Revenge of the nerd

| 01 May 2012 | 01:54

I’m not a natural-born athlete. I lack strength, speed, agility, balance, and coordination. In the Darwinian precincts of my elementary school gym, I was the “last one picked” — a peculiar subculture chronicled in songs like this:

How many notes have I forged to say,

‘Please excuse Max from gym today,

He wrenched his back His colon’s spastic

He’s got meningitis and his kneecaps are plastic’

Truth is, the dead-last honor usually went to my friend Sally. She knew more about current events than most adults. While the co-captains sorted us out, she’d fill me in. She’d be deep into the migrant workers’ strike or the Six Day War when the gym would go silent. We’d look up, our stick arms hanging at our sides like vestigial appendages, to find the co-captains regarding us with disgust.

Living through such moments hasn’t helped me to connect bat with ball, but it has done wonders for my endurance — the last-one-alive-in-the-bunker-eating-nails kind of endurance that is all you really need to explore the backcountry.

I’d love to take the co-captains on a backcountry trip. We could star in a survivor show, like the ones that pair hippie and redneck to see how they fare eating millipedes. We’d be co-captains and last one picked. I suggested taking them to a polar ice cap. Tom stared at me.

“All that gym stuff happened 40 years ago,” he said.

I asked him what his point was. I practiced my eye-roll in the mirror.

Okay then, I’ll settle for Bearfort Mountain, a beautiful, deceiving ridge in West Milford. Its deep folds, formed when the continents collided, make an up-and-down trip more exhausting than any high peak. Mount Marcy, New York’s tallest, takes 3,000 feet of climbing. The ascent from Warwick Turnpike on the Bearfort Ridge trail is 700 feet, and that’s just the beginning.

The Ernest Walter trail is a jungle gym. You no sooner hoist yourself up one hill than you have to climb down again and then immediately back up. The tougher it gets, the lovelier it gets, until you find yourself in a Middle Earth fantasy of stunted pitch pines and pink sandstone ledges. From these jeweled balconies you can see isolated ponds, the New York City skyline, and an endless Greenwood Lake.

I’ve changed my mind. I really don’t want the co-captains up here. They’re happiest defending goal posts. And I’m happiest on the ridges, which never scoff at your lack of grace, having more than enough for everyone.