Monday, May 25, 2009

A walk in the country

Six years ago, Cubby went snowboarding with his Boy Scout troop at Catamount, a small ski area in the Berkshires. I watched the kids zip around for a little while, until I got the notion to walk up to where they were. The kids, of course, weren’t walking up. They rode up, on the chair lift, and boarded down. I set out on foot.

Bad idea.

Within 500 feet I was exhausted. I was gasping for breath, and struggling to keep moving. My asthma kicked up and I could barely breathe. What was wrong with me? When I was Cubby’s age, I’d gone up slopes like that as if they were downhill.

Could I be that bad off now?

I sure was. I worked at a desk, did no exercise, and ate too much. I had become a fat slug.

I decided to do something about it. I signed up with a trainer, and began working out. One of the first things he said was, “Your asthma is just because you are out of shape. You’ll see – when you get fit, it will go away.” I didn’t believe him, but he was right.

Today I can walk till I drop, free of breathing troubles. I’d never have believed it, but my asthma was indeed a sign of my poor health. As I got fitter, it ceased to bother me. Today, what once sent me to the hospital several times a year is nothing more than a minor nuisance around horses and cats.

You may still call me a fat slug, but I'm a pretty strong and fit slug.

For some reason, I remembered that failed walk up a ski slope this weekend. I decided to try it again. For this attempt, I picked the tallest mountain within 75 miles – Stratton, Vermont. I drove up and set out toward the trails. It’s mud season up there, and all the ski areas are pretty much deserted. Stratton was no exception. The lodge was all closed up and the lifts were quiet. I looked up from the base lodge.

That’s no big deal, I thought. I’ll bet I can walk up there in 20 minutes, tops!
Appearances can be deceiving, though. The top isn’t quite visible from the base. It’s a mile and a half in a straight line, two thousand feet up. But I didn’t know that then. I set out up the mountain.



Partway up I saw a white pile. With a start, I realized there was still snow in spots, even though it’s the end of May. I patted my backpack to make sure my fleece was inside. It would suck to get stuck up high if night fell, I thought.



The lift I was following ended partway up the mountain. I looked up to a steep slope to the top.



I looked down. Could I do this? I plodded upward. With every step, I became more keenly aware of the great contributions mules and Land Rovers have made to journeying mankind. I did not have a mule, or a Rover. I just had my legs and a flimsy hiking pole.

The closer I got to the top, the farther I could see. Birds and bears sang in the trees, and I considered the old saying: "I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you!" But today, I had no bait. I was alone with the denizens of the woodland. Luckily, the singing bears deigned to come out and fight. I continued toward the top, unmolested. Hazy conditions kept the Canadian Rockies out of sight, but you can still see a long way in this shot . . .



I finally made it. Here’s the summit of Stratton, empty in springtime.



I realized I now had to do the whole thing in reverse. Clouds were moving in, the day was ending, and the bugs had become vicious. Sunburnt, sore, and bleeding from insect attack, I set off down the slope. Partway down, a dad, a kid and a dog passed me, barely breaking a sweat. I guess fitness is relative.

And here I am, back home to tell you about it. This is a Google Earth view of the mountain



If there's any kind of moral to this story, it's this: You can become fit at any age, and if you do, you can go places you couldn't go before.

13 comments:

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

Canadian Rockies... yer funny.

My husband biked through the Laurentians with his buddies a few weeks ago and was very surprised how bad a shape he was in. He wheezed and puffed so badly a nice young lady took pity on him and kept him company while he tried to catch up to his friends.

A few years ago, we checked out the top of a mountain in B.C. We didn't see the Rockies either, just the Cascade Mountains. And we rode the ski lift, waving at fat free range Black Angus cattle on the way up.

Amanda said...

Those views look spectacular, worth getting fit for.

Cheryl Kauffman said...

Unfortunately, living in Florida, I don't get the chance to climb mountains. A few years ago my husband and I went to the top of Mount Monadnock while visiting family in NH. It was disappointing though, when we went to the top we couldn't see anything because of heavy fog.

cath c said...

beautiful shots. i spent much of my winters growing up skiing stratton. and a few summer trips there, too. thanks for the revisit! glad your asthma is better! gives me hope for one of my kids.

i find the walk down that mountain much harder - particularly when i was tricked into black diamond slopes by a childhood family friend, and i chose the lift 'run', over ice and rocks in ski boots, skis on my shoulders.

Eric said...

You're making me homesick. Growing up in Greenfield, the surrounding hills of southern Vermont were a joy. Hiking, motocross, skiing, you name it. See Stratton brought back the last time that I went skiing there, the memories that your pics revived are overwhelming. Thank you

Amanda said...

BTW, low cloud broke today to reveal we too still have snow on the hills

piglet said...

very inspiring, it's good to know that a person can get fit if they put their minds to it.

those pictures are gorgeous, and your journey, HOLY CRAP! that's scary.

Polly Kahl said...

What a wonderful post, John. I know Catamount and Butternut well, having skied there often as a child. The Swiss Hutte Restaurant at Catamount is excellent if you ever have occasion to dine there.

jess said...

what a great story .. and such beautiful pictures .. right among the clouds!

Kim Stagliano said...

Glorious! Brought back great memories of skiing Stratton throughout high school. We took a chairlift though. :)

Darcey said...

You should come on over to Mt. Washington here in NH! tallest on the east coast! I've always wanted to hike that bad boy. We could hike together :)

midwestcoast said...

Those pictures are magnificent. Very similar to what I imagine to calm myself down when I am participating in EMDR in therapy.

John Elder Robison said...

Thanks for your compliments. It was a lot of work to go get those images!