Mountain Passages: Heavy Thoughts

Bear makes a commitment to lose some weight, but after sports, a divorce, running, backcountry ski patrol, and a handful of other scheme have failed, can iPhone photos really do the trick? By Alan Stark

As an adult (a term with infinite definitions) the most I ever weighed was 236 pounds and the least was 175. Right now I weigh 206 pounds and have every intention of getting to 190 pounds.

Fat chance.

Unfortunately, weight loss is all self-delusion and general horse pucky. The real truth is that in spite of the multi-billion dollar weight loss cartel and its various bromides, exercise regimens, supplements and snake oil, group think positivism, nutritional hocus pocus, and even surgical procedures, it is almost impossible to lose weight and keep it off.

The first time I decided to loose weight was as a roly-poly 16-year-old. It had become obvious to me that no one wanted to date Fat Albert; that if I weighed less I might get a date. So I counted calories and wrote down what I ate and lost twenty pounds.

So there I was at five-ten or so and weighing 160 and still dateless. Weight was only part of my dating problem, acne residue, terminal shyness, and no car were contributing factors. By the time I reached my adult height of 6 feet, I weighed 180.

The next plan was to lose weight by playing sports. My Dad stressed a number of practical and philosophical skills and points of view to me and my older sister. One personal philosophy took on more importance than any other—it was an unrestrained and fierce independence. Team sports are all about transcending oneself to become part of a greater whole. No surprise that team sports pretty much eluded me.

My problem was independent thinking. Take football for example. I played guard and had two jobs. First, protect the quarterback and second, make a hole for the running back. But I could see it was usually a linebacker disrupting most of our plays. And it was clear to me that if I knocked down a linebacker repeatedly, our plays would go a good deal better. But I wasn’t doing the team thing, I was free-lancing and spent an inordinate amount of time on the bench as a result.

The afternoon practices made me stronger but no slimmer. I didn’t get to play much.

And then there was lacrosse. I went to junior high and high school in Maryland where lacrosse, like fly fishing in Montana, is sort of a religion. In most states, a five or six-year-old kid gets a baseball glove or bat for his birthday. In Maryland it’s a lacrosse stick. I was late to the game, starting at sixteen.

But I loved lacrosse because it was mostly mayhem and clearing the ball downfield while people were bashing each other with sticks. I played crease defense in front of the goalie. I could watch a play form-up at midfield. I could pick the player most likely to shoot and hope that he came at me because I was bigger, although not as fast, but 100 per cent committed to taking the ball away from him. I did okay in lacrosse but ended up playing club lacrosse because I simply wasn’t good enough to play for the university.

But did I lose weight? Nope, I actually gained weight, possibly muscle. Lacrosse practices usually started with either a slow five mile run or a half hour of intense wind sprints that taught me how to run, something I have done ever since, mostly on trails.

The running continued as I started a career, spent some time as a guest of the military, and got married to a person who became a lawyer. Running was sort of my sanity. I could get all wired-up about the job and then go out and put up some miles and come back not giving much of a shit about the job until I went to work the next day.


My next weight loss scheme came when the lawyer and I split. I had smoked a little since college, maybe half a pack a day and then quit. That didn’t work so well so I took up smoking a pipe in my late twenties. I thought I was pretty sophisticated looking with my pipe when, more likely, I just looked like a dick.

My post-divorce weight loss program was to smoke my pipe and run uphill from Table Mesa to NCAR and back down every day. I was trashed from the hard uphill and pounding downhill, often so trashed that I forgot to eat dinner. I was thirty some years old, and somewhat of a skeleton at 175.

And then I fell in love a couple of times. The second time stuck and I married Blue Eyes. I learned to love to cook. We bought a house and got a dog. Domestic life is rewarding. You have this partner with whom you get to travel through time, often laughing at the dumb stuff like dealing with bankers, and loving the beautiful stuff like a rainy November day in the gardens of Kyoto. Problem is, while my life got better, I managed to go from 175 to 236 over twenty years. All my fault.

Since high school I have always run something 700 to 1,000 miles a year, sometimes more, almost always on trails. As the pounds piled on the running got harder but I was still out there. Then my running partner and I got this wild idea that we’d try the Atkins diet where you could eat just about anything you wanted so long as it wasn’t a carbohydrate. What a great idea. I got down to 205 pounds but I had absolutely no endurance. There was nothing in the tank. A simple five-mile trail run would seem like it went on forever in glue.

I stopped the Atkins diet and gained back twenty pounds in less than a month.

Every since when it was time to take some weight off I just cut back on drinking and sweets and portion sizes and kept things in the 210 to 215 range. But then I started working as a volunteer backcountry ski patroller.

gearLet’s say that last winter I was at 210 and that my AT skis, boots, and clothing added 15 pounds, that’s 225. Add a 20 pound pack that included a shovel, probe, transceiver, bivy bag and liner, air mattress, radio, and first aid gear and I was weighing-in at 245 and trying to move uphill at 10,000 feet. It was hard. I was always the slowest backcountry patroller.

Starting in May my large sister in Vancouver and I agreed to work together using Fitbits to lose weight with a weekly Friday weigh-in that includes iPhone photos of the scale so there can be no cheating. It’s actually worked so far. While we had planned to be down 20 or so pounds by now, we’ve both lost and kept off at least ten pounds in about the same number of weeks. Half good.

But here’s the deal: I’ve got to get to 190 before snowfall if I’m going to make it through the next backcountry patrol season.

Fat Chance.

Alan Stark is a free-lance writer, volunteer backcountry ski patroller, and recovering book publisher who lives with this Blue Eyed person and her dog in Boulder and Breckenridge.

16 thoughts on “Mountain Passages: Heavy Thoughts”

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    7. Jag håller med dig i dina synpunkter på boken. I det här fallet tror jag det blivit mer spännande och angeläget om författaren valt en annan form än att tvinga in historien i en thrillerkostym. Förra boken var mer spännande.

  1. Good luck!

    It’s tough, I know. I’m early thirties with a desk job, 6 month old, and a love of good beer. Running is also what keeps me sane and not too overweight.

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