Want to get some serious exercise? Gather firewood!

Just some of our new stash of firewood. Makes me smile just looking at it. 🙂

My husband and I had an exhilarating, exhausting, fulfilling day yesterday hauling wood with our neighbor. And because we’re now in relatively decent shape, we survived to tell the tale.

In the wintertime, one of my favorite things to do is reading a book while sitting in front of the beautiful fireplace in our living room.  I don’t build a fire very often because we’ve been using Duraflame logs, which aren’t exactly cheap. Small bundles of real firewood are crazy expensive at the market. We haven’t made the effort figure out how to purchase larger amounts of firewood; I’ve only heard rumors that it’s possible. 🙂

About a month ago our next-door neighbor backed into his driveway with a huge load of firewood.  I experienced serious envy. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a load like that.

I grew up in the Oregon woods; the closest neighbor was about a mile away. Our home was heated with a wood-burning stove. One of our major chores was gathering firewood from the surrounding forest. Dad and my brothers would cut the trees down and trim off the branches, mostly Douglas fir and Alder. The logs would be cut into fireplace-size pieces and we’d throw them into the back of a trailer hitched to an old, orange Jeep. My Dad or brothers would expertly back the trailer next to the house, and we would unload the wood a few feet away from the front door. My Mom would always have beef stew or hot chocolate ready for us when we were all finished. In the spring, we’d have “burn” days to get rid of all the dead branches.

So… seeing my neighbor’s load of wood made me feel nostalgic. My husband and I asked where he’d gotten it. He found out he could gather wood from our local mountains by harvesting fallen trees. He had to go to the Ranger Station to purchase a one-day Adventure Pass for $5 and a Personal FuelWood Permit for $20 (minimum price for 2 cords of wood).  There are a few rules to follow, but overall it’s pretty simple. You park on the side of the road and grab what you can.

Our neighbor had spent that entire day cutting and hauling wood by himself. My husband and I felt compelled to help him unload, so we grabbed our work gloves and make a quick job of it with him. He offered us a bunch of wood as thanks; we accepted reluctantly but gratefully.  I told him the next time he goes on a firewood run, I’d like to go with him.  He could tell I was serious. I was pretty enthusiastic.

We filled that trailer and truckbed up with firewood... wish I'd taken a photo of the load! This was one of the closest distances between the wood and the truck.

Sure enough, yesterday he took my husband and I up to the mountains to the same spot where he had found the wood last time. It was an adventure! After an hour-plus drive, we discovered there was snow on the ground and the access road was gated. We also didn’t have chains so we had to be cautious.  At an elevation of about 7,500 feet, it was about 22 degrees and slightly windy, but beautiful and sunny.

We parked on the side of the main road and scouted for fallen trees: pine, eucalyptus, and oak. Our neighbor had his chainsaw and went to work on the first log we found.

The smell of the chainsaw exhaust and freshly cut wood brought back such a familiar, comforting feeling… of working hard, of being out in the woods with my Dad and brothers. I never liked that chore when I was a kid. I was perplexed why I was feeling so nostalgic about it now.  They were the smells of home and familiarity, of working hard for our warmth and shelter. Of working hard together.

The easy-to-get-to wood—the “low hanging fruit”—had already been gathered by others, so we had to go higher and higher into the forest, creating a greater distance from the truck. We threw the pieces as far as we could, then carried them the rest of the way.  Some pieces were handled four or five times before they were finally thrown in the trailer.

My old hiking boots came in handy.

I didn’t mind because we were getting a great workout and we were also getting firewood for the winter ahead. I was so glad I’d pulled my old hiking boots out of the garage, although my feet were pretty soaked by the time we were done. (The boots fit me again! They would have been too small 5 months ago.)

After we had gathered as much as possible from that spot, we went hunting for another. We found an access road where someone had torn away the gate, so our neighbor braved the snow and drove his truck in.

There were several huge, fallen trees there—but they were across a wide gully and up a very steep hill.  Our neighbor said, “We’re here. Let’s just do it.” We hiked up the hill and our neighbor went to work on a log.

The photo doesn't show the depth of this gully, but getting the wood across it was a major hurdle.

Oh my goodness, it was a rough job. We were even further from the truck this time and had to throw the wood many, many times; it didn’t make sense to carry each piece one at a time all the way to the trailer. We just methodically worked away at it. There was a lot more snow, and my feet were frozen and painful. Then there was that deep gully. We threw all the pieces in, one at a time. Then I stood halfway up the other side of the gully while my husband lifted each piece to me. I carried the wood up the rest of the way and threw it in a pile.

By that time I was saying, “Honey, it would be worth every single penny to pay someone for a cord of wood. This sucks. But at least now we know what it takes.”

By the time we got back home and had unloaded all the wood—half to our backyard, half to our neighbor’s, I have a whole different view. The day had been hard, but fun. And immensely satisfying. We were completely, totally exhausted. Spent. We had left at 8 am and weren’t completely finished until 5 pm—with no meal breaks.

This morning, I feel like I did after my first few workouts at the gym. Every muscle is complaining, especially my shoulders and calves. Even my ribs hurt. My husband and I keep commenting on how we’d never have been able to do this before we started working out. Our neighbor would have had to carry us off that mountain.

It was a phenomenal workout.  And a great bonding experience with both my husband and our neighbor. And my fire this evening was luxuriously wonderful and well deserved. 🙂

A Tangible Way to Honor my Mom: A Walk to End Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country and the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. Based on mortality data from 2000-2008, death rates have declined for most major diseases while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have risen 66 percent during the same period.
Alzheimer’s Association

One out of every 57 people in the United States will die from a disease that slowly steals your memories, your mobility, your learned behaviors (like how to talk, walk, write, use the bathroom or comb your hair), and all the things your body does on its own (like fighting an infection and swallowing food; eventually it stills your breathing and silences your heart). Your body forgets how to do everything.

My Mom passed away four years ago from this egregious disease. She was 72. A wife to my Dad for 52 years.  A mom to her 7 children. A grandma to her 15 grandchildren. She is sorely missed.

In her honor, my husband and I participated in a local Walk to End Alzheimer’s today (near our home in Southern California, a thousand miles away from my family of origin in Oregon).

Mom was diagnosed in 2004 and passed away in 2007. It took me until 2011 to join the cause. I’m not mad at myself for not getting involved sooner; just perplexed at what took me so long. Perhaps it was my extremely sedentary lifestyle. Doing any kind of walking was the last thing on my mind. Perhaps it was my fear of asking people for money, even if it was for a good cause.

Now that I’ve become more physically active, participating in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s was something I had to do. My husband and I together created a team of two.

Today, throngs of people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colors arrived at the Walk, some wearing custom-designed t-shirts honoring those who were suffering from or had died from Alzheimer’s. My favorite t-shirt read: “Alzheimer’s attacked my family. I’m fighting back!”

We arrived a little later than planned so we had to park in a dusty field next to the park. We checked in and received purple wristbands. Because we had raised over $100, we received a ticket to pick up a purple Walk to End Alzheimer’s t-shirt.  I was bummed to discover they were out of all t-shirts except size small, but we put our name down to receive one in the mail later.

Next to the t-shirt booth was a table stacked with laminated paper flowers, Sharpies and safety pins. A sign denoted which color flower you should pick depending on your situation:

  • Multicolored flowers: I have Alzheimer’s
  • Yellow flowers: I am supporting or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
  • Purple flowers: I have lost someone to Alzheimer’s
  • Orange flowers: I support the cause and a vision of a world without Alzheimer’s

Was it an honor to write my Mom’s name down? No. It was sad. But it was an acknowledgement of her. That I was there today because of her. That she lived. That she was missed. That she mattered. A lot.

I pinned the flower on to a lanyard I wore around my neck, which was holding a photo of my Mom with her four daughters. It’s one of my favorite family photos, even if it doesn’t include my Dad and three brothers. My Mom had just been diagnosed and we were cherishing and loving all over her.

I looked at the flowers other people wore and wondered what their stories were. Of the vastness of their pain and loss. Of how great their love for each other.

Nearby there were tables full of coffee, bottled water and snacks: granola bars, fruit leather, crackers and muffins. High school kids wearing volunteer t-shirts manned the tables. I asked one of the kids where they were from. She was part of the Volunteer Club at a local high school.  Wow. How cool is that?

Across the grass were several booths with representatives from retirement homes, assisted care facilities, funeral planning, and the Alzheimer’s Association. A couple of Lakers cheerleaders were on hand to autograph Lakers team photos.

There was an opening ceremony, during which the speaker had everyone in the crowd hold up their laminated paper flowers to create a special “garden.” Later, a young lady sang a beautiful song she wrote for her grandma.

Then the walk officially began. It was slow going as there were lots of dogs, little kids, and elderly folks participating in the walk. The high school student volunteers held directional signage and cheered us all on as we passed them. They made me smile. It was a two-mile walk but felt much shorter, and was anticlimactic at the end. People just strolled directly to their cars and that was that.

The entire event was extremely well organized, both before and during the event. A plethora of tools were provided to help participants raise money: email blasts, Facebook posts, snail-mail letter templates. Lots of encouraging reminders were sent to me before the event. I had my own personalized donation web page where my friends and family could go give a secure donation. When I got home after the walk, I’d already received a “thank you” email.

It was a fantastic operation. I was totally impressed by the professionalism and organization of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Thanks for letting me share this with you. It was a good day.  I’m all in for next year. : )

Like Climbing Dog Mountain

“Fitness is a tool I use to build confidence. If somebody thinks, I’m weak, I’m fat, I’m lazy, that’s their reality. I can have them run a mile or do 20 push-ups, and then they’re like, ‘oh, my God, if I’m capable of this, what else can I do?’”
—Jillian Michaels interview, by Amy Spencer,
Redbook, October 2011 (Jillian is the former trainer from The Biggest Loser)

“How much further?” I asked, gasping for breath. My feet felt like lead.

“It’s just around the next bend,” my friend replied.

We made it around the next bend, then the next, then the next.

“Are we almost there?” I asked again, practically begging.

“Almost,” he replied, smiling over his shoulder.

We plodded on. I thought about the car keys in my pocket. The good novel in my daypack. I could so easily turn around, head back down the trail, and wait for my friends to complete the hike without me.

The knowledge that I could flake out at any time somehow kept me from quitting.

Other than my muscles screaming in protest and my lungs burning from desperately sucking in air, I was having a good time. Two years ago, serendipity placed me there on Dog Mountain in Washington state with my sister Teri and long-time friends Rob and Kim. I had warned them ahead of time that I was completely out of shape, and the only exercise I’d been doing back home in southern California was water aerobics. They didn’t mind. They said they’d take it slow and stop whenever I needed to.

Early that morning, I should have known I was in over my head after we parked the car, donned our daypacks, and walked uphill to the restrooms near the trailhead.  I was already gasping for breath.

It was 3.8 miles to the top of the mountain. The hike was rated strenuous/difficult. The elevation gain was 2,850 feet. My desire to spend time with these three much-loved people outweighed my trepidation.

The trail was quiet and peaceful. As we walked among regal Douglas fir trees, the Columbia River winked at us through the branches. At almost every switchback, I stopped to catch my breath while my three companions waited patiently. They chatted comfortably while I concentrated on trying to get oxygen into my body.

With their patience and support, I stuck it out all the way to the top of the mountain. This was the view that awaited us. Breathtaking. Worth every gasping breath up that trail. It was a perfect, sunny day in May. Wildflowers carpeted the alpine meadow. The Columbia River in all its glory was laid out before us. The summits of Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens peeked at us from among the lesser mountains of the Cascade Range.

It was a memorable, life-affirming day. Besides having a grand adventure with old friends, I learned that I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for. I didn’t quit. The sense of accomplishment was incredible.

I love Jillian’s comment: “Fitness is a tool I use to build confidence.…if I’m capable of this, what else can I do?”

I am about 30% toward my goal of losing 95 pounds. As I mentioned in Baggy Pants are Big Fat Liars, I have been slighly tempted to stay where I’m at right now, even though there are clues of much greater things ahead. I feel so much better than I did 30 pounds ago. I feel fantastic. But I haven’t reached my summit. Not even close. What a loss it would be if I were to flake out now. I can do this.

To give myself a tangible goal to work toward, I’m planning another hike up Dog Mountain next May with these friends. I will be lighter and much more fit. I will conquer that mountain in a whole new way.

Tell me about your Dog Mountain. Have you accomplished something you never imagined yourself capable of doing?