Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ascent-u-ate the Positive

There is a risk to reuniting with people you have met on a biking vacation: Those people may be really into fitness and outdoor activity. The risk is exacerbated when the reunion takes place in an outdoor “wonderland” such as Lake George in upstate New York. When these outdoor fitness nuts see rocky wooded hills, especially near a pristine lake, they may be driven to climb the hills “to get the best views” of the lake. And they may drag those of us not as agile into climbing the hills with them, so that we too can experience the best views. Which is, of course, what happened this past weekend when we joined with three other couples we had met while biking in Holland last year for a reunion on one couple’s retreat on Lake George. The biking had been on flat land; the hiking, I feared, would not be.

I was enticed (and Audrey cheerfully agreed) to go on several ascents on which we started upward on a somewhat beaten trail, then climbed, then slithered through narrow rock crevices, then climbed over and around other rocks both stationary and loose (while trying to heed warnings to avoid piles of wet leaves or slick-looking rocks that might cause me to slip or roll Sisyphus-like back to the bottom of the hill to begin again). Our reward—as we were continually told—would be the amazing views we would have of the lake and of the property on which we were staying for the reunion. “Trust me, it will be well worth the effort,” Anne and Rich, our hosts, assured. But, just to be helpful, they passed out some adjustable walking sticks in case we needed assistance balancing, particularly on the way down. Ah, great, I thought, these people have a supply of walking sticks and probably some machetes if we need to blaze a new trail.

Describing these climbs later to our children, Audrey noted that they were pretty challenging for both of us: “Me because of my hurt knee and your dad because he’s your dad.” I guess that puts it all into proper perspective.  By the way, it did not help my psyche that, near the bottom of the trail we took the second day, there was a cemetery with 10-15 graves dating back to the late 1800s. I glanced at the headstones to make sure that none were of recent vintage and hoped that none involved climbing accidents. This isn’t the Alps, I told myself, as I planted my walking stick to begin the ascent.

The gravestones. . .coincidence or a bad omen?
 (photo from Jack Sobel)

I must say that what I lacked in grace I made up for in perseverance as we climbed. I gave out only a slight groan when we reached the first peak, and Anne announced that this was just the first stop; even better views awaited us a little farther up. She added that the next climbs would not be as difficult as the one we had just completed, but I only half believed her. So I chugged over more rocks and even resorted to the technique I sometimes use when we have a difficult uphill in cross-country skiing: I went down to all fours and crawled. I did experience one brief downhill roll but quickly got back to my feet and hoped no one else had noticed. Breathing just a little harder, I kept heading upward. 

The SAV on my hat stands for Savannah, not "save me."
The trail we traversed may have been beautiful, but I didn’t look up very much to admire it. Instead, I kept my nose to the grindstone, so to speak. At last the trail opened and we could rest and enjoy the views. I will admit that they were spectacular and were indeed a reward for the hard work. Then another thought hit me: We still had to get back down from here! I longed for a chairlift, even though I have assiduously avoided taking a lift downhill ever since an adventure many years ago in Colorado when we went skiing at 13,000 feet in mid-July. I still tremble at the memory of that descent.

The view from the top

I would like to believe that I was more graceful on the trip down. After all, I had a clear goal—to reach flat land so I could enjoy the view of autumnal trees from below rather than above.

Amazingly, when Anne and Rich suggested a new hike the next morning, I cheerfully joined the group. “This one is shorter than yesterday’s,” Anne remarked. The she added something about comparative steepness that I don’t think I heard right. So with walking stick in hand I strode toward what some would call a simple hill and I regarded as my own personal Mount Everest. 

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