Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Trip Report

The Good

  • Learning some valuable camping lessons, namely: check your gear (see below).
  • Realizing (in hindsight) that the staff at Academy Sports and Outdoors may really know that of which they speak.
  • Seeing a double rainbow during a downpour.
  • Experiencing the curious pleasure of being rained upon when the sky was blue and the sun was shining.
  • Finding that peanut butter and jelly really can be eaten for days on end with gusto and no ill effects.
  • Running into another solo hiker on a lovely trail and sharing several hours of conversation and hiking tips (the best: take long day hikes but carry a hammock and stove so you can have a leisurely mid-hike break).
  • Meeting a friendly Great Dane on a trail who snuffled his head under my chin and let me stroke his ears.
  • Loving the spent feeling of have hiked for hours in sunshine and fresh air.
  • Driving new roads and going through quaint small towns.
  • Getting away from It All.
  • Watching two geese flying low one morning over a misty lake, their white necks stretched long.
  • Sitting in my posh lawnchair (it's a rocker style and very comfy) reading a trashy novel in the shade of a tree.
  • Stopping in Austin to shop and crushing out on hippie boys with copious uncombed hair and body odor. Sigh.
  • Wishing I'd brought running shoes for an early morning jog.
  • Spotting armadillos!

The Bad

  • Finding that my tent was missing its rain guard, right as the skies began to cloud up.
  • Driving many miles in a raging downpour and galeforce winds to an REI and an Academy in search of an impromptu rainfly; politely turning down the staff member's suggestions that I purchase some tent stakes for the rain tarp.
  • Driving back to campsite to find the site shockingly empty! No tent, no lawnchair! I'd been robbed! Gasp in outrage and disbelief.
  • Fuming as I drive to the ranger station to report this scandalous theft only to see in the distance, approximately a football field away from my site, an upside-down, waterlogged tent that looks suspiciously identical to mine.
  • Dragging a waterlogged, upside tent across muddy fields, cursing all the way.
  • Finding that trashy novel is now soaked through and unreadable.
  • Realizing my tent stakes blew away with the tent.
  • Driving back to REI (Closed. Curses!) and Academy to buy tent stakes and a host of other items that suddenly seem direly important (a mallet! a swiss army knife! rope! batteries!)
  • Setting up tent and rain fly in pitch dark drizzle.
  • Slinging my hammock at second campsite in second park, only to find that string has rotted and breaks as soon as I sit in it. Retire to picnic table bench in ignominious defeat.
  • Fearing for my life during second night when, after a perfectly sunny day, a howling wind blows all night along river canyon, sounding like a banshee. The improvised rain tarp snaps loudly all night, until it is blown away by said howling wind. Take chase to recover tarp.
  • Staring up through exposed tent dome at large tree limb overhead that sways menacingly with each howling shot of wind; imagine dent it will leave in my forehead.
  • Scrambling to re-erect rain flap when unexpected downpour begins an hour later.
  • Falling on ass on muddy slope and feeling snap of heretofore-unknown ass muscle.
  • Driving in circles for 30 minutes in search of obscure county road.
  • Bringing ten books to read in spectacular display of overpacking and barely cracking one.
The Ugly

  • Never finding posh lawnchair despite an exhaustive search; conclude it has blown into the lake and met a watery death.
  • Not monitoring a certain female process and bleeding through two pairs of shorts in two days.
  • Tramping off-trail straight into a patch of noxious, stinging plants that stung my legs for a good hour.

The Upshot

Now I've got the hiking bug and have a whole list of trails I'd like to check out. May have to set aside a monthly "hiking fund" to bankroll these activities. I did have one insight during the trip worth documenting: I felt very happy physically the whole long weekend -- no stomach aches, no feelings of "fatness" or sloth or inertia. I felt very grounded in my body, very present. I realized that the times I feel out-of-sorts and out-of-tune physically are almost always at work. It's was like psychosomatic clobber over the head.

Here are some pictures:

Am fascinated by these gnarly, loopy vines. What the heck are they?

Gorman Falls

Spicewood Springs

The canyon walls along which the punishing wind howled:

Friday, March 18, 2005

Spring Cleaning

When the mountain laurels start blooming and scent the breezes with their luxurious perfume, my mood cautiously, tentatively begins to lift. "Spring," whispers my heart, "Spring!"


I am going camping this weekend! I have been longing to go camping for months, and have been absolutely stir crazy for weeks.

Lately I've been feeling trapped, caged, frustrated, bogged down. Do you ever feel like you just want to ruthlessley clean out your closets, strip your house bare and start over with all new surroundings?

My thoughts lately have run in a groove, circling and circling. When I feel like this, my first impulse is always to retreat, drop out, to flee. I suppose that's what I'm doing now, because I have wild hopes of being able to take on a new persona for the next few days, to leave behind the entanglements that keep me in my familiar rut.

I've always wanted to try solo camping. This first time, I'm going to car camp, but if I am ever able to purchase the right equipment, I'd love to try some backcountry camping and also learn how to build a fire so my diet won't consist of PB&J for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Regardless, I'm going to do lots of hiking this weekend at several state parks that are new to me. There's a waterfall I want to check out, and some rivers I want to dip my toes into. True to character, I've overplanned a bit and am shooting to hike in three different state parks in three days.

Another part of me wants to sling my hammock (and if anybody knows the particulars of how actually, you know, one slings a hammock, let me know) and laze in one spot with trashy novels for the next three days.

I'll report back, and hopefully have some pictures.

My second weigh-in of the year shows that in the past month nothing -- nothing! -- has moved, not up and not down. I know studies say that it's hard to lose weight by exercise alone. My coach says that to lose weight without dieting I'd have to work up to running over 30 miles per week.

On the other hand, two people in the span of two days have told me that my butt looked different. These two commentators were apparently admirers of my butt's previous proportions, and thus their observations were made in a spirit of mourning. I'm a bit appalled, too, because I like that particular -- ahem -- asset, but I wonder if the running and lifting are working in incremental ways to change my body composition, ways that won't register on a scale.

I'm also bummed because a recent column in Runner's World said building muscle to increase metabolism is a myth. I think I've lost faith in finding any sort of consensus is the fitness/medical community about the "right way" to do anything. Nevertheless, I found the column discouraging.

This weekend I'm going to think about what my actual goals are in this whole weight/fitness/mental health triad. What do I want? Do I want to look different? Feel different? Both? What kind of timeline can I accept for these changes? How much emotionally am I willing to invest in these goals? And does this investment of time and energy and money conveniently distract me from other goals I'm avoiding in my professional, educational and/or globetrotting wunderkind life?

One thing I know is that the rut I've been in lately is not only mental, but physical as well.

It's time to change things up!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

5 miles and then some

The Coach and I ran 5 miles last night in 55 minutes or so, which sits just at an 11 minute pace.

I had a bit more aches and pains than I normally do, and I had to struggle through the first bit with low energy and attendant feelings of discouragement and depression (I actually was feeling "fat", which I define as feeling ungainly and plodding and self-delusional), but my energy and confidence returned in the second bit and I felt strong, if tired, by the end.

So. Five miles. It was possible, with patience and a willingness to try. This is a good lesson to know.

Do you have family that twist up your heart and make you want to move to a different state in the middle of the night without leaving a forwarding address?

In my life, that would be my older brother and younger sister. I want to fix their lives; I so want them to be secure and stable and to have clarity and hope within themselves. I wish and wish and wish.

Right now, my sister is the one worrying me, making me chew the inside of my cheek and eat handful after handful of animal crackers.

Working as I do in a social service field servicing low-income folks, I've seen time after time how one financial setback is enough to set in motion a series of events that telescope your life into what feels like one untenable trap, a smothering, narrow place that can take years to dig out from under.

My sister is sitting at the edge of that financial precipice. She is like one of those low-income folks I serve, thoroughly decent in character but with few skills and a naïve belief that simply by being good the world will watch out for her and return her good faith by providing a just and equitable life.

This past year has been a year of severe underemployment, a year of flaky roommates, car repairs, medical problems, disillusionment, depression and isolation.

I've tried to throw money at her problems to stop evictions and utility cut-offs, to pay for visits to therapists and family practitioners, to buy groceries.

But I can't find a job for her. I can't stop her from trusting people she shouldn't. I can't invent custodial jobs that pay a living wage or encourage potential employers to overlook the results of a criminal background check, to take a chance. I can't erect an affordable housing complex overnight, just because I dream it. I can't make her have a more resilient, less fatalistic temperament.

I can't make it better.

I try to listen. I try to be a friend. I bail her out financially when I can, despite all the cries of "co-dependency" and "enabling" that I hear from others (which I think is bullsh*t anyway -- I understand those ideas when you're talking about someone who is addicted, but not when you're talking about someone whose only failing is an inability to find a job). My dad has this whole theory cribbed from Al-Anon about detaching from people, loving them but keeping your distance. This whole theory makes me see red. Obviously, I think it's bullcrap as well.

I just want to help. I just want things not to be so hard. I wish our well-being wasn't so tied to money -- the struggle to make money, to keep money, to be identified by the status money brings.

I can run five miles, though. It feels like a meager, insignificant triumph today, but at least it's something I can point to and say "This. This is something I can do."

I want to pimp some other Megan's today, so go read these two lovely entries:

Meghan at Elite Running


Megan at Shoo, Shoe

Friday, March 04, 2005

Missing the Monkey Mind

The bittersweet thing about doing all my runs now with someone else is that my mind doesn't meander in the same way.

Before, while running on my own, my internal dialogue rambled. I might think about how I felt physically and notice aches and pains. Often I struggled to calculate pace forumlas or ruminated anxiously about my progress. Sometimes I planned my next blog entry or contemplated family or work issues. Many days I fantasized about winning the lottery or starring in my own action-adventure epic.

Now, I just run. Now I'm concentrating on a conversation. Now the run is over so quickly I haven't had a contemplative moment to make any observations.

I like running with company because it helps me run faster and farther. I have less time to mentally anguish about my performance or to dither anxiously about putting on my shoes and taking that first step. Now I have an appointment. Now I don't rely solely on myself to find motivation, now someone else is waiting for me to show up and I'm loathe to disappoint.

I just do it. I just run, and then it's over with, crossed off my to-do list, accomplished with hardly a second thought.

But I have missed running on my own, in silence. I've missed the mental absorption of being by myself, listening to my breath with only my own thoughts motivating me to take that next step, to go one more block. I miss the way running solo tested my willpower. Can I do it? Will I let myself down?

Running by myself is harder, more of test; running in company is like attending a dinner party where I have to entertain the guests and be prepared with amusing anecdotes. One is an inward, introspective activity and the other is outward and social.

But I do miss the intensity of being tangled up in my own thoughts. Is it crazy to say that on the days that I don't run with Coach I've been contemplating lacing up my shoes for a solo run?

Earlier this week The Coach had a new client and me run together. The girl's pace was a bit slower than mine, and at the end of the four miles -- not having broken a sweat or labored for air -- I felt like I could have easily run another four at that pace.

My concentration thus far has been on getting faster. No I'm curious about running longer. I'm thinking 5 miles is within my reach and after that? A 10k is starting to look very possible.