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Age is Just a Number

No one believes the saying "Age is just a number" quite like Black Park Site Manager, Doug Hilton.

Doug began his adventure with Go Ape years at 56 years old after he had retired. While many people would rest on their laurels after a successful career in IT, as a gliding pilot instructor and supporting his family, Doug was not content to loaf about.    

On the eve of his retirement, Go Ape chatted with Doug about his life, his thoughts on age and adventure and the adventurous traditions he shares with his family.

Beginning a Go Ape career by accident

Doug and his daughter, lizzy, on Go Ape Segways

I semi-retired from an IT job in London in my fifties to look after my wife, who was recuperating at the time. Thankfully she got better, and a year later, we did what I would call some "micro-adventures" in the UK and on the continent.

After that, I kept myself busy with passions like gliding - and even ran and re-located our local gliding club when the London Olympics happened, and gliding was no longer possible in that area. However, I was still after something to keep me out of mischief, and, after hearing from my son who had gone on a Go Ape adventure, I thought I'd give it a try 2 or 3 days a week as an instructor job at Go Ape Black Park.

I never intended to become a Site Manager for Go Ape. I was pretty happy to let others build their careers – I'd already had mine – but someone convinced me to go for the Deputy Manager position, and when the Nets Adventure went up at Black Park, I knew I wanted to get involved. Even after eight years at Go Ape, it still doesn't feel like work.

You're never too old!

I find it terribly sad when customers come up to the cabin at Go Ape and say, "I'm in my 50's. Am I told old for Go Ape?"

Age is just a number, and we're only as old as we feel we are. I'm over 60, and I can still climb the zip wires and open the course like all the other instructors – maybe not quite as fast as I once could, but I still can!

There's no age limit on adventure, and it's quite fun being the older one out at Black Park – I can share my experiences, and I'm the go-to man for mortgage and pension advice.

Doug's Attitude to Adventure

Life is so much more interesting when you take as it comes. Who knows what you'll be doing in 5 years' time? I've always tried to live my life freely, take the opportunities I can and do the things I like doing, like gliding.  

Back in 1992, I was included in a newspaper article called "Electric glides and glories", and I feel the same way about it now as I said back then. Cross country flying at 170 mph, looping and twisting: What could be better than that?

That being said, I do equally enjoy doing something smaller and simpler that just fires up endorphins. As much as I'd like to climb Everest, I'm just as happy with a smaller hill.

"At the end of a long flight – having made your last climb and knowing that you've got the height for the remaining distance and you're on your final glide – in that last 10 minutes, you feel like a 5-year-old tearing open a pile of Christmas presents. It gives me a buzz like nothing else." 

The Sunday Observer, 14th June 1992

Sharing adventures and the Traditions that come with them

doug and his son with an iced bun

When my kids were younger, before they could drink a pint, we'd celebrate an adventure with an iced bun. When we were on holiday, we'd have a bun or share good news with one. Whenever we're together and there are iced buns, there will be good times coming. My daughter gave me and my wife an iced bun before telling us we'd be grandparents.

The Next Adventure

I've never been much of a follower, more a wanderer, and I'm sure this second shot at retirement won't follow a straight path. I look forward to the next 30-40 years (hopefully 40) and filling them with adventures.

One goal I would like to achieve is to glide 750 km's without landing and without the benefit of an engine. To put this in a Go Ape perspective, this is the equivalent distance of taking off at Thetford, gliding to Moors Valley, then Delamere and back to Thetford. To date, I have done many flights equivalent of around 500 km's, and I may not succeed the first attempt but will keep trying – and when I succeed, wow, that will be a real "iced bun moment".

Doug and family skiing

Any more words of wisdom?

At my daughter's wedding, I was in the room with all the ladies preparing, and just before we left, the make-up artist said, "Now remember, dab, don't wipe."

Even with no make-up on, those words stayed with me through my wedding speech (they were much needed) and ever since. Repeating those words in my head gave and gave me a little time to compose myself and take a breath. And that's what it's all about, giving yourself time to take a breath. You don't have to rush to meet a deadline or follow a five-year plan. Most importantly, whatever your age, you still need to challenge yourself, and for me, it's just as much about the journey as it is the destination.

I look forward to lots more Iced bun moments!

Adventure is a way of life

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