It’s Never too Late

When I was young I had great respect and reverence for my elders. I had a grandfather, who, of course came from a different era. His life was one of hard work on the family farm. There wasn’t time, space, or money for adventures and traveling the world. Everyday WAS the adventure in that time.

My Great Uncle Fr. Joe spent 23 years as a missonary in China. Something unheard of then or now. I drew inspiration from his stories of biking through rice patties and evading the Japanese army in WW II. When I knew Fr. Joe, he was old, but somehow never lost his quest for adventure, even though his focus changed from International to Local adventure. Always he was to be found at Divine Word in Epworth, in his gardens, orchards, or making music with his ancient violin. Though I never realized it at the time, Fr. Joe was my hero, while most kids my age idolized simple sports figures or movie stars. Such was his impact on me, I even considered becoming a Priest in my younger years.

And certainly, my father demanded respect just by the way he goes about life and what he becomes involved in. Always passionate with his pursuits, be it growing apples, coaching little league, or design work. The list is endless and no matter what, it is always done fair and right.

These role models have served me well over the years. After college I made a vow to myslef to NOT let life pass me by, but to live it to the fullest. In no way did I want to wake up one day and be 80 years old, thinking of all the things I’d wished I’d done. By damn, I was going to do them. After 2 years on a treadmill corporate job, I left the “real” world and set out for a life of uncertainty and adventure in Alaska. While accepting all the tradeoffs, this attitude of living life has served me well. It has taken me, in odd ways, all over the world, and on all sorts of adventures. Some of the most memorable are standing on top of Denali/Mt. McKinley, shivering at the South Pole, warming up on beaches in the Virgin Islands, and even trying to catch my breath on Mt. Everest. Places that during my youth, were too far away and too many years down the road to even dream about.

And as I get older, I think this must change. Have all the dreams been lived? Can they? Certainly NOT! I’m once again reminded of my elders and they way they lived their life. And I think about a few people I’ve met along the way. On, Denali/Mt. McKinley I met a 60 year old climber who summited, solo, in 8 days. It took me 22 days, and I was 33 years old. On Everest, I met a 72 year old climber hoping to reach the top. Sitting at basecamp of Everest I realized that it is never too late to live life. It doesn’t really matter if these old guys reach the summit of some mountain. What matters is that they are still out there trying, living life, and pursuing dreams.

Recently sidelined with a broken arm from a paragliding mishap, I’m
reminded of how short life can be and how quickly it can be taken away.
Sometimes a mandatory slow down is just what is needed for one to appreciate what life is all about. It worked for me. And I’m left thinking that maybe someday my focus will change, and maybe I will slow down. But you can bet I’ll still be chasing dreams and living life out on the edge. Just like Fr. Joe did for his 96 years and as my Father has done for 67 years. He still grows apples and lives life to the fullest, everyday.

It’s never too late to remember, that it’s never too late.

Originally published in the Telegraph Herald, November 12th, 2003.

Troy Henkels lives in Eagle River, Alaska. He is a native of Dubuque, a 1985 graduate of Wahlert High School, a 1989 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa. He writes about his adventures and experiences from around the world. Copyright 2003 Troy Henkels