Sixty-three people - from aged 4 months to 71 years - joined Jane Bertrand on her highpointing quest. Here they are by state.
Prior to this book, I was an academic who could happily spend Saturdays in my office, working on a peer-reviewed publication or our next grant application. I didn’t worry much about work/life balance, because work was my life. Yes, I had friends, but many lived in distant states or countries. I didn’t feel the need to “hang out” with them, except perhaps to see my childhood friends on the annual August vacation to my home state of Maine.
I hadn't anticipated the happy consequence of this book in terms of social connections. Round 1 was to reach out to so many people to recruit them to hike/highpoint with me. In total, 63 people – ages 4 months to 71 years – joined me on this endeavor. These excursions not only gave us shared time, but more important, shared purpose – to reach the highpoint of a given state – further deepening these friendships.
Round 2 has been re-connecting with people through promotion of the book. By posting to LinkedIn and sending out an e-blast to everyone in my personal and professional email contacts list, I have heard from former students and colleagues I hadn’t seen for decades.
Round 3 involved inviting the 63 people who highpointed with me to a book launch party in New Orleans on December 29, 2018, which coincided with my 70th birthday; 37 showed up, along with some other "characters" in the book and spouses. My good friend/neighbor hosted a delightful cocktail party, complete with a professional violinist, in her uptown Victorian home. From there the 50 guests proceeded to a nearby hall for a catered buffet dinner, group photo, and program. Some 20 of my “highpointing recruits” regaled the audience with tales of adventure, including bear sightings, loss of GPS connectivity, lack of signage, muddy trails, snowfields, and tent loss, among other obstacles encountered in our pursuit of highpoints.
As detailed in the book, highpointing transformed my lifelong inclination to stay fit into an obsession. I hadn’t anticipated how much it would strengthen my social ties with friends and family. The obstacles to reaching the highpoints deepened these relationships. Most of my highpointing recruits did not know one another before the book launch; having them come together and meet each other on my 70thbirthday was the frosting on the cake.
When I started the quest in 2009 to climb a mountain in every state, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I might ever make it into a book. Nor did the idea come to me during the five years of lackluster progress that followed, during which I reached only 11 highpoints, most of which were “easy.”
With the new year approaching in 2015, I decided it was time to revive this project. As I lay in bed one morning, contemplating the upcoming road trip with my daughter and her friend from the Netherlands to Louisiana’s highpoint, the idea of the book came to me. When it did, I knew immediately - I’d do it. I write a lot in connection with my work on international family planning – academic articles, field reports – so it wasn’t a foreign idea. But I’d never written on anything outside work.
Starting with Louisiana in January 2015, I began writing up each highpoint soon after completing it. I found it far easier to write these accounts when things went wrong, and Louisiana – despite being the third lowest highpoint in the U.S. at 535 feet – provided me with good material. To this day, friends can’t imagine that we “failed” to reach Louisiana’s highpoint on the first attempt.
It was harder to go back and retroactively capture the highpoints completed during those first six years. Fortunately, my sister Liz had written in her journal every evening for the past 40 years, and she was able to re-create the scene for three of those states: Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Thanks to her journal, we were reminded that we had doubts if we’d actually reached the highpoint in Maryland (we had not), creating the story line for a return to that state with my husband Bill seven years later.
As I worked with the book designer on the layout of the book including the organization of different sections of the text, we struggled to find a title for the final section. I wanted to summarize at the end of my quest, what had it all meant?
Because this final few pages of text came after my account of the last highpoint completed, my book designer recommended that we label it “the epilogue.“ In contrast to the 95% of issues on which she and I were in total agreement, I balked at this title from the start. By the third time she repeated this suggestion, I had finally figured out why I didn’t want to use this label. Yes, I’d just finished #46 and explained in the book why #47-50 were beyond my physical capacity. Yet I couldn’t squelch the hope that maybe – someday – I’d be able to reach at least one or more of these four remaining highpoints. Denali in Alaska remains totally out of consideration, even in my most elaborate fantasies. Yet what about the highpoints of Washington? Montana? Wyoming? The well-known refrain set in: “If I’d done #46, why not try #47…?” If I realistically thought I could successfully summit any of them, I wouldn’t have ended the quest and written the book at #46. Yet hope springs eternal.
No, we couldn’t label the final section “epilogue.” We needed to keep it in reserve for future use.
In this day and age, hard as we try, it is virtually impossible to resist the magnetic attraction of all of our devices. In the elevator, waiting in line at the grocery store, or between tasks at the office, there’s always the temptation to check one's cell phone or email. Similarly, it’s hard to escape the constant barrage of political bickering, whichever side of the divide you were on. Highpointing - especially in the states that require real hiking - provides one of the best possible antidotes to these realities of modern life.
Over the past decade, Jane Trowbridge Bertrand combined her new-found love of highpointing with her academic career at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans. She travels six times a year to sub-Saharan Africa in connection with her work in international family planning.