Write Team: Father leaves legacy of toughness

I force myself to push on up the hill, into the stiff and icy northwest wind that’s trying to pierce through my layers of wraps and hold me back from my goal.

I am gratefully warmed by the exertion of this vigorous walk.

It’s just a December morning on the prairie, and it’s time to bring home my cows that are contentedly grouped in the stockpiled pasture, their wooly coats impervious to the gale.

My body remembers, and I reflect thankfully, how I was trained for such adversity by many mountain climbs in my youth, led by my intrepid father, who seemed happiest when he was on top of the highest peak, surveying the vast and barren range all around.

The summits were the windiest places around, and scaling them took all of our strength and perseverance. Often it was difficult to even stand at the top as the gusts assailed us.

My father was a tough man. He pushed himself and he pushed us, members of the expeditions he led with skill and foresight.

He was the unquestioned leader and guide, watching out for our safety even as he challenged us to what felt like our limits. Sometimes his adventuresome spirit took us on a strenuous bushwacking side trip, and we’d end up at some remote and pristine alpine lake rarely visited by anyone but the conies and mountain goats.

Somehow, we had confidence that he knew what he was doing, for we knew he was critical of fellow mountaineers who took unnecessary risks.

He and my mother together planned and prepared extensively for our trips, making sure we had the necessary equipment and ample supplies of adequate food and treats to keep us well-nourished and motivated.

The pinnacle of his mountaineering career, when he was in his 40s, was joining a party to climb 20,310-foot-high Denali in Alaska. I remember his arduous training for that, including a regular regime of running and other exercises. In fact, I was proud that I got to “help”, as he carried both a fully loaded backpack and then 7-year-old me on his shoulders up and around the bluffs of Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin.

As they aged, he and my mother kept very physically active. Of course, they had to tone down the mountain climbing to general hiking and bicycling. My father would muscle along with his two specially designed walking sticks, or they would leave younger cyclists in their wake as they zoomed by on their tandem bicycle.

When he needed both hips replaced, he decided to have them done simultaneously so his overall recovery time would be less. He approached his recuperation time with determination, continuing to make his rounds as nursing home doctor, even while in a wheel chair.

In his last few years, before he passed away last August at 98, my father had slowed down a lot. It was kind of sad to have to amble slowly beside him as he struggled along with his walker, while I thought back to my childhood when I had a hard time keeping up with him.

But the stamina and grit he taught me lives on. The joy of exertion, the love for the fresh outdoors even when it takes my breath away, and the fortitude to press on in adversity are his enduring legacy to me.

  • Winifred Hoffman of Earlville is a farmer, breeder of dual-purpose cattle and a student of life. She can be reached at newsroom@mywebtimes.com