Friday, August 24, 2012

Fat Man Walking

Back in 2008, I headed back out into the woods.

When I was much younger, I had hiked a bit with my dad; I recall two attempts up Big George, one successful (the other in a wild thunderstorm above timberline), two or three climbs up Tumbledown in Maine, Mt. Blue in Maine and Cadillac on Mount Desert Island. I know there were other hikes, those are just the ones I remember.

When I was 16, he managed to send me out to Colorado, for Outward Bound. I had seen a documentary on Outward Bound and thought it looked awesome (from afar) and Dad found a way to send me (as much to live vicariously through my adventures as anything).

I don't recall much hiking with Dad (or anybody) after Outward Bound. He bought me a Kelty external frame backpack for high school graduation and an EMS 15 degree bag at some point, but neither saw any use backpacking.

Then came life; running the family business, marriage, a couple kids, a house, a dog... Though I never forgot how much I loved being in the woods, I didn't get into the mountains. We did manage a few very small hikes with the family, but that was it. (I actually broke my leg on one of those hikes. This might be a good post at some point.) There were also a couple of amazing mountain pond fly fishing hikes with the guys, one to Speck Pond and one to Horns Pond on Bigelow. I was sore for a week after each of them; but those were incredible hikes.

I got fat; and very out of shape.

At some point, maybe 2006, we climbed Sugarloaf with friends. We went up the back side (an actual hiking trail) and down the ski trails. Everyone hiked faster than I did, but as miserable as I was, I was determined, and never stopped. By the time we got to the top, I was soaked (wearing cotton), and mean. I was so tired and angry with myself for letting myself go so badly, I was just plain mean.

The next year, I started hiking (walking in the woods, really); very slowly. That was 2008. I was 50 pounds heavier than I should have been, sedentary and suffering from the effects of fast food for at least one meal a day, five days a week. That first "hike" was at a couple of trails built by Trails LA in Lewiston, Maine. Walking on urban trails made me angry. So I drove to Fryeburg and hiked up to Lord Hill mine. The weather was fairly warm and humid; and very still- there was a "hurricane" coming up the east coast. I remember that there wasn't a sound in the woods; not a bird, not a bug- they were all apparently hunkered down.

At the mine I sliced my finger with a rock. It bled pretty bad. I had nothing in my pack to fix it, so I wrapped a bandanna around it and made a mental note to put a small first aid kit in my pack. I had realized how awesome it was to hike alone; but at this point, I was woefully unprepared, even for a hike as small as Lord Hill.

The hike up Lord Hill was the beginning of my return to the woods, and my quest for better health. At the time I was angry and disgusted with myself. And though it continues to be a long journey, with many fits and starts, it has been worth it. Between then and now, I have tried to get off the medication that had increased my weight by 10 pounds, only to find that getting off it causes weight gain as well. My overall weight gain went from 50 pounds to 70. But I never lost faith. And I stayed in the woods. At 70 pounds overweight, I began having foot and lower leg issues. I began looking at boutique ultra light gear to offset the weight. Boy is that stuff expensive! So, I decided I would  try to lose the weight from my body instead

I joined the gym, with the plan of first getting into better cardio shape. That lasted 2 trips to the gym. I just can't see riding a stationary bike, walking on a treadmill or climbing on a stair climber, when I can just go to the woods. I stopped going, but continued to pay for the membership (this is very out of character for me; the continued to pay thing, I hate wasting money).

The problem was, I couldn't walk my way out of the foot and lower leg issues. The more I tried to walk the worse they became, and recovery wasn't a day or two, it was a week or two, undoing every gain I had made. I was stuck!

Then, on a whim, I went vegan. (I am not here to sell veganism, but it worked for me.) I had heard enough accounts of people who had experienced fantastic results, that I had to try it. Honestly, I was shocked. In the first two weeks, I lost 17 pounds and I felt amazing. Then over a short period of time, I lost another 8 pounds.

The foot and leg problems started to subside. Many days I walked 2 miles at lunch and did 5 miles on the weekend. I began to contemplate running again - I had not run for 23 years. My doctor suggested running intervals in the woods- only run the uphills, because it is easier on the body. When I tried running on the road I found that my core was nowhere strong enough and the lower leg problems returned. I found though, to my delight, that I could run on a treadmill without much problem. My cardio began to improve.

I went up Mt Zircon with my elder son. To my utter amazement, I was able to average 2.5 miles per hour up. My pace actually caused him to sweat through his shirt, something he has never done while hiking with me. I felt great, and had no pain in the following days.

So here we are. I am back at the gym, this time lifting. My weight loss has leveled for the moment (it has been a while actually), but I am more determined than ever. I did a ten mile hike in four hours last Saturday and am planning another tomorrow. I feel better than I have in years, and am really looking forward to some great adventures to come. I am even daydreaming about doing the AT.

This is not a recipe for success I am offering to others. I read a bunch on those with great interest an did nothing. In the end, I had to discover my own internal motivation. It took years! First, getting back into the woods and wanting to be there more often, for longer periods, more comfortably. I had toyed with the idea of becoming a vegan for a couple of years, so it was in the back of my mind. And, I found that it worked for me, and really has provided the impetus for the rest of my gains. Back in the winter my doctor was recommending high blood pressure medication; when I saw him early this summer he commented, "I can't say your blood pressure is good, because it's excellent!"

I am still about 35 pounds heavier than I want to be, so this is a work in progress. But I have a plan; a plan that includes being in the mountains. That is where you'll find me. If you see me, say "Hi". If you are struggling with healthy weight issues, my message is this, "Don't lose faith!" Stop caring about what other people did to be successful (me included); find find that thing that you can be passionate about and use it to create your internal motivation. Every personality approaches things differently, so what I do is likely not going to work for others as well. Cut yourself some slack and commit yourself to finding the motivation to works for you.

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