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.
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.