Fitness without any meaning
September 8, 2002
For a 51-year-old American male, I have decent abs, fair pecs, middling biceps and youthful glutei. Middle-aged sag is visible in my face, but heroic athletic endeavors have pretty much stalled my aging process.
When I go to the doctor’s office for a checkup, the nurse is complimentary about my low blood pressure and pulse rate. “You won’t stroke out with that,” she said recently while she jotted down the figures on my chart.
Robust health and fitness have not come cheap. If you ask my wife and son, they will refer to me as an athletic “fanatic,” and they’re right. For the last 25 years, I have maintained a regimen of outdoor activity that easily eclipses the time I have spent with my family.
Driven by God knows what, I have pedaled, hiked and skied to every corner of the Elk Range. Starting in Crested Butte in the early 1970s and later moving to Aspen, I have crossed Pearl, Taylor, Schofield, East Maroon, West Maroon, Frigid Air and Star passes under human power more times than I have driven between the two towns.
On a recent bike ride, I experienced a sudden epiphany when I realized how meaningless it all is. I was riding from one point to another with no other purpose than to exert my body and I soberly concluded that leisure recreation has produced only fleeting self-gratification.
If I were a hunter-gatherer of a thousand years ago, there would be a good reason for fitness. Running away from a saber-toothed tiger or slaying a woolly mammoth would be incentive enough. Instead, I do my hunting and gathering at the grocery store simply by pushing a cart up and down the aisles.
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Most of today’s hunters ? of the fluorescent orange variety ? are anything but fit and strong. They rely on vehicles or horses to get their flabby butts up into the mountains, then hire guides to show them what to shoot and from where. They hunt and gather for the fun of it.
Technology has made life pathetically soft for middle-aged Americans who complain about having to rock themselves out of the recliner if the TV remote isn’t within arm’s reach. Occupationally, we have become a nation of button pushers. As a writer, I sit in an office chair and peck away at the keyboard. There are few jobs more sedentary than mine, so I compensate by contrived physical exertions.
I disdain the health-club approach to fitness, so I opt to push a manual lawn mower in the summer, cut and split a few cords of firewood in the fall, and shovel my 100-foot-long driveway in the winter. I’ve become a deluded, suburban survivalist.
In order to feel fully actualized, I ride my mountain bike to Crested Butte and back for lunch, ski to the top of Mt. Sopris, climb 14ers, telemark double-black-diamond runs and pump myself full of enough oxygen and endorphins to maintain a perpetual high.
I am rejuvenated, but for what purpose and at what expense? My life’s work is not geared toward global salvation or even helping the poor, but rather to supporting the physical and psychic health of one insignificant individual ? a mere microbe on the cosmic scale.
I feel good, find a spiritual salve in nature and avoid high medical bills, but have recently been plagued by a nagging sense of futility. The words of Robert Maynard Hutchins ring in my ears: “I’ve never overcome the notion that having fun is a form of indolence.”
If every pedal stroke, footstep and telemark turn had been spent in pursuit of ideas, I might have cultivated something other than endorphins. Maybe I’d feel better if there were a woolly mammoth to slay for the Amana or a saber-toothed tiger to fend off with my lap top.
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