Purchased photo by the fabulous Becky Pearman. Highland 100 finish line. Steven and Alayna Hay on Mu and Ivan. 5th place.

“No one is as old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”  (Henry David Thoreau)

Becoming an elder in your tribe just sort of sneaks up on you.

One day you’re “kiddo,” and then you look up seemingly the next and find yourself calling someone else “kiddo.” Or being unable to identify anyone’s age when they are under 40.

“So, are you in college?”

“No, I’m 29 and an engineer.”


Last year, I had to take a re-certification course via Zoom as an Authorized OSHA Outreach Trainer, something I do every four years to maintain my status.

There were roughly 20 of us on the call and we were required to keep our cameras on to verify our attendance and participation. We went around introducing ourselves, and at least a handful of the participants, probably more, mentioned that they would be retiring in the next few years and so this would be their last time attending the class.

I took a look around at the faces looking back at me, and I’ll just say it, we were an older crowd. I used to say as a young safety professional that I was in a sea of middle-aged white men with pocket protectors. This group, minus the pocket protectors, was just that, with a few women also about my age sprinkled in. (Well, some progress, but not enough.)

At some point, one proceeded to rant about how OSHA was hiring “kids” to do inspections these days. How they’d never earned that right by spending time in the field, boots on the ground, and how their practical knowledge was glaringly absent.

A few others chimed in, echoing him.

I remained quiet for much of this virtual rant, and then I quietly pushed the little button to “raise my hand” and signal that I had something I’d like to say.

I started my soliloquy by asking them to look around at our group, and suggested that we as a safety professional community, had failed. That it was up to us to bring on the young safety professionals, to recruit them, to mentor them, to teach them the difference between a technical regulatory violation and a glaring, high-risk, complex, life-or-death safety issue. I asked what we were doing to change the faces looking back at me from that Zoom screen.

“We failed. It was our job to bring along the up and comers. Who else could we possibly blame?”

Was I really the only one seeing this dilemma so clearly?

I went this weekend to the Iron Mountain Jubilee, having cancelled my plans to attend Spanish Peaks when my travel companion had an issue with family that required her to jump in.

I’d originally planned on the Friday 50 and to crew for my friends, Marianne and Mel, on the Saturday 100. When the long-range forecast was showing high humidity and temps in the 90s, I was a little concerned. When I aggravated my neck working on my trailer and packing the Sunday prior, I was frustrated. I have a herniated disc between C6 and C7 and it rarely affects me, but as of late, it’s been tweaky.

I dropped down to the LD 25 mile ride, saw my chiropractor, did my stretches and took my Advil, and hit the road at 1am on Thursday for the six hour haul. (There is NO traffic in Charlotte at 3am as a FYI.)

I always have mixed feelings about doing a Limited Distance ride, having focused the vast majority of my competitions on 50s and 100s in the not-so-distant past. But I had to be realistic. While Dunkin was fit for the 50, and quite possibly the 100, I would not be a good enough partner to help him with that challenge.

[Never mind the unnecessary suffering. I do have a new litmus test about rides, having little or nothing to prove and zero idea how many miles I have — when someone asks, I go look it up and then promptly forget again — and no significant riding goals other than fun and adventure. I’ve never been the least bit competitive. There is something to this whole aging thing. Some things are just not that important. So my new litmus test is this: Does it sound like fun? Or unnecessary suffering?]

Of late, there’s been a bit of Facebook drama about a potential change in how endurance rides are sanctioned, and I could easily argue the debate from either side. As with all things social media, there should be a sign that says, like side view mirrors did back in the day — “this issue appears much larger than it is in real life.” There are points on either side that bear discussion, and I trust that the AERC BOD will consider them all thoughtfully and come up with a wise course of action.

But being at that ride, with my head feeling every ounce as heavy as a bowling ball balanced on my cue stick of a neck, but making it around our LD just fine, then spending my weekend with my tribe, I felt a little bit of deja vu from that Zoom call.

There were riders in their fifties and sixties and seventies riding in all the distances. In fact, while there were young people, of course, as well, I was struck by how the vast majority of us, either riding the ride, or managing it, or volunteering, or vetting, were of a “certain age.”

As I said to Marianne and Mel about crewing for them for the 100, “crewing is my love language.” While some of the tribe I saw only briefly for a quick wave or a hug, I got to hang with several, laughing and catching up at the away vet check. Topics of discussion included: raising kids, horses (of course), pot, politics (only very briefly), someone (who shall not be named) and their recently much improved sex life, Yellowstone, and the Buffalo Bills. (If you bring your Bills folding chair to a ride and have a Ram with a fancy Bills license plate, you’ll bring out the Bills Mafia!) I must say that when I’m laughing over something with these people, it is then that it all feels like home. I’m with my people.

I met Taryn, in her late 20s, who was doing her first LD ride on her Icelandic, Pickles, as well as crewing with me on Saturday. She was a breath of fresh air, and I quickly let her know that if it involved heavy lifting, or climbing, or anything potentially tweak-evoking to a neck, it was her job. She peppered me with questions, good ones, was an excellent horse handler and clearly has a great horsemanship background.

Rest assured, I think we hooked another one with Taryn. Check.

She muttered in the dark at some point as we were waiting and contemplating whether a parked car might roll down the hill and kill us all — “Ah, finally, the sweet release of death.” She’s clearly our people.

I met Grace, also in her 20s, who was riding the 100 on Saturday. In our conversation, I mentioned Ned and after a bunch of typical endurance rider gabbing and commiseration, complete with some cursing (mine), I asked her name and introduced myself.

“Patti? Wait, do you have a blog?”

I thanked Grace for being one of my seven blog readers, a little embarrassed for some reason when I discover that someone knows me, probably pretty well, before I’ve actually met them. Obviously it’s not any sort of Taylor Swift level of fame, but I’m always a little humbled and also chuffed that Ned has left a legacy that has outlived him. (RIP Ned, I miss you to this day, but not your immortal leaping or your bolting.)

While riding and crewing, I also spent time with Steven and Alayna Hay. These two are the poster children for the young people who will keep our sport going. I met Steven when he was 10-ish, riding his grandmother’s Morgan at CTRs and then endurance. If you’ve seen one of any of the photos of the two of them that look like this one from the finish line of the 100, you know they are doing it right. Horses well-balanced and fit and shiny, and two riders, riding beautifully and exemplifying how it is done.

Steve and I had a quick message exchange after the ride, as I did something highly skilled like hold a horse while it ate at the last hold, and he wanted to say thanks. (Class act, all the way.) I made some smarmy comment about getting old and told him if he was lucky it would happen to him too.

I think that’s exactly the point of all of this.

Steven and Alayna are the next generation. And Taryn and Grace and another Taryn I met (the engineer) and Joni and Mia and Sarah and Bryn — who once told me as we rode together in New Jersey that I must be “the coolest aunt” which I immediately texted my nieces to announce, with one responding “yeah, you’re the GOAT!” which I then had to ask someone to interpret, but I digress — they are it. Along with all the others I didn’t name, but you can.

I do not want my sport to look like that Zoom safety training group, being all Archie Bunker-like and yelling “Get Off My Lawn!”

Do not get me wrong! I was profoundly humbled by the riders all around me in any of the rides (and the Ride and Tie), my age and older. I’m also wowed by all of the volunteers who were there taking pulses, or being the in-timer, or scribing, some long after giving up competing and even riding for this reason or that one. Many of them mentors to me. My heroes. My family, really. I’d bet that the median age of the volunteers and all of the riders was probably 50+. So many conversations about this injury or that health concern or some upcoming surgery or news of some other member of the endurance family with concerns related to getting older.

AERC’s statistics bear this out. Which leaves us with a survival dilemma. And the same conclusion I mentioned earlier.

“We failed. It was our job to bring along the up and comers. Who else could we possibly blame?”

What is to be done?

[I would suggest that arguing on Facebook, although both tempting and perhaps satisfying, is probably not it. Quitting AERC or not joining, also probably not it.]

I know what I’m going to do.

I will always believe that the best way to learn about our sport, in addition to volunteering at a ride (be a vet scribe if you can) and finding a fabulous mentor, is to attend an in-person clinic. As one of a dozen or two people who have given back to the sport by teaching lots and lots of clinics (you know who you are!), we can each tell you these are a tremendous way to recruit and educate new riders, and a way to help them meet a tribe of local riders, new and old, to help them along. I’ll happily teach them when asked.

They are a perfect way to cast a wider net.

But sometimes someone wants to jump in or test the waters or learn more, and they don’t have a local in-person clinic available. What to do then?

About five years ago, since I own a web-based training business, we created an online course for people new to our sport (or not so new and just wanting a little help) called Endurance Essentials. It got rave reviews.

It needs a little dusting off, and I want to re-build it with one of my professional instructional designers in a newer software system, and host it on a different LMS (learning management system), but this is a big passion project. It takes about 200 hours to create an hour of eLearning, and since this was a five-hour course, well, you do the math.

The current course is available for one more month on the existing LMS and I’m looking into offering it for free to a limited number of people willing to take a survey after completing it to help me build and improve the new one and get it out to more prospective or new members without breaking the bank. If we can make the time to do it with other projects also going on. (I’m scheming. I love a new project!)

And if we are talking about the kids, the kids are looking for information online! They are unaware of a time before smart phones, before Google.

From my perspective, it is always better to be a part of the solution than a part of the problem.

“We failed. It was our job to bring along the up and comers. Who else could we possibly blame?”

I refuse to let it be me.

Stay tuned.