I have written at length about my outdoor adventures over the past few years and have probably given the impression that my physical fitness exceeds my mental capacity. I am sad to report that I learned last weekend that both forms of fitness are in question.
Bitter experience has taught me over the past decade or so that mountaineering is one of the most physically demanding sports. I have staggered up mountains all over the Northwest and have been working on the world’s record for the most failed attempts to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier. My latest effort took place last weekend when I accepted an invitation from a friend to take another crack at Washington’s highest mountain.
I prepared for the ascent by eating large amounts of inappropriate food for several months and going on an occasional run or bike ride. All of this was done on flat terrain at low elevation. Mountain climbing requires the mountaineer to carry a fair amount of equipment, such as cold weather gear, an ice axe, helmet, climbing harness, rope, and crampons. Stuffed into a backpack, the equipment usually weighs about 50 pounds. To my chagrin, I learned last Friday that carrying 50 pounds of additional weight on your back and 15 pounds of excess fat on your stomach greatly complicates the mountaineering experience.
The first 1,000 feet of my climb weren’t too bad, except that I noticed my climbing partners seemed to be going at a much faster pace and yet required fewer rest breaks. By the time I reached 7,000 feet, I realized that my training regimen may have needed some refinement. The only intelligent decision I made during the climb was to realize, somewhere around 8,000 feet, that I was not going to reach the 14,000 foot summit and that I would be doing my companions a favor by heading back to the parking lot.
I’m happy to say that I had no trouble going down the mountain until I reached my car. I threw my pack into the trunk and then tried to remove my boots. I was hit with a leg cramp that almost caused me to pass out and literally caused me to collapse to the pavement before I could struggle to my feet and work it out. Removing my boots resulted in a series of cramps that required me to drive barefoot for awhile until I could work up the courage to put on my running shoes.
So what does any of this have to do with a bicycle commute? The month ahead gives all of us the chance to participate in the Bicycle Commute Challenge. Many of you probably don’t need the additional exercise, but I suspect that there may be a few folks who, like me, might benefit from a little fitness training. Perhaps more importantly, bike commuting helps resolve downtown parking problems, reduces the monthly gas bill, shrinks the infamous carbon footprint, and gives us a chance to see the community in a new way. City employees can learn more about the Challenge and sign up to participate on the Intranet.
I plan to try another “conditioning” climb in the next couple of weeks, which probably does not speak well for my judgment. Last week’s experience has at least forced me to start eating more intelligently and inspired me to start running and cycling more regularly. I hope everyone will take a look at the Bike Commute Challenge and take advantage of the opportunity to do something good for themselves.