Monday, January 7, 2019

Book Review: You Started WHAT After 60?

Before I began reading You Started WHAT After 60? Highpointing Across America by Jane T. Bertrand, I had never heard of highpointing. Not to be confused with mountaineering, highpointing (so says Wikipedia) is the sport of ascending to the point with the highest elevation within a given area (the “highpoint”). Examples include: climbing the highest point of each U.S. state; reaching the highest point of each county within a specific state; and ascending the highest mountain on each continent (the “Seven Summits”). To many armchair travelers or couch potatoes who consider themselves fit, why would anyone want to climb the highest point of each U.S. state? The author herself states she hadn’t slept in a tent or on the ground for 40 years! It seems the author’s family has a grueling tradition of doing something extraordinary on a special birthday.

The year Jane turned 60 was the year she decided to meet the highpointing challenge she had set herself, after considerations of health, and available options should she be unable to meet her first location goal. Planning, organizing, and reading on the topic were just a few of the preparations. Plus, Jane admits to two major weaknesses: lack of technological know-how and poor navigational skills (I know the feeling!). Once the challenge had begun, Jane then decided she had to make up for lost time…

Jane lays out the challenges in a chronological order with the number of the highpoint, location, date, and level of difficulty. Her highpointing adventure was not without health issues (a gammy knee and bunions) and Jane had to work around those. This could all make for dry reading, but Jane has a lovely conversational style, chatty and down to earth, and she mixes in details of family, friends, life events, and activities that took place around the highpointing expeditions. By the time one reaches the end of the book, Jane has become as familiar as a longtime friend and the reader feels part of the family. Photos interspersed in the text also put names to faces and make the book reader-friendly.

While some of the highpoints read like the proverbial pleasant walk in the park, others make the mind boggle, especially if you’re an armchair traveler or a couch potato (as mentioned above). This activity is not for the faint-hearted (bear spray?). When the author says she had to “get serious” about highpointing (which requires reaching the absolute, definitive highpoint, not just “getting close”), one can sense the adrenalin and, perhaps, the obsession kicking in. Jane’s sister Liz happens to be an avid journaler and these details came in very hand when Jane decided to start putting her experiences down on paper.

Jane includes references to other books on highpointing which could be useful to anyone considering taking up this challenge. Each highpoint experience is described in detail and this gives the reader an extraordinary view of the many beautiful places in the U.S., places that many of us would have neither the time nor energy to experience. I am not an avid hiker, mountaineer, or any kind of adrenalin junkie. I don’t think I’d have Jane’s stamina, courage, or confidence to embark upon what could sometimes be incredibly dangerous ventures, should the weather turn bad, for example. However, Jane’s exceptionally detailed, informative, and highly entertaining account is inspiring for many. It can be done. A ‘life experience’ must-read for anyone planning to do something very special as an adventure, and you don’t have to wait for a special occasion or be 60 to do it. Jane’s final reflections on the home stretch are interesting, honest, and illuminating. Read this book, even if you have no intention of climbing anything except the nearest gentle slope.
About the Author:
Jane T.Bertrand is a professor at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, where she splits her time between teaching in New Orleans and managing research on Tulane's family planning projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  A Maine native, she moved to New Orleans over 40 years ago where she and her husband Bill raised their children, Katy and Jacob. Her recurrent travel to Africa in connection with international family planning work generated many of the frequent flyer miles that made this highpointing pursuit possible.

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