Saturday, May 30, 2009

Two Weeks In - And Going Strong

Two weeks ago, I started on the path to a challenging goal: to summit Mt. Whitney during the 2010 season. If you're interested in joining me, take a gander at my Facebook Group Whitney2010. This goal would give me a year to get into the kind of shape necessary to make the 11-mile, 6,000 ft. climb from Whitney Portal to the summit of Mt. Whitney itself.

But the journey isn't just about climbing Mt. Whitney. It's about setting a challenge and surpassing it. I've done this before, over 20 years ago, when I decided to run a triathlon. I was easily 30 pounds overweight, and hadn't really trained for a triathlon before. But I started working at it.

At work, people who heard about me running the triathlon ridiculed it. Who did I think I was? They were in better shape than I was. And yet, when it came time to actually run the race, they didn't show. I ran the race, and I completed it. I was dead last. They were picking up the cones off the road behind me, cheering me on all the way. I was sore, my muscles screaming. And I was triumphant.

The victory was not about doing what my coworkers thought I couldn't do, nor about doing something they wouldn't do. The victory was about doing something that I didn't know I could do. And the feeling of accomplishment, of strength, was amazing.

So that's what the Whitney summit is about. To do something because it will challenge me, push me. I don't know if I can do it. I intend to find out.

So for the last two weeks, I have been training. I started with 2 mile walks, and tomorrow I graduate to nearly four miles a day. In addition, I have been doing one "altitude" hike per week, where the hike starts at over 7,000 ft. in altitude. In two weeks, I have hiked/walked about 40 miles.

I have also cut back on sodas. I was consuming anywhere from 44 to 64 ounces of sugared sodas in the morning, with another 2-3 12 ounce cans at night. That's somewhere in the range of 1500-1800 calories a day - in sodas. The popping of the seal on an ice cold Coke is like a siren song. Nevertheless, I'm now down to one a day. I've added salads to my diet. I'm doing more to take better care of myself. And I'm feeling better, stronger, and I'm losing weight. My weight right now hasn't been this low in at least 15 years.

But there's a long way to go. And today was the first day I started walking and started feeling less motivated. That's a dangerous place to be. It's like hitting a wall that's been palced to keep me from getting to my goal. Today, I got around the wall, but it didn't feel good.

But recognizing it means it can be surpassed. Knowing that the wall is there means I can go around, over, under, through the wall. It is the next challenge and the part of the journey that currently is tougher than any steep climb or set of switchbacks on the trail. And this time, they won't be picking up the cones behind me.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A New Goal

About a week ago, I spent a week camping, taking a mini-sabbatical from the world at large. Sort of. No Internet, no phone service - but text messages still got there. Go figure. In any case, I spent the time hiking, shooting some great landscapes, and thinking.

Many of those thoughts will be reflected in blog posts on my various blogs. But one particular experience has caused me to initiate some changes.

I had taken a morning hike, about 1.1 miles each way, and about 550 ft. in elevation change. And I was gassed. I hated that feeling. I thought I should be in better shape.

I hiked back to my campsite and drove up to Whitney Portal, the trailhead area for Mt. Whitney (highest peak in the lower 48 states). I had a snack and checked things out, watching some people head up the trail, others coming down.

I saw an older couple start out on the trail and thought to myself "Yeah, right". And then I suddenly realized how hypocritical that was. I had completely bonked on a smaller hike that morning, and yet I thought it was ok to judge how an older couple would do. I hemmed and hawed, then grabbed my pack and about 3 liters of water, and started up the trail.

I decided I would go as far as Lone Pine Lake, a 2.8 mile, roughly 1,600 ft. climb. It felt good to stretch my legs a bit, and for the first 3/4 mile or so, it was fine. Then I really started climbing. Really.

I started really sucking wind, With about 25-30% less oxygen at that altitude (over 9,000 ft.), it was a challenge. after a while, I had to start breaking the hike down - to the next rock, the next tree, the next switchback. And then I looked up about 4 switchbacks and saw the older couple. Now, it was a matter of pride.

I caught up to the couple about 3/4 of the way up to the Lake, chatted for a minute or two, and headed out. We reached the destination, all three of us, about the same time.

I had a snack, took some shots, and started to head back down. Each step down was a little lighter, a little quicker. And when I got to the bottom, I clenched my fist in a silent triumph. 

I hadn't planned on making the hike. I just decided to go. And then I looked up at Mt. Whitney. Why not?

It was a watershed moment. It had been quite some time since I had pushed myself physically to find out what I could do. I could use lots of excuses if I wanted to, but what it really boiled down to is that I had not given myself the permission to do so, and had not carved out the time from my day to make it happen.

So I set my new goal - to summit Mt. Whitney in 2010. I have created a Facebook group for anyone interested, just click this link: Whitney2010.

I have started a regimen of daily walks tied to weekly hikes at altitude. We're fortunate here in Las Vegas that less than an hour away are a number of hiking trails that are at an altitude of 7,000 ft. or higher. I'm doing 2.5 mile walks each night (going to 3 miles soon) and today did the first altitude hike - an easy one at 7,500 ft., 1.3 miles with very little altitude change.

It also pushed me to start taking better care of myself. I somehow managed to get appointments to three different clinicians within a week - two on the same day. I've restarted controlling my blood sugar, have drastically reduced my sugared beverage consumption, and checking my blood sugar regularly. I figure if I'm going to hike to the top of a 14,000+ ft. peak, I'd better have my ducks in a row.

So that's the new project, the new goal. To climb a mountain. Why? To use a cliche - because it's there. And to prove I can. To challenge myself. And to be better because of it.