Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, March 14, 2022

Alaska Trip Preparation, Part II: Getting in Shape

Alaska cruise on the Wilderness Adventurer

In June, Russ and I are heading to Alaska for the second time in our lives. In August 2001, we took a cruise in the Inside Passage and spent a couple of days birding in and around Juneau.

Back then, before I booked the trip on the Wilderness Adventurer, a small ship operated by a Native-owned company, I researched the least polluting, most environmentally responsible cruise company. 

Alaska cruise on the Wilderness Adventurer
This is a picture of ALL of the passengers on this cruise. Russ is kneeling on one knee at the left and I'm next to him. 

Tragically, that company is no longer in business, but the Wilderness Adventurer is still in operation. Other than figuring out the most sustainable cruise and doing our best to offset our travel to and from Alaska so we wouldn’t be responsible for too much pollution or carbon emissions (and yes, we were well aware of the issues of climate change two decades ago), that trip involved nothing but fun and joy. 

Russ kayaking in the Inside Passage
The cruise involved kayaking, too!

Twenty-one years later, for the first time in my life, I’m dealing with another kind of trip preparation. This trip is partly to celebrate Russ’s and my 70th birthdays, but I’ve been dealing with a couple of other milestones, too. February 12 was the seven-year anniversary of my first heart attack; my second was two years ago. I’ve been on warfarin for the past two years which should prevent an encore, and I also just had my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free after my bout with breast cancer. I’m still active and in pretty good shape. I haven’t had any issues with my joints and still have no trouble at all carrying and using my binoculars and camera with its 100–500 mm lens everywhere. 

Laura and Pip and Laura's car

I have a lot of birding friends who were younger than me when they had to give up lugging a big camera or heavy binoculars, and some of my friends can’t hold 10-power glasses or even a small camera steady anymore. So I consider myself very lucky for an old lady. (Some people insist I should never use the word “old” or “elderly” in reference to myself, but people who hear a negative connotation in the simple descriptive word “old” are hanging onto some pretty ageist prejudices.) 

This birding tour will be low-key as far as physical exertion goes, except for one day on the Nome leg, when we take a long and potentially grueling hike on the tundra in hopes of seeing the Bristle-thighed Curlew. I’ve always considered myself a moseyer, and birding groups seldom hike too fast even on easy terrain. I’ve never had trouble keeping up with groups on this kind of adventure, and I’m bound and determined to keep this hike from being the first time. 

After my second heart attack in January 2020, I did a great job of exercising every day via my hospital’s cardiac rehab program until I had to stop going because of the pandemic. For months after, I stayed active with my desk treadmill and doing weight and aerobic exercises with my trusty old Jane Fonda’s Complete Workout video. But working that into my daily routine has become increasingly difficult as my grandson morphs from baby to toddler. I provide childcare at his house while my daughter and son-in-law are working, a genuine labor of love that fills my heart with joy, but even the happiest heart needs regular cardio workouts to be healthy. My treadmill is at home and I can't use it with a small child around anyway. I’m currently using Walter’s morning nap-time to exercise, but he’s reaching that tricky stage where he’s starting to outgrow the need for two naps. So my exercise routines keep getting changed, and I'm the kind of person who has trouble adjusting to change.

Even though this part of my Alaska trip preparation isn’t fun,  the possibility of seeing an amazing bird on the tundra is excellent motivation, and making sure I exercise each day is already paying off in how I feel, too. It’s funny how many decades I’ve cruised through without ever once thinking about or noticing the physical rigors of birding, even when I've taken very long hikes, all alone, in such isolated places as Water Canyon in New Mexico and Big Bend National Park in far western Texas. I plan to keep seeing and photographing birds for a decade or two to come, and staying physically fit is important in my day-to-day life even without a Bristle-thighed Curlew lifer to look forward to. Exercise is just one more step in preparing for a thrilling birding adventure.

Bristle-thighed Curlew photo from the National Park Service via Wikipedia