“Honey - lets retire and move to the mountains and live close to the land. Just a small cabin is all we will need for the two of us and you know how much we love the mountains."
I wonder how many times this has been said over the years. I know I said it many years ago and quite honestly neither of us have regretted a minute of following through on it. It is not for everyone, however. Having lived full time in the mountains at 9,780 feet elevation in a mostly remote area for 17 years, I will try to offer some insights for others' consideration before they make the jump into a rewarding but demanding lifestyle.
Rigors of Mountain Living
For example, if you are moving from a lower elevation to one on the side of a mountain you may want to consider that there is a condition known as altitude sickness. Moving around more deliberately and slowly is something that needs to be employed in the lower oxygen of high altitude. Living in that small cabin requires a lot of work that is not experienced in other environs. Mountains are made mostly out of rock and at least in our location they are always in the way and need to be moved. We heat with a wood stove so we need to have at least 9-11 cords of firewood on hand for our winters which are seven months long. We average 264 feet of snow each winter and that needs to be moved out of the way and is constantly being repositioned by the wind. These are only a few of the rigors of mountain living and require a high level of fitness. Also consider that as you grow older you lose muscle mass therefore making routine tasks harder to perform.
Beyond the obvious hardships of weather and endless work, living in the mountains like we do requires a high level of physical fitness. I started lifting weights when I was a child by using two milk jugs full of sand. If I wanted to add weight I added water. I was a skinny kid and like most children my parents told me if I got in a fight that I would get a fanny warming when I got home. Being skinny I was picked on and bullied, which is why I started weightlifting. My arms looked like toothpicks with a tiny knot in the middle. After coming home with torn clothing, black eyes and skinned up knees and elbows from being pushed down and bullied several days in a row my parents finally said I could fight back. I did and wasn’t bullied again. I guess today that would be frowned upon.
I never stopped lifting weights and have spent a lifetime keeping my muscles toned. There are two objectives in lifting weights: one is body sculpting, which requires less weight but more repetitions. The other is using more weight for strength conditioning. I chose the strength aspect and went from those early milk jugs to an Olympic weight set which I finally sold last year. I get enough exercise cutting and splitting firewood, shoveling the roughly 25 feet of snow we receive each winter and moving rocks around.
I would recommend lifting weights to keep muscles strong and supple. You will gain a little weight as muscle tissue weighs more but you will carry it better. If it were not for good muscle tone and keeping fit, living here for 17 years would not have been a possibility. We have seen many attempt our chosen form of life and fail because the demands are never ending, and to properly handle them you need to stay fit.
Before you embark on lifting weights, however, I would suggest some important cautions. First, make sure you have medical clearance to undertake this demanding exercise. Join a group that has been doing it for a while because they will have found the correct techniques so you lessen your chances of getting injured. They will also encourage you and be there to spot for you when you are balancing large weights over your head. If you can’t find a group then find an experienced trainer to train you. The cost is well worth it and with trainer experience you can sometimes join experienced groups which otherwise wouldn’t want to take time in training you.
Over the years I have met some really good people in gyms. I have worked out with professional football players who have access to the very best trainers and professional weightlifters who will not let you develop bad habits or hurt yourself. I have worked out in groups with people from all walks of life and I have rarely found people who are rude or nasty. Those types generally end up working out by themselves as they don’t fit into dedicated groups.
Mountain Living Dependent on Being Physically Fit
Living where and how we do would not even be possible if I had not spent a lifetime working out with weights and staying fit. For many years I also ran jogging tracks at the rate of about 15-18 miles a week. Between the running and weight lifting I am now able to cope with the rigorous tasks of mountain living. Over a lifetime of weight lifting and running I have had injuries along the way but—having been blessed with a very high pain threshold—I have been able to deal with them or work right through them. The worst was a blown knee that happened when my regular workout partner was unable to make it one time. A semi-pro football player encouraged me to adjust my stance doing squats and just that fast I blew a knee. Painful lesson learned and it reassured me that I needed to stick with proper techniques from people whom I trusted and not deviate from the right way to lift. Just moving your toes out an inch can cause major damage so it is real important you are taught the right way and stick with it and not experiment or be swayed into change by those you do not know.
It takes physical endurance and muscle power to live as we have chosen to live. Now in our 70s we are able to both live this lifestyle because of preparation and staying fit earlier in life. If you are coming from a desk job or semi-physical job to mountain living, it is my personal experience that you need to be physically fit before you make the plunge.
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to:
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.