Less than a month before the walk…

How to Lose a Mountain

Cassie taking a walk

The past couple of weeks at Dance Exchange, it’s felt like a sprint to the finish line as we complete the planning process for the How To Lose a Mountain 500-mile walk. The plans are falling into place and the news is being spread far and wide about why Cassie is doing the walk and how folks can join the project. But the real marathon is just about to begin. With less than one month before the long-distance physical journey begins, I checked in with Cassie Meador to see how she’s feeling as the walk gets closer.

What are you most excited about as the walk becomes more real?
The fact that we’re getting to share the news with more people is an exciting part of it. I’ve been thinking about this walk for over 3 years now. I had the impulse to walk out my door and just do the walk, so to wait 3 years is a long time. I think probably the most exciting thing is feeling the support of everyone in the organization behind the project. To be in rehearsal this morning for the events at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and the Kennedy Center and then to step out and see staff members and interns meeting about finalizing the end of the route, it all feels like its truly coming into being. I had a friend that emailed me the other day and he had been talking about the walk with some of his family. His enthusiasm about the project reminded me of the excitement around all of this. When we’re wading through the logistical weight of the walk, its good to remember the excitement around it all, too.

What are you scared or nervous about?
Two things—I think the walk is definitely a test of endurance. I am worried about my own physical limits. There’s a forward momentum to the whole thing; there’s no turning back, it’s only going forward. We do have stops along the way, but I’m thinking about what it will take my body to get through that, to stop and start again so many times. In a lot of ways that’s the thing I’m both scared and excited about—to see what it will mean to live with only the resources I can carry on my own body for these two months and to see how that informs not only the choices I make when I return home but what it’ll be like to be making and using my body as an artist as I come up against my own physical limits.

The other thing I’m scared about is I feel like I’m putting myself in more public view than I am used to on this walk. I would’ve walked out my door to just do it but it’s a different thing to do it in an institution. We’re doing this in a way where we’re trying to make the process so visible. That can be scary but ultimately I think it’s essential if we want to reach people through the kinds of questions that this project is asking.

Oh, and I’m worried about being cold and wet!

What is the most important thing that you’ll be carrying with you out there?
There’s not a lot that we’re carrying. We’re actually trying to carry very little. But if I think about what’s most important, it’s probably the fuel in terms of food and water. There’s no other experience that I’ve had other than hiking and long distance walking where you have such a close relationship between what your body is using and what it needs to be fueled to continue. You feel the sort of instant surge of replenishment or energy when you have a bit of water or have a bit of food and that feels really important.

The other thing will be my pencil and notebook. As the walk approaches there’s a kind of an increasing hunger to be on my feet and be outside but there’s an equal hunger to be writing and trying to capture the experience.

What kind of food will you be eating out there? What foods will you miss most?
We are in the middle of dehydrating 30 pounds of yams. I love sweet potatoes; my fear is by the end of this trip I may not! There’s a great chili recipe that has cocoa in it that my friend Sarah from college gave me, so we’re making lots of batches of that. And another recipe from a good friend and dancer, Thomas Dwyer, for chipotle black beans. We’re cooking all of my favorite recipes that people have given me that can be easily dehydrated. The food I’ll miss the most is the food that comes out of my garden at this time of year. I’ll be gone during a lot of the planting season so I won’t be able to plant my garden. I’ll miss those things the most, but I’m looking forward to when I get back. I have lovely housemates who will be keeping up the garden. So who knows, maybe I’ll return to fresh tomatoes!

What’s the longest hike you’ve taken in the past?
The most extended time that I’ve lived outdoors was for two weeks in Guyana. Though we were walking a lot, we were always returning to the same camp spot. The longest I’ve hiked at once was 42 miles with Meg Kelly (DX Production Manager). We hiked the state of Maryland.

Do you think your body is up for another 455 miles?
I sure hope so!

What has inspired you to take on such a physically demanding journey? Do you think your training as a dancer will help?
This project is talking about power, and not only the power that we use in our homes but also what we can do with the power of our own bodies. It felt really important as I’m examining where the resources I use come from, specifically where the power that feeds my home comes from, that I actually take this journey using the resource of my own body. As a dancer I know what it takes to get to a certain physical place to have to perform. This is a different kind of beast, a different kind of training. The kind of determination that goes into the training, the stepping back when you do encounter unexpected injury or fatigue, the way you are listening to your body and adjusting to your surroundings–these are skills I have built over my 10 years of dancing and touring with Dance Exchange. I’m hoping some of that carries over into these new elements, though I know it’ll be a completely new challenge.

Cassie having a walking meeting

Cassie having a walking meeting

How have you been training over the weeks and months leading up to walk?
If you’re going to be walking 500 miles in the time frame that we are doing it, it means getting used to being on your feet all day. A lot of the training has been walking and building a base level of fitness. I had to work on that base level after a year and a half of not being very physically active through our organization’s transition. I’ve been running too, which has been interesting and a challenge with my schedule. The company has been traveling so I went from being in Syracuse during the cold winter months, and I just got back from the desert in Arizona; running has been a nice way to ground myself in a place as I’ve been doing this travelling. I get to cover distance and get to know a place in a way that I don’t always have opportunity to. I’ve also been doing a lot of walking meetings and walking interviews, so it hasn’t only been my training but also getting other people involved with me.

What will you think about when you’re having a tough day on the trail? What will get you through?
There is such an incredible team of people that I’m doing this walk with and also an incredible team that is making this walk possible even if they’re not able to be out there with me. All of those people will keep me going, knowing the effort people have put in to make this happen and the people who will be out there with me. It’s much like a rehearsal process: you’re always going to have days that are more difficult than others, it’s the other members of the team that help get you through it.

I can be really goal-oriented when I am on the trail. There’s the enjoyment of being out there, but there’s the goal of getting to the next town, to the next public engagement, to the next place where we’ll be collecting another series of stories. I think the deadlines will help.

Another thing motivating me is that I feel like I have to arrive at this site where these mountains once were. I think the image of that final place and arriving there is something that I’ll be thinking about to keep me going.

About Emily Macel Theys

Emily (Communications and Development Director) joined the administrative team at the Dance Exchange in January 2010. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Emily received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Allegheny College, and her Master of Fine Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College. Formerly the associate editor at Dance Magazine, Emily’s dance writing has been published in Dance Magazine, Dance Spirit, Dance Teacher, and the Washington Post among others. She is also an avid baker.