Author’s Note: Today’s column is Part II in a three-part series of letters. The first was called “Running on Empty.” The final installment will appear next week.
There is an old abandoned railroad track that runs up the side of a mountain just outside of Manitou Springs, Colorado. Its 2753 steps lead you 1.2 miles up the mountainside – sometimes climbing at angles of over 60 degrees. The steps are even at first but they become uneven somewhere along the way. There is also a false summit that greets you after 2200 steps. When you reach it you think you’re done but you aren’t. There are 500 more steps to go to reach the top of the mountain.
Since a couple of 19-year old staffers at Summit Ministries, named Libby and Jessica, were climbing the incline every other day I assumed it would be easy. So, one afternoon after teaching my classes at Summit, I ran three-quarters of a mile from my cabin to the base of the incline. My cabin was about 6400 feet above sea level. The first steps of the incline are around 7000 feet above sea level.
After I charged up the first 100 steps of the incline I was already winded. So I resorted to Plan B. I decided to catch my breath and come back the next day and tackle 200 steps – then 400, 800, 1600, and, finally, the whole thing after (hopefully) only six tries.
The plan didn’t work as well in reality as it had in my mind. The day I was supposed to climb 1600 steps was brutal. At around 1300 steps my heart and lungs felt like they were about to explode. So I sat down and pondered the pathetic physical shape I was in. I also pondered my propensity to end sentences with prepositions.
While I was sitting there some teenaged chick just stepped around me while she was climbing the incline and talking on her cell phone simultaneously. How much more embarrassing could this get? Was this the same body that once ran a half-marathon in 88 minutes? Was that really 28 years ago, back in 1982? Doesn’t boasting about one’s athletic prowess in 1982 make one sound a lot like Uncle Rico?
Sitting there on those steps watching people prance up the side of the mountain like they were riding on an escalator made me realize something very important. When our bodies begin to weaken it is usually a part of a very long and gradual process. We start to make more money in our jobs and so we eat out more often. Some of us start to drink heavier beers and smoke stronger cigars. In a nutshell, as we are getting more comfortable in life many of us are simultaneously getting weaker physically.