by Terry Wieland
There are three words that strike terror into the heart of an editor when you suggest a story: Ethics. Safety. Fitness.
The reason is simple: They expect that what you will send in is a sermon, and readers generally hate sermons. For that matter, so do editors, although they are never reluctant to deliver one.
Anyway, this missive is not about either ethics or safety. The subject is fitness, and if you have no interest in possibly warding off a heart attack on your next trip into the mountains, you can stop reading right here.
Thirty-three years ago, I was in the process of preparing to go to Alaska and hunt Dall’s sheep, backpacking for a couple of weeks in the Chugach Mountains. A friend was going with me, although we would be hunting in separate areas. I took it all seriously—running, calisthenics, diet, and backpacking for miles with my mountain boots. In January of 1990, I weighed 193 pounds; by mid-August, I was down to 163.
My friend, on the other hand, talked a good fight but never seemed to find the time to work out. He figured that when he got to Alaska, he would simply power through on grit, determination, and sheer character. As it turned out, he had a few problems he hadn’t bothered to tell me about; after two days in the mountains, he demanded to be airlifted out and spent a week hunting on horseback out of a camp which, because it was easy and undemanding, had few decent rams left. They’d all been picked over by other over-age, over-weight guys who couldn’t wander the mountains on foot with their home on their back.
For the record, I had a great hunt and got a beautiful ram, and it still ranks as the greatest hunting experience of my life.
My friend’s problems deserve a look. One, he had a degenerative hip ailment that was going to eventually land him in a wheelchair. What was he doing, even thinking about backpacking, you ask? Good question. His other problem was more esoteric. Having no sense of smell or taste, he judged food by texture, and absolutely refused to eat the freeze-dried stuff we all had to live on. Between his lack of conditioning, bad hip, and under-nourishment, there was simply no hope.