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It is a simple feeling, a sort of sureness. I began to breathe easier, to walk with a lighter step. It was good to know that underneath this bag of blubber and complaints there are still bones, and the will and means to make them move, one step at a time.
I think I must be losing weight. Or shifting it around. These jeans, which barely fit back home, are beginning to bag and slip, crinkling when I cinch up my belt. I may have lost a couple of inches there, these last 3 weeks.
Mountains do that to me. I ought to write The Mountain Diet Book, and make my fortune. Lessee, what's to write? Go up to the mountains, eat what you want, lose weight. How many chapters is that?
It's true enough, though. Above 9000 feet, things start to change. Nothing feels right at first, and that discomfort is all that some people ever learn about it. Gas, nosebleed, sneezing, sinus, headaches, dry skin, sunburn, gasping for breath, aches and weariness. That's a partial list. You are getting rid of baggage. Naps come on like someone hit you on the head. You feel under attack, and you are.
If I could remember back that far, I might compare it to working your way through the birth canal. Welcome to the Mountains.
But that's just the start. Defining the problems, so to speak. Pretty quickly you get through all that, or else go back where you came from. Then the good stuff. You are outside more. You walk indifferently in rain or sunshine, breathe deeply, feel lighter and stronger. It's challenge and response. It's the mountains, making you simpler, making you over into something fit to be here.
Like the lichen on this rock. Reduced to essentials. Like love in the movies, mountains make you want to be a better man.
It stays with you, like the scent of a woman, which lingers as long as she's missed, to the end of the block or the edge of the grave.
Forget the camera. You can't take a picture of that.
There's no rushing the mountain diet, the mountain accommodation. First you have to die a little, then you are reborn. The higher you push, the harder you are pushed.
A flatlander who comes to live above 11000 feet will slowly begin to mummify, becoming all bone and cord, big lungs and startled eyes. Compact, glittery. Way out on a limb. Take a good look, sometime, at pictures of those old miners from the century before last. People get as hard as what they butt up against.
Perhaps a few of those old wolves, scratching themselves, pulling their beards aside to spit, began to dream, late in their short sorry lives, of what could have been, of low places, an easy life, and tropical climes.
We all want what we haven't got. What else is there to want?
You have to know when to stop, but it's not the same place for everyone. Eventually, if you go high enough and stay there, the mountains will kill you. This is a game you cannot win.
That's good enough for me.
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