We don’t know if we’d called it a “second career,” but it was certainly a new pursuit when Jane Bertrand of New Orleans decided to become a mountaineer. Because she’d never done anything like it before. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction in her book about this new pursuit, a terrific story of boomer persistence.
The year I turned 60, I was itching for a new challenge. I loved hiking, but the highest peak in my adopted state of Louisiana was only 535 feet. Was this the genesis of the idea to climb a mountain in every state? Little did I know that “highpointing” (attempting to reach the highest point in the 50 United States) was a well-established pastime with its own club, website, and annual convention.
The idea was appealing for multiple reasons. Although my career in international family planning/public health had taken me to over 80 countries around the world, I had traveled relatively little in the United States. Hiking would contribute to my lifelong effort of trying to stay fit. This project would allow me to reach out and reconnect with people in my past who were now scattered across the United States. And there was also just a bit of “equal time” to my husband Bill’s regular excursions to far-flung places.
There were a few constraints in this pursuit, the first of which was my full-time job as a professor at Tulane University. I had selected a pursuit in which Bill would not be a partner. And I have an abnormally bad sense of direction, which presented an occupational hazard for getting to and from the summit.
In an informal discussion with my financial advisor, I mentioned in passing that I was trying to reach the highpoint of as many states as I could. He changed from his usual nonprescriptive approach to a highly directive style in discussing this plan. “Jane, you have to start with the hardest mountains.” (Implication: you’re no spring chicken…) Although surprised that he weighed in on the topic, I quickly realized that his job was to ensure that his clients reached their goals (financial or otherwise), and he was taking this responsibility seriously. Didn’t he realize that I didn’t really have to summit all these mountains? I was simply enjoying the aspirational goal. Apparently, he knew me better than I knew myself. Over time, it became my obsession.
Despite my ingrained tendency to plan and organize, I began this undertaking with no masterplan. I had no idea of how long it would take, whom I could recruit to go with me, how much it would cost, how long I would continue to enjoy good health, and how I would hold up on the truly challenging mountains. I got off to a lackluster start, opportunistically looking for chances to add a highpoint here and there, often in connection with other travel to a “new” state. Five years into this pursuit and by then age 65, I had only checked off 11 states, almost all the them “easy.” As I neared the midpoint of my quest, I realized that I’d done this backwards – starting with the easy ones, leaving the hardest for last.
Only then did the slow race against time begin.
Jane’s book is called, “You Started WHAT After 60? Highpointing Across America.”