Welcome Jane Bertrand – hiker extraordinaire!

I thought I was pretty adventuresome when I hiked down and up the Grand Canyon at age seventy-six – a feat I had put first on my Bucket List nine years before.

Well, Jane Bertrand’s proclamation of wanting to reach the high point in every one of our fifty United States certainly beat me out. And I’m happy to say I was very glad to read  her memoir You Started What After 60?: Highpointing across America about her extraordinary accomplishment. Please welcome Jane during her WOW! Women on Writing virtual book tour. 

Here Jane Bertrand traces her love of hiking back to Girl Scout Camp Natarswi, located at the foot of Katahdin in Maine, the Northern terminus for the Appalachian trail.

After attending college out-of-state, she would return annually for her two-week sacrosanct vacation in Maine.  Over the years she would continue to climb Katahdin, first with her sisters, later with her own children, and finally with adult friends who shared her love of the mountain.

Yet not until age 60 did it occur to her to expand her annual expedition up Katahdin to a quest to reach the highpoints of the fifty states. When she started this project of “climbing a mountain in every state,” little did she realize that the highpointers have a club, foundation, website, and annual convention.

During most of her adult life, Bertrand stayed in shape by jogging three times a week, but she was no elite athlete. When at age sixty she began her highpointing pursuit, she got off to a lackluster start, achieving only eleven high points in the first six years, and almost all of those were “easy.” As she advanced to her mid-sixties, the race against time began. Despite minor setbacks with runner’s knee and bunions, she pushed ahead – her interest in highpointing evolving into an obsession and finally an addiction. As she faced mountains of increasing difficulty – that she had unwisely left to the end – she accelerated her exercise routine in hopes of meeting the challenge.

Initially, she assumed that her full-time job at Tulane University, both teaching classes and traveling to Africa in connection with her international family planning work, would be a deterrent to reaching the highest point of every state. Midway through this journey, she realized it was actually a facilitator, as she traveled through different Delta hubs en route to her work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Over the course of this decade-long pursuit, Bertrand recruited over fifty family members, colleagues, and childhood friends to accompany her on this journey. They ranged in age from four months to seventy-one years. Some she hadn’t seen for over forty years, others she met on the day they highpointed together.

Bertrand initially ruled out any mountain that would involve technical climbing requiring a harness, rope, ice axe, or helmet. But as the remaining mountains on her list increased in difficulty, she had no choice but to bite the bullet and harness up.  Her story describes the exhilaration and sense of accomplishment of pushing harder and reaching further than she expected possible. Yet it also recounts the humbling experience of getting lost more than once and dragging down the final miles, even after successfully summiting one of the hardest mountains – with every muscle in her body screaming “this is why sixty-nine-year olds should not be climbing Mt. Hood.”

***

Here is my review of You Started What After 60?

You Started What after 60? Highpointing across America is a book about persistence, perseverance, strength, athleticism, guts, obsession and in the author’s own word – addiction. When Bertrand decided at age sixty that she would experience the highpoint summits across America, she casually eliminated ones that she felt were too high or too hard to navigate. She started slowly, going to the easy ones first – such as in Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana where the peaks weren’t even one thousand feet high. Some she just drove up to; some she faux climbed, but slowly but surely she started checking them off her list.

One of the things I found very interesting is that as she got more involved in completing this bucket list item, she went back to highpoints she had skipped in favor of climbing an alternate peak because it was easier.  And she succeeded in hiking up peaks she had originally crossed off her list to begin with. They were too high, they were too cold, they had too much snow, they required camping overnight. Those were some of her reasons for crossing them off. In the end, she only missed four out of the fifty highpoints across America. She started this adventure at age sixty and completed as much as she was going to complete ten years later. What a feat!

This book is not a literary work of art. It is reporting pure and simple. In fact, when I looked for her personal feelings as she was hiking and a portrayal about how her body felt I couldn’t find them, except in a few asides that she enclosed in boxes outside of the main text. However, finally toward the end of the book she writes how she worried about her bothersome knee and if it would affect achieving her goal. It didn’t.

Throughout she does write about her work and how her trips to business meetings in America and abroad were instrumental in getting her enough frequent flier mileage so she could go on her highpointing trips. She also tells us stories about the friends and relatives she recruited to accompany her on many of her climbs. She only hired professional guides to help her on five climbs. She explains at the very end of the book why her highpointing adventure was so rewarding:

“It combined what I loved most in life: traveling to discover new places, experiencing the exhilaration of the great outdoors, pushing my own physical limits, and sharing this adventure with the people who had meant the most to me over a lifetime.”

You Started What after 60? Highpointing across America by Jane T. Bertrand is a must read – especially if you are an athlete and want to have a great adventure.

About the book:

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Walnut Park Press (November 16, 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1732847703
  • ISBN-13: 978-1732847705
  • Amazon Link

About Jane Trowbridge Bertrand:

Jane  Bertrand is a professor at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. A Maine native, she moved to New Orleans over forty 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.

Jane Bertrand received her B.A. (French) from Brown University in 1971, her PhD (Sociology) from the University of Chicago in 1976, and her MBA from Tulane University in 2001.

She has come to love her adopted city: the jazz, the food, the beauty of Spanish moss and tropical plants. She is also a member of the all-female Krewe of Muses, a group that parades every year during Mardi Gras.

Find Jane Online:

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1785116.Jane_T_Bertrand?from_search=true

Twitter:  @JaneBertrand8

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/JaneBertrandAuthor/

Website:  https://www.janebertrand.com/

Comments

  1. Thanks, Madeline, for this thoughtful review of my book. I particularly appreciated your (correct) observation that “this is not a literary work of art,” and that you had to struggle to find the human side of the person climbing all these mountains. Your complimentary statements elsewhere in the review carry far more weight when you balance them with objective critique, as you have done. I was lucky enough to have my sister (an English major/author/memoirs writer) serve as my primary editor, and she also commented on the lack of emotion in sections of the book and my prosaic choice of words (“go read some poetry for inspiration”). I’m not the type of climber who likes to smell the roses along the way, and my writing style reflects that same tendency to just “get to the point.” Yet you correctly captured the joy and rewards of this late-in-life adventure. BTW, I’d give yourself more credit to hiking the Grand Canyon at age 76!

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Jane, and for clarifying why you didn’t put much about your emotional life as you were climbing in your book. And thank you for your comments about my Grand Canyon hike. Yes, I felt pretty good about accomplishing that.
      I have friend who likes to hike, and I plan to pass your book along to her. I’m sure it will be quite a motivator.
      I wish you huge success with You Started What after 60? Madeline

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