Anne Patton, 78, has done more things in the last year than most people have done in a lifetime. She endured -40C temperatures while dog sledding in Churchill, Man., trudged through waist-deep snow while snowshoeing, zoomed across a zip line and glided across — and fell into — a calm lake while stand-up paddle boarding.
Her list of adventures will unfold over the next two years as the Saanich-based children’s author aims to do 80 new things before she turns 80. Her personal project, dubbed “Embracing Eighty” and chronicled on her Facebook page, is about getting the most out of life and staying young at heart.
“I figure that as long as you’re living on this earth, you should be alive,” said Patton, who moved to Victoria with her husband in 2011 after a long career as an elementary school teacher in Regina. “My idea as a teacher was to instill passion for life. I want to be an example of living in the moment and enjoying the moment.”
Patton was inspired by a fellow writer who was trying 60 new things before she turned 60. Patton started last year just after her 77th birthday. “I thought to myself: ‘If I’m doing 80 things, I better start now.’ “
Many of the activities are done with her grandsons Seamus, 12, and Jasper, 10, who have watched her pull crabs from a crab trap, float in the ocean on a giant swan and traverse a metal tight rope and rope ladders while harnessed high up in the trees at the aerial adventure park Wild Play.
Patton doesn’t have a set list of 80 things, she’s just embracing experiences as they come to her. And she’s open to suggestions.
Some of her plans, for example taking a hot air balloon ride or going on a Segway tour, have been scuttled because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
“I was planning to go to Scotland, you know, have some far out adventures, but I’m stuck here on the Island,” she joked. Nonetheless, new adventures seem to find her, often unexpectedly. During a family trip to Cowichan Bay in July, Patton told the on-site manager of her rented beach house that she was running out of ideas for her project.
His first suggestions — skydiving and bungy — were quickly shot down by Patton, who says she has her limits.
“He said, ‘oh, well how about a Harley Davidson ride?’ Well, that sounded so tame in comparison to skydiving that I said ‘oh sure.’ “
Patton worried she didn’t have “any of the right clothes to look bad ass.”
The man’s wife stepped in and outfitted Patton in black leather boots, a black motorcycle jacket and black helmet. “I looked like Darth Vader and sounded like him too.”
Patton jumped on the back of the Harley and was whisked away to Bowser and back. She pitched the idea of carrying on to Port Hardy but her escort had to get back to work.
Patton’s friends told her she was crazy when she said she wanted to go to Churchill, Man. in early March. Undeterred, she ticked off at least six adventures up there, including snowshoeing, dog sledding, and visiting Sloop Cove where 18th century Hudson’s Bay fur traders etched their names into some of the Earth’s oldest bedrock. There, she describes giant ice ridges pushed up by the tide “like grotesque sea monsters trying to crawl out from under the water.”
That sheltered nook on the west side of the Churchill River will be one of the settings in Patton’s upcoming young adult novel about the forced evictions of people living in the Scottish Highlands, called the Highland Clearances, beginning in the mid-18th century.
Patton said her spontaneity and try-it-all-once attitude keep her young and close to her five grandchildren, aged 12 to 21.
“They’re young, spunky people. I don’t want to look like an old fogey. I want to be someone they remember fondly.”
Patton hopes that after she dies, her grandkids will laugh as they share memories and say: “Remember how crazy Nana was?”
Patton turns 80 on March 1, 2022. She’s not worried if she doesn’t find 80 things by then.
She figures she’ll have to keep going anyways because she wants to see the solar eclipse which is set for October 2023. “If I pass 80 I’m going to call it Nudging 90.”