Holiday Mountain Part 2

 

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Last year at this time, I wrote a post called  “journey up holiday mountain,” not anticipating there’d be a part two. Yet, here I am. And not just at a part two of a blog – a fairly innocuous activity -but also just over 30 days before our next attempt to scale an 18,000 foot moutain. Some may wonder why I do this. Oh, and did I mention that in addition to an extremely busy work schedule I am giving a party for probably close to 100 people next weekend and I am apparently inherently incapable of using a caterer? Somehow I feel it doesn’t count if you (and Costco) haven’t made all the food yourself. Sometimes I feel if you didn’t have to sleep life would be much easier.

No mind. Each time we are preparing for a high altitude climb I feel I must hike at least a few miles in my mountaineering boots just so I remember what they feel like. Today was that day. Just a three mile walk back from the Y following yoga – the day, hot, steamy and sticky. Anyone want to question global warming who lives in Florida? And, as readers of his blog know, I observe coincidences. Last time I did this walk with mountaineering boots, I slipped on the sidewalk, fell,  and cracked my iPhone screen. Today, exiting the Y, the phone slipped from my hand and I did the same thing. At least I had a screen guard and I might be able to glean a few more months of use out of it.

I think that cracked screen is a reminder – we do occasionally need put our iPhones down and just enjoy some of the bright lights around us. Happy Holidays, y’all!

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The Weekly Summit

The saddle of Mt. Elbrus, Caucasus, Russia
The saddle of Mt. Elbrus, Caucasus, Russia

I’ve been practicing yoga on Wednesday nights now for at least ten years. Each time I enter the yoga studio at 7:30 I’m struck by the feeling that now I know I’ll make it through the rest of the week. That old “it’s all downhill from here” saying. (Of course, climbing down a mountain can be the hardest part, but somehow that’s not true for surviving Thursdays and Fridays.)

That hour and 15 minute carve out on Wednesdays marks having reached the summit of the week. And it’s interesting how time has a way of recreating those mountain patterns for us, peaks and valleys and traverses – even when we’re not aware of it.

Yesterday I went to go buy a new pair of running shoes. When the very nice person at the store looked me up on the computer he did a double take – it was exactly one year ago to the day since I’d bought my last pair of running shoes. I had no idea. It must have been some internal clock thing. (Or just really worn out shoes.)  I can prove it was a year ago too – just look at https://fromswamptosummit.com/2014/11/02/training-and-the-power-of-the-shoe/ , published on this blog on November 2, 2014! A lot of miles on those shoes, and a lot of highs and lows.

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I also managed to find a Bikram yoga class to go to yesterday – the first in several months since the studio closed. And you know where it was? In the very same location where I took my very first Bikram class some 10 or so years ago. That was before the new fancy studio, back in the somewhat dingy location down by the expressway, in a terribly humid room – but oh how good the class felt. It almost felt like a full circle….

And finally, another ritual that marks the pattern of time – dear friends whom we met in Lamaze classes (we regarded ourselves as the only normal people in the class!) have been spending Halloween with us for at least the last 22 or 23 years. The four children between us have now moved on, but the Halloween tradition remains, marking the point each year that starts us up the steep incline toward the holidays.

It’s reassuring to sense those patterns. One thing about mountains is that they are predictable in one way. There’s always an up and there’s always a down. As I train for Pico de Orizaba the first week in January 2016, I keep thinking about that.

Yoga and the Art of Climbing

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I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time. Certainly, when I have been training for various climbs and treks, adding cardio to my work out was an essential component of success. But much of climbing or trekking is the sheer grit of simply keeping on going even when every part of you is saying stop right now. And that’s where yoga has made all the difference – and here’s a shout out to my many, many yoga instructors over the years, whose voices were in my head on so many of these hikes. Elbrus on the long slushy slog on the way down. Mt. Hood, where the 60 mile an hour winds were blowing me into the mountain and I couldn’t see because the blinding snow had totally occluded all vision.

I remember my first Bikram yoga class in 2007 or so. At that time, Bikram Yoga Orlando was located next to an elevated expressway in an small old strip center (and I mean old – circa 1960s) next to a pet grooming place. That’s the reason I had seen it – I had dropped off the dogs (who are now 14!) and picked up a schedule from the pile outside the door. I’d been doing yoga for a long time and had heard of Bikram, but had never tried it. But I was then working long hours on an arbitration – the precise contours of which have long escaped me – and I thought, maybe this is just what I need as a break.

Bikram is supposed to be practiced at 105 degrees and 40% humidity – and at the new studio it is. But at that old place down on South Street I swear you could see clouds forming overhead and I am sure there were a couple of times rain drops actually came down.

After my first class – and I didn’t leave the room nor did I lie down, despite the heat – I thought – Ok, I’ll try this every other week. But the next week I was back. And, although I’ve kept “regular” Wednesday and Sunday yoga classes, pretty much every week I’m also at Bikram. For someone whose job is comprised of making decisions, to be in an environment where there is no decision except the one to go on is an incredible luxury. I follow what the instructors say; I know the dialogue; and each class I feel my body respond and become stronger. And there is a particular moment where listening to the dialogue and your own physical presence merge and become one – and for once, you can be in the present – no decisions to make except for the one to keep going.

And I don’t want to dismiss my so-called “regular” yoga classes either. Where else have I learned the ability to literally stretch my body into shapes and places it wouldn’t normally go. The beauty of Bikram is that it’s the same every week – but the beauty of the other yoga is that I’m challenged to see where I can move my body in space and create that extra last dimension around me and fill it with movement.

So why does this relate to summits? I’ve learned to control my breathing. On the mountain, I think – breathe normally, in slowly and out even longer. On Elbrus I recited the Bikram dialogue in my head. I went into that quiet place of the present that allows you to take those last few steps that lead to the summit – and just as importantly – that allow you to descend.