano.