Certain birthdays really are milestones ... times to contemplate life and evaluate oneself.
Jay Budde of Archbold considered his 50th to be one of those milestones.
So he literally decided to find out if he COULD still paddle his own canoe.
And where did he decide to do his paddling?
Somewhere close to home ... like the Maumee River or Bean Creek?
Instead, he spent 17 days in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, paddling south along the eastern coast of the Baja California Peninsula.
"Technically, it was a sea kayak rather than a canoe," he says.
"But finding out if one can still paddle his own kayak at the age of 50 is pretty much the same as finding out if one can still paddle his own canoe."
And could Jay still paddle his own kayak from sunrise to sunset, day after day along the coast of some of the most beautiful, wild, rugged country in North America?
"I really could ... and did," he says with a wide grin on his face.
"And it was the trip of a lifetime!"
Of course, not every 50-year-old would ... or could ... have completed such a wilderness journey so successfully.
Jay consciously began to prepare for his voyage months before it actually began.
But and in many ways, he'd unconsciously been preparing for it all his life.
He was born in Canton, graduated from Canton Lehman High School in 1967 and graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering.
A Wauseon Girl
In college, he met Barbara Von Seggern ... a 1967 graduate of Wauseon High School.
"I was introduced to her by a fraternity brother," he says.
"Barb also graduated from the U of C in 1972.
"Her bachelor's degree is in interior design."
Their college graduations were immediately followed by their wedding and they now have two grown children ... Richard and Beverly.
"After we were married, we moved to Atlanta, where I worked as an engineer for a consulting firm," Jay says.
"Barb worked with an architectural firm as a designer of interior spaces."
They stayed in Atlanta until 1981 and then moved to Pittsburgh.
"I changed careers, gave up engineering and went to work for the Presbytery of Pittsburgh," he says.
"My job title was associate executive for outdoor ministries.
"I was in charge of Crestfield Camp and Conference Center and I did some preaching as a lay person.
"Crestfield is located at Slippery Rock ... about 50 miles north of Pittsburgh.
"There were as many as 1,000 campers there during the summer.
"And we also offered year-around retreat facilities."
Jay remained in Pittsburgh until 1999 and it was toward the end of that time when his sea kayaking adventure took place.
"It's a little confusing," he says.
"We decided to leave Pittsburgh.
"Barbara took a position in northwestern Ohio as the curator of history at the Sauder Farm & Craft Village in August of '98.
"So she rented an apartment in Defiance.
"And for about 18 months, we maintained two households.
"She's since left that position and she's now doing some garden and landscape design.
"While we were maintaining our two households ... in January of '99 ... I went on my mid-life sea kayaking adventure.
"Then I returned to my job and our home in Pittsburgh for eight months."
In October of 1999, he joined Barbara in Defiance.
They eventually purchased a farmhouse a few miles north of Archbold and it has become a full-scale restoration project.
"For a while I worked for the Epilepsy Center in Toledo," he says.
"But on November 1st of last year, I took the position of e-commerce officer for the Farmers & Merchants State Bank in Archbold.
"We created a website so now customers can do their banking over the Internet.
"I'm basically in charge of organizing and managing the bank's Internet banking business."
Prelude To Adventure
Jay was introduced to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in late winter of 1998 and the seeds of a remarkable personal journey were sown in his mind.
"A friend of mine took one of its courses ... a backpacking expedition in the Northeast ... and he loved it," Jay says.
"He told me all about it.
"And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea."
NOLS was founded by legendary mountaineer and environmentalist Paul Petzoldt in Wyoming in 1965.
The school essentially uses real-life situations and wilderness locations to train future expedition leaders in outdoor skills and environmental studies.
NOLS offers many types of expeditions in various parts of the world.
"I visited its Internet website ... www.nols.edu ... and found an expedition that appealed to me and also fit with my time schedule," Jay says.
"In my case, it was its Mexico Baja Sea Kayaking Course and it ran from January 3rd through the 24th.
"I'd never been kayaking, but I was comfortable with canoeing.
"I'd been on Canadian canoe trips and had limited white water experience."
By April of 1999, Jay had contacted NOLS and was making plans for his adventure.
He was 49 then and 50 by the time the expedition began.
"I informed them of my age and background and sent them the results of a physical from my doctor," he says.
"I looked upon this as a mid-life adventure.
"I wanted to prove to myself that I could still handle a real physical challenge ... still paddle my own canoe.
"I explained that to NOLS and asked them to make an age exception for me and they did."
The average ... and recommended ... age for this particular expedition was between 20 and 30.
On the actual expedition, the next oldest person was 33 and he was one of the instructors.
Jay was already in good physical shape.
But once he'd been accepted for the expedition, he immediately began a training program.
"For about eight months, I ran, walked, lifted weights and did exercises to strengthen my legs, back and arms and to improve my endurance," he says.
"I can honestly say without bragging that I was in better physical shape than any of the young people ... except for the instructors.
"The 20-somethings didn't think they needed to get in shape for such an expedition.
"But several of them were wrong."
From Sunday, December 27th, of 1998 through Thursday, January 28th of 1999, Jay kept a meticulous journal appropriately titled "A Mid-Life Adventure."
Here are short excerpts from it:
12/30/98: Galatians 5:1 Christ has set us free to live a free life.
1/2/99: High winds and blizzard conditions today. Forecast is for it to continue into Monday. Toledo and Chicago airports closed. I will leave the weather in God's hands.
1/4/99: Three degrees, sunny, light wind. I did not shave today and will see if I can stand it for a month.
6:40 p.m. In Toledo airport. Flight to Chicago canceled. I've been placed on an earlier ... but now delayed flight.
9:38 p.m. In Chicago. Airport is crammed with humanity. Looks like a refugee camp. Lord, thanks for all the bolts and wires and skilled people who brought me this far.
1/5/99: 2:22 a.m. Good flight to Los Angeles. Airport is practically deserted. Only the stranded, stupid and/or cheap are here at this time of the morning.
10 a.m. Met most of the group and we introduced ourselves.
9:30 p.m. I am in Mexico. Great flight to Laredo, then two-hour van ride north to Mulege. Friendly town but economically depressed.
1/6/99: Met NOLS staff at base camp. Spent day with gear, maps, asking questions, learning. There are five instructors for the 15 of us.
Here's Jay at the end of his successful adventure ... bearded, tired
and the stars gone from his eyes.
1/7/99: Slept on beach last night under stunning moon and stars. Up at 4:45 a.m. Paddling with Tony in a double for now.
We had class in wet exits and re-entries. Rolled kayak and exited and re-entered underwater.
Classes in reading the water, sea socks and spray shirts. Assessed our swimming skills.
1/8/99: A beach 10K south of last night's beach. 65 degrees, light breeze, calm seas. It was a great day!!!
Packed our own gear in boats this morning. It was like a puzzle trying to fit 8 small, water-proof bags into the compartments. Two-person kayak weighs 400 pounds when fully loaded.
Kortney ... small, 18 years old, impatient and inexperienced ... was my paddling partner.
Pleased me that the instructor trusted me with such an inexperienced partner.
I am in better physical shape than probably 12 of the 15.
Saw pod of six dolphins heading north. Beautiful, graceful creatures only 30 feet off our port bow.
Had to paddle hard with Kortney sharing the boat.
Feel good about my condition and skills.
Beach is littered with dolphin skeletons, beautiful shells and interesting rock formations.
1/9/99: Three-foot seas today. Too rough for traveling. We practiced surf launchings and landings and paddle signals in a cove.
Tacos, rice, Tabasco, refried beans, onions and cabbage for supper.
1/10/99: Stellar day of paddling. Up at 4:18 a.m. and paddled 22K ... 14 miles.
Camping in a beautiful cove. After so many hours paddling, I feel like the beach is moving ... funny sensation.
Saw humpback whale! He surfaced about 8 times about 300 yards from us. Also spy-hopped ... poked head out of water to look around.
Kortney is difficult and she doesn't really want to be on this expedition. I wonder if her parents made her come for some reason.
Watching pelicans drop out of the sky into the surf to catch minnows.
1/11/99: Paddled 19K today in a single ... no partner to struggle with. Great fun.
Watched osprey catch fish near a great cliff.
1/12/99: Saw dolphins leaping 15 feet into the air. Awesome. So far have lost a knife, a lighter and my new $30 sunglasses.
1/15/99: Saw my beard for the first time and can't believe the amount of gray in it. Kind of attractive though!
1/16/99: Fairly constant pain in my right shoulder and my right hand tingles all the time. I cannot feel the pen in my fingers as I write. Paddling is not a problem ... just painful.
1/18/99: We have now split into two mini-expeditions with student leaders supervised by instructors who intervene only if we are putting ourselves at risk.
1/19/99: I found a three-foot whale rib bone on the beach.
1/21/99: I used dental floss to sew and repair my swim suit and sandals.
1/22/99: El Norte has arrived ... very high winds, blowing sand and choppy seas. We have built a wind barrier with our bags. The group voted no to traveling.
1/23/99: I baked cornbread in a pan between an upper and lower twig fire and it was done to perfection.
1/24/99: I had wanted to carry my whale rib all the way home, but held a small ceremony today and returned it to the sea. It belongs to the sea.
Had 20 minutes play with six dolphins. It was a magical experience.
They circled our kayaks, slapping their tails, gliding up and out of the water, raising their heads and looking into our eyes. It was incredible!
I paddled toward them and they stayed in contact, dancing and slapping their tails instead of swimming away.
I slapped my paddle on the water and they slapped their tails in response. I couldn't believe it!
Thank you, God, for my senses and for the sense of wonder I feel for each moment.
1/25/99: Dinner tonight was a team effort and wonderful ... grilled shark, lentil rice soup, tortillas, refried beans and choc-olate cake. All that was lacking to make it perfect was a glass of milk.
1/27/99: I said good-by to the sea 30 minutes ago. We've cleaned the last campsite and held our last group meeting in the field.
I am ready to go home. My head lamp battery is dying. My last roll of film is complete.
I am tired of sandy food and sleeping on the ground.
I have struggled with pain, frustration, disappointment and exhaustion.
But I have learned much about myself and I have been compensated for it all by incredible beauty, rare gifts, exhilaration and awe.
The past 21 days have been the best investment I have ever made in my own growth and development.
Jay's mid-life sea kayaking adventure was everything he had hoped it would be and more.
"And on several levels," he says.
"It was educationally outstanding.
"I'd been into camping professionally for years and I really thought I was an expert outdoorsman and survivalist.
"But I learned so much technically about survival in a desert and a sea environment.
"I wanted to face a real physical challenge at the age of 50 and handle it successfully.
"It was a very physically challenging expedition and I was able to handle it.
"There were days when we paddled for six hours straight and I thought I wasn't going to make it.
"But I kept going.
"I had tendinitis in my right shoulder and tremendous pain in my wrists from the repetitive motions of paddling.
"The instructors kept all the medications because they didn't want anyone self-medicating.
"So we had to ask them if we wanted so much as an aspirin.
"I just put up with the pain for a long time and finally did get some ibuprofen late in the expedition.
"The expedition was also a spiritual journey for me.
"I really enjoyed and profited from the time I spent in contemplation and writing in my journal.
"It was difficult to get good pictures of whales and dolphins because I had to put my camera in three plastic bags to keep it dry.
"I'd see something like a whale.
"But by the time I'd get the camera out, there would only be ripples left on the surface of the water and the whale would be long gone.
"We usually paddled about a quarter-mile from shore over a reef.
"The water was a couple of hundred feet deep and fairly clear.
"The days were hot ... sometimes 100 degrees ... but the desert nights were below freezing at times.
"Some nights I slept with all my clothes on and I was still cold inside my sleeping bag.
"Each person had about 75 pounds of personal gear.
"And we carried all our food and fresh water in the boats.
"It was a great experience.
"I loved it.
"There are many NOLS expeditions and I'm planning to take one every five years from now on.
"I'm looking forward to many more mid-life adventures!
"And I hope those will be followed by senior adventures ... but not for a long time yet!"
Del's Note: Jay is available for speaking engagements concerning his sea kayaking adventure. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org