Them thar hills


For better or worse, I live in an area of steep hills, and have done for some time now.

Maybe it was all those years of growing up in the flatlands; maybe 18 years of staring out into nowhere and seeing the end of it from my bedroom window with no obstructions got to me, but I left my hometown for one of the hilliest places in North America, and left it a second time for another. (Okay, okay, it's no San Francisco. But compared to Chicago? Please.)

The dirty little secret of living in a hilly area like Los Angeles is that, with careful planning, much of the hilliness can be avoided (unlike Ithaca, where, well, you're hosed if you want to get anywhere.) You learn to take the gently sloping routes up to Sunset instead of La Cienega; you live in the flats, rather than the hills.

Over here to My Country House (aka The BF's), hills are a little harder to avoid, albeit with even more circuitous routes. While I've been walking Every Goddamned Morning with the dog for some time now, the route is blissfully flat most of the way. There's just one hilly bit slightly over halfway home that kicks my ass, but I can take it slowly, or just go around it: civic planning or good, old Ma Nature made the other side of that stretch of street much more old-lady-friendly.

Since we started folding The BF into our merry band, though, something interesting happened. At first, the something was just that it took longer. Some of us are early risers and others aren't, and while I'd never thought of myself as being in the former camp, having to roust 200 lbs. of sleepy boy out of bed taught me I'm definitely not in the latter.

Once we hit that steep patch, though, something weird happened: Boy Genes kicked in. Boy Genes are that thing that makes boys suddenly race each other on bikes or, as Paula Poundstone famously put it, jump up to smack an awning because it's there. Every day, we'd get to the steep patch and The BF, sleepy and lagging behind most of the way, would kick into high gear as if by magic and start wailing up that hill. Which made Arnie pull hard on the leash (he suffers from Have to Be First disease), so that I'd have to let him go, and the two of them would race up that hill, neck in neck (sort of), and wait it out for lazybones me to make the top, a-huffin' and a-puffin' like I was fixing to blow some pig's house down. Or collapse from an acute myocardial infarction.

You'd think this would get easier, since we were doing it every day. But it didn't. It was just hard and embarrassing every day. Every single goddamned day.

Until today, when it was a little easier.

Over the weekend, you see, we changed it up a little. I had an errand to run on Saturday and we had a party to go to on Sunday and, because we could, and because we knew we should, and (being honest here), on at least one of the days we may or may not have given ourselves a trip to the good coffee place as incentive, we did. Said errands involved walking up the super-steep hill that separates our cool area from the other cool area, so we did. Twice. Including the Mother of All Silver Lake Slopes, the south side of Micheltorena. I swear, it looks like a ski run made of asphalt. And it walks like one, halfway up, as it is kicking your weak ass, you wish you'd taken the chair lift. You do it, though, because you have committed to it, and also because what else are you going to do: walk back down once you're halfway up?

In my sloth of the past four-plus years, or rather, in my choice to push other cocksucking boulders up different motherfucking hills, I'd forgotten both the value and the payback of pushing myself a little beyond my comfort zone. You feel good and you feel better. Because you did something hard and you made it easier to do something hard the next time. Today, it was easier to walk up that little bit of hill. In fact, I was able to walk it as quickly as The BF and the dog, barely breaking a sweat.

I'm no dummy, well, not so much of one that I can't see where this is headed. If I want to stay fit, I will need to keep challenging myself. There is no "done" with this any more than there is with writing or thinking or growing. You can't grow in place; you need hills.

Cocksucking, motherfucking hills.

Coincidentally, I'm returning to the actual, physical hills of my college days this week, the first time I've done so in almost 25 years. Those hills kicked my ass when I showed up in town, a 17-year-old looking to do the next thing. It'll be interesting to interact with them 30 years later, and see how they kick my ass today.

On the other hand, I'm kind of looking forward to seeing how my head and heart do while I'm there. As I recall, they were pretty weak and formless 30 years ago, subject to a lot of random ass-kicking by whatever obstacle was place in their path. Them thar hills? I think I'll do alright on...


Photo © 2009 Vincent Travisano, taken during a visit with his son, who will be Cornell Engineering Class of 2014. Congratulations, Paul, and good luck with your hills!