I got sore on Saturday, but I also scored an epiphany. No pain, no gain, although the pain part is getting old.
And so am I, and thus the epiphany, but first some explanation.
The middle chunk of Winning Dad takes place on the road, as two characters (I play one; our screenwriter and director, Arthur Allen, plays the other) travel from Seattle to Montana, camping and hiking along the way, bonding and having some interesting conversations. It’s an important part of the story; it can’t be cheated or reduced or covered. It has to be done, and filmed.
And survived, as it turned out.
For various reasons, there was some last-minute scrambling to find locations for our outdoor adventure. About 40 minutes east of me is Mt. Index and Lake Serene, an area that looked to be just what we needed. A remote lake, requiring a hike in, where we could probably find what we needed: Plenty of hiking coverage, a couple of campfire scenes, a big scene at a picturesque vista, and a mountain lake. Good to go.
After going over the logistics, our producer decided that it would be more efficient to hike to the lake with our gear, set up camp, and stay overnight so we got a couple of full days of filming before heading further east for some road trip stuff.
This was unexpected, as I was assuming we’d be doing day trips, so I grumbled a little and started searching for friends with camping equipment, since it had been years since I’d even seen a sleeping bag around this house, much less the tent, etc., that I’d need. In the meantime, after noting my reaction and also noting that Arthur wasn’t crazy about camping either, the plan to changed: Arthur and I would hike back out in the evening, stay at a local hotel, recharge the equipment batteries and download the footage to a laptop, take showers, etc., before resuming the next day.
This sounded fine with me, so I showed up at our meeting spot early Saturday morning with just a change of clothes and a water bottle, only to find Ellen McLain, my movie wife (she’d dropped off her nephews, who are working on the crew), walking purposefully toward me with an expression I haven’t seen since I spilled something at the dinner table when I was a kid.
“This is suicidal,” I believe she said at some point, pointing out that I was hiking twice as much as I needed to, and by the way I wasn’t 20 years old anymore.
Here are a couple of things, things Ellen wasn’t privy to. First, while I rarely “hike” in terms of mountains and packs, I do walk a lot at an aerobic pace, usually 5-6 miles a day, and I’ll also hop on the stationary bike sometimes and cover 18-19 miles in an hour. My weight has fluctuated a little in the past five years or so, up a bit or down, depending on my mood, but my exercise routine has stayed pretty regular (sometimes I pick familiar calories to hang out with at night, that’s all). I have no breathing problems, no chronic aches and pains, and a pretty low resting heart rate. I am, for being 55, reasonably fit.
And, according to our producer’s estimate, it was only about an hour’s hike to Lake Serene from the parking lot. Assuming we managed our big sunset scene and left immediately afterwards, we should have been able to hike back out in good time and spend our night in the comfort of a small-town motel, easy.
The hike, as it turned out, was three hours, almost all of it uphill to this mountain lake over a very rocky trail. I was happy with my recovery once we reached the lake, but my quads were aching and I was pretty drenched in sweat. And toward the end, the last thing I wanted to do was sleep on the ground in a very cold spot (there was still snow) without camping gear or even a coat, having prepared for a hotel room.
There’s a lot more to this story, including the entire crew eventually deciding to leave the lake rather than camp, me reaching the parking lot first (I headed out, thinking our producer would be right behind me, preferring to get to the bottom before dark, which I didn’t do but got close; thank you, iPhone flashlight) and having to wait for an hour in the dark, under the stars, freezing in the bed of a pickup truck, thirsty and cold.
The major point here, though, and the inspiration for my epiphany, is that I was sore. More than sore, even. Hobbled. Sore knees, sore calves, sore shoulders, sore back. I was walking wounded, and not really walking, and then I understood.
I just turned 55. I’m a regular exerciser and not seriously overweight (around 196 at the moment, whereas 180 would be great, but nothing to worry about this side of vanity). As I said, I’m reasonably fit for my age.
But I won’t get any fitter. Let’s face it. My best hope is to stay somewhere around this level, with lots of regular exercise, for 10 years or maybe 15, then slowly degrade. I’m not going to get much healthier or stronger; this isn’t me, just life.
So there it is. I am what I am, and that’s all that I am. Avoiding this kind of whole-body achiness is an easy fix (no more multi-mile hikes in the mountains), although you never know what I might want to do. So maybe I need to bear down and drop 20 pounds or so, just to take what pressure I can off the joints. It’s not hard, I just haven’t had much motivation, and maybe now I do.
Or, as I said, avoid going uphill. But sometimes you have to, even if you’re 55. And there’s more filming to come.
Ellen was right in a way. It was risky behavior, and I was the oldest of the group by 25-30 years. Vanity may not factor in that much in terms of my appearance anymore, but it definitely played a role in not wanting to draw attention to the fact that my legs were screaming and my T-shirt looked like I’d taken a few swims in the lake. And that kind of vanity is dangerous. Lesson learned.