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!

Bicycles….not just for exercise

           Generally, I think of my bike as an exercise device, albeit an enjoyable one. However, on any given day around the world thousands, probably even millions, of people get on their bicycles and head out the door to work, to do shopping, to visit friends, make deliveries…you get the point.  It is a major mode of transportation for many. 

             The first bicycles came into being as people began to explore alternatives to the horse as a mode of transportation.  One of the earliest bicycles made had no pedals and was nicknamed a “hobby horse”.  In 1865 a version with pedals attached directly to the front wheels came on the market and was known as a velocipede, although it was more commonly called “boneshaker” since it was made entirely of wood and later versions had metal tires.  I can only imagine the jarring ride it produced on dirt or cobblestone roads.  Around 1870 the first machine to be called a bicycle was made.  Most of us have seen pictures of these early contraptions with a very large front wheel in comparison to the rear. They were made of metal with rubber tires and were quite expensive, making them available only as toys for wealthy big boys.

             Continued tinkering with the design and components saw the bicycle take hold in the 1890’s as a viable means of transportation for the working class and as a leisure activity.  Women even took to riding them, which led to changes in clothing design and confining elements such as the corset and bustle became a thing of the past.  I’m quite sure that the gentlemen who designed these bicycles did not realize how much of an impact they were having toward the women’s equality movement. 

            Recently, my husband and I discovered an enjoyable, not much of a workout, use for our bikes when we took off to town for some wine tasting.   I live in a town where there are more than 25 wine tasting rooms all within walking distance of each other so not much riding is required but is does add to the fun and is a fairly safe way of getting home post wine tasting.  We limit ourselves to two tasting rooms per outing.  Any more than this and your tasting starts to get skewed by the amount of wine consumed and since we live so close we know we can always go back another day.  Tercero and Pres’quile were our choices for this day.  You won’t find these brands in your local wine aisle as they are both low production boutique wineries, but you can buy from then online through their websites.  My favorites were at Pres’quile, a pinot noir rose and an estate pinot noir.  Yes, I am partial to those pinots.  What I love about wine tasting though is that there is generally a lot of camaraderie.  We always meet interesting people and have lively conversations with others in the tasting rooms.  In fact, if we don’t feel a friendly vibe when we first walk into a tasting room we will turn around and leave. 

Of course tasting wine often leads to purchasing wine and we discovered that the water bottle cage is the perfect size for holding a bottle of wine! 

           Cheers to those bicycle inventors for bringing us such a versatile and fun mode of transportation!  I’m sure we’ll be riding uptown again soon.

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!

the athletic chick hatches

Yes, it sounds like an oxymoron. How can one be both wimpy and athletic? I blame it on genetics. I was born a wimpy girl, all skinny and gangly, not high on the coordination scale either. I never made it up the rope in P.E., never could do more than one pull up and was never in the top 10 for dodge ball team selection. When I was about 9 my mom signed my younger sister and I up for gymnastics. Or, let’s put it this way, she signed my younger sister, who actually showed some athletic promise, up for gymnastics and I was signed up so that she wouldn’t have to go by herself. It was an embarrassing debacle from the beginning. While I did manage to master somersaults and a headstand, I never could learn to do even a basic cartwheel. (this, of course, would also rule out any chance of a bid at cheerleading later on) After several months of torture and a bad fall off the uneven parallel bars I gave it up. Going out for a sport in middle school or high school? Far too intimidating for a wimpy girl like me. Once in my twenties I gave in to some peer pressure and tried softball. Again, not pretty. Hitting the ball not only takes coordination, but also a certain amount of strength, something I was sadly lacking. Catching the ball didn’t go to well either, and trying to catch a ball and hold a beer at the same time, not a chance.
Redemption, of a sort, did come while I was in college. Determined to not become a victim of the “freshman 10”, I began exercising and discovered that not only could I run I actually enjoyed running. Back at home for the summer between my freshman and sophomore year and buoyed by my new found sport, I signed up for my first 10K run. Now I guess I should regress a little and let you know that I grew up in Wyoming and that this was the early 1980’s when the running craze was just getting going. So, finding a 10K to run meant driving for 2 or 3 hours to Colorado, a much more hip state. This particular race was a trail run, not particularly scenic, just dry brush and pasture fences. Things were going pretty well, not much competition around me, when I looked around and noticed a group of runners in the distance, but parallel to me on the other side of a fence. Lightbulb! I had taken a wrong turn. Now I had to backtrack and get on the right side of the fence. The good news was that even with my wrong turn I wasn’t the last finisher. That was motivation enough for me to sign up for another race. And, motivation to shake my wimpy girl image…an ongoing challenge it turns out.