I have been to the mountaintop
We will take our epiphanies, of course, where we find them.
The light bulb moment. Those few seconds of clarity, that rush of inspiration, the long-sought realization or awareness or understanding – it doesn’t matter how it comes, just that it does and we recognize it.
But when it’s accompanied by sweat and pain, in my experience one tends to appreciate it more. It feels like dessert, a reward for hard work. It feels, in a way, justified.
So that’s what it felt like. It felt earned, this epiphany, fought for and won. And it could be that battling the urge to curl up in a fetal position and wait for someone to step on my head and end it all has a wonderful way of focusing the mind. That’s a theory, anyway.
The day after I turned 55, a birthday that carried no emotional ballast for me at all until, suddenly, it did, I went for a hike on Mt. Index, heading for Lake Serene. It’s a nice, robust hike to take on a sunny summer day, ending after around 4 miles at the beautiful lake.
Or, to put it another way, it lasted forever and it was almost all straight up. Your call.
I’ve wondered sometimes how people differentiate walking and hiking, particularly here in the Northwest, where the line between wilderness and civilization can be blurry.
A favorite walk of mine is on the Burke-Gilman Trail, 8-10 miles of rambling under trees and by water, up and down hills, and still only 100 feet or so from major roads. Is that a hike or a walk?
I’m a regular walker, at any rate, calling it exercise but knowing it’s really for mental health. Taking a break from routine, heading outside and wandering the neighborhood for 5-6 miles every day has become an easy antidepressant.
I’ve done it for enough years that it’s common for me to average 14-minute miles, slow for even jogging but brisk for walking, and if I’m particularly restless or spending too many evenings with a few of my favorite calories, I’ll also hop on the stationary bike and pedal away another 18-19 virtual miles.
It doesn’t feel compulsive or particularly strenuous, and I have no specific goals in mind other than staying alive, but moving feels good and it does good.
Only 30 percent of Americans exercise regularly, we’re told, and as contemporary as that feels, it’s nothing new. Society had changed in the 20th century, agriculture to industry, and even in World War II there was grumbling about the poor conditioning of draftees.
By the mid-1950s, concern about the physical fitness of Americans was becoming a federal issue, with programs and campaigns aimed at getting Americans moving popping up all over the place.
So maybe I’m just being a good citizen with all this exercise, but it felt personal, this hike of mine. I tend to walk within the city limits, so it was refreshing to take my legs to the mountains.
I headed to Lake Serene with a film crew, part of a movie project I’ve been involved with this summer, so the goal was worthy (showing off some of the beauty of our state to, hopefully, a national audience).
If you’re a regular weekend hiker, as some of my friends are, I’m just asking for your indulgence here, and understanding. It was a fine hike, and I did fine on it by my criteria, which are (1) I didn’t die, (2) I didn’t ALMOST die, and (3) I didn’t throw up.
I sweated a lot, and my calves and knees ached a bit for a few days (8 miles up and then down rocky terrain will do that), but aside from those few moments of temptation toward the fetal position I enjoyed it.
That wasn’t the epiphany, though.
What I discovered on the mountain was nothing new to humanity, only to me, and about time.
If that 30 percent figure is accurate, I’m at least in the right group.
I have no medical issues at all, my blood pressure is fine, my cholesterol levels are very good, my weight is acceptable if a little flabby, and my resting pulse hangs around 50. I’m doing OK, health-wise.
But I’m not going to do better. I’m 55 years old, like it or not, and realistically this is it.
Your life is all ahead of you when you’re in your 20s, your 30s are about discovery and finding your path, it’s very possible in your 40s to still completely change your habits and lifestyle, but at 55 I’m not going to get any fitter.
I can make plenty of small changes, eat better, drop a few pounds, even hike that damn mountain every weekend, but the big picture? This is as good as it will get, I’m guessing.
Again, I’m trying to be realistic. And I’m aiming for serenity, not surrender. Folding up dreams and storing them can come with some peace and acceptance. I’m not going to play in the NFL or win a gold medal in the Olympics; that stuff can be put away.
And while there are plenty of people my age and older who’ve had amazing physical and athletic achievements and continue to do so, that’s not me and won’t be. So I’ll be content to stay the same for as long as I can, and be grateful.
Although I might try hiking again. Look for me on the side of the road, curled up. Watch your step.