Getting Old is a Pain in the (Insert Old Injury Here)

The Big Kahuna

I turn 48 next week and my body has never been so persistent in reminding me that I’m no longer the indestructible 20-something I used to be. Last year it was an old knee injury that kept me off the bike for a month, this time around it’s an old hip injury from skateboarding coming back to haunt me. If I had known then, what I know now, I may very well have passed on some of the crazy shenanigans from my youth that included racing motorcycles, skateboarding in swimming pools, bicycling on hiking trails before there was such a thing as mountain bikes, and on-and-on. Ah, the price we pay for the excesses of youth.

I turn 48 next week and my body has never been so persistent in reminding me that I’m no longer the indestructible 20-something I used to be.

Supposedly, with age comes wisdom, but you wouldn’t know it by some of my recent actions. This hip/back injury is a perfect case in point. See, I have a little Canon G10 point-and-shoot camera for carrying on the bike. It’s the camera I use for capturing quick snaps, panda portraits, etc., and it’s light enough that I carry it all the time. I also have a full DSLR kit that, in less than a year, has grown from a single consumer grade kit, to two bodies, five lenses, a battery grip, a strobe, and various-and-sundry other accessories. The whole caboodle now completely stuffs a mid-size photographer’s backpack and weighs around 20 pounds. This is where it gets interesting. Typically, when I take the Big Kahuna backpack out for a photo shoot, I place it in a pannier or porteur’s bag and let the bike carry the weight. The problem is that a few of the bikes I’ve been testing recently aren’t outfitted with racks that accept oversize panniers. So in my infinite wisdom, instead of taking the time to figure out some way to carry the Big Kahuna on these bikes, I’ve been pretending that I’m still 20 years old and carelessly throwing it on my back*. This worked OK for a couple of weeks, but the old injury finally said “enough”, and now I’m hobbling around like the 48-year-old-with-a-back-injury that I am.

Right now I’m left wondering if the age/wisdom equation is ever going to resolve itself. I can’t seem to figure out if the problem is the fact that my body is starting to wear out, or if it’s that my brain still refuses to acknowledge the fact that I’m no longer 20. My hope is that I somehow manage to embrace this upcoming birthday, get over the denial thing, and act my age for once. Besides being the “mature” thing to do, it would certainly be far easier on this not-so-young body of mine. (Hey, that was a breakthrough – maybe there’s hope afterall!)

*20 pounds is not that much weight, but when combined with an old injury and the forward leaning cycling position, it’s enough to mess up a weakling like me.

31 Responses to “Getting Old is a Pain in the (Insert Old Injury Here)”

  • bongobike says:

    Alan said:

    “I can’t seem to figure out if the problem is the fact that my body is starting to wear out, or if it’s that my brain still refuses to acknowledge the fact that I’m no longer 20.”

    It’s both. At least that’s what happened to me (I turn 52 in February). I remember commuting with a small day pack on my back, with a load that wasn’t even close to what you describe, and my back hurt on the very first day! And I was some 15 years younger. No, cycling and backpacking don’t mix.

    Take it easier, rest well, and take that glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM cocktail daily for your joints.

  • Paul says:

    Maybe you need to cross train. To much bike riding is not balanced.

  • Josef says:

    Maybe you should not have given up recumbents …

  • Alan says:

    @Paul & Josef

    That’s the way guys, lay it on… LOL. Maybe I… shouldn’t wear a heavy backpack while riding a bike when I know better.

  • Alan says:

    @bongobike

    Resting’s the hard part. I’ll try to heed your excellent advice as best I can though.

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Rick Steele says:

    Alan, wish I could be 48 again! :-)

  • ksteinhoff says:

    I’ve got a few years on you. I’m 62.

    When I was in my 30s, I could jump on any yard sale bike and ride all day. Now I have to have one that fits me.

    I had this vision when I was young that you lived live at full tilt, until one day you were like a Love Bug meeting the windshield of a Peterbilt: SMASH! and it was all over.

    What I didn’t realize that your body is a lot like your car the day after the warranty runs out. First it’s the battery, then the radiator hose blows, the heater or AC quits working (depending on the season), the chassis starts to rust, the dashboard cracks, the dings and dents start to add up, and, finally, even jumper cables won’t start it again.

    Then there’s that final trip to the smelter as a three-foot-cube of crushed steel….

  • Alan says:

    @Ken

    “I had this vision when I was young that you lived live at full tilt, until one day you were like a Love Bug meeting the windshield of a Peterbilt: SMASH! and it was all over.”

    That was me.

    “Then there’s that final trip to the smelter as a three-foot-cube of crushed steel….”

    And on that uplifting note… ;-)

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Bob Baxter says:

    Hang on guys, the best is yet to come.

    Bob, 82 y/o come Sunday. and still riding 15 miles almost every morning.

  • Alan says:

    @Bob B.

    “Bob, 82 y/o come Sunday. and still riding 15 miles almost every morning.”

    What a stud. I’m humbled…

    Regards,
    Alan

    PS – Happy Birthday!

  • Shane says:

    I’m in favor of letting the bike do the work, even if it takes a set of bungees to get the pack on the bike with no racks. I wholeheartedly agree with Paul , cross-training is very worthwhile. Strong abs = strong back. Throw some plank, situps and leg-lifts in a few times a week for a little extra insurance. =)

  • John says:

    Alan,

    At 47, I completely sympathize. Dealing with injuries seems to be part of the deal at our age. At times it can be depressing, as the injuries seem to take longer to recover from, and once one ache stops another starts. Nevertheless, I do not plan to ‘go gentle into that good night,’ and I’m in agreement with those who advocate cross training. Swimming is great, as is yoga. I have my own back and neck issues, and I have a regimen of stretching and core-strengthening exercises that have helped tremendously (note: everybody’s back is different, you should talk to a sports medicine doctor before embarking on any such regimen). So you can’t hammer it uphill with a 30-lb pack anymore . . . ditch the pack, slip into a lower gear, and enjoy the ride! (Oh, and keep us posted)

  • Alan says:

    I was only guesstimating on the weight, so out of curiosity I decided to actually weigh the backpack. It turns out it’s only 20 lbs, not 30. Sheesh, it’s worse than I thought… ;-) Correction made in the text.

  • Sara says:

    If it makes you feel any better, I’ve begun commuting to the school where I teach, and my 23 year old back can’t take the backpack+hunched over cycling position either. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I will be getting the new Trek Belleville, strapping on some rocking panniers, and sitting up straight.

  • Alan says:

    That does make me feel a little better Sara, thanks. :-)

    I saw a Belleville in a shop window the other day – nice bike. Enjoy!

  • David says:

    The human body is like a tape recorder. All the injuries of ones youth are recorded and when one gets into their 40s and 50s, they start to play over and over again.

    I have what is called a degenerative joint disorder. Shit for knees, one bulged lumbar disc another lumbar disc that is so thin I make unpleasant contact at times. An ankle that requires me to wear a brace at all times and to many other joints to mention talking back to me when I don’t want to listen.

    At 56 I’ve lost over 2 inches in height since I had my draft physical back when I was 19.

    What I can do is ride a bicycle and have raise two daughters from infancy to teenagers with bicycles. To date a tandem and triplet bicycle make up the flag ships of my small stable of bikes.

    I can’t run worth a damn but every morning for decades I’ve gotten up very early and stretched out and then do high reps at high resistance on an old style hydraulic rowing machine. Then high reps of pushups and then situps.

    I presently do 200 reps of each which takes just under 30 minutes each morning before my day begins.

    I have a new bike on it’s way to me as I type. A Velomobile Quest built by Bluevelo from Toronto Canada. It should be here on Friday.

    It seems that the biggest comment I get is, “It just carries one?”

    My response, “Oh yes, just me.”

    As one gets older one needs to keep pushing.

    To stop, to do nothing, is to die.

  • J. W. Lane says:

    I’m 51 (and 1/2). Seven years ago, I started training for a trekking trip to Nepal. I never felt a natural attraction to yoga, but I started practicing it for injury prevention. It worked. My hips, knees and shoulders were better kept in their sockets, and I didn’t even pull a muscle.

    Get some strong cord (like what’s on tent rain flies) and tie just about anything to the top of your rack. This will work if it’s tied right. If you want something super weather proof, get a whitewater ‘dry bag’. You can even glue D rings to it to make attaching super easy, but I just wrap cord around mine (so it will still fit in a kayak). Why does anyone wear out their crotch with a backpack?

  • Leaf S. says:

    There were a lot of things I wanted to say about this post but I’ll just bite my tongue and not tempt the Holy Karma Equalizer into humbling me.

    Alan, I hope you feel better soon.

  • Phil Cowan says:

    I feel your pain brother. I too turn 48 next month. I’m starting to get nervous because a lot of my older friends tell me they were healthy as horses until they hit about 50, then the wheels fell off. Things you never thought of start to pop up. You can make life into a race if you want to but you ain’t gonna like the prizes they’re giving out at the end. Anyway I wish you a speedy recovery.

  • Bob Baxter says:

    While this thread is still somewhat warm I would like to tell you about one of my heroes. His name is Noel Kellen from Tustin, Ca. and I met him at a campsite on the Cowboy Rail to Trail in north central Nebraska. Noel was a Marine Corps pilot, fixed and rotary, and since we were both old Kansas country boys and I was a retired aircraft mechanic, we sat up to the wee hours shooting the sh** er breeze. Noel rides an electric assist trike and what makes him special is that he can barely walk with the aid of two canes. I rode ten miles with him one day and he was able to keep an 8 to 10 mph speed going on a less than good gravel surface. Noel’s ambition is to ride every rail to trail in the country and he has already done a bunch of them, and I sure wouldn’t bet against him. Noel received severe spinal compression injuries in a sailplane (glider) landing accident while giving dual instruction to a student pilot. There is an old axiom that any landing you can walk away from is a good landing—that one was a bad landing. Only Noel’s grit and determination allowed him to walk again after doctors told him if he survived he would never walk. So if you see Noel on a trail some day, buy him a beer and tell him Bob says “happy trails.”

  • Jon Grinder says:

    I’ve been 18 for the past 30 years, and I’m still surprised when I see that old guy looking out of a mirror. I suffer the same fate of being haunted by old injuries, but I refuse to give in.

    Lots of vitamin I(buprofen) and ice packs loom in my future…

  • Darryl Jordan says:

    Alan, Alan, Alan

    It seemed like, um, last year, you were asking advice for a DSLR. When did you become a pack mule?
    In my eager newspapering youth I packed my camera bag with all the bodies, lenses, flashes, film and do-dads to last me for a week. Then as I left the newspaper field, before it died, I found I pack less and less in smaller and smaller bags. Now, I just shoot family snap shots with a compact digital. Only occasionally do I take out one DSLR with three zooms and a flash for a photo specific job, which includes my compact as back up.
    I haul my gear in satchel-style camera bag which I put in a grocery bag pannier ($40).I have also tied a milk crate to my rear rack to put my photo stuff in as well as clamp a monopod for mounting a camera to shoot while I ride. But the bike carries the load. But that doesn’t look so chic.

    Cross training I heard is good, so is diversifying your activities (and interests.)

    But an underlying problem we both have is that we are, at heart, techno-geeks. If one techy-thingie is groovy then a whole bag is pretty far out. So the key for keeping my back happy in my wiser years is to exercise my photo repertoire with the least equipment and i’ll be back for more later.

    Respectfully,
    Darryl

  • Arie says:

    If it does make you all feel better: I am turning 61 in a couple of months and feel better, much better, then in my late forties! Admittingly, this did not come for free. After not being able to cycle for a couple of years, spending a fortune on physio therapy, and as a consequence nearly turning into a grumbly old man I decided to do it differently. I started doing very regularly (3-5 times a week) rather painfull exercises for about an hour, now and then receiving guidance from a therapist. Improvement was very very slow to start with but eventually it went cresendo and now I am clocking 4,500 to 5,500 Km of cycling a year. Mostly doing errands over short distances but also including including a 1000 Km holidaytour in a fortnight. My back problem is not gone but as long as I do my hour of excercises (now twice a week) and use my Pedersen bikes which force me in an upright position it is fine and I feel getting younger each year (:-

  • Stephen says:

    Alan, I’m 51. I’m in pretty good shape for the average American 51-year old, especially in the Deep South, but I’ve had some issues with the ol’ L5 S1 as of late, and I’ve had to learn to manage it. Nothing like trying to ride a bicycle when you have a partially herniated lower spinal disk. Like many other American males, I like to pretend I’m ageless, but the sad fact is I’m not. Hence, I now wear a support belt when I’m schlepping PA equipment to gigs, or working hard in the yard. I’m taking a yoga class, and trying to stay hydrated. I even bought an inversion table for those times when the back acts up.

    Let the bicycle do the work for you. Take care of your body.

  • Adrienne says:

    A backpack should not weigh more than 10% of your bodyweight- so for 20 lbs you would have to weigh 200 lbs. Most people over stuff backpacks and it will cause injury, even if you are 20 : )

  • andy parmentier says:

    get you a pair of mbt shoes. while yer at it, try kangoo jumps. i was obsessed with earth shoes for awhile, but the mbt shoes have saved my body from flat footed doom.

  • David says:

    Hi Stephan

    You wrote “I’ve had some issues with the ol’ L5 S1 as of late.”

    My L5-S1 disc is not herniated it’s just is very very thin. I have had times when I’ve had a burning pain from my buttocks through my groin and down my leg.
    I’ve lost 2 inches in height since my draft physical back in 1972. All from compacted joints.

    What I have found to help my lower back was strengthening my core muscles and hanging upside down on an inversion table when it bothers me.

  • Alan says:

    @Adrienne

    “A backpack should not weigh more than 10% of your bodyweight- so for 20 lbs you would have to weigh 200 lbs. Most people over stuff backpacks and it will cause injury, even if you are 20 : )”

    That’s good to know. At 155lbs. I’m obviously overdoing it with the backpack. I typically never carry weight on my back while on the bike (other than the tiny camera mentioned above), but laziness and impatience got the best of me. Live and learn again… and again… and again… ;-)

    Best regards,
    Alan

  • Stephen says:

    Try yoga, Alan. I started doing it recently for flexibility and balance, but I’m also getting core strengthening, which is very good for the posture and the back. Find an instructor who’s sensitive to people who aren’t in their 20s.

    The yoga babes are cute, too…;-)

  • Alan says:

    Thanks Stephen. I have plans to begin on a yoga program soon.

    Alan

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