By Ron Scopelliti

First there is a mountain…

Readers of a certain age may be able to relate to my goal for the next few months: I need to get more exercise. My aging, metabolically-challenged, cholesterol-clogged body demands it. Plus exercise is supposed to be good for controlling anxiety, and with the apocalyptic threat of a Trump presidency, I need all the help I can get.

Unfortunately, most forms of exercise really annoy me. I know it would be eminently practical to drive five minutes to a gym and work out on high-tech machines that are engineered for optimum results, but I just can’t get into it.

And I also can’t get into walking around the high school track. Maybe it’s the lack of scenery or the repetition. Or maybe it’s the flashbacks to the high school era. I can’t go back there and relive memories of The Eagles, and green polyester track suits, and people at stoplights in their T-top Trans-Ams singing along to the “Freebird” guitar solo.

So a couple of Tuesdays ago I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to seek out an exercise setting that enhanced my spirit as much as it decreased my cholesterol. I needed to find a mountain and hike to the summit.

It’s admittedly not as efficient as buying a used Gazelle off Craigslist and working out in my basement, but there’s something appealing about going to an eons-old, several-thousand-foot-high mound of dirt and rock, and using it as fitness equipment. Plus it eliminates the comically embarrassing possibility that I’d answer a Craigslist ad for a gazelle, and it would be for the animal instead of the exercise machine.

Taking my lead from the Dead Kennedy’s album title “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death,” I decided to hike the closest and least intimidating mountain I could find: Mount Wachusett. I was also influenced by the mountain’s proximity to an Arby’s. There’s no better way to celebrate the completion of a healthy, back-to-nature cardio workout than with red meat and curly fries.

As it turns out, the mountain offered some surprises. First off, there were more people there than I expected. I didn’t realize people were still interested in mountains, unless they were snowboarding down them with GoPros strapped to their heads.

I thought I’d run into one or two curmudgeons like myself looking to escape society for a while, fantasizing about the day they’d get to live like stereotypical hermits from cartoons, chasing away meddling kids with projected images of ghosts and looped screams on a reel-to-reel tape deck. Old dudes with home-carved hiking sticks and Brewer and Shipley t-shirts, lamenting the fact that you can’t get a new car with a manual choke or a computer with a floppy drive.

Anyway, it wasn’t like that at all. Though there were a few guys of that general description, I also ran into plenty of twenty-somethings, young families, middle-aged Eddie Bauer catalog-types, genial retirees, and one linguistically-challenged but very pleasant group of Asian tourists. There seemed to be an instant sense of community – a bond formed by the fact that we were all panting and sweating up a trail that climbs 600 vertical feet in a half-mile.

There are easier paths to the summit, but I was somewhat forced to take the most direct route because I was running late. My tardiness also meant that I didn’t check out the sights from the summit as much as I should have. From what I later read, you can see Mount Monadnock and Mount Greylock. Maybe next time, if I forego buying a Dasani from the visitor’s center, I’ll be delirious enough by the time I reach the top to see the wizarding college on Greylock.

So I’d made a hasty hike up the ninth-highest mountain in a state that’s not known for its mountains. A peak that’s about 20 minutes from the nearest Job Lot. Did it fulfill my inspirational back-to-nature exercise needs?

Yes, it really did. Despite its small size and proximity to civilization, Wachusett offers more than its share of awesome vistas and all-around natural beauty. I left the summit with a feeling of accomplishment that no exercise bike can offer. I felt a sense of confidence and spiritual renewal.

Being on a mountain does indeed change a person. When I got to the base, I no longer felt the need to seek further satisfaction at Arby’s. It turns out it’s much more time-efficient to grab a burrito at the Qdoba off Route 146. Give me convenience…