On Taking the Stairs: My 23 story walk-up

a man opens a fire hydrant in the street in NYC during the heatwave of 1953, water sprays out into the street.
Image from the NYC heatwave of 1953, captured by photographer Peter Stackpole for Life Magazine.

I was going to write about Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for menopause today because I started it a few weeks ago and finally, last night, I had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in years.  The need for a good night’s sleep not interrupted by hot flashes and night sweats is the main reason I opted for HRT after a few years of resistance. But last night’s great sleep may have been over-determined because there was a flood on the 23rd floor of the condo I live in on Saturday night (well, Sunday morning at 1 a.m. if you want to be technical) and I had very little sleep because of all the … excitement.

So I’ll post about HRT on Thursday after I’ve had a slightly longer test run of success (fingers crossed!).  Today I want to post about taking the stairs when you live on the 23rd floor.  You see, since I woke up to the alarm at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, all three elevators in my building have been toast.

The flood fried the elevator circuits or something like that. (short story of the flood: some “overzealous party-goer,” as the letter from my emergency insurance adjuster describes him, opened the water supply to the fire hose on my floor. The hose wasn’t attached and so it was like opening a fire hydrant. Water just pumped out for about half an hour until the fire department could make it all the way up the stairs to the 23rd floor to shut it off).

I’ve been up and down the stairs a few times since then (four, to be exact) and let me tell you this: 23 floors is a long way up. Apart from scratching our heads as to what the guy who opened the water was thinking and lamenting about the damage (extensive–all the flooring and lower cabinetry in my condo will need to be replaced, and that’s the case for everyone on the 23rd floor, and most people on the 20th to 22nd floor sustained further damage to walls, ceilings, and contents as well as floors, and there is damage that goes down even further than that), the most frequent topic of conversation is how difficult it is to climb so many stairs.

My mother emailed me today and said that, upon reading my latest update, “The fact that had the most impact on me was that you had to climb up and down 20 floors – and I doubt that the stairwells are air conditioned.”  She’s right that they’re not air conditioned, but it’s actually not as hot as you would think it would be, given how unseasonably hot this Labour Day weekend is (32 degrees C today with a heat advisory in effect). But it’s still difficult.

A friend on the 16th floor texted me that their place is fine but after doing the stairs a few times he realizes he’s not in as good shape as he thought he was.

The building manager, who has hardly had any sleep in the past 40 hours, said to me in the lobby that he couldn’t bear the thought of climbing the stairs to his floor (I think he’s on the 10th). He said he thought he was in pretty good shape, “but climbing stairs–that’s a whole different thing.”

The people who work for the restoration company, and there are lots of them, have been hauling heavy equipment up the stairs ever since the flood.  I’ve got four industrial blowers and a dehumidifier set up in my unit and I believe every unit on the 21st to 23rd floors have at least a few, depending on the size of the unit.

I agree with the building manager. I’m in reasonably good physical condition but that walk up 23 floors is tough. I need to stop and rest at least a couple of times. If I have a bottle of water with me, I drink it. Everyone heading up is more than willing to stop and chat for a bit as a time out from the climb. And I’m feeling muscles in my legs that I haven’t felt in years, that feeling as if I just started a new workout at the gym.

I can’t imagine how anyone who has mobility issues or respiratory issues or even is just feeling tired is handling the lack of working elevators. Anyone disabled will be basically stuck until they can get an elevator going. And apparently the dogs (there are quite a few dogs in the building) are struggling a lot too. Stairs are evidently not easy for them.

The trip up the stairs, everyone’s reaction to it, and the discovery of those muscles that my regular routine of running, swimming, and riding my bike to work appears not to be working, have made me think that there are some merits to stair climbing. It’s also made me think that climbing stairs is, indeed, “its own kind of thing.” Maybe it should be added to the mix when we’re thinking of what counts as “fitness.”

The first aerobic machine I ever used regularly was, you guessed it, the Stairmaster. Lots of people have pushed it to the side in favor of elliptical trainers and spin bikes, but some people still sing the praises of the Stairmaster, which is, according to this article, even better than stairs because you never have to climb down, which taxes the knees.

Anyway, I realize that I’m in that post-disaster mode where my world is sort of revolving around the flood. And the idea of blogging about the stair climb came to me on my third long trip up the stairs this evening. I’m hoping that by Thursday’s post (a) the elevators will be back on line and (b) my amazing sleeps continue so that I can confirm that, for me, HRT is working. But it could just be that in the aftermath of the flood I’m just really tired, and that taking the stairs up 23 floors knocks me out in a way that makes me sleep better at night.

8 thoughts on “On Taking the Stairs: My 23 story walk-up

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. It really made me smile. You’ll be super fit by the end of this and wondering why you didn’t take the stairs more often. I look forward to hearing how your sleep progresses over the coming weeks.

  2. The proper stairmaster is by far my favorite cardio machine. It’s what I use to warm up. It’s easier on the knees than running and I am certain it is at least as intense! I’d have to have no option but to do it just to get to my apartment though, especially with the dog. My condolences!

  3. It’s great that you were able to turn this disaster in your building into a thought-provoking piece on stairs as exercise. During the more recent blackout in NYC in 2003, I was living there in a 26th-floor apt. But I couldn’t stay there, as the water supply couldn’t get that high without power, so I was spared your daily long slog. You’ve given us something to think about — stairs are everywhere and they are a serious workout. I hope that power gets restored in the building soon!

    1. Thanks Catherine. We have power. It’s just that the electrical circuits on the elevators all got fried by the water. If I had no power (no AC, no lights, no electricity to run the dehumidifier and blowers) I would have had to leave my place too. 🙂

  4. Oh lord. I found walking up four flights a challenge! If the people in your building weren’t fit before, they’re certainly about to be! Crikey!

  5. I just started back to work at the college a few weeks ago. My classroom is on the second floor of one building, attached to two other buildings via halways, and my office is on the 6th floor of the building farthest away. It is my goal to get from ground, where I park, up to 6 without wheezing someday! Currently I can make it to 5 while eating my morning granola bars, but start gasping and choking on the last set. 23 floors is awesome! Give yourself a pat on the back!

  6. I just started back teaching at the college a few weeks ago. My classroom is on the 2nd floor of one building, attached to two other buildings via hallways, and my office is located on the 6th floor of the building farthest away. It is my goal to get from the ground, where I park, to the 6th floor without wheezing. Currently I make it to the 5th floor while eating my morning granola bars, but gasp the whole last flight. 23 floors is awesome! Give yourself a pat on the back!

  7. “climb down, which taxes the knees” might be made easier by facing the stairs as you would a ladder. Each eccentric lunge reaches a lower step. (I hover or keep a hand on railings when doing this.)

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