high weir

August 31, 2008

The Schreuderspitze Plan

Filed under: Readings — jstreed1476 @ 1:54 am

Like Sean, I would really like to drop a little weight and add a little muscle. Unlike Sean, I have nothing like the discipline required to follow the 100 Pushups Plan.

The Plan reminds me of one of my favorite short stories, “The Schreuderspitze” by Mark Helprin. It is beautiful.

Herr Wallich, a Munich photographer, retreats to the mountains after a terrible loss. There he plans, as an ordeal or test, an alpine ascent. (One of Helprin’s novels is titled Refiner’s Fire.) He has never climbed a mountain before—his life has been free of rigor, and he is afraid of heights.

He knows he is physically weak, so he undertakes a “concentrated maniacal pursuit of physical strength”:

He had started with five each, every waking hour, of pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, toe-touches, and leg raises. The pull-ups were deadly—he did one every twelve minutes. The thumping a bumping [that got him evicted from his apartment] came from five minutes of running in place. At the end of the first day, the pain in his chest was so intense that he was certain he was not long for the world. The second day was worse. And so it went, until after ten days there was no pain at all.

After long isolation in a remote Alpine village, he is much changed:

No one would have mistaken him for what he had been. In five months he had become lean and strong. He did two hundred and fifty sequential pushups at least four times a day. For the sheer pleasure of it, he would do a hundred and fifty pushups on his fingertips. Every day he did a hundred pull-ups in a row. His midnight run, sometimes in snow which had accumulated up to his knees, was four hours long.

There are many passages of great beauty in this tale, and Herr Wallich’s ordeal is awesome in unexpected ways. There is also a very welcome vein of humor running through the story. Here’s how it begins:

In Munich are many men who look like weasels. Whether by genetic accident, meticulous crossbreeding, an early and puzzling migration, coincidence, or a reason that we do not know, they exist in great numbers. Remarkably, they accentuate this tendency by wearing mustaches, Alpine hats, and tweed. A man who resembles a rodent should never wear tweed.

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