When I met my wife Heather in December of 2007, we were completely different people. Now that we are approaching the 7th year of our acquaintance (August 15th was our 5 year marriage anniversary), we have both transformed for what I’d like to say is mostly the better. Yes, it’s true; we’re older. I have way more white hairs in my chin hair than I ever thought that I would, and while that aging looks sophisticated on me as a middle aged man, it means that I’m growing older, and older is not always better since I’m no silver fox. And as for Heather, I know how she feels about her white hairs; she beats them back with what’s in the Revlon box that is now sitting on our bathroom sink. They’re definitely not sophisticated when a woman isn’t even in middle age (she’s still on the good side of 40 – me, not so much).
Gravity also has put some serious effects on us. It’s not like we were immune to weight around the middle to begin with, but in both of our times of employment trouble (my being reduced to halftime work after my graduate degree was completed at the end of 2010 and her being laid off in April of last year), we seemed to find a lot more opportunities to expand our middle with the stress and frustrations that come with not being “as” gainfully employed as we would like to. Sure, we picked up the slack for each other to get us through these times, but it was a very tough thing, and eventually, it became necessary to get back into the routine that we once enjoyed via a new routine that we hadn’t done before. Obviously, our work schedules that we transitioned into during this time hold us back from some of what we’d like to do, but like anyone else, we move through and do what we have to do.
When we were in a good place with what we liked to do, that routine was the outdoors. In the long twisty journey of our time together, I was the “seasoned” hiker who did things like go to Ricketts Glen in the winter when I wasn’t hiking in the same old local spots around Berks County Pennsylvania or dreaming about the cross country vacations that I longed to take. She was the Ohio transplant who grew up in the flat world by Lake Erie. Originally, she came to Pennsylvania to meet a guy. He wasn’t the one, but I ended up being that person. Over time, we came to do a lot of things that the other person in the relationship likes. She showed me Longwood Gardens, radio friendly pop music / hip hop, and Mexican food (as I pronounce my Americanized versions of them: ta-sos, burr-uh-toes, and chinchillas). I showed her way too much MLBTV, Neutral Milk Hotel / the Polphyonic Spree, and the waterfall and vista hiking guides of Scott Brown.
Prior to meeting Heather, my experience with hiking waterfalls was minimal, but after her first trip to Ricketts Glen, an essential factor that she would have to enjoy if we were to stay together, we started doing other waterfalls. I once thought all waterfalls were fairly civilized as far as trails go. Mind you, I had never been to Sullivan Run, so I didn’t know what “uncivilized” meant. However, we did Glen Onoko for the first time, and Heather scaled a wall and did rock shimmies and climbs to go with her root grabs. We went back on another occasion, and she did the in the water walk to the top as well. As time went by, we did many other waterfalls and trails. She did the 1,000 Steps, but she hated that. Nevertheless, she did it 2 more times since then.
It seems that her husband is convincing. Well, it’s either that, or she doesn’t want to hear him pout.
Over this time, I don’t think she appreciated my discussions of mountain shape as my interests moved from waterfalls to mountain vistas, but she was a good sport through most of it. The rocks of the Standing Stone Trail out from Allensville Road were not kind to her, nor were the long climbs to the top of Clark's View, but she did them to appease her husband’s interests. Sometimes, marriage is like that. Her husband in turn rewarded her with trips to a certain Italian restaurant, flowers (for the house and the garden), carte blanche on interior decorating and HGTV projects, and Kohls’ trips for clothing and jewelry and the like. Of course, there was also love, respect, and a goofy smiling face that also went with it, but yeah… one hand washes the other and sometimes, earrings are more appealing than said smile.
Nevertheless, over these last years, the exercise has not always been easy, and that’s what mountain hiking is. It’s about balancing ourselves on the rocks. It’s about pushing to the top through sweat and humidity and dirt and grime and rocks and hoping that the view out from the top is clear for pictures. It’s about not falling in the water. It’s about talking to each other, holding hands, and having fun. Sometimes, it seems like more work than those last 3 things, but for the most part, I’d like to think it’s a lot of fun.
And it’s helped take me down about 35-40 pounds… depending on what day I stand on the scale. As for Heather, she’s dropped 50 pounds (some days more) than she once carried. Some of this is due to walks on nice nights. Other parts of it is due to being healthy and not eating snacks. Cutting back on intake helps a lot for both of us. I’m not a vegetable healthy guy, so I have to sweat it off more. I don’t mind that. Like Jack Black, I like to eat. Many of us do. For Heather, she was willing to kick off the pounds with a foul smelling routine of juicing in the beginning of her current push to get to her desired goal (a man doesn’t ask a woman how much the goal is).
It really worked for her.
Recently, she was able to reward herself with a trip to the regular section of Kohls’ to go clothes shopping. If you’ve ever shopped in the “other” section, you understand how depressing this can be. First, it’s its own special section. Second, the styles aren’t styles. There seems to be way too much animal print, and there’s no sense of youthful or even thirty-something fashion. Just dropping to that point where things get “regular” or “normal” again seems to be a major change in so many ways. Guys don’t really understand this unless we want to be hipsters in skinny jeans and body hugging shirts with thin ties (and for as much as I enjoy Joel McHale, I don’t want to dress like him). Guy clothes is pretty much universal. For women, this just isn’t true.
Being there with her to enjoy this night that showed how much she changed over time was awesome and awe inspiring. For this, she can have whatever part of my paycheck she needs to replace the old with the new. Let the shopping spree begin! Besides, it was the reward I promised her for getting to this place (and on that note, my dad shed a fair chunk of weight recently, which caused him to have to get all new clothes – a proposition that seems nice until the credit card bill arrives – so I didn’t want Heather to worry about this necessity).
But it took a long path to arrive at this. Some days for both of us were better than others. Obviously, weight gain is a mix of not eating right, not exercising enough, and genetics, and it goes on easier than it goes off, even if that is just ounce by ounce. Taking it off is a good thing, and people who do it are to be commended, but does that make people “heroic” for doing what they need to do? I’m not here to debate that because all weight loss and getting in shape is good. People who make positive changes are role models to me.
More importantly, I am here to say that people who do positive things also have a responsibility to inspire others. I see teachers and role models as needing to be people to help others find the ways and the means to do it. Even if they aren’t ready for it now, maybe they’ll remember the words of advice later. No matter what that change is, sometimes, it has to be tough love. It’s what I needed to hear. That said, a doctor who wants to stay in business can’t say, “Lose some weight fat boy.” However, it’s what I needed to hear. For Heather, it was all about watching someone’s juicing journey on some online video. It was all about reading the dangers of certain foods that can play havoc on certain body types. Where this could reinforce some of the failure for some people, it served to move her through.
In the end, whatever it takes is the answer.
But getting to that point was a long journey. Prior to that transformation moment, at the end of 2012, my financial status went back to normal after doing a 2nd job I was never really happy with. We celebrated it by going to Jamaica. It was a fun time, but both of us were getting heavier from the stress. You can see the difference in both of our faces and what we did and didn’t want to do on that vacation. When a person lives with him or herself every day, there’s no sense of change other than what can or can’t be squeezed into regarding jean size. Of course, there’s a sense of the physical things that can and can’t be done, but yeah… the thickening of the face is just something that happens until a person chooses to reverse course.
And so we eventually found our reasons to not be those people in the year 2013. We chose to be skinnier and healthier. We’re a work in progress, but we use nature as the place to do our thing, in whole and in part. We chose to be different, and we worked at it. We have to keep working at it, or we could go back the other way, too. Positive mental commitment is what we did to get to the point where we could both go shopping for new clothes. I dropped 4 size 40 pairs of pants, and Heather replaced many shirts and pants already.
A year of work for her (and a year and a half for me) offer a lot of positive rewards.
However, when it comes to life, it’s all about being able to do the things we want to do with the bodies that we have. In the same way hikers hike their own hike, people need to live their own body place, and what that really means is can you do what you need to do with the body type that you have? For me, I was fitter and healthier and able to get into better levels of mountain shape. Heather was getting complimented by friends and coworkers. We were both more confident about our lives, although that’s a work in progress, and things just keep changing for the better.
Even if sometimes, it’s at a snail’s pace, it’s still a positive pace.
Recently, Heather and I went rappelling with Sara and Ben, 2 fellow hikers who have a serious interest in climbing and rappelling. The option was there to learn, and with that, we went to Tioga Forest to experience Sand Run Falls from the bottom and the top.
The trail in was relatively flat. There were a few creeks to cross, but it was rock hopping, and for that, we left the neoprene socks in the car. When we arrived back at the falls, we gazed up at them in sheer awe. Jeff Mitchell lists it in his Endless Mountains book as being about 25 feet tall. It was beautiful, and at several times before the clouds covered the sky, we saw a rainbow on the left side of it.
Getting in there to the amphitheater that houses the falls, we found a rope. Using it to descend (it’s not like we needed to, but it was there), we started the course that Ben would give us to do the rappels. The first part of that course was how to get into the harness and gear. It wasn’t pretty, but we did it. The second part was holding the rope while leaning back to see how much the gear supports us. Surprisingly, it felt very safe very quickly. I moved up the 60-75° incline and leaned back from rocks that were up higher. I walked down these backward. I felt good. So did Heather when it came to be her turn to do this.
From here, we looked for higher rocks to go down. After some deliberation, we went to a double ten foot drop. There was a ledge in between, which made it nice, but it also offered a chance to get out of it if it didn’t work. I went first and sat at the top while Ben patiently and knowledgeably gave guidance and a first rappel to show how it was done.
As I took my first step with him slightly below me, I felt good, and before I knew it, I was on the ledge. Then, I went over the ledge and conquered some of my fear of heights by doing the second drop. I was ready to do it again, and I ran up to the top and did it 2 more times.
This made me feel really good. After all, I’m the guy who can’t walk over bridges without fear. I’m the guy who gets scared watching video of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Now, I was the guy going over the edge.
Heather did it, too. I’m not sure how interested she was in rappelling before the day began, but as things progressed, she was comfortable and confident, and now my wife was declaring to Sara, who had been taking pictures, and Ben that she wanted the big 35 foot drop that Ben was doing earlier. You know, the one with the 15 foot free fall at the bottom. This was the one that had the step-off into what felt like thin air at the top. I was going to try this too, but that first step, which was a doozy, scared me too much, so I opted out.
But that wasn’t it for Heather. For Heather, the option was there. As I waited with the camera on video at the bottom, Ben gave patient directions and went down beside her. The journey starts out slowly, but soon they are moving. Heather makes the first step, and the only way out is down. They keep progressing, and it seems like only seconds before they are at the free fall part, which is where they slide down the Batpoles to arrive safely at the ground to triumphant applause.
She has won. She has conquered her fear.
She has “done good!”
It’s a long way from that night she decided that juicing was the last resort for her. It’s a long way from being made to feel that some exercise equipment was going to magically change her from something to someone else only to have it start collecting dust a couple of weeks later. Until you’ve seen and felt that desperation that some magic change can make a change, you just don’t get it, but in the end, the answer was what I told her all along: mountain shape.
Mountain shape doesn’t mean climbing a mountain. It doesn’t have to mean rappelling down one either, but it does mean going out in the fresh air, in the forest, in the middle of nature, and just doing something you never thought you could do while you feel pure air fill your lungs as you exhale out in the confined nastiness to be something great, whatever that is, for yourself.
Prior to this descent, we both hiked up a small waterfall (about 12 feet). She did that well enough that it’s clear she could do Sullivan Run. It’s clear that if she had the gear, she could do parts of Ricketts Glen in the winter. There’s no need to wonder. She’s a tough as nails gal.
The options are wide open because when you can do 35 feet, you can do 350 feet. The only difference is a number. If you trust the rope, you’re OK. If you trust yourself, you’re golden. If you know, you don’t believe. You’re definite.
And that’s where my wife is… in that realm where all things are wonderful possibility for opportunity and experience.
Even if she didn’t do this, I’d still love her unconditionally, but now I can add her to my list of heroes who inspire me with their ability to kick back against the obstacles and overcome adversity. That’s what it’s all about.
That’s why my wife is my hero.