Mother Nature Rules

           We humans have invented, created and built some amazing products and buildings.  We have traveled to the moon, the depths of the oceans and to the tops of the highest peaks.  We have figured out how to split an atom and cure diseases.  We are the most intelligent beings on earth.  However, Mother Nature is truly in charge here and likes to remind us of that with little and sometime huge gestures. 

            Haunting images of the destruction from Hurricane Sandy are everywhere.  Luckily, technology has given us the ability to predict (to some extent anyway) the path and severity of storms like these so that people can take precautions to protect themselves and their belongings.  There is no way to avoid them entirely though and there is always an unknown factor at play.  Also, luckily, these huge gestures from Mother Nature are relatively infrequent.  That said, I do feel great empathy for those affected and wish them all a speedy recovery.

             I had my own encounter with the unpredictable Mother Nature recently.  About three weeks ago was me and my son’s long planned adventure to climb Mt Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet.  We set out on a thursday for our 5 hour drive to Lone Pine, CA, where we met up with our six climbing companions.  As we approached the town we were met with fog, rain and hail; snow could be seen on the surrounding mountains.  Of course, being October we knew ahead of time that the weather could be unpredictable.  To climb Mt Whitney you must have a permit and the permits are issued in a lottery system so this particular weekend was what we were given.  We had originally planned on camping at the base of the mountain that night, but the day prior had made a group decision to stay in town because of the wet weather.  We didn’t want to start off with wet, soggy gear.  Friday morning we awoke to gloomy skies and as we drove up to the base of the mountain to begin our hike snow was falling.  It was eerie and beautiful.  We had all planned for chilly, wet weather so with loaded backpacks and excitement we hit the trail to our next destination, Outpost camp, to spend the night and get acclimated to the altitude.  At about 10,000 feet this is a popular camping spot for hikers making the climb in 2 days.  The sun was out by the time we got there and the storm had moved on. 

             We pitched tents, got water and ate.  By the time the sun was setting it was cold enough to force us all to our tents and sleeping bags.  Not such a bad thing as we needed to rest, wake up time was at 2:30 am.  Neither my son nor I slept much that night though.  He was cold and I was restless.  After hot cocoa, coffee and oatmeal we started hiking at 3:30 am.  Two of my hiking friends, Joe and Jeri had done this hike several times before and they were our mentors on this trip and knew from experience that this was the time to start hiking to make a good summit and return time.  It was cold and the trail was icy and snowy, not to mention dark…we all wore headlamps to light the way.  I will say I was the slowest hiker, the altitude was affecting me but Shaun seemed to be doing great, leading for a lot of the way.  It was hard to drink water because it was cold, so cold that our water bottles were getting icy.  About the time the sun was starting to glow on the horizon we stopped for a rest.  We were at about 12,000 feet.  Checking in with my son, he seemed exhausted and did not want to drink water or eat.  As the others moved on, tears appeared in his eyes and he said he really thought he could make it, but he just didn’t have it in him.  I was already to the point where I was seriously questioning my ability to reach the summit that day so I gave him a hug and said we could turn around if he wanted.  We did turn back and slowly made our way back to Outpost camp.  Hiking downhill on ice is harder than going up.  We both did a little ice skating  and landed on our butts a couple times.  Back at Outpost camp we lay on our sleeping bags with our feet sticking out of our tent as we warmed up and moped a little in our defeat.   It was still early in the day, and a beautiful day it was turning out to be, so we decided to pack up and hike all the down the mountain and head for home.  As we descended we both began feeling better and were getting giddy at the thought of a big hamburger at the trails end. 

             In retrospect, it was probably the best decision for us.  I hadn’t realized that the last 2 night’s of insomnia I had endured were a symptom of altitude sickness.  In fact, I felt pretty good as we started the drive home, probably just from all the adrenaline.  A few hours down the road I was hit with incredible exhaustion and dizziness.  It took all my reserves to get us safely to a stopping point and we ended up having to find a motel for the night.  The aftereffects slowly dissipated over the next several days, but left me wondering if I would have become more ill had I pushed on that day.  As for Shaun, he did amazing for a 14 year old and although he was disappointed to not make it to the top he has many more years to go and face the mountain again.  We both agreed it was one of the hardest physical things either of us had ever done.   And we both agreed that if we were to do it again it would be in the summer time when (hopefully) Mother Nature would be more cooperative!

Watching from the Sidelines

         Now that the Olympics are over it’s back to my regularly scheduled life. I am always captivated by the Olympics, especially the summer games.  There is just something special about all these athletes from around the world getting together to compete and show off their sport to the whole world.  My only complaint is that most of the sports that I wanted to watch were on past my usual bedtime.  I don’t know why “prime time” is considered between 9 pm and midnight.  I think it should be more like 7 pm to 10 pm….but that’s just me… night owl I am not.  Thankfully I have discovered places to watch online, like through my Direct TV account so I can keep up with most of the action.  It sucked up large chunks of my day though.  Thank goodness it’s only once every 2 years (counting both summer and winter). 

             This year I found myself observing the parents of the athletes during and after the competitions.  Their faces were a roller coaster of emotions, fear, excitement, pride, devastation and joy.  It was their child’s journey, but they have been right there along with them for the ride.  Most of us parents spend a large amount of time taking our children to sports and other activities.  I can only begin to imagine the amount of time, money and sacrifice that the parents of the young Olympians have put into attending practices and events, buying shoes and outfits and helping them keep it all in perspective.  And for all the parents of the Olympians there are countless others out there who have put in the same time and effort for their children only to realize that it just wasn’t meant to be for them.   Hopefully they all find that the journey itself was worth the effort.

           I am rather looking forward to my own little parental journey.  After a three year break from organized sports, my son is now venturing into high school athletics and my calendar feels crowded already.   He is pursuing mountain biking and cross-country.  My only hope for him is that he has finally found his niche.  I mean really, this kid has tried a lot of sports: baseball, gymnastics, soccer, martial arts, lacrosse, volleyball, swimming, bmx, skateboarding, snowboarding (this one he likes and is pretty good at, but alas we only get to the snow about once a year), ice skating and a few others like basketball and tennis through PE at school.  I am particularly excited that he has decided to give cross-country a try.  I have been careful not to let him know this of course.  And I try to keep my own running advice to a minimum, which is hard for a blabber mouth like me.  I know I have to observe from the sidelines, pom-poms in hand, as he makes his way and finds his own motivation. 

 Keys in hand, I’m out the door now, time for the after-practice pick-up.

Motivation – May the force be with you

            Several months ago I was coming back from a run on a rainy morning when a neighbor saw me and commented “Now that takes motivation!”  I replied something innocuous like “oh, it’s just water.”  It really didn’t seem like that big of deal to me, a light rain, not too cold.  I have certainly endured worse weather during the time I lived in Wyoming and Colorado.  The comment got my mind going, though, on the subject of motivation.  What motivates me?  What motivates others?  On a very basic level we as human beings are motivated to seek shelter and food, generally achieved by going to work everyday or if you are so inclined, by mugging for cameras in the hope that celebrity alone will carry you through life.  There is, I guess, a certain kind of motivation that drives some people to just want to be a celebrity.  This is different of course from people who achieve a celebrity status because they have excelled at their craft.  One can see though that motivation is a complex set of factors that varies from person to person.  Some are motivated to achieve excellence in sports, others writing, acting, singing, painting, academics or a myriad of other pursuits.  Being motivated to simply be a good person or do good deeds is an admirable characteristic as well. 

             From my perspective motivation is like a constantly shifting energy force, a buzz in my head, a tug at my heart, a gurgling in my gut.  In my younger days I was motivated to exercise so I could look good in cute clothes and to work hard to move up, get promoted, earn more money and a bigger title.  At some point I became motivated to run races not just for fun, but to improve my time and maybe even place.  Not surprisingly, my motivational force shifted when I had a child, as if pregnancy itself changes your center of gravity.  Suddenly, keeping your child well and safe takes top priority.  Which is not to say that I still didn’t want to fit into my cute clothes or make money, it’s just not what was driving my highest motivational forces.  Life changes everything, right.

             When my now 14 year old son was just barely two, my husband passed away from cancer.  Having my son is what pulled me through.  My motivation to get out of bed and keep going everyday was to care for him and keep his world as normal as possible.  I changed careers because doing what you love in life seemed more important than just bringing home a paycheck.  Exercise became more a way to help me keep my mental health intact than to achieve anything.  Time goes on and I have since remarried and had another child, now 3 2/3, as she will readily tell you.  Being over 45 and having a toddler, my biggest motivation these days is staying healthy so I will be around to see my children have children!  I am also motivated to do more writing, something I have always enjoyed but never allowed myself time to pursue.  Ok, I’ll come right out and say it, I am motivated to get something published!  Again, life is tenuous, do something that makes you smile.  And when you feel that motivational energy force grab hold of it and let it pull you forward, you never know how far it will take you.

            One last note on children being a motivational force…my son and I are going to be going on an adventure in a few months, climbing Mt Whitney with some good friends.  At14,505 feet it is the highest peak in the contiguous United States and can be climbed without the use of mountaineering equipment.  More about this adventure in future blogs, but I will admit that I am very motivated right now to get myself  in good condition not only to accomplish  this goal but to not get shown up (at least not too much) by a 14 year old on our climb!

Why not me?

            Inspiration is often found in the most unexpected places.  Last night at a small radio station sponsored concert with Gavin DeGraw, a singer whom I was vaguely familiar with, a phrase that he said got stuck in my head.  “Why not me?”  Retelling his story of how he was inspired by this phrase would never come across as entertaining as his was, but suffice to say at the time it got him to adopt the mind set of “Hey, if others can do it (in his case, make it big in the music industry) why not me?”   How simple, yet how profound these three little words can be.  That is not to say that talent, hard work, and dedication are not also part of the equation in accomplishing goals, but a positive mindset can get you over the hurdles.  So we may not all become rich and famous like DeGraw but when facing a roadblock or some lack of confidence it is a handy phrase to keep in your back pocket.

             My first, “Why not me?” moment was back in high school when it came to my attention that there was an escape route from the little Wyoming town where I grew up.  If other kids could go to out-of-state college, I thought, “Why not me?” Now part of selling this plan to my parents entailed picking a major that I was sure could not be offered at the University in the town where I lived, thus a devotion to the fashion industry was born.  I did love the fashion industry, but I have often wondered since then if a driving force behind choosing a major in Textiles and Clothing was the prospect of getting out of town.  But choosing to get out on my own right after high school set me on the path that has led me to where I am today.

             Shortly after getting away to college my second “Why not me?” moment occurred when I discovered running and the thought of entering a race crossed my mind.  Yeah, me, the so far most unathletic kid of the family.  I pushed myself though.  If other people could run 10k’s then,“Why not me?”  Over the next 20 years I ran many 5k’s, 10k’s, a couple ½ marathons and marathons and while I never made it to the Olympics, or anything close, I gained a lot of self-confidence and fortitude that has carried me through many a tough times.

             At the age of 43, right after getting married for the second time, my husband and I discussed having a child.  The odds weren’t exactly on our side and there were naysayers in the wings, but I had always wanted a second child and I thought other women were having babies in their forties, at least according to the news media, so “Why not me?”  That said, there were a few “What the h-e-double chopsticks was I thinking” moments during my soon thereafter pregnancy.  They are but a memory now as that healthy little bundle of joy has got our hearts wrapped around her pudgy, little fingers. 

             Granted, it is harder to grab those “Why not me?” moments as we get older and the naïveté of youth is worn thin by the harsh realities of life, but I am still looking to the horizon waiting to grasp that next big bubble that floats my way.  Who knows, if Stephenie Myers can have a dream about vampires and turn it into a bestselling book series and movie deal, then, ”Why not me?” ….minus the vampires, of course, I’m pretty sure that’s yesterday’s story. 

             And, if you haven’t had any “Why not me?” moments yet, then, “you better get on it!”