Back to Fitness: That Hill…


By John Andersen

In many ways, I was a dumb kid in high school and college. I smoked cigarettes for about 6 years and drank way too much. I always get uncomfortable and somewhat ashamed when I admit that because, well, it was stupid! I was living the classic “no consequences” life, not thinking at all about how my current life choices could affect my future health.

Fortunately, I grew up and found a wonderful woman who inspired me to get my act together. After college, I moved to Blacksburg for veterinary school, met Michelle, and found Brush Mountain.

While in vet school in Blacksburg, I had a classmate who asked me if I wanted to go mountain biking. Biking was my main mode of transport in college, so even though my lungs and cardiovascular system were pathetic, my legs were in decent shape (I thought.)  And when he described how fun it was biking down the mountain trails, I was intrigued.

We arrived at Pandapas Pond just outside of Blacksburg at the foot of Brush Mountain. In order to get the thrilling downhill ride on “The Beast” trail as it was called, we had to climb all the way up the mountain on our mountain bikes. Was I in for a rude awakening! Very quickly I learned how out of shape I was. At the first prolonged section of climb, my lungs felt like they were exploding and my legs went dead. I had to get off my bike and walk.  I was trying to save some face, but that climb up to the top of Brush Mountain was very difficult and discouraging for me, especially since I was with someone else who was making it look rather easy.

After a lot of time and patience on my buddy’s end, we finally made it to the top of The Beast—a several-mile, technical downhill trail that sped down Brush Mountain. I should add here that my “mountain bike” was a really crummy bike. It was heavy, had no shocks or fancy pedal clips, and was just some junk I bought from someone in college.

But when I took that hunk-o-junk down The Beast, and felt gravity pull me down that trail, I was hooked. What a thrill! I loved everything about zooming down that mountain trail—feeling every bump, being only half in control, and grabbing my handlebars and brakes so hard that my hands were cramping. The whole experience was very moving to me. Why had I never gotten out in these mountains before?

I slowly turned into a mountain biker. I would head back to Brush Mountain regularly and do that loop.  But that hill never got flatter.

The first several times I went back to Brush Mountain, I saw that hill as an obstacle to my fun downhill riding.  “Let’s get this over with” was my mantra. I hated that hill. It constantly defeated me, demanding I get off my bike and walk, gasping for air.

But I kept at it, and soon enough I could ride a little further up that hill before I had to get off and walk. I noticed this.

Slowly, with a lot of hard work, I began to see that hill differently. Bombing down The Beast was always a thrill, but my relationship with Brush Mountain changed. “The Hill” started to become the main attraction. As I kept coming back, I became more fit. I was seeing the tangible effects of my persistence. I was making it about halfway up that hill without stopping.

I would still see the fast guys with the fancy bikes and gear just plow up that hill right past me while I rested, but I never let that discourage me. It was about me vs. the hill. Really, it was about me vs. the old me. For the first time in a long time, I was building my health and fitness, not dragging it down or letting it get stale.

Brush Mountain had been there for a long, long time. I didn’t have to visit it or climb it. But it represented a new personal challenge. There was literally a mountain in the way of a life of destructive behaviors, and a life of growth and revival. Would I head out to the mountain today? Or stay home?

I chose the mountain more and more often and soon climbed to the top without stopping.  And soon I was the one bringing friends who weren’t in shape to give it a try. It never got easier. I just became more capable.

Will it be too cliché and predictable to say that we all have our own Brush Mountain looming right in front of us? Life is full of rewarding personal challenges, if we are willing to take them on and work hard towards their completion. Many times, we are busy focusing on where our feet currently stand and we forget to look up. Or we may see the mountain off in the distance but never even consider that we could be on top of it.

Look around. There are mountains all around us, both literally and figuratively. Go spend some time there. Bring a friend.


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