BikeHike is very fortunate to travel with so many special people from around the world. Anne Windh is certainly one of them. Having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro at the age of 78, and most recently completed our Peru – Andean Mountain Medley, Anne Windh is living proof that you’re never to old for adventure travel.
Darcy: Thanks for being a part of our BikeHike Adventures community Anne! I heard a remarkable quote from you:
“When you start paddling late in life, you have to paddle real fast, – and I am paddling as fast as I can.”
What was it that made you “start paddling late in life?” Was there an inspiring life-changing moment or have you always been an active person?
At an early age (12 or so), I decided Denmark was not big enough for me. I wanted to live in Canada. That dream was always there, but it took over nine years to fulfill my dream.
I came to Canada in 1953 by myself, at age 22, to a ranch in the Chilcotin. There I was a cowgirl for a couple of years. Going back to Denmark for a visit, I missed Canada and returned to Toronto to make some money so I could finish my trip to BC. There I worked in a bank, spent money as I made it, had fun, got married, had three daughters, and continued my married life (doing what was expected of a wife and mother in those days). It was a very controlled marriage, but I stayed in it and did my best.
After 35 years my husband retired and kids moved out on their own. At that time my husband decided he didn’t want to be married any more. He left, and I had to pick up the pieces and make a new life.
During that time my eldest daughter had bought a kayak. She lived on Vancouver Island (and still does). She brought her kayak to our cottage and said, “Mom try this out. It is really cool.” I sat in her kayak and was immediately hooked. You are close to the water, centered and in total control – even paddling on both sides. I decided, “I have to have one of those.” Not long after she emailed me that “one of those” was listed for sale in Vancouver, brand new. I bought it, had it shipped out, and spent a few summers on Georgian Bay with an outfit there learning how to use the thing.
My new life had started – I loved kayaking. I was now in my late 60′s and realized that if I wanted to do all there was in this new life, I just had to paddle real fast.
I paddled the Georgian Bay, The French River, Lake Superior, and many more places. On one of those trips I met another women a bit younger than me in similar circumstances. We became friends and had many trips together. We had fun. We paddled the east coast, the Bay of Fundy, the west coast. We white water rafted several rivers in the north, and the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
In 2000 we did our first trip with BikeHike Adventures to Costa Rica – an unforgettable trip, doing all the crazy stuff that Trish has to offer. We also extended that trip to take in Belize. My friend Joan made me do it. When I signed up for that and looked at it I thought – “Joan, you crazy nut!” If I could do all of what I signed up for, anything afterwards would be a bonus.
I was then almost 70. Guess what – I did it all! I realized, “Yes I Can, – I can do anything I want to!” So get busy girl and keep on paddling!
Darcy: You recently partook in the Peru – Andean Mountain Medley. What made you decide to join this particular adventure? Can you describe this experience?
Anne: Machu Picchu had been on my mind for a long time, and I felt it was time. I had done Kilimanjaro about three years earlier and made it to the top on my own two feet. My daughter contacted the Guinness Book of World Records, and I am now in their system as the oldest woman to have done so. Unfortunately, they won’t make it official until I provide a witness who actually saw me doing it (making sure that nobody carried me up there). I can’t do that, so it remains uncredited, – that’s okay.
I was pretty sure I would be able to do the mountains in the Andes as well, as it was not quite as high. I found this one to be much harder. The mountains were much steeper than Mt. Kili, and the paths much narrower – a lot of zig zaging, and lots of sand and gravel, which makes it trickier.
I had no trouble going down. My balance is very good, but you wouldn’t want to fall anywhere. I could just see myself rolling down to the bottom of the valley – waaay down. It was the uphill steep climb that had me puffing. I had to stop often to recover and I was afraid I would be holding up everyone if I kept doing that. So I accepted a comfortable seat on Pinto, my friendly horse.
I climbed some, and cheated some. I am so happy I did that trip. The Andes Mountains are beautiful, peaceful, mysterious – almost spiritual. They are different than any other mountains I have seen, including the Rockies and the Alps. They are also beautiful, but in a different way.
The People that live up there in the high Andes are beautiful, and very hard working. They are friendly and seem happy, living in conditions that most of the rest of us could not accept.
I loved waking up to the chatter and laughter of the women who had already put their little blanket out on the ground with all their lovely knitted crafts. I had chosen to do the Lares Trail because I believed it to be less traveled than the Inca Trail. This turned out to be so. We were a cosy little group of four, plus Martin and Rodrigues (who was an excellent cook) and the other helpers. We met only two other hikers who were from Peru I think.
I loved the food, and all the lovely soups that Rodrigues made. I only wish I could have eaten more of it. I think altitude had something to do with my lack of appetite. It was all so healthy and tasty.
I am not too happy traveling in large groups. I find it tends to get too noisy. Too many different ideas, and when you want to listen to how quiet it is – you can’t. This was the perfect trip. Trish knows how to scout out the best guides, the best hotels, and the most interesting trips to do. I am glad age is not a barrier.
I did find out however that it is too late for me to learn mountain biking in one short hour. I found it to be very technical. 26 or 28 gears to shift at the right time to the right spot. It was too risky for me – at least in Peru on the dusty curvy roads. So I am afraid I cheated there too, but I did try it for a couple of hours.
The rock climbing could have been fun – I didn’t do too bad at what I tried. It was girl power. Martina did the best and I was a little behind her. The guys did almost as well, but it was too advanced for any of us. We had to be like a spider, crawling along the ceiling to get over the overhang. I had fun trying.
Darcy: What is the most cherished memory of your active life?
Anne: There are so many. I have to say my trip to Canada from Denmark, when I immigrated on my own in 1953, barely speaking English. I had worked in London for two years – my Dad’s idea. He had thought, “She can go to England and learn to speak English. After a year she will be homesick and forget about Canada.” Dad’s idea didn’t pan out as he would have liked.
I didn’t learn to speak English, as I was a Nanny for the Danish vice consul. Soon an
opportunity presented itself to get a job on a ranch in BC. I realized the price of a ticket was exactly what I could save in one year. I started saving – no eating, no subway, – no costs. One year later, ticket in hand, I head for BC. Five days and six nights later, I arrived in Chilliwack. It was the most exciting trip, not for danger, or wild adventure (it was just another trip) – but because it was to begin of a new life (even though I had a very good life in Denmark and a wonderful family). I have never looked back.
Darcy: When did you feel the most challenged?
Anne: I would say it was Mt. Kilimanjaro, because I had never been to such high altitude before. I thought it would be very embarrassing to come home and say, “I didn’t make it.” Everybody was wondering if I had rocks in my head. My brother said, “You have to think about how old you are!” Well, I don’t go and think about how old I am, it is just a number on a piece of paper. I know how I feel, and if you don’t try, how do you know if you can do it?
Darcy: What is your travel mantra?
Anne: “Pole Pole” (Swahili for “slowly slowly”) and “Keep paddling.”
Darcy: You are clearly full of life and wanting more excitement in the future. What remains on your bucketlist?
Anne: I would like to do Galapagos. It has always been high on my list. I love wildlife. I like to do trips where the wildlife can be seen from a kayak or hiking path. I am always game to do more rappelling and hanging on the clothesline swinging cross the canyon somewhere. I would love to do a trip maybe on the Amazon River or something. I can find lots of things and places where I want to go.
Darcy: Do you have any tips to share on how to stay healthy?
Anne: You have to want to stay healthy. You have to be willing to spend some time balancing your life with healthy living and exercise. I have exercised all my life, and I still do it.
Darcy: Do you have any words of wisdom to share with all the reluctant adventurers who believe they are too old to get back in the saddle?
Anne: For anyone out there – if you see some exciting trips to a place you have always wanted to go to, don’t tell yourself, “I am too old for this now, it is too late.” How do you know? Do a little research – see your doctor for a checkup – ask what he/she thinks. Most likely there is no reason why you shouldn’t go for it.
I asked my doctor what he thought about me climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I was almost 78 then. He said, “oh, if that is what you want to do, then we have better give you a stress test.” He came right back and said, “you are good to run up there!”
Also find out what the trip involves. Get comfortable with the idea that you are going to do this. Then stick to your goal - you are going. Also, make sure you have medical and cancellation insurance, and you are totally safe.
Darcy: Who is a famous person you’d love to travel with and why?
Anne: I would love to do a trip with my daughter. She is not yet totally famous, but getting there. She has written a couple of books and is in Toronto for a book awards dinner on Saturday. She didn’t actually win, but was in the top seven. I am very proud of her. If I can have a second choice, I would love to do a trip with Trish that involves kayaking hiking and wildlife. I would love to have done a trip with Pierre Trudeau as well.