On Getting Mountain Fit

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azerbaijan hunt

I’m approaching my mid-40s. I’m 7 years older than Chase and a decade older than Kevin. When I was younger, that age difference would have been my advantage. But as we age, it is a liability. A liability I feel creeping up on me despite my wishes and behavioral tantrums to resist it.

I felt my age a lot on our sheep hunt a few years ago, when Chase and I both took rams off the mountain at the same time. I had to pack the entire ram out on my own. We crammed all of our gear into one backpack, and each sheep into the other two available backpacks. It was heavy. Stumbling through the alders and falling with somewhat regularity, there were times I did not want to get up, and on at least one occasion I told Chase I’m done hunting. Complaining is how I deal with it. I bitch, I moan, and in the end, I get my old ‘skinny-fat’ ass up the mountain where I need to be. It may take me longer, but I’ll get anywhere either of those guys go.

I felt it again in Azerbaijan in July. My feet grew heavy, and my hips got tight. My lungs burned like Iraqi oil wells, which made taking additional steps hard and slow. In the Caucasus, I blamed the altitude somewhat, as I’d spent the month before the hunt at near sea level with my kids in New Zealand. If I’m honest, the majority of my struggle was that I’m not fit for the mountain. Not anymore. Maybe not ever.

On the first sheep hunt I was hired to film, I failed physically. And I wasted the money the guys who hired me to go paid for me to get there. Cam Hanes dragged me around the mountain on his moose hunt. It’s pretty shameful when I think of it. As our filmmaker, I should be the lightest on my feet, able to jump around and get away from the group to film the hunt from various distances. Luckily we’ve made some good films despite my physical disabilities.

So somewhere, at sometime a few months ago, maybe a few weeks ago I decided I want this to be different. If I’m going to keep up with Chase and Kevin as the filmmaker, I need to be able to run circles around these guys. I’m not interested in making fitness videos for YouTube or IG. And I’m not interested in running ultra-marathons or promoting supplements. But I am interested in staying agile and light on the mountain. And that’s going to take some squats and deadlifts. Some box jumps and agility drills. It’s going to take building some muscles in the right places, and developing a tolerance for droning pain and physical suffering – something I’ve never been good at.

We all have limitations in our lives. We have prior obligations that put demands on our only two resources, time, and money. We have jobs, families and kids, social circles that we need to maintain. I have no excuses. I choose to work the hours I work. My kids live 7,000 miles away from me. I have very few bills that demand my resources. I keep a small, tight-knit social circle. There’s no excuse for me to carry excess body fat, have periodically high blood pressure, or not to get sufficient sleep every single night. We work within our constraints. We do the best we can to accomplish goals in each area of our lives from within those restraints. Push against them without breaking them. Sacrifice all of the useless shit that wastes either time or money. Stick to what matters. Improve what matters. Stay agile and light of foot both in life and on the mountain.

Staying agile on the mountain isn’t necessarily won in a gym, and it’s definitely not won doing curls or flies. It’s basic movements, done repeatedly over and over again, across time. It’s parking farther away. It’s eating less sugar and processed foods. So much can be done in short bursts of time if you stay consistent. And though I don’t think the mountain places any “special” demands on the body that would necessitate specifically marketed supplements, routines, or foods; it is nice to know that there are providers of those products and services that know and appreciate the role the mountain plays in our lives. And for that reason, I’m glad that outfits such as MTN Fit, MTN Tough, MTN Ops, and Wilderness Athlete exist. As much as I’m critical of how all of a sudden everybody on social media was wearing a MTN Ops cap and posting gym selfies, there are practical reasons to try to be mountain fit. It’s just up to each one of us to decide what and how important those reasons are. And to live our best lives as we see fit.