The story below is an excerpt from our Nov./Dec. 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Beth Macy, a journalist based in Roanoke, Va., is the author of “Factory Man: How One Furniture-Maker Fought Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Saved an American Town,” (Little, Brown & Co.). It will become an HBO miniseries, produced by Tom Hanks.
Beth Macy and Tom Landon
Beth Macy and Tom Landon on Mill Mountain with rescue dogs Charley and Mavis.
As chill-seeking pilgrimages go, my little mountain in the middle of my small city is not the most obvious. At just 1,740 feet, Mill Mountain is a baby bump amid the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s tucked along the outline of a geological thumbprint that surrounds Roanoke, Virginia, where its true claim to fame is the gloriously tacky jewel adorning its peak: the world’s largest neon star.
But Mill Mountain has become a balm to me, a kind of walking worry doll for my 24-year marriage. Ten years ago, on the eve of my 40th birthday, I was staring down the threat of type II diabetes. I was working too hard at a mostly sedentary job.
At home, I was often too busy checking work e-mail to ever fully disengage. I fretted at not being with the people I love most: my husband, Tom, and our two teenage sons.
I returned to my first love for help: sweat. There was almost no fitness trend I didn’t take on, from hot yoga and tai chi to cycling and gluten-free. The most extreme ended not in buoyed health but in damaged appendages. “Pulverized,” the hand surgeon said of the bones in my left hand after a mountain-bike tumble.
“Add more weight to your hang-cleans!” admonished the CrossFit instructor 20 years my junior. I did, promptly ripping my right rotator cuff.
Running was too hard on my right heel – “plantar fasciitis,” the orthopedist labeled the throbbing heel pain.
“You’re no spring chicken,” my octogenarian mother scolded. At 45, I was still 10 pounds overweight, and my blood-glucose levels were borderline high. Plus, for all of my fads, I now had the unencumbered use of only one appendage – my left foot.
Still, I could walk, and with hills dotting my every vista, it seemed silly not to. My husband, still skinny but with a burgeoning beer belly, was keen to join me on the trails of Mill Mountain, 10 minutes from our house. ...