Running races was, momentarily, my measure of truth. My way of keeping time to the beat of cardiac health. It was… absolutely wonderful and I don’t regret a single race no matter how humiliating, or great, the outcome was. For me it was all about setting milestones along my path that would keep me honest toward exercising along a regimented and regular schedule. And yet it was last year that this schedule fell apart. Just like when your tire blows out while you are driving down the road. The thing is that I discovered something between my cross country travels and tent camping in 2017. I felt at home outdoors. Something I had turned off in favor of technological and business pursuits for nearly 25 years. It was at the end of summer that my friend Doug and I started talking about “taking a walk together.” Not one intent on setting ourselves in harms way, but one that would be a little bit of a mile marker regardless.
After he and his husband’s wedding, Doug and I went on some amazing day long walks together. Up to the top of Saddle Mountain, waist deep in freezing water to an amazing waterfall and ultimately 6000′ above sea level to McNeil Point on Mt Hood. He has the benefit of living in one of the most beautiful and nature rich States in America. Which is probably why we nervously side eyed the senior citizens who dusted us in the speed department up the side of Mt Hood with their hiking poles.
Camping in 2017 reminded me that I love sleeping on the ground, reading in a hammock, walking through wooded areas (trying not to think about ticks… or bears), looking up in the pitch black of the night around you to be blinded by the delicate arc of the Milky way, the sound of rain on your tent, the smell of the mist in the morning as it burns off in the sun light.
But back to the conversation with Doug about taking a walk. While my race running metronome had gone still, I could almost sense another one taking form in the background. What if I tried something I’d never done before again? Like a 7-day hike in a well-known National Park area? Put it on my calendar like I did my 20-mile race. Train for it in steady increments. Partner, yet again, with my Drs to keep them in the loop on what our plans were.
Yet there’s a reality here as well, hiking is not camping. There’s a ton of planning, lesson learning, and mistake making that will go into this endeavor. With Portland Oregon at an elevation of 50′ and Columbus Ohio at 900′ looks like our maximum elevation will be 5200′ above sea level on the trip. It’s still not classified as high altitude according to this guy but it will be for us. Along those lines, this is a good article on training at sea level for a marathon in the altitudes we will be in for part of our trip. Incidentally, this article does classify 5200′ above sea level as high altitude.
My guess is that we should both focus on endurance and then pace when we are at that elevation. Slowing down to match the effort. I’m planning on working back up to running to the 13-mile mark again and lifting 2x a week. Intermixing some 3 to 10-mile walks with a weighted vest on. Working on cardio and muscular/connective tissue/skeletal strength. And Yoga… definitely Yoga. I’ll talk with my cardiologist and GP about any risk factors well in advance and how to mitigate that but I imagine with McNeil Point being 6100′ above sea level we at least have an idea of what to expect … then again, we weren’t hauling a weeks’ worth of gear on our backs then either. I need to get a weighted vest soon now that I’m writing this and get some x-rays of my knees just to take precautions again.
I love all the planning and dreaming that is going into this goal. Having come out of one of the strongest cardiac-emotional funks I’ve faced to date, this is a refreshing thing to build up a positive energy flow. Yet, just as my failed marathon goals taught me, I plan to take those lessons of flexibility with me this time to make this a loosely held aspiration rather than a rigidly fixed one. It’s the process that I want to focus on here. The sharing of an experience with my best friend.
Ultimately, if luck is with us in August/September of this year, we put on these synthetic shirts, running shorts, hiking shoes, and 30 lbs. back packs, get used to smelling funky and strike out for a staggered walk through the Olympic Mountains. Scares the shit out of both of us I think. But you know what? That’s one of the best parts about life. Facing our unknowns. Ideally with someone else. That’s all a person can hope for in life.