A Lesson in Futility

At the end of July, I will be trekking to Montana to write a story about a man who lives on top of a mountain in the most remote corner of Glacier National Park.

Since this dude literally lives on top of a mountain, I have to hike up hill for six straight miles (with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet) through grizzly bear infested wilderness just to talk to him. I’ve hired a professional Twin Cities photographer named John McCambridge to shoot the story.

As our journey draws closer, I recently fretted to McCambridge about how in fact are two bumbling idiots like us going to make it up a god damn mountain?

"The only thing I’m carrying up there is a camera and my will to live,” McCambridge jokingly replied. Easy for him to say. He’s built like one of those wild Scotsmen from the movie “Braveheart.”

Me on the other hand, well, I just kind of…suck. In an attempt to not die on the mountain, I started exercising to get ready for the journey.

I thought I’d start with a bike ride around the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis. The last time I rode a bike in earnest was when I looked like Duane Allman and played hacky sack in the oval of the University of Montana. This is to say it was a lifetime ago. I hooked up the kid carriage on the back of my bike, loaded up my son and his cousin Elliot, and off we went.

Within two blocks of my house, the wind was so violent it was as if I were pedaling in soup. Then the two kids started chirping.
“Where are we going? Do you like elephants? Who’s Darth Maul? Can we have treats at wherever you are taking us? Why are you going so slowly? Why is your skin purple?” It felt like I was carrying those two old crumudginey bastards from the Muppet Show on my back. The biking was a bad call. Hated the bike.

So I started jogging. The next day, I put my son in the stroller and we headed down to Lake Harriet. I began the jog with a little trot. But after only a few feet, I realized that pushing a forty pound kid and trying to run really, really blows. In a miracle from God, I made it to the concession stand where I quickly bought my son a box of the famous Lake Harriet popcorn (which is basically buttered flavored crack rock) to shut him up. As I started jogging again, several packs of beautiful people sprinted past me. These little clicks of runners –all dressed in their fancy sweat wicking shirts and flowing shorts– were so annoying I wanted to hockey fight them right in the path. They passed me at full speed and gobbled up miles like Pac-Man eating up dots. The worst part was that they were casually talking the entire time they ran. I, on the other hand, looked like Chris Farley choking on a pork chop.

Near the beach, I ran into my dad. Big Smitty was doing the half running/half walking thing where the person moves with an odd tightness, not quite sure if they should run slower or walk faster. In my dad’s case, he just looked like a man trying to hold a poop in. When he saw me jogging towards him, a look of bewilderment came across his face.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m jogging. Trying to get in shape for my Montana trip,” I said.

“You gonna need more than that,” he said. The iPod that I bought him two weeks ago dangled off his pocket. I preloaded the thing with 200 of his favorite songs so that he could rock out as he exercised. It was nice to see him using it. He fiddled with the iPod and said, “Hey, how do I get this thingy to play a different song. All it plays is Mustang Sally.”

I took a look at the iPod and realized that somehow my dad had screwed the menu up so badly that he’d been listening to Otis Redding’s “Mustang Sally” on repeat for two straight weeks. I clicked a few options on the menu and got it working. He trotted off, his butt turtling a poo, singing some sunny Beach Boys song. The whole scene made me chuckle and it got me through the last grueling mile. I guarantee that Big Smitty, at least once, had gotten so frustrated by his new iPod and its lame ability to only play one song that he turned the thing upside down and smacked it like Fonzi trying to fix something.

I asked some twenty year olds at my work to make me some music mixes to run to. On one mix it was all whiny British guys and the other featured growling white chicks. I was really grooving to this one mix (titled “Two Forty Gordy,” a sly reference to fat people) when all of a sudden the up tempo rock music went off and there were five straight songs of slow folk music. This would be fine if you were sitting in a coffee shop, but I was sweating my ass off trying to make it up the Newton Avenue hill. I asked the kid who made it why on earth would he slow down the music on an exercise mix?

“It was for your cool down period, bro,” he told me. “Like the circuit training at Lifetime Fitness.” Cool down? What the hell is a cool down? I was going old school on this exercise shit. I simply was going to run until I fell over. I don’t think Rocky was listening to the soft melodies of “Teghan and Sarah” when he was in Russia carrying logs in the deep snow.

After a few weeks, I was feeling good. Although my frantic Alaskan sled dog running style led many of my neighbors to believe that I was being chased by something, things started to pick up. I could jog for longer stretches without feeling like my lungs were going to explode.

On a recent afternoon jog, I ran past the Milo’s sandwich shop in Linden Hills and saw McCambridge the photographer completely going to town on a sub the size of a muffler. His cheeks were stuffed full and he could hardly talk. Then I realized something: I don’t have to be in shape at all for our journey up the mountain. I will just let the big guy go first up the hill and let him be the pace car, nice and steady. And if we do see a grizzly bear, all I have to do is be faster than McCambridge.

I think I’m going to make it up that mountain after all. Just maybe not in one piece.