Rites of Passage

Right now I am sitting in a waiting room. No worries. I’m just getting my first mammogram.

I turned 40 in May. Apparently that is when one’s warranty runs out. I am overweight, not sleeping well, grumpy, my body hurts, and I am tired all the time. Oh, and 40 is when ladies who are not at high risk of breast cancer get to start having mammograms.

I keep reminding my husband about the date of the procedure. I told all the ladies at work about it. When I woke up this morning, I reminded my husband that today is the day I have my mammogram.

He said, “I have never seen someone so excited to have a mammogram.”

“I’m not excited, exactly…”

But I kinda am. It’s like I get to join some kind of club for women who are grown ups. It’s like when you have a kid and you’re suddenly in this club of motherhood. One member might say “chafed nipples” and all the other members nod knowingly and empathize. Or the marathon runners club when you can say “I lost another toenail and my sports bra chafed my back” and other lady runners nod and murmur about Body Glide.

It’s something new, so I want to see what it’s like. It’s a diagnostic test and I want to make sure my boobs aren’t trying to kill me (other than the usual ways they try to kill me — boob sweat, having to buy stupid expensive sports bras, having to go to stupid specialty stores to buy stupid expensive daily bras, potential black eyes from running down stairs, chafing). You will notice that chafing is a common theme for me — and women in general. Uuuuugggghhhhhh.

But most of all, my mammogram is a rite of passage.

My daughter and husband and I were having a conversation about her scraping her knee while running. She was complaining and trying to blame her shoes or the ground or something. We explained to her that scraping your knee and getting hurt while exploring and playing is normal. In fact, it’s basically a rite of passage. She thought about it and said “Rites of Passage hurt”

We nodded knowingly and said, “Oh girl, you have no idea. They definitely hurt.”

In some cultures, rites of passage are much more obvious and ceremonial, like… rites. You might get a significant tattoo or body modification or be sent out into the wilderness to survive for a set amount of time or have to stick your hands into straw gloves full of stinging ants (yeah, I watch a lot of documentaries.) Most of us in my neck of the woods don’t have such obvious rites of passage. But we still have them. Subtle things like your first date and your first breakup. The first time you live on your own. Your first job. Your first real job that you have to use to pay actual bills. Graduations. Parenthood. So many more.

Each time you go through a rite, you enter into a new group. You don’t necessarily leave your old group behind. You just get to be part of another group too. You find new things in common with people. And it cements bonds because of shared experiences.

And they usually hurt. In one way or another, a Rite of Passage is difficult and painful. Growing usually is, I guess. But it makes us who we are and who we will become. So I was excited for this rite of passage.

Update:

I wrote the original post in the waiting room, but that was a few weeks ago, so here’s the follow-up…

I am officially one of the ladies who can complain about getting a mammogram and having her boobs squished between plastic plates while getting very cozy with an X-ray machine. While not comfortable, this rite of passage did NOT hurt 😊

So, ladies over 40, go get one. Make sure your boobies aren’t trying to kill you either!

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This Is Me

I just cried while I was running. That’s not too uncommon, honestly. Ask my husband. But I wanted to write about this one.

I have a chronic illness that I really, really wish I could willpower myself out of. I fight depression every day.

Not all days are bad. Some days are good. So, so good. Some are even great and I am so happy!!! Those days are perhaps more amazing than face value because I know what it’s like to have too many days that have no light at all. I just can’t see the light from the things I love most. It’s like I have a curtain over everything and can’t see any good. On the rare delightful occasion, my brain tries really hard to kill me.

But some days are just a plain ol’ struggle.

Today I woke up, took the dogs out, woke up my daughter, fed the cats, grabbed some breakfast and drove my car to work. You know, adult shit.

I went to my great job where I help shelter pets. I did surgeries and discussed patients and people looked to me as if I have all my shit together. I did some paperwork for another shelter and headed home. I was already exhausted from just that little bit. I got home and went straight into the dark bedroom. 30 minutes later, I went to pick up my daughter. I asked how her day was and I was excited when she told me about her classes.

When we got home, I went right back to bed. I have rehearsal with this really incredible chorus tonight (that is totally out of my league, but I’m working on it…) and I am really really trying to run more than once every now and then. So I dragged myself out of bed. Dragged, for real. I think my shins scraped the bed frame. And I went to run.

That’s good and all but that’s not why I cried.

We are practicing a song you might have heard of: This Is Me from The Greatest Showman. We were asked to sing for a possible solo or small group part, but I hadn’t planned on trying that. (See above about it being out of my league)

The song came on and I lost my shit. If you haven’t heard the song, go YouTube it. Seriously. Go now and I’ll wait.

I’m even going to try to add a link for you to make it easy.

This Is Me

Did you listen to it? Are you crying? If you didn’t listen to it, here are some of the lyrics:

I am not a stranger to the dark. Hide away, they say. We don’t want your broken parts.

I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars. Run away, they say. No one will love you as you are.

I won’t let them break me down to dust. I know that there’s a place for us. For we are glorious!!

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out. I am brave. I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be. This is me.

If you don’t have goosebumps, it’s because you’re not singing along in you head, like I am.

This song, you guys. It came on my shuffled playlist and I broke the fuck down. I ugly cried while running down a major street near my house.

For SO long, I hid these scars. I sat in the dark by myself and hid away the ugliness, even as I pretended to be fine.

The Incident was a hell of a way to be dragged into the light, ugly scars and sadness and struggle and all, but I’m here. I am out here trying every day. And I AM brave. And I am bruised as hell. But I am who I’m meant to be. This. Is. Me.

And you know what, you’re here too. You have struggles. They may be like mine or they may be different, but they hurt and it is hard to show up sometimes. But you are here. You are brave. You are who you’re meant to be. You are beautiful. Glorious. Bruises and scars and broken parts and all.

Addendum:

I wrote the above part during my run. So, I’m adding an addendum. I did audition (even though I only knew the baritone part until I started driving to rehearsal)

I got up and sang in front of some of the most talented ladies I have ever met. Sinus infection, dry mouth, running clothes and forgotten words aside, I stood up beside singers far more talented than I, and I faced a chorus of beautiful voices. And you know what? They were all smiling at me. Every one. I took a step out and found beauty. I will still struggle and I will still fight and I will still have bad days and sometimes really bad days, but sometimes I find beauty in the world. Thank you to everyone who shows up every day even when you want to be in a dark room alone.

I’ll be out there too.

I hate 24 hour weeks.

It’s been a long week. Shhhhh. I know it’s Monday. I just don’t want to think about the fact that there are 6 more days to go in this week. Why has it been such a long 24 hour week?

I don’t have a good answer.

Yesterday, I got to hang out with my family and I didn’t do anything other than watch movies and do nothing. I even tried to order groceries online. I just didn’t have the energy to do anything else. I wanted to do a lot of things. I just couldn’t. And I didn’t have any good reason why not. I even slept til 11:00.

Today I got to go to work with my husband and do surgeries for shelter pets with a great group of people who are fun and work hard (huge bonus: no difficult clients to deal with). And I am still so, so tired. I slept fine.

And sometimes that’s what depression does. It does lots of things. But sometimes it’s boring and the opposite of dramatic. It’s anti-dramatic. It’s being tired for no reason and not wanting to get out of bed. Just because. Not because I want to luxuriate in the soft pillows and comforter that are free of dog and cat hair… (because I don’t have those) but because I just can’t find the energy to move. Because I can’t find anything to make me want to move. Even the things I love. I still love them. I just can’t find the energy.

But I did get up. I did go do 20 surgeries. I did have a great dinner with my husband and my kid. And I loved it. And I am still tired. So I’m going to type out this short little blog, have some tea, take a hot bath, and go to bed.

And tomorrow I’m going to get up and go to a wonderful job and save some animals and work with amazing people and tell depression to get back in the back seat. I’m driving and it’s not. Probably still going to be tired. But one foot in front of the other, as always. I’ll find my energy again.

I’m not sharing this for sympathy or to “harsh your mellow”. I just want you to know that if you’re dealing with the same shit, you’re not alone. And as soon as I get enough energy to get back to shore, I will be right here to throw you a life saver — either the flotation device or the candy, whichever you need the most. You are awesome. You are tired. But you are still fighting and that makes you a hero. Even if the person you save is yourself, you’re still a hero and I see you being incredible by getting up and out during those times when depression has you sucked dry. You got this and so do I.

Long time, no sing!

Hey, y’all!!  I know it’s so unlike me to not post anything for long periods at a time, but, well… here we are!  Life has been happening.  Some bad, mostly good, but as usual, I tend to ruminate over the bad, so we’re just going to skip over the last few (mostly awesome!) months and go to this week.  I will probably backtrack later, since I know you’re probably holding your breath for it. I mean, what’s not exciting about work and not training and depression and normal life and some awesome trips scattered around?!

I do lots of epic shit that most people don’t.  It feels REALLLLLLY weird and awkward to say/write that because I am really not good at being positive about myself.  Self-deprecating?  Expert level.  Maybe, like, Wizard level or some shit.

But, if I were to look at the things I do and have done, it’s pretty epic (I’m going to list some to remind myself that I’m not bragging.  I have done epic shit and it’s ok to say that.): went to – and survived, even passed! – vet school, finished an Ironman, lots of marathons, lots of triathlons, climbed Pike’s Peak, survived The Incident, moved to new cities without knowing anyone – twice,  did a 50K, amputated a kitten’s leg last week because it was nasty and too broken to fix, lived with and survived depression every damn day, and some more stuff that I can’t remember right now but I’m sure my husband would remind me of if I asked… )

But I don’t really get out of my comfort zone often.  I ask myself why and all I can come up with is because it’s hard.  WTF?  Like climbing Pike’s Peak without acclimating or ever climbing more than 2,000 feet was easy?  Like training for and doing my first marathon was easy?  Like getting out of bed when I am depressed is easy?  Because it’s hard has never been a good excuse for me.  Because it’s hard is WHY I chose vet school and WHY I did an Ironman and WHY I do lots of things.  So, I decided I would try something intimidating for me.  I went to a MeetUp.

Scary, right?  For an introvert who has little self-confidence, it was super hard to walk into a room of talented people that I had never met.  All alone.  Without a way to hide.  I even had scrubs on with my name on them.  There was no hiding.  “A MeetUp?” you ask.  That’s vague.

So, since we moved to our new city over a year ago, I (we, really) have not felt settled.  I don’t have friends in this city.  I have friends at work, but that’s all AT LEAST 30 minutes away — and with that city’s traffic, a trip there could take more like 1 to 1.5 hours, so I don’t expect them to come to my city and hang out either!  And I don’t have my music.  I really miss my choral group and just singing in general.  I went to a choral organization in our town, but it just didn’t feel right and wasn’t very welcoming and was hard to get to for rehearsals after work.

So I went to MeetUp to look again.  And I found something scary.

Y’all, it’s a SHOW CHOIR.  An amazingly professional, super welcoming, hard working, incredible choir.  I have never been in a show choir.  I didn’t exactly have the most inspiring (read: any) music/arts opportunities in high school and I concentrated on vet school prerequisites in college, so I am not chorally-trained.  But this was fantastic.

If you know me in person, you know that I am… animated… when I talk or describe things or, really, do anything.  There are flailing arms and legs and weird facial expressions and changes in voice.  Normally, that’s not something you do while singing in a chorus.  Unless it’s a show choir!  The expressions on their faces were perfect.  They moved and smiled and looked like they were having a great time.  And my cheeks hurt from smiling while watching them.  Their director is amazing and talented and I think every single member said hello and welcomed me.

I have to sing for them to place my voice, then audition in a couple of weeks, so I’m not part of that group (yetfingers crossed!!!)  I am going to train like an Ironman.  But with my voice.  So, not really like an Ironman at all.  What I really meant by that was that I’m going to train really hard, and … geez. You get the point.

I’m going to try to whip this voice that hasn’t sung in well over a year and is still fighting off the bronchitis from my upper respiratory infection from a MONTH ago into shape.  Some shape.  Maybe not the first soprano shape it used to be in, but this choir requires a different tone of voice than what I’m used to, so maybe it will be fine.

Even if I don’t make it in this time, I still went outside my comfort zone.  This time, I was rewarded with smiles and welcomes.  Next time, it may be awkward and weird and unpleasant, but I believe that each time it will get easier.  Probably slowly.  Because just typing that made my blood pressure go up and my palms get sweaty.  uuuuuggggghhh. But I’ll do it anyway.  Because you never get anywhere by sitting still and, while sitting right here on my couch, writing and drinking coffee sounds like a really good strategy, I know it won’t lead to many adventures.  And I like adventures.

Trip Out West (Chapters 4 – 5) aka “The Conclusion”

Chapter Four:  Pueblo and Taos and We Weren’t Murdered in a Teepee

 

Thursday, July 20

 

Up kind of early, a visit to Starbucks for caffeine, then a quick side trip.  My friend Barb worked in Pueblo for several years when she first graduated from vet school and the veterinarian she worked with (and loved working with) was still there.  Barb asked me to stop by and give her a hug.  So this random stranger (me) wandered into a vet clinic in Pueblo, CO, leaving a car full of people in the parking lot to ask to give another random stranger a hug.  When I explained that Barb had sent me to give her a hug from TN, both the doctor and the staff were so excited.  Just so we are clear, I wouldn’t have done that for anyone but Barb, and maybe, like 2 other people.

 

Once I hugged a (now former) stranger, we got on the road again.  This time toward Taos, New Mexico.  We had planned to spend a night in a teepee in a small town in NM — found via AirBNB.  So we took a bit of a detour to Taos, because I’m not sure why — but we did.  We had fun there and ate LARGE portions at The Gorge.  Taos was pretty and really touristy but I bought an awesome mug from a local artist, G got some animal figurines and we got J a super neat steampunk-y light switch for the den.  Oddly enough, J met the best friend (M) of the niece of the lady who owns the teepee.  She told us that the road there was really rough, but that they would shuttle us there if we needed it.  What a coincidence! (or the set-up of a horror movie.  Hard to know.)

 

We headed off toward the teepee.  The drive was absolutely beautiful.  Mountains and trees and green (not the dry, brown mountains we had been looking at).  We turned off the highway and onto a gravel road, following the directions.  The phones had no reception at all.  We passed gates and ranches and I was dodging deep holes and ruts and washouts like crazy in my little Mazda 5. We barely forded a stream without bottoming out on the other bank.  Then, the gravel road turned to dirt.  And the ruts got a lot deeper.  I was having to control my breathing and say prayers to all the gods and straddle tire-worn ruts to make sure I didn’t rip out the bottom of the car in the middle of nowhere NM.  I might have almost cried.  If we had needed a shuttle (or a tow truck or the police), we couldn’t have called the people to come get us!

 

We turned through a gate and dammit the road got worse!! How can it get worse?!?  It did.  Now we added large rocks, a steep grade and a drop-off at the right side to the ruts, washouts, holes and deep tire tracks.  Yay.  My knuckles were white when we made it to an abandoned, crumbling stone house.  I pulled into the grass, partially to figure out where to go next and partially to catch my breath and get my blood pressure back to a normal-ish level.  An old, beat-up, rusted out Ford pickup truck sloooowly made its way down to us from a house about 1/2 mile away.  We thought maybe these were the people who were meeting us.  Thank god they were not.  Two twenty somethings with dreadlocks, chokers, dirty clothes, barefoot, and a suspiciously distracted look in their eyes got out and started at us for a minute before they said cars smaller than ours had made it up there before.  Oooooohkay.  Thanks!  They got back in the truck and headed on down the road.  We think they might live in that house, actually.  That’s fine and all.  Anyone who knows us knows we don’t judge people and as long as they’re not hurting anyone, they’re cool with us!  The thing about these two was that creepy vibe.  We weren’t sure they haven’t hurt anyone…

 

We could see a woman a little further up, working on her four-wheeler.  I took a deep breath and we slooooowly made our way on up to the house.  C met us and was super nice.  She said “Welcome to paradise!”  We looked around and completely agreed.  We were surrounded by mountains and blue sky and light clouds and trees and a creek.  A border collie and two Pyrenees ran up to meet us.  It WAS paradise.  She hopped on the four wheeler and led us further along a dirt path.  About another 1/2 mile down the trail, we came to a clearing with a large field.  There were about 10 cows who were super excited to see the four wheeler.  C sighed and said she didn’t think to bring them any cake this time.  Lila, the border collie, tried to herd them but mostly she was just trying to show off for the new people.

 

At the edge of the clearing was a perfect teepee.  Inside was neat as a pin (sidenote:  wth does that mean?  neat as a pin?  are pins extra neat?  how would you know?  they’re so small…  and it really all depends on where they’ve been.  whatever)  There was a really soft bed, two bedrolls, a low table with lots of blankets neatly folded, a larger table holding a jug full of water and a basket full of of cute, flower patterned dishes.  There was a cute fire pit in the center of the well-swept floor.  M’s business card was next to a vase of flowers.  Lil and Lay were really excited to put pics on Instagram but were disappointed to find that phone service wasn’t really much of a thing there in the teepee field.  We unloaded our stuff and hung up our hammocks in the nearby trees.  G came running over to say, “The cows are licking all our stuff!”  Sure enough, the cows were licking everything sitting next to the car.  And parts of the car.  I walked over and said, “Hey.  What are you doing?!”  One black cow tilted her head and stared at me, her tongue mid-lick.  I repeated myself and she backed away from the car.  I think she snorted in a pissy manner as she walked off.  She kept looking back at me like I was the asshole here.  A couple of horses wandered into the field a little later, but they didn’t lick any of our stuff.

 

We made a fire and ate PB&J for dinner since we didn’t bring veggie dogs or s’mores stuff.  Lay tried to toast a piece of bread on a stick, but oddly enough, it doesn’t really work.  The bread just falls into the fire or catches on fire while falling off the stick.  But I had to let her try.  Learn from experience, right?

 

C and Lila came by again to check on us.  I told her that this place was great and that had we known, we would have planned to stay more than one night.  “Most people are only here one night,” she said.

 

Does it feel like I am setting up a horror movie?  Because it started to feel that way to me…  I mean, we are a family on vacation.  Just a regular old, innocent vacation.  We find this great place online.  It’s a deal at only $50/night!  We drive out into the middle of the mountains where there is no cell service and the road is almost impossible to navigate in our family car.  (Imagine trying to escape down that road in the middle of the night.  Or any time you have to drive fast…  Not going to happen.  That undercarriage is gonna be sitting 50 feet behind the rest of the car at some point and you’re going to be stranded.)  We meet some weird, off-putting people on the way in.  Everything seems perfect at this little teepee.  C tells us that people only stay one night.  And we met a friend of the family in a town an hour away.  Her card is even in the teepee. Like she’s a scout or a helper or something. Once we start dozing off next to the fire, we all (except G) come to the same conclusion that we were lured here to be murdered.

 

I slept with my glasses and headlamp on, with a pocketknife and a spray can of bug repellant (because that shit hurts if you get it in your eyes!)  I knew that I would push G between the teepee wall and the bed to hide her and that no one better mess with us because between the threat to our kids, his Army training and brute strength and my dangerous red-headedness, we would be pretty damn formidable.  Just thinking about the audacity of anyone trying to kill us made me so mad!  How dare they?!  J was originally sleeping in the hammock outside so G and I could have the bed, but he started thinking that if something happened and he was lying out there in his mummy bag sleeping bag, he would probably just fall out of the hammock and be totally useless.  So he came in and squeezed into the bed.  For our protection, of course.

 

It turns out no one tried to murder us.  I still haven’t decided if that’s because they are nice people who would never think about murdering a family of vacationers or if they were going to but changed their minds either because they didn’t want to kill such sweet kids or because they thought we would be too much to take on.  Jury’s still out.  But we’re not dead, so that’s good.  None of us had said anything to each other the night before, because we didn’t want to scare G, but it turns out every single one of us had been thinking the same thing.  We watch waaaay too much TV.

 

Despite the terrifying description above, it really was great.  C was super sweet and the teepee was perfectly kept.  Even the outhouse was nice!  I would love to go back and spend more than one night there. (But in a 4 x 4)

Friday, July 21
 

We all woke up early and packed aaaaallllll that shit back up.  Lila and the pyrenees came to visit us when C came by to check on us.  She wished us well and said that we were welcome any time.  We finally got everything into the luggage bag and the back seat.  I really regretted not bringing instant coffee as we started back down the road from hell.  I made J get out of the car for a few of the especially treacherous areas.  Everyone else got out before I forded the creek and this time I didn’t even scrape the car at all!  It was still a tense drive back to the main road and I’m pretty sure we all cheered a little when we hit pavement and the car was still in one piece.

 

Chapter 5: Santa Fe is amazing but the Texas Panhandle is meh and driving is exhausting

 

We headed to Santa Fe and found out that this capital city is beautiful!  We ate at the Plaza Restaurant, which is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Santa Fe, then walked around the plaza.  We saw the Basilica of St. Francis — beautiful and sacred — and viewed an art installation in the park.  Then we shopped.  A LOT.  The girls went shopping together and J and I went shopping together.  The girls found some really pretty jewelry and cute stuff (and took lots of selfies).  J and I bought a print from an artist who loves rescue dogs and cats.  This particular print was commissioned by a family with 5 rescue dogs, all with distinct personalities.  The artist, Victoria de Almieda, showed us how she portrayed each personality in the painting and why she placed each dog where it was in relation to each other.  She also showed us how she always puts her grandmother’s house somewhere in each painting.  I looooove buying from artists.  I am no art collector or art connoisseur by any means.  I buy things that make me happy.  When I get to meet the person who put their heart into something that makes me happy, it is even more meaningful.  You all should definitely check out her website. ( http://www.victoriadealmeida.com   and buy her stuff  at her  Etsy site)

 

Then we took our happy art into a cocoa store and bought fancy coffees and a big block of single origin 60% cacao with pistachios.  It was intended to be for a friend, but we ate it.  All.  Sorry, Barb.

 

We really could have spent days (and a lot more $$ if we had any) in Santa Fe and we will be back, I’m sure.  But we had to get home and still had many, many, many miles to go.  We drove east.  The rest of New Mexico was pretty, then became just desert.  We crossed into Texas without really noticing. The Texas panhandle is… not appealing to me.  It’s dry and dusty and flat.  We ate at 575 Pizza in Amarillo, then continued the trek east. The Western Hotel in Shamrock, TX is right on Route 66 and is right next to the iconic Conoco Tower (apparently that is a famous landmark of some kind).  Our room was pretty perfect for us, with 2 separate bedrooms; it looked like a dorm room.  We had a regular (not electronic) key and the hallways smelled like the Sunday school rooms in an old Baptist church.  You know that smell.  You know exactly what I mean if you grew up in the South.  G said, “It’s too hot to relax!  I can’t sleep.”  The words were barely out of her mouth before her head hit the pillow and she was snoring.  We were all tired,

 

Saturday, July 22

 

Up at 9:30.  Breakfast at McDonald’s (for some authentic cuisine, obviously), then more driving east. A few bathroom stops, then lunch at Taco Bueno in Sallisaw, OK.  (We also apparently crossed into Oklahoma at some point without noticing and I was super disappointed because I had my “Oklahoma!” soundtrack all cued up and everything.)  Oklahoma is pretty much like Texas and Kansas, but with a few more trees and worse drivers than Kansas.  (Shout out to Kansas drivers.  Y’all know how to get the hell out of the damn left lane and not just cruise along in that passing lane like it’s your own personal road. Huge appreciation to you.)

 

Late, about 10:30 Central Time (I hate losing an hour), we stopped at Red Robin in Jackson, TN.  We sang “Jackson” as a duet, even though it’s not the right Jackson, then J drove the rest of the way home because my freaking feet were swelling from not changing position for 12 hours.

 

We got home around 1:30 AM to two very upset cats and quite a dramatic mess to clean up before J and I could fall into bed.

 

 

It was a busy, chaotic, unpredictable, exhausting, sometimes scary, sometimes boring, sometimes really exciting and always completely amazing trip to see parts of the country we have never before seen.  It’s easy to forget how HUGE the USA is when we’re going about our daily routines.  Part of me was glad to get home and get back to “normal”, but the rest of me wants to see more.  We’re going to look into a 4 x 4 if there are any more backroads in the future (spoiler alert: there will be).

 

Thanks for sticking with me and reading my travelogue.  (I had to write it down because my memory is such that even though this was an amazing, memorable trip, I won’t remember the details in a month. <– this is a curse and a blessing.  It’s getting much harder to hold grudges as I get older too.)

 

 

Trip Out West 2017 (Chapters 1-3) yes, chapters. It was a long trip.

I am having a hard time right now, maybe some post-trip blues or just straight up stress or the depression or whatever, so I’m just going to put the trip stuff this out here 😃

Some background — we decided earlier this summer that we would take a trip out west.  J decided that he needed a new exciting hobby.  I suggested Jujitsu or Tae kwon do.  He went with mountain climbing.  For the past few weeks, he has been training on the treadmill with the incline set to max, wearing hiking boots or mountaineering boots while also wearing a weighted backpack.  I have occasionally walked on the treadmill and sometimes wore boots. We decided to take the girls, Lil (17), Lay (15.5) and G (7) to hike Pike’s Peak.  Because we are crazy.  Or as my friend Barb says, we suffer well.

 

Chapter One:  Travels

Saturday, July 15

I worked until 3:30, then headed home to finish packing everything up.  We got a later start than we had hoped (as usual) but we were on the road by 7:00.  We headed west in a car loaded down with me, J, Lil, Lay and G, backpacking stuff, snacks, sleeping bags, etc, etc. We drove to Illinois, turned west on I-70 and made it to St Louis, MO about 12:30.  It was dark but we had to get out and see the arch.  Lots of selfies were made. A park ranger on a bicycle fussed at us but then gave us a lot of info about the arch. We tried to get rooms in several towns.  One sounded great but when we tried to check in, he said that the room limit was 4 people, not 5.  Ugh.  Several accommodation fails later, about 3:00 am, we stopped at a Super 8 in Colombia, MO, which was really great!

Sunday, July 16

In the morning, we got up about 9:00 and headed further west.  We stopped at the Bluebird Cafe in Kansas City, MO. It was amazing. So good. So fantastic.  Yum. Kansas City isn’t anything like I thought it would be, although I don’t know that I ever really thought about Kansas City at all. So it’s hard to say what I thought it would be like. It’s definitely worth it’s own visit, not just a drive-through.  Putting that on my list of things to do that I will forget to do.

 

Headed westerly again.  Then, Kansas. Just Kansas.  For a long time. So much flat and fields. The windmills were cool. We listened to a lot of podcasts.

 

We made it to Colorado Springs about 10:00pm.  It was dark, so we couldn’t see the mountains while we were driving in.  An issue with the hotel again. We had booked through Expedia, which meant the hotel would hold a bunch of money out of our account.  We would be left with not much for the next 4 days. But Kevin at the desk was really awesome and really went out of his way to help. We got the room (really nice, clean, pretty room) and managed to keep the money in the bank.  Yay!

Monday, July 17

Big breakfast.  Big big breakfast before heading to climb a freaking mountain. But… I didn’t make a list of stuff to pack for G, so of course I forgot important things like a warm layer.  We went to Target for water bottles (SmartWater or LifeWater 1 L bottles are great for putting in a pack…) and a cute sweatshirt for G to wear under her jacket. We left Target and headed to Manitou Springs.

Chapter 2: Pike’s Peak

To the trail!  Manitou Springs was a super cute little town.  Parking for the trailhead when you plan an overnight stay is damn difficult.  We ended up parking in the free parking area and taking the free shuttle to a stop near the trailhead.  Then we got to hike up a steep ass street for about half a mile to the trailhead.

The. Hike.

The first 3 miles were torture.  Seriously. It was really, really hot and all in the sun.  The sun and I, we don’t get along.  I like the fact that we have plants and green things and our planet isn’t a ball of ice.  But I don’t like being out in the sun.  It sucks out all my energy and burns my skin and makes me tired.  We saw a lady fall right on her rear end on her way down.  Lots of people passed us, but they were all heading back down.

 

The trail got much prettier once we got into the trees.  That part was much more promising and we didn’t all want to die anymore.  There was an area along the trail where we stopped to refill our water bottles in the stream.  (Then sterilized it with our Steri-pen.  I’m not dealing with giardia or cryptosporidium.  Nope.)  The girls played in the flowers in the nearby field.  Getting started again was hard, but we eventually did it.  We got to Barr Camp just a little after dark.

 

Barr Camp was amazing!  It’s staffed full-time by volunteers.  They stay up there 24/7 with no electricity and no plumbing. The 2 volunteers that met us were Bailey and Zach.  Zach’s family was visiting. They were from PA.  And so, so nice.  A friend had stopped by (by “stopped by” I mean, hiked 6 miles up a damn mountain) and made homemade chocolate mousse.  They made enough cups that they had just enough to include us!  No only did they make the dehydrated meal we purchased, they gave us dessert!  (By the way, that was the BEST pasta primavera I have ever had.  I doubt that had anything to do with the fact that I was exhausted, really hungry, and tired of Clif bars for the moment.)  We had super nice conversations over tea by lamplight.

 

It turns out that Zach is an amazing athlete.  He won (FREAKING WON) the North Face 50 mile Endurance Championship in California.  This guy was totally unassuming and talked to us about what to expect on the next half of the hike.  We talked about how amazing people who run the Pike’s Peak Marathon are.  This guy casually mentioned that he had run it before and that it is hard but that he was sure we could do it sometime. He never once mentioned his training, his abilities, or how much he ran, never bragged about his races or acted like we commoners could never do something like that…

 

Another super nice couple spent time talking to us about the stuff that we have done. They are ultra-marathoners who moved to Colorado Springs from PA and love it in CO. They frequently hike the Pike’s Peak trail and other 14-ers (those are mountains over 14,000 ft high; we’re so cool now that we just refer to them as 14-ers).  She has done the Pike’s Peak marathon a few times and they have done some pretty difficult ultra marathons in Utah and around.  They lived in South Africa for awhile.  Super interesting people who were so supportive and friendly.  They are the ones who told us about Zach’s amazing abilities and they offered for us to stay at their house next time we are in Colorado Springs.  (That trip will definitely happen.  I’m not sure when, but it will.  We love that area!)  We talked for a good half hour, then we headed to change out of the sweaty clothes from the day and get in bed.

 

The girls were afraid of bears, so instead of the 5 of us sleeping in 2 lean-tos, we slept all 5 in one lean-to.  It was… cozy.  We spent a good 10 minutes trying to remember the name of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s family’s name.  (Buckets.  They were called the Buckets.) Because we were them that night.  We all had to turn over in unison.  Bears were no longer a danger because if they had tried to pull one of us out of the lean-to, they wouldn’t be able to.  We were tightly packed in there.  For safety.

 

Grace lost her mind because there was a mayfly in the lean-to.  She might have woken the entire camp, but they were all very nice about it.

 

We were all prepared for cold alpine nights.  It was not cold, even though it was an alpine environment.  It only got down to the mid-50s.  We were all burning up.  I opened up my sleeping bag and mosquitoes ate me alive.  I did not sleep well.

 

Tuesday, July 18

First thing in the morning, a mule deer doe was staring at us, wondering who these sweaty creatures were all piled up like sausages in a little house.  Yes, that is what she was thinking.  It was obvious.  Plus, I am a veterinarian, so I know.

 

We wriggled out of the lean-to pile and started gathering up our stuff and re-packing.  We filled up our liters of water (and sterilized them bit by bit) and went in for pancakes.  Delicious whole grain pancakes with apples and cinnamon were filling and tasty!  We checked the weather for the climb and thanked everyone at Barr Camp for their kindness, then started toward the top of the mountain.  We knew altitude would start to be more of a problem, especially since we would be gaining altitude pretty quickly. We planned a slow and steady approach.

 

Why are those bags so damn heavy?!?

 

J found a perfect walking stick and gave it to me.  (Spoiler alert: It ends up saving my life.  Pretty much.)  It helped SO much and we all regretted not getting trekking poles.  The hike was beautiful and the temp was about 70 degrees.  Gorgeous. We made it to the meadow with the A-frame in time for a quick lunch just before the storm hit.  We all climbed into the A-frame to wait it out.  It was much bigger on the inside than we thought. (It was probably secretly a TARDIS) Once the storm rolled by, we all crawled out and refilled our water bottles from the stream, since it was the last water before the summit.

 

We hiked above the tree line and after another 30 minutes or so, the effects of the altitude hit me.  Hard.  We did have a chipmunk friend who followed us back and forth along the switchbacks for a half mile or more.  Marmots fussed at us from the rocks and mule deer stared at us like they were puzzled.  J and G even saw a pika, who stuck his head out and yelled at them when they walked by.

 

You can’t really tell where the trail goes until you get right up on it.  Because everything just looks like rocks.  Lots of rocks.  And rock walls that go straight up a few hundred feet.  I wasn’t breathing very well.  G was tired (being 7, even just carrying her sleeping bag was a lot to ask) so J took her pack.  I attached it to the back of his pack and they started up again, holding hands.  He told her she was his battle buddy, just like in the Army, and they had to help each other get through no matter what it took.  So she had to help him and he would help her.  (My heart melted every time I looked up and saw my husband and little girl helping each other up a mountain.  But that’s the way he is, always.)

 

I started again and realized that, nope, my body wasn’t having any of that nonsense.  I took 2 steps and had to stop to breathe.  This is where the walking stick saved me.  I had to lean on that damn stick like an old woman in a fairytale.  I couldn’t sit down or I wouldn’t be able to stand back up again, so instead of sitting down, I leaned.  I counted my steps.  Every 100 steps, I allowed myself to stop to breathe, take a sip, and lean.  Lil and Lay were ahead, helping each other along — because that’s what sisters do.  J and G were holding hands and helping their battle buddy.  It was heartwarming — and I was terrified that they weren’t going to reach the top in time to catch our scheduled train down and before the storm coming up behind me hit with no cover for them.

 

I just couldn’t believe how hard it was for me to breathe.  It seemed to have hit so suddenly.  I kept assessing myself to make sure I wasn’t showing signs of Acute Mountain Sickness.  Altitude Sickness I could handle, even with the mild nausea, but I wasn’t sure how to descend quickly if signs of AMS showed up.  And I’m not sure my perfectionist, stubborn, Ironman personality would do the right thing and let me go back if early signs started showing up. 100 steps. Stop. Drink. Lean.  50 steps.  Stop. Drink. Lean.  Worry about the time.  Worry about the storm.  Where the hell is the damn trail?  oh.  there it is.  50 steps.  30 steps.  50 steps.  100 steps.  Stopping.  Drinking.  Leaning.  WTF?!?!?  We have to go ALL THE WAY BACK ACROSS THE SOUTHERN FACE TO THE OTHER SIDE?  I’m going to be SO mad if I die after all this but before I get to the top.  Step. Step. Step.  Pant.  Well, shit.  My water bottle is empty and I can’t reach my extra one without taking my pack off and we all know that if I do that I will never get it back on and omg it’s getting so late. Ok  100 steps for real this time.  Fuck.  I can only do 60.  Ok.  Now 100.  Thank god!  It’s the golden stairs.  I think.  Are these the golden stairs?  I don’t know.  They seem like what the guide books called the golden stairs.  I know everyone hates them and they’re hard, but I really hope this is them because that’s the last bit before the end and omg I only have 15 minutes before the train leaves.  Yay!  Lil and Lay are at the top.  They can ride the train and I don’t have to worry about helping them hitchhike back down.  This is not good. I’m catching up to J and G.  I hope they can make the train.  45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50.  Stop. Pant. Lean.  

 

I made it up to the summit as the train was signaling its departure. I felt like I was finishing the Ironman again (just about to vomit and everything), but I made myself hobble/run to the train.  I got to my seat just as my vision started to get tunnel-y and sat down with my head between my legs.  My sweet little 7 year old mountain climber was terrified that the train would go fast and she was sobbing.  Lay wasn’t on the train because she was still in the gift shop.  It started raining and she made it on board just before the train pulled away.

 

Lay had been like a mountain goat the entire trip.  The altitude hadn’t touched her at all and she didn’t seem to struggle in the least.  She was always waiting on us (patiently) and helping G.  But she tends to get motion sickness.  It might have been the sudden change in altitude up and then down again or the motion or a combination of both, but she got pretty sick on the train and didn’t feel well for the rest of the night.  Everyone on the train and the shuttle cheered for us since we summited the mountain, and Grace got special applause on the shuttle when they found out she had climbed the mountain too.

 

It was pouring rain and whipping wind and crazy lightning as we ran from the shuttle to the car — which was mercifully still there and had not been towed.  Everything was wet.  Everything we were wearing was soaked.  The luggage bag on top of the car had water standing in the folds, now that it was mostly empty, so that poured out onto us and into the car door when we tried to open it.  We shoved a couple of packs into the luggage bag and made the girls hold the rest on their laps.  Except that Lay had to keep getting out to get sick 😔 .  We thought we might camp that evening, but no way were we going to set up tents in the pouring rain with all that wind and lightning.

 

We ate pizza at Hell’s Kitchen (except Lay — she got hers to go) and found a room at a really awesome, really old motel called the Silver Saddle.  I realized just before we went to the hotel that my walking stick had been left at the train station.  I was not going home without her.  She was my new walking stick and she had saved my life and I was going to take her home and name her and maybe even paint her.  We went back to get her and stuck her in the car, between all the kids.

 

Then to the Silver Saddle. It had not been updated in awhile, but it was clean, had a shower, had wi-fi, AND had a king bed in a separate room from the 2 queen beds.  Perfect.  We got all our stuff out of our packs and laid everything out to dry.  We slept pretty well, but wanted to sleep much longer than the 10:00 alarm.

 

Chapter Three: Pike’s Peak the Easy Way — easy-ish

 
Wednesday, July 19

Packing everything up that morning was tricky and a pain in the ass, but we got everything re-packed pretty well.  Moira (my stick) got strapped onto the luggage rack behind the luggage bag. (Yes.  Moira.  She named herself, so I had to go with it.)

 

Lunch/Brunch was at Adam’s Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs.  It was ah. may. zing. SOOOOOO many vegetarian and even vegan options and they were all so delicious.  And the portions.  They were HUGE.  This is saying a lot coming from someone who just climbed a damn mountain.

 

J and I dropped the girls off in town so they could do some shopping in the super cute town at all the super cute stores.  G was really excited to be able to walk around with just her sisters.  J and I headed to drive to the summit of Pike’s Peak, since we hadn’t gotten any pictures or souvenirs the day before (as we had breathlessly stumbled to the top in a storm while the train was practically pulling away from the station…)  We also needed to spread J’s granny’s ashes since she had always wanted to go to Colorado and we wanted her to have a good view.

 

I am used to driving on curvy, frightening, narrow mountain roads.  They don’t bother me (as long as I am the one driving).  But this was a HARROWING drive.  No guard rails in most areas and steep drop offs.  I was fine, but J was not.  He was scared and I have NEVER, EVER seen him scared before.  Ever.  He doesn’t do well with heights.  He did fine with the climb up and was even able to look off into a 1500 foot drop on the hike, but being in a car headed up this mountain with sheer drops on his side and cars coming down the mountain on my side, knowing that burned out and failed brakes are a thing was too much.  Plus, we were both affected by the altitude again when we reached the summit and got out of the car.  We decided it would be best for him to ride the train back down again.  (This was a wise decision.  For him and for me. He was freaking me out.)

 

We shopped around in the gift shop and took a lot of pictures from the summit.  We took some group pictures for a family from Indiana who had flown into Denver a few days earlier and were having trouble with the altitude too.  We told Granny that we had all climbed this mountain and we love her and then we spread her ashes in a place with a beautiful view, away from everyone.  The wind was whipping around in all directions, so even though I thought we were upwind, ashes blew into my eyes.  Of course they did.

 

I bought a doughnut (they are homemade at the summit) and a huge Mountain Dew and started back down.  As I was getting the doughnut, the summit employee (the gift shop employees are almost all also EMTs — good call, Pike’s Peak team!!) announced that a big storm was a few miles away and “if you are standing out here on this mountain, YOU are the highest point in the area.  You need to take cover in the building or your car until the storm passes.”  Hahaha.  Very true.  We were the highest point.  I might have been giddy from the altitude or the anticipation of the doughnut, but I giggled.

 

He wasn’t kidding about the storm.  Just as I headed down (in my lowest gear; I’m no dummy), the storm hit.  And when I say it hit, I mean it pummeled me with golf-ball sized hail and huge wind gusts.  I just had my windshield FINALLY replaced before the trip after years of putting it off and all I could think was “please don’t crack my windshield!!  I was really glad J was on the train because the descent plus the storm plus all the warnings about failing brakes would have been torture for him.  And me.  As it was, I pulled over a few times to take pictures.  And once to let an SUV fly down past me, then watch them continually hit their brakes every few seconds.  It took a while to get down.

 

I wished I had bought a dozen doughnuts.  The one I ate an hour earlier was really good and I wanted another one and I wanted everyone to be able to taste them!

 

At the brake checkpoint, the ranger smiled and said, “Wow!  78 degrees!!  Keep it up!”  These are the kinds of things that make me proud.  Like when my urine is really dilute and I’m like, “Yay!  I’m so hydrated!”  Or when I’m like “I remembered to pay my bills!!”  Being an adult is stupid.

 

J took the shuttle to meet the girls who had taken shelter in the Tavern Inn restaurant and had eaten some dinner.  We went to a few shops and bought more stuff (art — Darth Vader holding 2 kittens!!!, ice cream, T-shirts.  You know.  The usual)

 

More pouring rain, lightning, wind…  We got settled in and headed south to Pueblo.  Apparently there was some sort of a convention in the area that week and we got literally the LAST room at the Comfort Inn.  It was nice!  Soft beds, clean.  The kids and J were hungry and wanted to find food.  At 11:00 pm.  They found a cool diner to eat at, but I stayed in the room and took a LOOOONG shower, read a book, and enjoyed the quiet bed! Because I am an adult and being an adult is stupid.  Also because I am an introvert and had been with people non-stop for days.  Except for the couple of hours when I couldn’t breathe and thought I might have to help everyone hitchhike down a damn mountain.

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter!  Chapter Four: Pueblo and Taos and We Didn’t Get Murdered in a Teepee!

Options!!!

Hey there, lovelies!! I feel like I have a legit excuse for the looong time between posts this time. Seriously. I know I always have good excuses (because I am an absolute wizard at rationalization) but these are really good.

 

We moved. I started a new job. G started a new school. It’s the holidays. And it is just who I am as a person. (When I was unpacking, I came across no fewer than 8 different journals that had 1-2 entries each. There may be more, but they are still hiding among my unpacked treasures.)

 

I am pretty happy, honestly. But I am unmoored.

 

I love the new job. It’s crazy and really busy and chaotic, but it feels good and everyone there is really wonderful. I still have my usual imposter syndrome and my “I’m not doing a very good job” inner monologue, but I like being a veterinarian again. And my hair is no longer falling out in handfuls. My commute is 30 minutes (it’s not bad at all most days; my previous drive to work was 8 miles but it took 20 minutes because of all the infuriating, poorly timed lights – ugh.) and J’s commute is now 30 minutes instead of 1.5 to 2 hours. So that’s all good. But it’s new and I don’t have the familiarity with clients and clinic culture that I had for the last 10 years. So, I’m unmoored.

 

G loves her new school. But there’s not as much communication as I was used to at her old school. I don’t know if that has to do with starting mid-year or if her previous school was just super great at including parents or if it’s because her teacher also got thrown in mid-year (a week after G started, she got a new teacher – the teacher is experienced, but just took over the class all of a sudden…) So I feel disconnected there and like I have no idea what is going on. G is loving it and she is excited to go to school and she is learning well and she actually enjoys reading now, so I can’t complain too much. Again, just a little unmoored.

 

We’re in a new city. The house finally feels like home and I mostly know where I’ve put things now. But I know NOTHING about this city. And I know NOONE here. I miss Choral Arts and being in the know about what’s happening and who will be there (I totally knew all the most awesome people in town. Love you all!!) And I knew all the good races and the people who would be participating and I knew the stores to go to for specific things… Things I took for granted. Now, I don’t know what the hell is going on or where to look to find out. I’m going to join a community chorus, but I don’t really know what to expect (small-town community chorus or awesome semi-pro chorus like Choral Arts? Dunno). I want to find a new yoga class that has the same vibe as the one I had come to look forward to each week. I don’t know where to “run by” on the way home to pick up whatever it is I need. That easy familiarity is gone and I am unmoored.

 

We had an election. I can’t even go into that now. Ugh. Waves of nausea. That’s a whole separate post. Let’s move along.

 

I have more time off now and I have a much more predictable schedule (and I have gained 20 lbs and don’t exercise at all), so I’ve mostly decided on Ironman training again. Louisville probably – mark your calendars so you can come to the best finish line of all Ironman races. But I don’t know where is safe and good to ride my bike. I don’t know good places to run. I don’t know anyone on my (low) level to bike or “run” with. I don’t know how to find safe and reliable childcare while I do my long rides or long runs (once I get to those). I am unmoored.

 

And I’m farther away from my family. Not an impossible distance. 3 hours. But there is a time zone difference and a longer drive than it was. And with J’s work schedule this holiday season, it will be much harder to spend time with them during the holidays. We’ve moved away physically (and emotionally from toxic in-law family stuff back in the other city), and I miss my family.

 

All these changes are really good (moving, new job, new town, less drama), but it leaves so many things wide open. Things don’t have to be done a certain way. This is good, but it’s like having a writing assignment without a topic. “Just write something”. Um, ok. Let me sit here and stare at this page for a few hours while being paralyzed by the infinite possibilities. Infinite possibilities are great! I’m super lucky to have so many options.

 

But it’s paralyzing and stressful for someone like me who can picture all the different opportunities and different options and different outcomes. Once I choose one, the others will be gone!! What if I choose wrong? Gah!!! (If I remember my Indiana Jones correctly – and movies are pretty much the source of all facts in life – if I choose poorly, I will turn into a skeleton in a very dramatic and horrifying fashion, then my dusty remains will blow away. So that’s a lot of pressure.)

 

This year will be the year we start new holiday traditions for our little family. G will remember them when she is an adult and they will either be sweet or scarring. So much pressure! I can decide to be whatever kind of veterinarian I want to be and decide how I want to interact with clients and set the stage for how my career will continue. I can explore new places and new stores and new things. I have so many ways to choose!

 

But because the field is wide open, I can’t decide or take any action whatsoever. Which causes even more anxiety. I am unmoored and floating around and can’t even decide which way to paddle. Or which paddle to use. OMG. Did I remember to bring a paddle? Where did I put it?

 

Any words of advice are welcome – especially if it has to do with local recommendations. While I’m getting settled, I am going to try to go with the flow (at least in the new year) and just enjoy the first world problems of too many options.