Finding a fitness regimen and sticking with it have mostly to do with discovering activities you enjoy. Yesterday a friend of mine mentioned that he was preparing for a half-marathon in Kentucky, which he was anticipating would be “fun.”
Really? Fun? Reminds me of a story Coach Stacy told me a number of years ago. Seems Mother’s Day was looming and Coach’s husband, Joe, had asked her what she wanted in honor of the occasion. In a surprising maneuver, Coach responded that what she wanted more than anything else in the whole world was for Joe to go on a hike with her.
“It’ll be fun,” she pleaded.
Turns out Joe would have rather had root canal surgery than go hiking with Coach. She did, after all, tend to approach any form of physical activity with an alarming gusto.
In an inspired counter-maneuver, Joe quietly hired one of Coach’s clients to accompany Stacy on that hike.
“Fun,” he argued, “Is in the eye of the beholder.”
Through the years, I’ve been conditioned to respond with a mixture of panic and terror any time Coach has plotted an afternoon’s course of fitness or activity. Take, for example, Independence Day five years ago, which dawned with a brilliance rarely seen in Denver’s warm and smoggy Julys. A perfect day for a hike, Coach surmised, when she called me that morning.
“I don’t know,” I hedged, desperately trying to think of something…..anything……that would preclude me from having to leave the cool comfort of my house that day. “Be ready at 11:00 – and bring a water bottle,” she ordered, then hung up.
The Royal Arch trail is a popular hiking attraction in Colorado. The apex of the trail boasts a huge sandstone arch beyond which are stunning vistas of Boulder and the Flatirons – quite the treat for those hikers who succeed all the way to the top.
“Oh yea, it’s a piece of cake,” a suspiciously fit-looking Ranger commented as we prepared to make our ascent. “Ninety minutes round trip, tops.”
We encountered two problems right off. First, I’d forgotten my water, despite Coach’s reminder, a problem that I discovered within the first ten minutes. Then, after a deceiving initial drop into a grassy gulch, the trail began to climb steadily through a pine forest up steep slab steps and rocky ledges – so not a piece of cake. Ninety minutes into the ascent, we still hadn’t reached the top. Coach and I started pleading with hikers making their way down, “Are we almost there? How much further?” we asked in breathless, thirsty desperation.
Three miles and over 1,000 feet in elevation later, we finally reached the arch, only to discover that we’d also forgotten a camera. We asked a couple of newlyweds to take our picture, dazed, grubby and exhausted, beneath the arch. To this day, I wonder if proof of our ascent is glued incongruously in that couple’s honeymoon album.
Some years later, Coach had purchased a new trail bike and had a hankering to try it out. Joe, of course, had developed a sudden urge to rebuild their deck and was therefore too “busy” to go for a ride.
“Have fun,” Joe shouted, as we drove off.
I grilled Coach all the way to the trailhead. “No hills?” I asked.
“Did you pack plenty of water?”
“Now you researched this beforehand, right? How long is this trail?”
“Relax. Joyce and Jerry rode it a couple of weeks ago. They said it was easy.”
Our friends Joyce and Jerry, while very fit, were a bit older than Coach and me. Surely, if they had no problems with the trail, neither would I. Right?
The ride started out just fine. In fact I was having a blast. No hills. No perilous cliffs. Gorgeous mountain meadow views. And a high cloud cover that buffered the 90+ degree heat. That day, however, I learned a lesson in simple Newtonian physics: What goes up must come down. In “trail-speak” – don’t go farther than you can make your way back.
Coach and I rode a little too far that day. And about half way back the cloud cover broke and sunshine bathed the trail as the temperature started to soar. I began to feel a bit shaky and weak. As we continued along the trail, nausea set in along with muscle cramps.
“I can’t go any further, Coach,” I wheezed as I collapsed in a heap on a patch of grass. “I think I’m dying.”
“You’re not dying, you nut,” Coach said, shoving a bottle of Gatorade into my hand. “You have heat exhaustion. Drink this.”
After a few minutes of rest, I was able to continue on and we eventually made it back to the trailhead.
“You okay?” Coach asked on the drive home.
“Yea. One question, though.
“Are Joyce and Jerry on steroids?”
To this day, we still refer to that route as “The Trail of Tears.”
For a long time after that I avoided going on bike rides with Coach. Then one gorgeous spring day about a year ago she called up and suggested that we go for a spin. Evidently suffering from some sinister form of amnesia, I agreed.
The trail was one we both knew and had ridden – uneventfully – several times before. Somewhat deceiving, the trail stretches out for miles into a beautiful mountain valley and appears to go uphill. However, because of some sort of geographic anomaly having to do with the fact that the trail is plotted along the continental divide, it doesn’t feel like you’re traveling uphill at all. In fact, the trail is quite easy, despite appearances to the contrary.
And so off we went, peddling leisurely along the dirt path. Until we heard the distant sound of rolling thunder.
The clouds had rolled in behind us and caught us off guard. Moments later, large drops of rain pelted the ground and we started peddling a little faster. Soon, the rain gave way to pea-sized hail as lightning pierced the sky and stabbed at the valley floor. At that point Coach remembered her fourth grade science, specifically the part about metal being an excellent conductor of electricity. And there we were, two blondes peddling furiously across the valley floor on metal torpedoes.
“Quick, ditch the bikes,” Coach hollered above the thunder. “Follow me.”
We sprinted away from our bikes and dove headfirst into a nearby ravine. There we lay prone, arms over our heads until the storm receded. Soaked and muddy, we eventually made our way back to Coach’s jeep and drove home in stunned silence.
2012 has been fairly uneventful so far. Our bikes are still locked up in our garages for the winter and there have been no brushes with death. But the warm weather is just around the corner and I sense that Coach is getting restless. She and Joe just returned a couple of days ago from a Caribbean cruise, where they had the opportunity to try out kayaking in Belize.
“You know, as soon as the weather’s nice, we can go kayaking along Clear Creek,” Coach casually mentioned yesterday.
Suddenly fearing that now she was going to attempt to drown me I quickly replied, “No we can’t. We don’t own kayaks.”
“C’mon, Ridge, it’ll be fun.”
Uh-huh……kind of like a root canal.