If you haven’t grown up by age 50, you don’t have to.
Mark Twain might have said that. He certainly said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
This interview was conducted by Sam from Loving The Fiftysomething.
- – Can I ask you to tell us a little about yourself
- – Do you remember what turning 50 meant to you and how you feel now in relation?
- – Is staying fit and healthy important to you? If so, how do you stay fit and healthy?
- – What are the things you are most proud of achieving after turning 50?
- – Are there any messages or advice you’d like to give to people who are about to turn 50?
- – You are currently on Coronavirus lockdown in Italy. How has that been?
- – What are your plans going forward?
– Can I ask you to tell us a little about yourself
Hi, I am Jackie. I am 56 years old and retired. After a decade of planning and saving, I gave up work at 50 to get more out of life and realise my dream, which is to travel permanently with my husband, Mark and our four dogs, Cavapoos (Cavalier/Poodle cross) Kai, Rosie, Ruby and Lani.
Our aim is to see the world and do as much windsurfing and skiing as possible, since these are our passions. In summer, we tour Europe in a caravan and in winter, we rent a modest apartment in a ski resort and enjoy the snow.
Mark and I were both made redundant at the same time. It was always our dream to travel, although redundancy caused it to happen a little sooner than planned. We both suffered severe burn-out from the stress of high-pressure jobs and the redundancy process, which left us with no choice but to find an alternative lifestyle because we were too ill to go back to work. Another part of our motivation was the tragic loss of a number of friends, some of whom were younger than us. We realised that we couldn’t wait until tomorrow to live our dreams, since there is no guarantee that tomorrow will come.
Brexit will limit our ability to stay for extended periods in Europe’s Schengen area, so our plans around touring Europe are set to change. We have just purchased a magnificent 6×4 ex-army truck to convert into our new home and plan to travel overland to Mongolia. We intend to ski, windsurf and SUP (Stand Up Paddle-board) in as many countries as possible on the way. Mongolia is a country that I have always wanted to explore. I am a keen horsewoman and have aspirations to be a Mongolian horse archer… or at the very least to see them for myself! Since there is a ferry from Singapore to Canada, we might carry on and circumnavigate the globe…
When not touring, I am based in Bournemouth, Dorset, on the sunny south coast of England. Mark and I relocated to Bournemouth from London while we were still working. We decided that we would rather have a long commute to work than a long commute to the coast and countryside at the weekend! Bournemouth has the New Forest National Park on its doorstep, along with the Jurassic coast – and more than half of Dorset is classified as a AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Not only that, there is a vast choice of places to windsurf; from flat-water speed strips such as Poole, Christchurch and Portland, where they held the London 2012 Olympic sailing events, to world class waves at Kimmeridge Bay.
– Do you remember what turning 50 meant to you and how you feel now in relation?
I have never been particularly worried about age, so long as I can carry on doing what I enjoy doing. It is just a number, after all, and has never defined me. I like to defy stereotypes anyway.
As far as ageing goes, the biggest shock to me was turning 37. As a child, I had calculated that in the year 2000, I would have reached my frail dotage, having tottered over the hill to the incomprehensible elderliness of 36. 36 was as old as I had ever imagined myself to be. Once I came to terms with the horror of 37, I haven’t given it a moment’s thought!
For my 50th birthday, Mark took me on a windsurfing clinic to Maui, Hawai’i. In windsurfing terms, Maui is the absolute Mecca. The clinic was run by Ant Baker. Along with his brother Nik, The Fabulous Baker Boys are the UK’s two most successful professional windsurfers. It was a wonderful experience; Ant was great company and an excellent coach – and better yet, a cancellation meant that we had him to ourselves! We learned so much. Even just to see such hallowed waters was a buzz, so to windsurf there was incredible. At the time, the Aloha Classic World Championships were under way at Ho’okipa beach on the North Shore. Since Ant knew most of the competitors personally, we got to meet our heroes and witness the best in the world compete for the world title with broaching whales, a volcano and rainbows as a backdrop.
It might surprise you to know that Maui was the second choice for my half hundred. “How would you like to ski down seven Chilean volcanoes for your 50th?” was the first.
The Magnificent Seven remains unticked on the bucket list. However, the quest to gain the skiing and mountaineering skills that we would need to achieve it has improved our skiing immeasurably and has taken us on many wonderful adventures skiing off piste. And, although we need overcome our fear of heights and work out some Chilean dog sitting, I still haven’t written it off!
– Is staying fit and healthy important to you? If so, how do you stay fit and healthy?
The 50’s can be a particularly difficult decade. The worry of ageing parents, bereavement, ’empty nest’ syndrome, accepting your own natural decline in health and fitness or the change in how the world relates to you as you age – and for ladies, the hormonal high jinx of the menopause. However, I think staying fit and healthy is a very important way to overcome most of these quinquagenarian quirks.
I love the outdoors and take the dogs out every day. I have always enjoyed sport and need to keep fit in order to participate to the best of my ability. I have been a walker and mountaineer all my life, love to ride horses and cycle but my passions; skiing off piste and windsurfing present a physical challenge which demands a decent level of fitness.
My view on ageing is, ‘use it or lose it.’ I am conscious that if I let my fitness lapse as I get older, it will take longer to get it back. As humans age, we naturally lose muscle mass. By keeping fit, I slow this process, safeguard myself against injury and keep my heart and circulation healthy.
Exercise also releases endorphins, the body’s natural ‘feel good’ chemicals. Both this ‘natural high’ and being outside in nature is proven to be excellent for preserving good mental health.
Along with these benefits, the desire to improve at my sports not only gives me a sense of purpose, but also satisfaction when I achieve it – and with so many things to keep me occupied and fill my days, I am never bored. And wearing a big smile improves everybody’s looks!
– What are the things you are most proud of achieving after turning 50?
I have always loved – and been compelled – to write. Diaries, letters, postcards, newsletters and magazine articles for work; I have always sought an outlet. I wrote my first travel memoir aged 14, about a five-day horseback tour around Britain’s Lake District, following ancient pack pony routes. It came second in a national competition, open to all age groups.
Many people have said that they long to have the lifestyle that Mark and I enjoy, so once we started travelling permanently, I set up my travel blog, World Wide Walkies. My intent was not only to entertain, but also to share what we learned and show that if you make the right choices, it is possible to achieve the life you want without being a millionaire or winning the Lottery.
We are not wealthy and we have not had a windfall – but we achieved financial independence and retired early through saving and making careful, sometimes brave decisions. As our careers blossomed, we chose to own less, not more and valued experience over ‘stuff’.
For anyone who loves to write, it is natural to want to get into print. In the last year, persuaded by followers of my blog who enjoy my scribbles, I have published four books about our travels. They have all received five-star reviews and teeter in and out of the bestseller lists for their categories. On my 20th Wedding Anniversary, I received a surprise invitation to a Gala Dinner in Bucharest because my third book, Dogs ‘n’ Dracula – A Road Trip Through Romania was a finalist in the Romania Insider Awards. Both Prince Charles, who has a special connection to Romania, and The British Ambassador to Romania now own a copy.
I am proud to have achieved this long-held ambition, although I am most proud that sharing our experiences has encouraged a few people to throw of the bow lines and sail to new horizons!
– Are there any messages or advice you’d like to give to people who are about to turn 50?
What I love about being 50 is that, far from feeling that my life is winding down, it is accelerating forwards at a great rate and is absolutely brimming with possibilities. I am learning new skills, from languages to facilitate my travels to the technological know-how needed to set up and run my blog. This year I will take an LGV (Long Goods Vehicle) test and Off-Road training to enable me to drive our expedition truck in places like Mongolia, a country three times the size of France, which has only three paved roads.
I am a Team Rider for the UK’s National Watersports Festival (NWF) and have recently become an Ambassador for Ratoong, a rapidly-growing website aimed to help skiers and snowboarders to search and rate ski resorts. As a middle-aged female, I am not your archetypal Windsurfing Team Rider or Snowsports Ambassador. I am extremely grateful to the NWF and Ratoong for having the foresight to show that these sports are open to everyone, regardless of age or gender. And I hope that when people see that I can do it, they will realise that anyone can and be inspired to try.
Not having to work and having a degree of financial independence, so long as I am frugal, means that I have the freedom to indulge my passions and my hobbies. I also have much more time to improve my sporting abilities.
While I appreciate that my ligaments do not have the flexibility of a twenty-year-old and that windsurfing competitively in waves or freestyle skiing is now beyond me physically, I can still hold my own both on a windsurfer and skis. I focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t. You don’t have to achieve or maintain Olympic standards to have fun. I know 80-year-olds who still windsurf and ski. I intend to become one of them.
The world is full of possibilities, so don’t waste this time. One of the most common things I hear from people, particularly as they get older is, “I can’t do that…” followed by litany of excuses as to why not.
My response is, “If you could find half as many reasons to do something as you can find not to do it, you would be unstoppable.”
My post-retirement purpose in life is to try to inspire others to Live Their Dreams!
Because they can!
– You are currently on Coronavirus lockdown in Italy. How has that been?
Mark and I came to Monte Rosa in November for the ski season. In February, having been in one place for four months, we had itchy feet. Two days before we set off on this year’s proposed tour of Poland and The Baltics, the whole of Italy was locked down. —
At first, things were not too bad. At 1800m in a deserted ski resort, with no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the entire valley, we are very safe from infection and surrounded by beautiful walks. However, the lockdown in Italy quickly became very strict. #IoStoACasa – I stay home is the watchword and since March 20th, we have not been allowed to leave the house. We can take The Fab Four into the garden for necessities, but that’s it. The local police told us that, although there is no-one here, the rules must apply to everyone – and there is a €3000 fine to focus the mind if you disagree!
We have remained positive – almost – throughout. It was a blow to be told two weeks in that we could no longer walk. Peace and solitude are things that we actively seek, so other than the nagging knowledge that we can’t leave, we would probably choose to be here without the crowds. The Estate Agent has said that we can stay in our apartment, which is safe and comfortable, but it is incredibly frustrating that we can’t hike into the stunning, mountain wilderness that surrounds us. Still, there are worse views!
For me, the most difficult moment came when the UK Government called all UK nationals home. Returning to your place of residence is no longer a valid reason for travel in Italy. 1000 miles from home, it hit me hard to realise that even if we could get back to the UK, as caravan nomads, we literally have nowhere to go.
Our house is rented out; passenger ferry services suspended; and all the campsites across Europe are closed indefinitely. THAT was difficult to come to terms with, but I have got over it now and just focus on all the things we have to be thankful for. Fortunately, we are both good at taking a sanguine view. I love the quote; “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Nevertheless, Mark did get a sharp jab in the ribs the other day when he said, “We would be six weeks into our trip now!” I find it best not to think about what we’re missing.
Monte Rosa is well known for its beautiful weather and being confined, we have noticed our surroundings so much more. With no people about, Mother Nature has sent us a few gifts. For example, we spent half an hour watching a bearded vulture – il gipeto – the rarest vulture in the Alps, soar above the forest opposite on its majestic, nine-foot wings. Then, a herd of nine Alpine ibex – lo stambecco – wandered right into the village! This is our fourth season in Monte Rosa; we have never seen il gipeto and this was only my second sighting of stambecchi. The only other Alpineibex I have seen were distant,black dots on a mountainside.
Routine and a lack of variety means that time appears to pass quickly, which is a blessing in a way. I remember how those weeks at work used to blur into each other, while a two-week holiday seemed like an eternity. In lockdown, we have kept ourselves busy; I have been learning Russian in preparation for our upcoming global travels, as well as studying a number of online courses to help with writing and blogging. Things haven’t always been straightforward – our internet went off on Good Friday and has only just come back, which rather cramped out Netflix entertainment and online-study style! However, since I spent most of my childhood holidays in a remote cottage in the Lake District with no electricity, I am no stranger to finding my own entertainment.
I have tried to view our isolation as a precious gift of time, which has given me a chance to catch up on things such as reading and transcribing my old travel journals – or just sitting chatting with Mark in the sun and watching nature.
– What are your plans going forward?
The current Italian lockdown is in place until 3rd May, after which we hope that the restrictions will be relaxed enough for us to enjoy the extensive hiking possibilities on our doorstep. There is considerable uncertainty as to when travel will return to normal across Europe. There is not enough time and, in the circumstances, it would be ill-conceived to try to continue with our tour of Poland and The Baltics. We intend to return to the UK when we can, but to do so, we need to cross at least one other country. The key in such unpredictable situations is to have lots of options ready to put into action, depending on the circumstances at the time. Luckily, that is how we live our lives anyway. Our plans change frequently; to pursue a recommendation or sometimes, just to follow the weather!
Contact with a beach campsite in France suggested mid-June as a possibility for re-opening, which would give us an option to get some longed-for Vitamin Sea on the way home. Restrictions in Germany are already lifting, although whether a couple of Brits entering from the alleged Coronavirus ‘hotspot’ would be welcome tramping around their castles and the Black Forest is another matter. If none of this is possible, we could perhaps tour Italy or the worst-case scenario – enjoy the summer confined to Monte Rosa.
Any of which would suit me!
Whatever your circumstances, do take care of yourselves out there. Keep busy; keep safe; and remember – this too will pass.
Jackie’s Blog – World Wide Walkies:
www.WorldWideWalkies.com follows Jackie, Mark and The Fab Four ‘Putting Pawprints Across the Planet’. It has been featured in ‘Dog Friendly’ magazine and the ‘Eurotunnel Le Shuttle’ newsletter. Jackie has contributed guest blogs to dog and travel websites at home and abroad and as a Team Rider, writes newsletters, web content and articles on windsurfing for the UK’s National Watersports Festival as well as being an Ambassador and blogger for Ratoong, THE website for skiers and snowboarders to search and rate ski resorts.