Let's say you were 70 and had had two heart attacks, a five-way bypass surgery, three angioplasties, three knee surgeries and a plate with nine screws holding together your left arm.
What would you do?
Jim Ross, the retired founder of Ross-Tarrant Architects, wants to finish hiking the Appalachian Trail during 2012, when he will be 71.
When Ross began to look for something that would keep him fit and capture his imagination, he settled on the Appalachian Trail, the 2,178-mile path that stretches from Georgia to Maine.
"I thought, this will be something that will keep me exercising," he said. "I have to convince me. I have to preach to me."
And he did. At first it was rough, but the hiking got easier, more intuitive. These days, Ross can cover 16 to 18 miles a day across good terrain.
It's a process he has taken by sections since 2002. Ross has traveled with a variety of companions, including wife Sonia, son Laith, daughter Vanessa and two of his grandchildren, Hannah and Mason Ross.
He also has traveled with a variety of ailments, including a broken arm that once required him to haul himself far enough up the trail so a three-wheeler could pick him up, and an ailing gall bladder.
In a journal the Rosses wrote about his quest, Sonia Ross comments that when the two announced they were going to start hiking the Appalachian Trail, "Only a couple of people have said, 'How wonderful' while everyone else has replied in horror, 'Are you crazy? Have you lost your minds?'"
The two started out together in 2002 at Springer Mountain in Georgia, the trail's southern terminus. Jim Ross, optimistic about his carrying capacity, had a 59-pound pack.
"It about killed me," he said.
Now his pack is 30 to 35 pounds.
One problem he has while hiking is getting enough calories to keep up his weight. Without them, he can lose a pound a day on the trail. Getting enough protein also is a constant struggle for hikers.
The northeast section of trail is the most consistently treacherous, with "rock scrambles" that require climbing and leaping. He will attempt that in March or April, probably alone.
He scoffs at the "couch potatoes" who think he can't do it.
How will he do it, then?
Analytically, Ross said. He will sit down with the problem — such as a gap in the trail that would require a younger person to take a running leap — and figure out a way around it.
"You come to a place, and you sit down for a minute, and you say, how can I do it?" Ross said.
Throughout his many trail segments, he hikes mainly by himself because it gives him the chance to reflect on the landscape. He has walked almost 1,500 of the 2,178 miles.
He spent May walking from West Virginia to New York, then walked 51 miles in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, regarded by some as the most difficult part of the trail.
How does he prepare? By packing carefully — sending ahead food boxes by mail or arranging his hike so he can reprovision in a town — and training.
Although retired from Ross-Tarrant, Ross regularly makes the three-mile trek each way from his home on Chinoe Road to the office on Main Street at Old Lafayette. He also works out on an elliptical machine while wearing a hiker's pack.
What's his motivation?
"In 1987, I had a major heart attack," Ross recalled. "I was 48 years old."
Heart disease ran in his family, and although Ross would often walk from work to the High Street YMCA for a lunchtime swim, he decided he had to make some dramatic changes.
He began to eat healthier. He doesn't take elevators and doesn't use the handrail on the stairs. He retired in 1999, determined to throw off all the bad habits associated with spending life at a desk.
"I was extremely tired and I couldn't keep up with the people in the office," Ross said. " ... The motivation for me was to get out of the office and get my health back."
He was 58.
In 2003, as Ross was preparing to go hiking, he visited his cardiologist and wound up having a quintuple bypass.
In 2004, he was back on the trail in Tennessee and North Carolina, and spent five days in a snowstorm. The next few years, every time he went on the trail he got plantar fascitiis, caused by straining the ligament that supports the foot's arch.
When he made it to Virginia in 2008, he fell and broke his arm. He was alone. Ross signaled his family via a GPS device and walked on. He knew that if he took off his pack, he wouldn't be able to get it back on, and he didn't know how far he would have to walk to reach rescue.
Eventually, he was picked up by a three-wheeler.
In 2009, he walked with the pain of an irritated gall bladder.
Ross has walked 380 miles this year, "and that's through Pennsylvania, the rockiest state. They call it Rocksylvania," he said.
Still, he is determined to finish.
"I don't expect a day the rest of my life without pain," said Ross, adding he is a big fan of ibuprofen.
That said, he enjoys being on the trail, and not everything hurts all the time. He likes the camaraderie among the people he meets, many of whom have been launched onto the trail by personal crises.
He is less fond of the 17 black bears he has seen and the inability to shower, sometimes for a week at a time. Other hikers get used to the smell, Ross said, but for those off the trail it can be jarring.
"The biggest thing to overcome is not physical, it's mental," he said. "You have to have sufficient reason to stay out there or you won't be out there."
The "walk in the woods," the name author Bill Bryson gave to his trek on the Appalachian Trail, has been not just a fitness quest but a source of spiritual uplift for Ross.
"Spiritually, it's a wonderful thing," he said. "... The concept of God becomes real to you. The majesty of this country is unbelievable."