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It's not something you see every day, a man with a 50-pound pack on his back dragging a car tire 6 feet behind him as he walks up the sidewalk on Fountain Grove Parkway. In fact, Scott Holder tries to avoid being seen. He makes that steep 900-foot hike at night, when the light is dim, to minimize the double-takes and the inevitable question: Dude, wouldn't it be easier to call the auto club to fix a flat?

"It's a good workout," said Holder, a master of the understatement.

Life is purposefully difficult for a mountain climber, especially one who wants to do the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on the each of the seven continents. Holder, 48, has done four peaks thus far: North America's Mt. McKinley (20,322 feet), Antarctica's Mt. Vinson (16,050 feet), Europe's Mt. Elbrus (18,510 feet) and South America's Aconcagua (22,838 feet), the world's highest peak outside of the Himalayas. Still to come is Africa's Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet) in February, 2014, followed by Australia's Kosciuszko (7,310 feet) in June and then Asia's Everest in the summer 2015.

"Why (do it)?" said Holder, a Santa Rosa financial investor. "Because of this ..."

Holder spreads out his arms across the top of his desk. He sits at that desk and he sits at that desk ...

"I don't want to get what people call 'Broker Body'," said Holder, referring to a sedentary lifestyle in which weight settles to the midsection and the resulting profile, Holder said, "is a pear shape."

Holder could thump a treadmill to keep his 165 pounds trimmed tightly on his 5-foot-7 frame. Ah, but that, for him, would be missing the obvious: Nature.

"I'm discovering what God has created for us," Holder said. "I love going out there and seeing what He has up his sleeve. I love seeing places few people ever see."

Holder could thump around Annadel Park to drink in the outdoors. There's plenty of outdoors at Annadel.

"But there is something so freeing about going up a snow slope," he said.

And then there's one more thing, the thing that seals the deal for him, the thing that not only literally but figuratively puts him in another place.

"A lot of times all I do, all I can do and should do, is put one foot in front of the other," said the 1983 Casa Grande graduate. "Phones aren't ringing. I don't need to rush to a meeting. And I tell my family and my office the same thing: When we talk by sat (satellite) phone, no bad news. I need to stay positive. I need to stay focused."

How Holder came to this point in his life is a lesson for Everyman USA. Holder played football, baseball and track at Casa. By his own admission he doesn't paint himself exceptional: "I wasn't a gifted athlete."

Yes, Holder agreed, he was more of a kid who filled out the roster and as opposed to someone leading it. An outdoors guy, he spent time hiking and skiing and breathing fresh air — always his drug of choice. In February, 1999, Holder was coming home from a skiing trip in Sun Valley, Idaho, when his flight was delayed in Boise. Holder needed to kill time. So he grabbed the first book he saw in the airport bookstore.

"It could have been any book," said Holder, saluting the serendipity of life.

The book was "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer, a non-fiction recount of the deadly ascent in 1996 of Mt. Everest. While the tone of the tome was often grim and unyielding, the exceptional writing lighted Holder's candle.

He was off, first to Mt. Shasta and then six-to-seven years of technical climbing.

Adapting to oxygen-deprived altitudes wasn't his concern as much as learning how to work his way around and up rock faces.

"And then I had to climb higher," Holder said. "But I had to test myself out. Altitude affects people in different ways. I have friends who get altitude-sick going up to Lake Tahoe."

That's how he began his quest, not through superior skills but through intelligent mastery of technique, determination, nutrition and stamina. With a resting pulse in the high 40s, Holder can now sustain a pulse rate of 200 beats a minute for 20 minutes. Holder was examined by physicians, as such a rapid heart rate is uncommon and as well as possibly dangerous. Holder checked out healthy and off he went.

He's summited Shasta about a dozen times. When he takes on a big mountain, Holder preps three months before the climb, averaging 25,000 feet of elevation gain a month, with every Sunday during that time span devoted to lugging that car tire up Fountain Grove Parkway. He keeps a journal of every summit. He retains all the letters written by his two daughters, Miranda Holder, a senior at Analy who has accepted a full athletic scholarship to UC Davis, and Brittany, a sophomore at Santa Rosa High. Those letters, along with the ones written by his wife, Tricia, are opened at designated intervals while he climbs.

"Because I usually cry," Holder said, "I open and read them away from whoever I climb with."

The only true and everlasting misery Holder has ever felt climbing was being away from his family. Holder met his wife when they were both four years old attending Free Will Baptist Church (now gone) in Petaluma. They are joined at the hip, at the heart and at the head — yes, honey, it's OK with me that you summit Aconcagua and stand there in 26 degrees below zero. Sure, babe, you can pursue you epic quest of the Seven Summits — but under one condition.

"I promised her my last summit would be Everest," he said.

Everest's reputation as a fearsome, deadly mountain is well-documented. In 2012 alone 10 climbers died. The precise number of Everest fatalities is unknown although most mountaineers agree it's over 200.

"Since there is an element of risk involved in that mountain," Holder said, "I will wait until the girls get a little older."

The mountain is there so the risk is there. He knows it. His family knows it. The Seven Summits would hold no challenge if it were a video game.

The risk must be there, has to be there. It draws Holder to a mountain. It draws his family as well. In a Vinson mountain tent Holder read a letter Miranda wrote to him. She told her dad how much she admired him, how she was inspired by his going after life, instead of waiting for life to find him.

As he read that passage Holder's voice softened. Once again he was reminded he was never alone. He could take that sentiment with him wherever he went, that it's good at any altitude but especially, where it's most appreciated, at 22,838 feet.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.