|It had been a good year, and I think, an
improvement over 2006. The highlight was losing the extra tonnage I'd gain
since my retirement from the Air Force. I spoke to Amy on June 7th and she
said,"You keep talking about losing weight--you need to do something
decisive or stop talking about it. You need to reduce calories". So with
that stern rebuke, I tracked every calorie and dropped as much as 24
I tried running again and completed my first half-marathon in nine years. I almost died, because even at 164 pounds, I was too heavy for a 13+ mile run. My ankle injury from 2005 never returned, and I finished 84th of the 1626 finishers with a time of 1:40:57 in an unusually hot and humid October day. Speeds were very slow because of the heat. The Midwest had such a heat wave that in the Chicago Marathon that same day, the race was cancelled after they ran out of water and a runner died. Amy, who cheered me all the way by posting herself at different intersections and shooting photos, later said she was very worried because my skin was gray at the finish, and she thought I needed a doctor. I lost 6.4 pounds of water weight, but I didn't die. A friend once said that old age is what happens when you don't die. I've found the secret to long life!
So when I had to burn three vacation days before 2008, I quickly did a seat-of-pants, 2 1/2 day excursion to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, and Reeds Gap, to celebrate 42 years out of the womb, and ride that mountain I'd last ridden on my 38th birthday . There's just something about climbing a mountain. Mountains are some of the mightiest, most impressive, beautiful examples of God's creation, and when I take the power that God gave me and climb the mountain God made, I'm putting my arms around God.
|I left shortly after midnight on the 12th
(so my Honey could give me a birthday kiss) and drove 600 miles through
mostly heavy rain, to the foot of the climb that I loved, only because it
had kicked my posterior so badly before. I jumped on the bicycle and soon
noticed some things--the anticipated cold December was a record high 73
degrees with humidity up to 96% (nearby Lynchburg broke a 110 year record
by five degrees!). In my urgency to make time, I neglected to put a
waterbottle on my bicycle, amplifying the heat. After living in flat
Indiana almost three years, I'd geared my bicycle 9% higher than in 2003,
and my low gear scraped the drivetrain because I hadn't tuned or cleaned
the bicycle in a year. I was sick with a cold, six pounds heavier than in
2003, and nowhere near top physical condition. My advantage was that I was
cocky, with a desire to be stupid, which was also the cause of many of my
problems. After stopping three times from the heat, I strapped my helmet
to the handlebars instead of my head and charged up the climb naked-headed
without a helmet to hold in heat. Now why didn't I think of that before?
The photos above (click on thumbnails) show the top 1/6 of the climb. At the top I put on my tennis shoes, placed behind a rock on the drive in, and ran the bicycle down the steepest three miles, way too steep for a chicken descender who hadn't ridden any real descents in four years. On the lower section, I was so afraid and stayed on the brakes for so long that they faded, causing me to squeeze harder and then lock up my fingers. I'm a scared old man. Still, it was good. I started these silly birthday photos after 1985 when Mom lamented that she'd missed my 20th birthday, the first one. So I promised to photograph myself every birthday thereafter. I didn't see her this year--I was on the road to ride this mountain to get a birthday photo. Funny how that works.
The next day I drove the area for hours, getting photos of Reeds Gap and the adjacent climb to the Wintergreen ski resort whose entrance was on Reeds Gap and was the vantage point for many of these shots. I ran up and down hills in fog over wet leaves, and fell on my face once (concrete broke my fall and saved my ankle) as Gizmo the dog complained. I hadn't been up Wintergreen since May 17, 2003 when I'd raced it. Left alone, I obsessed and couldn't leave.
But, I did, and raced down to Roanoke, cruising Mill Mountain (Commonwealth Games 1995,'96,'97,'01) and the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I had heat sickness in 1995, then to Asheville, North Carolina to tour the Biltmore Estate. While waiting for the tour of the nations largest private home, Gizmo left some deposits on the front steps (he watered the entrance to the Biltmore in March 2006--must be a grudge). Then I headed to Tennessee and back home the next day. After the ride, running down Reeds Gap, running Wintergreen, sitting in the car for 8-10 hours a day, and no stretching, my ankles and lower back were so tight I couldn't move without groaning. Still, by God's grace, I did it, and it was good. The photos will help with the impending memory loss.
I'm beginning to embrace this aging thing. Aging is like gaining
altitude, and I have a broader perspective on life, because I can look
down and see it all unfolded below, how everything has a cause, an effect.
With greater altitude comes greater peace. The downside is that the air