Sunday, November 2, 2014

Zahnna summits Mount Hale (#33), plus
other outdoor highlights of the past month or so

Zahnna shows serious tongue at the summit cairn of Mount Hale on Sunday, Sept. 28.

Okay, two months to go until I find myself trekking to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Here's a brief round-up of recent outdoor activities.

• With cold weather pushing in, the bike is increasingly mothballed in favor of plain old running.

So in recent weeks, I've been out with the dogs as often as possible, but not often enough due to a typically packed schedule.

The one note of progress here is that our standard home route has evolved into five-mile circuit, considerably longer than what we were doing in the summer.

This is possible because the cooler weather allows the dogs to go further without being overheated. (Me, too!)

On the down side, every run is followed by considerable stiffness and pain around my right ankle. There's not much swelling, so I'm not really sure what's going on down there.

It usually goes away by the next day, and off I go again. I'll monitor it; right now, the plan is to check with my doctor when we get back from Kilimanjaro and see what's up.

Inca enjoys a little window stretch after climbing Mount Hale.

• Now that it's November, I think the season of serious local hiking is over for this year.

Since the last update, two things to report. On Sunday, Sept. 28, Zahnna the German shepherd made it to the top of Mount Hale, #33 in her quest to summit all 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire. (She was joined by her sister Inca, and me as chaperone.)

At the enormous summit cairn atop Mount Hale. Scrambling to the top of this is about the only way to get a good view over the tree that ring the summit clearing.

We tackled Hale because I had to be back to home base by mid-afternoon for a silent film screening, and it's generally regarded as one of the easiest of all the 48 highest.

And it was. We roared up the trail in about two hours, spent a half-hour on the summit with some fun and interesting people, and then actually ran most of the way back down. Kind of a Reinhold Messner approach, but that's what was needed.

Among the highlights: encountering an 84-year-old hiker who'd been on Hale as long ago as the 1950s, when he bushwhacked up the southern slopes to the summit, which at the time had a much better view.

We also spent time with a guy named Jon Chase who turned out to have a background in newspapers and now works as a staff photographer at Harvard University. Small world! Now that I'm doing accompaniment work at Harvard, I might someday get in front of his lens. :)

Jon Chase at the summit of Mount Hale with his dog, whose name I can't recall. Sorry!

The only other significant hike took place in the area of New Paltz, N.Y., when I took part in a spur-of-the-moment excursion into and over "the Gunks," short for Shawangunk Ridge, a popular area for rock-climbing.

College pal Dave Merle and his lovely wife Shirley have a place right at the foot of some very impressive cliffs. And on the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend, Inca and I made the four-hour drive to join in on a looping trek into and through and out of the woods.

Inca looking cute in her co-pilot seat.

The weather was warm and sunny, and foliage was just about at peak, making for a spectacular day to be outdoors. We weren't the only ones thinking this, apparently, as the country roads west of New Paltz were absolutely jammed. Local pumpkin patches and cider mills were mobbed.

Thankfully, the trails weren't. After playing with Dave Merle's new drone (controlled by iPhone), we embarked by just cutting through the woods and then scrambling up an enormous talus field until reaching a trail at the base of the cliff.

Highlights of our partially bushwhacked walk-about were ascending along the edge of the main ridge and stopping at a vertiginous point overlooking a vast expanse of the Hudson River Valley to the east.

It was here that James Russo, son of another college pal, Mike Russo, idly tossed a handful of leaves over the precipice. Down they fluttered—until they were caught by an updraft that we couldn't see or feel, which caused them to float back up past us and dance about in the void beyond us.

This led to a good-half hour of experimentation, in which everything that could be thrown off a cliff pretty much was. And I'll be darned if a lot of it didn't rise up and dance before us!

Inca and me somewhere on the trail near New Paltz, N.Y. on Sunday, Oct. 12. Photo by Michael Z. Russo.

James is one impressive young man, by the way. It's not every 13-year-old who can quote large parts of the dialogue from the Marx Bros. classic "Duck Soup" (1933), but James certainly can. Hey, at this point, I'll take hope for the future anywhere I can find it.

• Back to the gym: With the bike not in use, I'm making an effort to get back to the gym, which has been ignored all summer. I'll concentrate on low-impact stuff like the elliptical trainer and strengthening exercises to keep the momentum going even as winter looms.

• In terms of running, the ankle issue has prevented me from being too ambitious, but perhaps that's a good thing, given my tendency to overdo it. Right now, the Manchester (N.H.) Marathon is being run, and I'm not in it, despite my desire to do the half-marathon version again.

Instead, I'll keep things a little more modest, in part to prevent any kind of serious injury or condition developing prior to Kilimanjaro.

We're going to San Francisco this week for a few days. If I feel up to it, I may scoot across to Nevada and try to do a 10K there, thus adding that state to my 'Running in All 50 States' roster, which has been pretty quiet of late. We'll see.

And I've been extremely lax (if not downright lazy) in pursuing the project of running a minimum of 5K in all of New Hampshire's cities, towns, and unincorporated places.

In the past 10 years, I've pretty much exhausted the list of communities that hold official 5K races. So now I have to resort to "do-it-yourself" runs where I measure off 5K and then do it on my own.

Sounds easy enough, but I haven't done a single one all this season! And the long-anticipated completion date of May 14, 2016 (when I'll officially be older than my father when he died at age 52) looms ever closer.

• In a sign I'm finally taking serious things more seriously, I've collected all my health-related paperwork into one large three-ring binder. Now the trick, of course, is to actually use it and refer to it often, or at least not lose it.

I have it with me here right now. So far, so good!

• In the binder is a timely story from the New York Times about the dangers of eating things late at night, defined as three hours before you go to sleep. This is my one big unconquered bad habit, so I hope clinical evidence like this will help break it.

As it is, I've tried. And it's easy enough to say, "after X o'clock, I won't eat anything." But it's such a reflex, borne not out of hunger but emotional issues, I believe, that it's been more difficult to correct that I could have ever expected.

It's like you're under hypnosis, with your body (and mind) acting in ways that someone else is controlling. Strange!

• In another sign that things are changing, I'm no longer short-changing sleep.

Until recently, I would regularly force myself to go without adequate sleep. This, of course, has all kinds of long-term consequences. But it seemed to be necessary to just keep up with everything going on.

But no longer. I find I simply am not willing to go through the day feeling lousy anymore. And, in what will probably not be a surprise to any sane person who encounters this, I find I can generally be more productive by getting adequate sleep. And I feel better, and so on.

There's still not enough time to do everything I'd like to. I have to keep working on time management and focus and all that.

But doing without enough sleep is no longer an option. Progress, I think!

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