This past Tuesday I got home from nearly a month in Africa. Along the way, I climbed a killer peak, then spent a week in Madagascar riding horses each day, then enjoying pristine beaches in a very remote village community. No amenities, including no running water, no electricity, no devices. Heaven, man.
After I got back, I was just slammed. This weekend I was finally interested in hiking around the neighborhood, taking in the cold air full of pending snow, the leafless trees and early Christmas lights. Where I’d been it had been cold and wet at altitude, then hot as hell in Madagascar. I finally got all my desk piles under control, the laundry, the gear repacked for the next adventure.
In about six weeks I head to Indonesia again, to sail the spice islands to the east. This is actually for a client (tough work, I know). In the meantime, I have the hard work of getting back in top shape after pushing myself to the limit, then taking a few weeks off.
Back during the summer, I was out training on the endless stairs of Red Rocks Amphitheater. That spot attracts thousands of us, as well as many near my age (66 in January). The beauty of the red rocks against that classic blue Colorado sky is something else, and training hard at 6200′ will do a girl a lot of good if she plans on summitting a big hill.
That was Susan’s story.
One morning in August I was out early before the weekend crowds. At the base of the northern steps (close to 400 total), I ran into a slim woman with whom I began a conversation. Susan, who is 62, trains regularly by doing a particular circuit eight times. That’s 3200 steps and about twelve miles of running.
She told me that so far, she’s summitted 76 peaks. She’s done all the Colorado fourteeners (those summits which are higher that 14,000′) and is now working through the thirteeners. As we both jogged the stairs, she left me behind, as I was breaking in a brand new pair of very heavy Lowa boots. (Those boots would save me on the climb, as my Goretex Merrells filled with water seconds after leaving our van into the rain for our first few steps).
Susan would lap me several more times, as my circuit was stairs only. About 3600 in total, but no running. Hard to run in shoes that operate like Hummers. We waved each time, her light-as-air body flying by me at speed.
I considered. Sue, who is a nurse, regularly sees plenty of people our age at the other end of the spectrum from both of us. Women who, for reasons of their own, decided not to take care of themselves, and who reached their later years with a combination of too much weight, too many diseases, and on too many medicines. The picture they have of their future isn’t very hopeful. These are the same women who accuse both of us of being “lucky.”
Let me tell you what “lucky” looks like: Being born. Being given a life to do with as we wish. Given a body- most of us with all limbs working, and a number of decades to fill with a variety of experiences. And along the way, to learn to either respect the vehicle we’re given, and ensure a pretty happy life for certainly most of it. Or, to not care for ourselves, and be burdened with far too many lifestyle diseases and the disorders of our day, often the result of choosing pills over perseverance.
Every so often I write an article for a website for women over sixty. I’ll write about some adventure I took or something about fitness, or tell a story about a woman like Susan. Periodically, someone will attack me- or my subject- for being “fortunate.” For having it “so easy.” For one thing or another which is far more instructive about her own life than anything to do with mine, or that of my remarkable subjects. As though the shape we are in is the result purely of genetics, and all we do is sit around and enjoy ourselves. It takes my breath way, both the vitriol and the assumptions.
It’s a sad state of affairs, I think, when someone goes after another person unnecessarily simply because they don’t have the willingness or wherewithal to make essential changes in their own lives.
I think of Susan, out pounding the steps and the pavement, mile after mile. Peak after peak. In remarkable health, face flushed, blond hair in a flying ponytail. What she has isn’t luck. What she has a is a work ethic. The tight, powerful bodies she and I have were not genetically gifted to us. They are the result of endless hours of hard work and discipline. Being willing to head to the steps no matter the weather, and put our time in. And, time to rest, recuperate, and ensure recovery after a big effort. After all, a few weeks on a remote beach is a rather nice juxtaposition after an epic climb. Susan plans down time too. Over training is a good way to injure, and it can shorten your life span if you push way too hard, way too much. It’s all about thoughtful balance, just as how we eat to fuel our bodies is all about balance. I say that as I chomp a luscious piece of Toblerone, which is a very rare (and VERY special) treat.
Wherever Susan is right now, either training or halfway up her next peak, she’s an inspiration for me. Women like her encourage me to stick with it. Keep after my program, year after year. There’s nothing to envy and everything to respect. I may not wish to bag peaks, but I am deeply motivated to do the work for the challenges I take on. I get tired. I sometimes get discouraged. My body barks at me at times. But Susan doesn’t quit.
And neither will I.