Forget the Day, Seize Life

In this feature from Mountaineer Magazine, take a step out of your comfort zone with Craig Romano and seize life while the world is at your fingertips.
Craig Romano Craig Romano
Mountaineers Books Guidebook Author
November 04, 2023
Forget the Day, Seize Life
Craig, his wife Heather, and their friend Jodi in Seoraksan National Park, 1999. All photos courtesy of Craig Romano.

I just signed up for my first 100k trail run. Call it Existential Crisis Number — who knows, as I’ve had so many now, I’ve lost count! I was cursed at a young age knowing that there are so many things to experience in life, yet so little time to do them. This curse was also a blessing, as I’ve tried to live my life to the fullest, not wanting to waste a moment as moments are finite.

Like many creatives, I spend too much time wrestling with my inner thoughts. And like many creatives, I am prone to depression. Thankfully, I eschewed using harmful substances
to deal with my depression decades ago — opting instead to binge on life experiences and get high on my own endorphins through physical activity. I let my wanderlust set my compass and embraced being an endurance junkie.

I’ve lived most of my life by projecting myself into the future and looking back. Is future me content knowing that he lived life to its fullest, or is he anguishing over blown opportunities and regretting not going for it when he had the chance? Now in my 60s, staring at the hour glass’s bottom half growing disproportionately larger, I see this perspective more valid than ever.

Life is too damn short. I’m taking every opportunity I can to seize the moment. Often, that means being open to things and experiences I’ve never considered.

torres de paineII_1988 South America trip- Torres De Paine in Chilean Patagonia.jpgCraig backpacking in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, 1988.

Many of us are too rigid in our thinking and too restrictive in our lifestyles. We become set in our ways at a young age and embrace the safety of our comfort zones, which is rather ironic given how we’re taught that we have the whole world at our fingertips. For those of us who venture beyond the comfortable, we often plot a path and timeline suitable to how we wish to navigate life. But life doesn’t work that way. And if we try to stay the course, we risk missing new experiences and exciting opportunities.

My most fulfilling experiences have been mostly unplanned. But a major one early in my life was part of a plan I embraced at age 14. I was intent on riding a bicycle around the country and at age 18, I did. Soon afterward, I seized the momentum with two more long distance rides. My combined bike rides were coming-of-age odysseys involving 14 months on the road through 49 states and 10 Canadian provinces. They were rife with situations eliciting the full range of emotions, and they exposed me to people from diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives. That time on the road firmly established who I am today: someone who must keep moving, keep learning, and keep experiencing as many new places as possible.

torres de Paine_1988 South America trip- Torres De Paine in Chilean Patagonia.jpgCraig backpacking in the Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, 1988. 

Living life on my own terms also allowed me to embrace fleeting experiences, a difficult thing to do under traditional societal conventions. I learned to jump on opportunities that
almost assuredly would not come again. Having friends in far flung places provided the perfect excuse to see new countries and cultures I hadn’t yet experienced. I knew, too, that my friends’ invitations were short-lived as their time in these places was transitory. It was either go now or not at all. So I went to South America for two months and spent 10 days floating down a major tributary of the Amazon. I hiked with a machete and ate food killed and cooked by Native guides. I caught dysentery and had a chigger infestation, and I was genuinely miserable in the stifling heat and humidity. But I am so glad I did it.

On that same trip I skied the Bolivian Andes on a glacier at 17,785 feet accessed by a primitive cable lift — the highest ski lift in the world. I was in pain, sucking oxygen while making a couple of turns, but it was exhilarating and unbelievable. The glacier is now gone, the skiing at Chacaltaya never to be done again, and I am so glad I took the opportunity to do it when I had the chance.

In the early years of my relationship with my now wife Heather, she was interested in working oversees. Me not as much. But when I went to a travel expo to inquire whether the owners of a tour company were hiring because my wife was interested — a funny twist in life occurred. The owners expressed interest in hiring me as well. So Heather and I ended up working together for five seasons in the Pyrenees of France and Spain, guiding Americans on hikes through some of the most stunning landscapes in Europe.

2449 Heather and I standing on Bulgaria's Vihren (9560 feet), highest summit in the Pirin Mountains and second highest summit in the country (Aug 2005).JPGCraig and Heather standing on Bulgaria's Vihren, the highest summit in the Pirin Mountains (9,560ft) and the second highest summit in the country, 2005.

Afterward, I left a nascent teaching job (with all of its retirement benefits and a steady paycheck) in my 40s when I was given an opportunity to become a guidebook author for Mountaineers Books. They were looking for a new voice to replace legendary guidebook pioneers Harvey Manning and Ira Spring. An opportunity like this only comes once. I not only seized it, I ran (and hiked) with it, penning books that allowed me to hike as many trails in as many wonderful places as I could. And I’m not through yet!

Which leads me to my first 100k. When I was approaching 50, I took up ultra-running. I had been running marathons since my late 20s, and I liked the appeal of running in the woods and pushing myself over challenging terrain and distances. I ran my first 50 mile run, the not-so-easy White River 50, to usher in my fiftieth birthday. Now 62, I’m going to attempt to run 62 miles. Sure, I could celebrate another year by sitting on a beach somewhere and drinking a beer. But that’s not how I prefer to live. Don’t get me wrong. I love beaches and I love beer. But I see turning 62 as another opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. So come October, I’m off to Southern California to run in the Cuyamaca 100k. What an opportunity, and I’m so glad I have it, for I have no idea how much longer I can take advantage of an opportunity like this — or any at all. Existential crises or not, I’m choosing to seize life. Will you?

Craig Romano is an award-winning guidebook author who has written more than 25 books, including Backpacking Washington, Day Hiking Central Cascades 2nd edition, and eight titles in the Urban Trails series (Mountaineers Books). Purchase his titles in our Seattle Program Center bookstore, online, and everywhere books are sold.

This article originally appeared in our fall 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.


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