Mt. Washington, I will not climb you

The forecast spelled rain on a recent yoga and hiking retreat to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, so our group opted for an easier hike to Arethusa Falls: a short hike with a big payoff. Except the way I remembered the hike—taken more than 15 years ago with my then-boyfriend—was that it was grueling; steep uphills and narrow ledges that we pictured ourselves slipping off of into the ravine. I have the distinct memory of repeating “Are we there yet?” like a petulant 5-year-old and asking every hiker coming down the mountain how much farther till the end. I was 22 and had never exercised a day in my life.

But while I wasn’t looking forward to this “easier” hike, I was curious to see how it compared to the hike of my younger-self. My friend offered the right mix of encouragement (“Come on, let’s go!”), while reminding me I could stay in the lodge with a book (“The fireplace is calling…”). I opted to give it a go, and in addition to it being the perfect hiking weather (no rain, no jacket) it also turned out to be the perfect hike: barely an hour and not at all painful with a spectacular view. “We’re already there?” we said at the top. There’s something to be said for being fit and 40. But then maybe it was the snacks.

We’d been staying at the rustic and comfortable AMC Highland Center Lodge, so at the end of the weekend, we treated ourselves to a leisurely day exploring the majestic Mount Washington Hotel peeking into rooms, gazing at the mountain range, and making ourselves comfortable on the veranda. In other words, pretending we were guests at the expansive resort that’s housed presidents and world leaders, who, by our count, probably each had their own fireplace. A bit of a different feel than the lodge where rugged outdoorsy types traipse in, shrugging off giant backpacks and kicking of their muddy boots. In addition to myriad cafes and restaurants (and an old speakeasy in the basement called The Cave), the resort offers an exhausting array of activities: horseback riding, golf, biking and walking trails, indoor and outdoor pools, skiing, fly fishing, and rock climbing, but the clear appeal is its enormous wraparound porch that offers stunning views from every angle. Oh, look: another snow-capped mountain to admire amidst the peak foliage. Exhausting. I better just sit here on this wicker couch and rest.

Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire/USA in...

Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire/USA in 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boot camp recovery

From age six on, I desperately wanted to be like my elementary friend Jessica who took gymnastics classes. Her tumbling classes involved strutting across the balance beam, swinging around the uneven bars, and bounding on that springy ramp up and over the vaulting horse. I was sure she’d be whisked off by Bela Karolyi to train for the Olympics at his magical gymnastics camp.

I begged my mom to sign me up.

“Do you want to break your neck?’ she asked.

She worked in the ER and had seen too many kids hurt doing gymnastics—millions if she were to be believed. Every kid in our neighborhood must have broken her leg or sustained a beam injury at some point because she made it sound like there were broken collarbones parading through the hospital door in leotards.

In 1984, when I was 12, Mary Lou Retton won the gold medal, and even my mother was excited. I was sure I was next, even if 12 was middle age for a gymnast and I could barely manage a straight cartwheel. Still, mom refused.

These days, when I’m at the gym, complete with a gymnastics center for kids only, I’ve been known to stare wistfully through the window at the eight-year-olds tumbling across the mat, landing dismounts from the high beam. So when I spotted a blurb about a gymnastics boot camp for adults at the gym last month, I couldn’t fork over the cash fast enough. I signed up and I didn’t tell my mom.

I entered the temple of gymnastics on that first day at 8 a.m. sharp with the hope of a medal still lingering. I scanned the bars, beams, and horse with awe and restrained myself from plunging my hands into the chalk barrel. I saw a glint in the eyes of the other half dozen adults that said childhood dream deferred.

By 8:10, I was eyeing the exit.

Those uneven bars I had dreamed about? Swinging on those really hurts your hands. We used them less for swinging and more for pull-ups anyway—or half a pull-up in my case. The floor exercise mat was a canvas for lunges, push-ups, sprints, and overall hell. I wondered if you could die from sweating. In the corner was a rope  hanging over a pit of foam that brought back memories of gym class. Rope burn still stings.

Each week—the class ran for five weeks—was a medley of sprinting, jumping, lunging, and crying, repeated in an endless circuit. When the instructor demonstrated a move on the trampoline on day one and injured herself, I realized, Hey, this sport is dangerous. How narrowly I had escaped Bela Karolyi’s camp.

On the last day, I was chatting with a woman in the class, saying our goodbyes.

“Are you gonna take the class next session?” she asked.

“Oh, God, no,” I said.

“Me neither,” she said. “It’s just not a workout for me.”

Yoga diagnosis

I’m twisting myself into an ampersand in yoga using an uninspiring metal folding chair as a prop and think I’m doing pretty well until the soft-spoken instructor places a hand on my arm and says, “You might actually want to twist the other way,” which explains why I’m facing the entire class.

By the next move, I’m twisting the other way, until he comes back and smiles. “How did you manage to get twisted around again?” he says.

“I have no idea,” I say, making some effort to right myself, but still unclear on exactly how to do that.

Let's pretend the pose was complicated like this.

After class, I’m rolling up my map and tossing my blocks in the bin all relaxed despite my preference for doing things backwards, when he says, grinning, “You have quite a case of yoga dyslexia.”

I like this, because yoga teachers usually aren’t sarcastic, but I must look alarmed, because he says, “It’s OK,” nodding toward another yogi. “That guy has it too.”

Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream

I just read this fascinating book about a day in the life of your body. Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream by Jennifer Ackerman weaves a host of scientific studies on everything from pain to sleep cycles into a readable narrative, putting each study, blissfully, in layman’s terms. Some handy practical knowledge can be gleaned from this book: your pain threshold is highest in the afternoon, so it’s best to schedule dentist visits then; the time of day you take medication or have chemotherapy can affect the results; having sex before a big presentation can calm the nerves.

The benefits of exercise have never been clearer to me or more well-argued than in this book. We all know exercise is important, but to hear the exhaustive list of why is a compelling reminder. Exercise aids weight loss, of course, but also concentration, sleep, brain function, mood. You might say it’s a wonder drug—one that requires a bit more effort than swallowing a pill, but a wonder drug nonetheless.

The coolest fact? A theory behind that jolt you occasionally experience as you’re drifting off to sleep. Ackerman says that the “spasm . . . is more frequent in adults than in children, and more common in people who are nervous or overtired. Some evolutionary biologists speculate that the hypnic jerk may be a reflex left over from arboreal ancestors—useful in avoiding a slip from a sleeping perch.” Cool.

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