Becoming a hiker in your 50s: ‘I always have more in my tank than I thought’

I had been going gangbusters running my own financial advisory business in Sydney for 15 years, working 90-hour weeks. No downtime. I had forgone personal relationships, friends and holidays. I didn’t have a life. I was an only child and, having already lost Dad in 1982, Mum’s death made me re-evaluate things.

At 54, I signed up for a 14-day trek to Nepal.

I was 20kg overweight, unfit and hadn’t travelled in years. I’d once been a big traveller – I left Australia age 23 and didn’t return until I was 31, backpacking and living on the smell of an oily rag for years. It felt like time to reconnect with travel. That Nepal trek was the beginning of my passion for remote lands and long-distance walking.

Then I did something that changed my life.

After struggling with my weight all my life, I finally saw a dietitian when I was 59. I lost 20kg in nine months. My self-esteem increased, I had more energy and zest for life, and I changed the way I dressed. That’s when I really upped the ante with the hiking.

Losing the weight made a huge difference to my ability to push myself and do more.

I got fitter and stronger. I could walk 25km every day, sometimes 30km, even 45km. I loved hiking in remote countries, seeing wide open spaces, feeling totally exhausted by day’s end, falling into a tent every night and sleeping 10 hours. The nonsense and clutter of my life was forgotten. There was nothing to think about except putting one foot in front of the other and finishing the day.

At 60, I did some sums. I got the calculator out, added up my gross assets, subtracted the value of my house less investment debt – and yes, I had enough to live on. I closed my business and retired. It was always my dream to live in a house where I could look out every window and not see a neighbour, so I upsized, selling my cottage and moving to a bigger block and bigger house near the beach with a stunning garden full of trees. My four dogs were in seventh heaven.

At 70, I’m still out there hiking.

Over the past 10 years I have done some tough stuff: Nepal, northern Pakistan, Ladakh, South America, Africa, Papua New Guinea and Mongolia. I’ve rafted down the Franklin in Tasmania and done the 220km Larapinta trails out of Alice Springs seven times. The more remote, the tougher, the better.

I have discovered I always have 25% more in my tank than I thought I did. Towards the end of a tough day, you just want to stop, you just can’t do it any more – but you realise if you turn around, it’s just as far to go back. You put one foot in front of the other and you get there in the end.

Learning that I needed a knee replacement last year was a big shock.

Clearly I had overdone it! My ego was very bruised – I thought only old people had these things done. But I have had a swift recovery and am back to planning big things post-Covid.

I love being able to pay it forward. Because I have financial security, I’m able to give a leg-up in life to a few people – particularly in poorer countries – who haven’t had the opportunities I had. The joy it gives me to make a difference in those people’s lives is beyond description.

I work hard at creating an interesting life for myself. I continue to think big, to challenge myself, to set targets that I cannot imagine I can make.

For many years I carried the feeling of failure because I never married or had children. In my generation, that’s what we were taught to do. I still notice that feeling sometimes, but I have learned to let it go. I cherish my freedom, my dogs and what I call my international family of people I have met travelling. I love them and they inspire me.