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  • Writer's pictureJane Bertrand

What inspired "Aiming for 80?"

In December 2018 I hosted a book launch party to coincide with my 70th birthday for the

publication of my recently published book You Started WHAT After 60? Highpointing

Across America. The inevitable question was: what next?

By 70, I had discovered three things about myself. First, what mattered in life were

experiences and connections. Experiences could mean travel but often implied some

aspect of physical activity: highpointing, hiking, cross-country skiing, long distance

swimming. Connections meant spending time with old friends whom I cherished or new

friends with whom I developed an immediate connection.

Second, given my competitive streak, I responded well to having a goal. In my quest to

reach 46 of the 50 U.S. state highpoints starting after age 60, having that goal kept me

pushing forward. Somehow it justified recruiting others to come along. It’s hard to say to

a second-grade friend: “Do you want to fly across the country to climb a mountain with

me?” when she has perfectly good mountains in her own state. Yet knowing that I “had

to” climb Guadalupe Peak in Texas as part of my highpointing project, she volunteered

to fly from Maine to Texas to join me. 

Third, staying fit had moved from an aspirational goal throughout my lifetime to the core

of my identity. It was what made life worth living. Residing in New Orleans provided little

opportunity to practice on those 14,000’ peaks in a state like Colorado. However,

completing my 2-3 mile walk/jog around Audubon Park, swimming a mile in a nearby

pool, or clocking in my 10,000 steps a day kept me prepared me for the occasional

opportunities to take on more strenuous activities.

As the book launch/70th birthday weekend wound down, the challenge for the next

decade – when I’d be 70 to 80 years old – began to take shape. Competitive people

don’t like to fail, so I wanted to set a goal that would be ambitious but realistic. Also, it

needed to accommodate likely changes in physical ability over that decade. I

considered “one excursion a month,” but sensed it could become more of a burden than

a motivation. By contrast, six excursions a year seemed too little. How about eight? This

goal would keep me motivated to stay fit and give me something to look forward to

throughout the year.

A quick calculation of the math gave birth to the concept of “Aiming for 80.” It would

involve doing eight spectacular outdoor outings a year, totaling 80 over a 10-year

period, with the goal of completing the project by age 80. 

In my highpointing pursuit, I had made the strategic mistake of doing the easy ones first,

leaving the most challenging mountains for the last. At age 69, I found myself in a

harness and helmet, roped up as I inched my way up the icy slopes of Mt Hood in

Oregon under the skillful direction of a paid guide. Exhilarating as it had been to summit

Mt Hood, I did not need to spend my seventies being scared out of my mind in pursuit of

this new goal. If the truth be known, the idea of completing one or more of the remaining

mountains from the highpointing project [Rainier in Washington, Gannett Peak in

Wyoming, or Granite Peak in Montana] still lingered in the back of my mind; Denali in

Alaska was never a consideration. But on most days, realism and common sense won

out; these mountains were not in my future.

Rather, the “Aiming for 80“ project offered the option to taper down the physical

challenge of these excursions over time, consistent with my own physical condition,

while still connecting with the great outdoors and enjoying the companionship of fellow

travelers. “Physical challenge” was individually defined and could change over time. I

assumed the joy of being outdoors would not. 

Thus emerged the plan to complete “eight annual extraordinary outdoors excursions,”

defined by three criteria: (1) a physical challenge that took me beyond my comfort level,

(2) an outdoors setting, preferably with exquisite scenery, and (3) the company of

friends or family.

My pursuit of the highest points in every state during the decades of my 60s had been

one of the best experiences of my life, and I hoped to make the decade of my 70s every

bit as rewarding.

On the first day of New Years 2019, the project launched.


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