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Road Trips, Hikes and Health

by John Moore | August 22, 2010

Thirty-three years ago I headed east with my two brothers on one of those epic road trips, traveling from Colorado Springs to Martha’s Vineyard.  Thirty-three years is a long time. Another road-trip was long overdue, so when I was invited to moderate a panel at the iHt2 conference in Denver, I decided that rather than take the usual flight out and back, I would drive out and reconnect with this country.

Some observations from the road-trip:

This is a very big country that seems to have an endless appetite for corn.  The corn fields begin in Ohio, hit their stride in Indiana and don’t subside until you get to the western half of Nebraska.  Is it any wonder that we find high fructose corn syrup in just about anything we buy at the supermarket? I think not.

Iowa has what appears to be a wonderful, thoughtful culture best expressed through its rest-stops along I-80.  One rest stop focused on the art of the pen, another on good farming practices and the loss of top soil. A third had a mix of themes including an overview of the bicycling opportunities in Iowa.  And those rest-stops have free Wi-fi for those that need their Internet fix and some of the nicest people I met along the road.  I like this state a lot and if they only had the mountains of Colorado or the shores of Massachusetts, I’d pack my bags and be there in a heart beat.

Craigslist’s ride-share is a great way to find someone to share the drive with.  This was a suggestion of my son who had some concerns abut me driving west by myself.  Found someone on ride-share who wanted a ride to Boulder.  We met beforehand (don’t want to be stuck with someone for 3 days in a cocoon of a car driving cross country that you quickly tire of) and the chemistry was right.  We split gas, I paid tolls and she made the meals.  Since I was planning to camp at State Parks along the way, she was fine with tat and had her own tent.  Made the whole experience so much better.  Thanks Danielle.

This is a beautiful country.  I was simply blown-away with how beautiful this country is. Not just the Appalachian hills of Pennsylvania or the mountains of Colorado, but those plains of Nebraska, especially the fields of sunflowers stretching to the horizon.  The soaring whooping cranes I saw over the Interstate in Indiana, the rolling hills of Iowa and the pretty farms of Ohio.

Camping in State Parks is a far better deal and experience than staying in those concrete boxes they call hotels along the Interstate.  In a State Park not only do you see some wonderful sights (Lake Anita outside Des Moines is beautiful with its restored prairie grasses), you meet some really nice people from the local area.  And with an average price of $12/night (yes, they have showers, water etc.) one can travel very inexpensively all you need is a tent and sleeping bag.

It is damn near impossible to get a healthy meal on the road.  Fast food joints dominate the highways of America, be it the toll-road rest stops or what one may find immediately off an exit ramp.  If you want to eat healthy, i.e., fresh veggies, you best bring your own as you won’t find them along the highway.  And if you do stop to grab something to eat, go to the truck-stop cafe – a far better deal and better food than one will find at the fast food chains that litter this country.

Once the event in Denver was over, I headed straight up into the mountains.  After a couple of days acclimating to the higher altitude, it was time to head into the woods and completely disconnect with everything, bringing only what I needed in my pack for the next four days as I hiked up with a friend to the highest hot springs (11,300′ above sea level) in North America.  Some take aways from this hike and others through the Rockies…

I have too much stuff.  Nothing like carrying all you need for a few days to begin to appreciate how little we truly need to live.  Yes, its nice to have nice glasses to drink wine from, clothes that are comfortable with enough variety to fit one’s many moods; but really, how much do I really need to live?  Been trapped in the consumer mentality for a little too long and it is time to simplify.

Nature demands respect.  The day after reaching the hot springs I took a hike up to Triangle Pass, which tops out at ~13k feet.  Once there, saw a narrow trail head up to the top of a peak on my left and decided to ascend it.  The last 50′ or so of vertical gain that I made was on all fours as it was very steep and the rock was lose and “rotten” in sections.  As I was alone, the last thing I wanted to do was take a tumble, a tumble that would not likely end for 400-500 ft.  I made it to about 50′ from the top when I decided to turn back.  Yes, I was disappointed I didn’t “summit” but over the years and many close calls, I have learned to respect nature and this was a perfect example. But the views from where I stopped were so beautiful – I simply soaked them in before, again on all fours, making the descent.

Nature does not reveal herself readily.  There is so much beauty in this world that is right there in front of us to see. Yet similar to needing to be with someone for a period of time to see their inner beauty, one needs to take time with nature, sitting quietly and observing for only then does nature reveal a deeper, richer beauty.

As much as I love the ocean, (my major in college was Ocean Engineering and grad school was Physical Oceanography), the mountains bring to me a certain solace and comfort that I can not find elsewhere.  Not sure if it is their grandeur, the humility that they distill upon one or a combination, one thing I know is that I need to figure out a way to be in the mountains far more than I am today.

Health comes in many forms.  It is physical, it is mental. It is within us, it is without us.  As we embark on transforming the healthcare system in the US through HIT, (HITECH Act), Healthcare Reform, payment reform etc., I’m not convinced we are focusing on the right issues.  Ultimately, we need to focus on the individual and individual responsibility to take better care of themselves and their loved ones.

Traveling across the country one sees a broad cross-section of America and one thing that becomes so apparent is that in certain parts of this country, the local culture does not look at whole body health.  Far too many people are eating far too much, drinking far too much and simply not in a good mental space.  If we do not, as a nation address this issue soon, no amount of payment reform, technology or money that is currently earmarked to transform healthcare delivery in this country will keep us from driving over the proverbial financial cliff that will kill this country’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.

6 responses to “Road Trips, Hikes and Health”

  1. Lovely, John. Thanks. Well timed for me, too, reflecting on life, purpose, and what’s next.

  2. Lisa Suennen says:

    Wow, that was really evocative and great. I can smell the morning dew!

    • John says:

      Thanks Lisa – it really was a memorable and enlightening trip. And to think, so many people thought I was absolutely crazy to drive from Boston to Denver and back. That was such a rich experience and something I would encourage all americans to do about every decade or so – that is go on a multi-day road-trip somewhere in this great land of ours.

  3. Doug says:

    Agree that the focus must return to the individual. However, we should not restrict freedoms (drinking, eating, risky activities like hiking steep mountains). Cost needs to be attched to the activities – not restrict them.

    • John says:

      Good point Doug. Yes, do not mean to just throw everyone into a heap, but as you rightly put it, if one wishes to pursue activities that may be hazardous to their health, then they should likewise take on the added cost. Now the trick is, how does one calculate that cost.

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