I was parked in the godforsaken desert near Slab City when a motorcycle pulled up next to my trailer. A short, grizzled, bandy-legged man dismounted, hitched up his pants, and strolled over, laying on me his killer pick-up line.
“The last thing I expected to see was a beautiful blonde in the desert. How long ya stayin?”
For the record, the color of my hair at the time was a stylistic accident exacerbated by months in the sun. The last thing I ever expected to be was a blonde in the desert, beauty being purely in the eye of this droopy-drawers beholder.
This anecdote, however, is meant to be the exception that proves the rule. And the rule is that older women are invisible. So far I’ve found that this also applies to older female travelers, bandy-legged motorcycle men notwithstanding.
(Actually, the MOST irresistable pickup line ran along the lines of: “I sleep with anyone–old, young, makes no difference.”)
While young women are harassed and ogled at and followed, older women are invisible. This is a good thing, once you get past the initial bewilderment. After you stop feeling like cellophane, invisibility gives you tremendous freedom.
You don’t have to dress up; you don’t have to wear makeup; but most of all, you don’t feel self-conscious like all the young women with their youthful faces and clickety-clack heels. Like you used to feel. Like, I’m not paying any attention to all you people looking at me. Really. This is just the way I always walk. Besides, can I help being beautiful?
When you are invisible, you can be yourself. You can stop in the middle of the sidewalk with an idiotic smile just to gawk. The tour guide will overlook you because he is flirting with the young girls, so you don’t have to maintain a conversation–you can just pop in when you have a question and wander on your own. You understand; you were there once.
But invisibility is a superficial difference. A substantial difference between old and young travelers is physical prowess. (See the last post for #1.) And this is not superficial.
When you are young:
- You can drink until 3am and catch a train at 6. I’ve read your posts about drinking even though you’re on antibiotics and in the blazing African sun. I’ve read your resolutions to party less. I’ve even read Nomadic Matt’s rant on the stupid things travelers do when they’re drunk.
Old travelers don’t do this. We don’t have the desire, the stamina, or the stomach for it. We go to bed early after our first, virginal glass of wine.
- Speaking of virginal, you are not. You still have those sexual feelers out that tell you when the hottie wants you. You ought to worry about this more now that you are passing through one country after another, but I’m thinking that you don’t.
Old travelers are more concerned with getting to a place intact. It’s been a while since we’ve used the word “hottie.” Or applied it to someone. Besides, flirting is more challenging–maybe impossible–when you’re invisible. This isn’t to say that old people aren’t sexual (I know, Grandma having sex seems gross), just that it’s not such a driving force.
- You can party until 3am and then hike for 10 miles over a 14,000-foot pass. I know this because my young daughter did it. (Maybe she didn’t do the partying, but she did the 5-day hike to Machu Picchu.) I’m hoping that if I train for about 6 months, I might be able to make the 3-day hike. Maybe on a mule…
- You think that jumping off things is fun. And spelunking. And mountain climbing. You swim with sharks. You hike in flip-flops and forget your hat.
Old travelers use walking sticks. We watch where we put our feet. We wear sensible shoes and carry extra water and rain gear—just in case. We also take our vitamins.
I wish I could sprint up a mountain pass and leap tall buildings at a single bound. I wish my shoulder didn’t ache and my knees didn’t creak. But I no longer take any body part for granted. They work. That’s all I can ask of them.
And, really, I’m just incredibly happy to have this time while everything still works to hike up mountains. Slowly. With my walking stick and sensible shoes.