Flag Hill: Goal or System?

    Dateline: February 19, 2015. Sunol, CA. 

    My third attempt to reach the top of Flag Hill.

    Background: I tried hiking to the top of this hill in mid 2014. Halfway up I was exhausted and defeated. My younger, better-looking hiking partner was not impressed. She could have sprinted to the summit while texting at the same time. With my manhood in tatters, I slunk down the hill. But I vowed to someday come back and beat Flag Hill. Now it was personal.

    A few months later I tried Flag Hill again but my timing was bad. The bridge to the trail was under construction. So I aborted.

    Last week, with my brother Dave in town, I decided to take a third attempt at Flag Hill. I had been focusing my recent workouts on cardio and lower-body strength. It was time to see if the preparation made a difference.

    Here’s a 22-second video of my training progress on a different hill.

    This is the parking lot at the base of Flag Hill and other trails. My brother is the prime photographer for the day. He’s the tiny pink blob. Above him and to the left is the peak to which we are heading on foot from here.


    The bridge has been repaired since my last failed attempt. So far, so good.


    They still have this warning sign that mother nature intends to kill me one way or another before I leave Flag Hill. But I wasn’t going to let a rattlesnake bite or a rabid mountain lion slow me down. Today was my day.


    It appears there are over seven hundred ways to get lost on these trails. And no phone service. Eek.


    Starts out easy. But this is a fake-out.


    Okay, getting steep now. The trip to the summit is only 1.3 miles but because of the grade we will need to take lots of rest breaks that we will call photo opportunities.


    The rolling foothills are easy. The hard part is in the distance.


    Wow, did we pick a good day. (Apologies to all you folks in snow.) February is rarely this warm in Northern California, and you don’t get many days of green grass. This will be mostly brown in a few months. The area had been fogged-in and cold just an hour before this picture.

    This is the view looking down toward where we started.


    Still looking down the hill.


    Now straight ahead to Flag Hill (below) in the distance.


    The trails are so beautiful you think you are in some sort of fantasy world.


    Even the trees look other-worldly today.


    This rock, below, is at about the halfway point. The first time I hiked this far I was exhausted and had to turn back. This time I had specifically trained for hills, and we paced it better. Apparently the preparation worked because I wasn’t tired at this point.


    Some of the trails are what I imagine I would find on a Peruvian mountain.


    There it is. 

    My nemesis.

    Flag Hill.

    This is the hard part.


    Phew! The steepest part is over. But not done yet.


    A few minutes later a very good day became a spectacular one. 


    Flag Hill, I own you now, buddy. But the rest of you are welcome to visit 🙂

    In the end it wasn’t terrifically challenging because I was better prepared this time and we paced things well. But it sure felt good to finish.

    Some of you will be quick to point out that my quest to climb Flag Hill looks a lot like a goal, and I am the guy who wrote a book saying goals are for losers; systems are better. Allow me to explain.

    Goals make sense for simple, near-term objectives, such as hiking a particular hill. But for complicated and unpredictable situations, such as the arc of your professional career over decades, a system is better, in part because you are unlikely to keep the same priorities and goals over that period. When the environment changes, as it always does, you will change too. A better strategy for the long run is to improve your market value in a variety of ways and hope luck doesn’t ignore you forever.

    My goal of hiking Flag Hill to the top bothered me every day from the moment I set it. It made me feel like a loser for months. That’s why I normally avoid goals. But this one came to me organically when I failed in front of someone I cared about. That made it personal. I had to check it off the list to feel right. 

    I get that way sometimes.

    Luckily I also have a system that involves daily exercise and adding variety to the mix when I can. So in this case my somewhat toxic goal of climbing Flag Hill was a convenient focus for my exercise system, and in that sense it worked.

    I am not eager to set another goal for myself. But I sure am glad this one worked out.



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