Rebuilding Foundations

Macedonia State Park, CT to Mt. Mitchell, NC

These hikes are 775 miles, 4400 feet of elevation and a month apart, but to me they are very close together.  Let me explain. We’ll come back to other climbs, to Setbacks and Challenges, in the next post.

The section of the Blue Flash trail in Macedonia State Park that I covered on February 19th was only a bit over 4 miles, so the hike was not long. My objective was to move steadily, at pace, over slippery rocks and melting snow. There were two steep up sections, one steep down, and one very steep down that required alternate use of poles and hand grips and a short glissade—that is, sitting on one’s butt and skimming down the snow cover as if on a playground slide. The reason for moving steadily was to maintain a higher heart rate thus laying the foundation for the more difficult climbs to come.

The standard formula for base training is to take 220 minus your age, then multiply the results by 0.80, or 220 – 70 = 150 x .8 = 120. 120! That’s all? Are they kidding? The standard formula applies to average guys. I think, after these past years’ health issues, I'm pretty average; but if I go back 10 years when I was in better shape those standards never seemed to make any sense.  Hopefully as this training continues, and as the challenges become progressively more difficult, those numbers will again become ultra conservative. If I again feel like 40 I might be looking at 220 – 40 = 180 x .8 = 144. That would be the target heart rate for sustained activity for a 40-year old; 162 when pushing the intensity.

I take my pulse after the first up section—120. Not bad, but I feel as if I’m dogging it. On the relatively level trail between ups I relax even though I’m moving faster. The day is gorgeous. A turkey vulture silently rides the rising air current above the west side of the ridge. He swoops low enough overhead for me to see individual feathers. Cool. Into the next up. My pulse is now 140. That’s 93.3% of max—supposedly too high for a guy just months short of 70. But I feel fine.

 In a little over a month I’m heading down to Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina—at 6684’ it's the highest peak east of the Mississippi. Then it’'' be out to Lake Tahoe to learn to climb on alpine skis in preparation for Mt Shasta this summer. The Connecticut hikes are like the footings of the foundation.

Davidson, NC, 3/26; two days before Mt. Mitchell and the Old Mitchell Trail: Flew down four days ago for a family wedding. Great celebration: congratulations Joey and Carolyn.  After all the festivities were over Kate and I popped into The Flatiron Grill in Davidson for a late evening repast. Good food, good service, as one should expect from any decent restaurant, but truth is it was late and I was nearly falling asleep in my sweet potato fries. I apologized to the waitress, mentioned the wedding.

                “Oh, where are you from?” She politely asked.


                “Me too!” She beamed.

                “Oh, whereabouts?”

                “A small town in the northeast.”

We chatted for a few more minutes, then she added, “I have a 19-month old. My husband’s deployed. He left three weeks ago for a year. When he gets back we want to move back to Connecticut. Both our families are there. I had to quit my day job because childcare is so expensive, but back home both our moms are excited to babysit…”

More foundations: In 1978 while I was writing The 13th Valley I had the wonderful opportunity to work in Larkspur, CA with a crew replacing the crumbling foundation of a historic Victorian mansion. We jacked the house up less than ¼ inch so as not to disturb walls, plumbing or wiring, then section by section we removed the old stone foundation and poured new concrete footing and walls; finally bringing everything level and lowering the house onto the cured substructure. No disruption above, but a totally new, far stronger foundation below that should last for centuries.

Mt Mitchell; Tuesday 3/28: On the Blue Ridge Highway approaching Mt Mitchell State Park. It is one of those days where the sky is picture perfect blue with interestingly shaped clouds that evoke thoughts of fluffy animals. Each turn reveals a new, amazing vista. I want to stop, take pictures; but I also want to get to the trailhead. The online description of the hike calls it moderately rough. I’m not sure what that means, and I want to give us plenty of time. Kate is going to hike with me. I’ve been building up a base for this for three months. As a nurse she walks miles during every shift, but those are different miles, in some ways far more difficult, but they’re not rutted ups and downs.

 Kate on Mt. Mitchell. Rain, wind and fog--the day was wonderful.

Kate on Mt. Mitchell. Rain, wind and fog--the day was wonderful.

As we turn from the highway onto the park road the sky closes. Perhaps we’re in one of those fluffy animals. At the ranger station (trailhead) the wind is howling, the temperature has dropped 15 degrees, and fog obscures peaks and valleys. We’re here. We’re going to climb. We check in with the ranger. He issues standard cautions, asks if we’re prepared for lots mud and wet. I think he’s chuckling to himself, thinking these old folk are not going to make this climb.

From the office we take a few moments to use the facilities, change to hiking boots, add a layer of clothing. I meet a fellow who is headed up to an adjacent peak—part of his job. Weekly he climbs to a collection station to gather data on particulates dissolved in whatever precipitation has occurred. Later in his lab he’ll analyze the content to determine the pollution carried in by the winds. I mention the Adirondacks, the acid rain that wiped out many lake fish, and many trees; and the recovery that has happened in the past quarter century. He explains how the local phenomenon is similar, different. It’s another foundation to think about.

We climb. Actually we descend so far we begin to think we’ve headed in the wrong direction. We check the trail map. It’s gotta be right! But it doesn’t feel right. We retrace our steps to the last trail marker, turn again and continue down. Then up. And up. In places the trail parallels a road that goes to the peak. That feels like cheating. Other spots it moves away from the road, dips into rock crevasses too narrow to go through face on; pops up over crags then drops you into mud puddles. In the trees there is little wind but when the trail comes back to the crest the wind howls and we re-zip our jackets. As windy, foggy, muddy and wet as it is, it’s actually very pleasant. The greens in the woods here are more varied than those up north. Some of the mosses are so vibrant they seem to glow in the dank caverns.

I’m back to thinking about foundations. At the moment the news is full of reports about the current administration attempting to replace ObamaCare. There’s a wonderful section on healthcare and management—on its evolution from the time of Norman Rockwell’s drawing of a doctor in his office holding a stethoscope to the chest of a doll held out to him by a little girl, to the corporate hospital, massive insurance companies, complex government bureaucracies and the Affordable Care Act—in the book The Life of Men, by Dr. Jeffrey Rabuffo. It seems to me there is a tremendous amount of screaming going on by pundits and politicians. If the ACA is to be repealed and replaced, why do people on the extreme ends of the issue think it can (or should) be done with the stroke of a pen? It took years for it to be implemented, for the new bureaucracy to be established (actually there are elements that are still unfolding). It has changed the financial landscape of medical care along with the medical infrastructure. Parts of it are crumbling and cannot sustain healthcare to nearly one-third of the country. . Still, wiping it out overnight would produce chaos… but that doesn’t seem to be in any of the actual proposals. Instead it seems that the structure will be jacked up about a quarter inch, and then section by section the crumbling parts will be removed and replaced with something solid enough to last centuries. No disruption above, a fixed social system below.

From the peak of Mt. Mitchell just about all that could be seen was fog.