Why Backpack? Why Not Lipo?

The Dreaded Backpack

I could’ve had liposuction or a tummy tuck. Maybe a boob lift. Think about it. I’d go to sleep and wake up younger and thinner looking. They’d prescribe pain medication for discomfort. In a few short weeks, I’d be good as new. Sometimes I look at this wretched backpack and I wonder why I didn’t go for new boobs.

There was a time in my life when I might have done just that. As recently as last summer, I began saving money for future “body maintenance.” I’m over forty-five, and my rigorous exercise routine has become a daily practice in trying to maintain my girth. My cups and pants spillith over. Forget actual loss of weight. Those days appear to be over. Maintenance is where it’s at.

I have come to terms with the idea that if I want to be thin while over forty-five, I have to give up cake. And wine.

That’s not going to happen. Yet.

Another factor working against my body image is that I live in South Orange County, California where the women appear to age more like a fine wine. They get better with each passing year, resembling the Barbie aisle at Target. All the varieties are represented here. Since many are my friends I can tell you I have only witnessed one—ONE—who ordered dessert deliberately and willfully. Of course afterward she pushed back her chair and in front of a group of fifteen ladies, God, and anyone else lunching at the country club, she performed a few push-up burpees. And still managed to look dainty while doing so.

Cue the call to the plastic surgeon.

But then, something happened last summer right around the time I began the savings account for “future body maintenance.” In early July, I signed up to go on a backpack trip with thirty women writers. Why not lose weight like this instead?

The invitation was on a private Facebook community board. It went something like this: “Hey I’m going to be hiking in Newfoundland next year. Would anyone else be interested in hiking and writing for a hundred miles or so?”

On impulse, I said yes.

Then other women said yes. More and more women clamoring to hike and write together. None of us had ever met.

My initial reaction: Are they freaking serious? Isn’t this like the proverbial lunch date? “Let’s do lunch?” And the other woman says, “Yes, lets.” But there’s never any lunch.

That’s not what these women are about.

I had become entwined with women who actually make things happen. Excited women. Smart, funny, independent women. Women in all kinds of leadership roles who had already traversed across Thailand or Europe or India while wearing backpacks. Women who weren’t afraid of speaking their minds or getting dirty, or flying over continents to meet up in some remote place. To backpack and write together.

Who were these people? I was already in love with the courage.

Over the next couple of months I thought: You know, I should go ahead and cancel. I’m not as brave as they are. I’m too anxious. Not a travel writer. I’ve hardly been out of the country. If you count my little foray onto Vancouver Island. That’s it. That’s all of my worldliness. I don’t even have much in written publications.

July and August went by and still, I didn’t remove myself from the group. I was too amazed by the efforts—by everyone involved—to get us organized. We had formed teams. We had assignments. I didn’t want to miss a thing. Mesmerized and terrified, there I was, swept into the adventure.

A birthday lunch celebration last summer, pre-diagnosis.

A birthday lunch celebration last summer, pre-diagnosis.

And while I grappled with my fear of planning this big adventure, something else happened. My dear friend was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. This diagnosis came from out-of-nowhere. To say it felt like a sucker-punch would be an understatement.

I’ve been on this strange terrifying journey with her since. It’s strange because I feel like the disease has set her out alone on a boat. No one, not one of us can know exactly what she is going through. Not even other women who have the same disease. Each one of them is in her own boat. Some boats are better than others, more seaworthy. They have good health insurance, a supportive family, lots of love. My friend has a good boat, one of the best. But it doesn’t matter. She can’t come to shore and I can’t come out to her. I’m with her family, all of us running along the shoreline, calling out affirmations. She’s trying to be brave, but she doesn’t know what’s going to happen. All she knows is she wants off this f’ing boat. She wants her regular life back.

I call out, “I love you!” and, “Wear your sunscreen.” And other stupid things because I don’t know how else to help her beyond running alongside, going to the occasional lung draining appointment, and just being there for her to curse out loud or cry sometimes.

There are vibrant colored kites flying overhead. They stay close, but they can’t get in the boat. These are her friends with special skills who can help her meditate, or perhaps they have first hand knowledge of the illness. A friend who can perform acupuncture or some other holistic treatment. Me? I can’t be a kite. I’m the friend who runs alongside.

We know that some of the boats will make it back to shore. Sometimes it’s an old leaky boat. Sometimes, it’s the yacht. No one can say for sure whose boat will make it back for they’re all at the mercy of the weather.

My friend has something real to fear. She’s fighting for her life. She’s sacrificed her body to surgery, to poisons, to whatever she can do to live.

So why am I going backpacking instead of getting lipo?  What a difference a few short months can make.  Ask me now, and I bristle at the question.

I’m healthy, and I have abused my body. Poured chemicals in it. Alcohol, drugs, lovers (maybe the lovers part wasn’t so bad). Waxed places that shouldn’t be waxed. You name it, and yet, this body, has persevered. I love my body, this vessel that houses “me.” Why would I punish it further with lipo? I get to live here free of any health problems.

Key words: I get to live. Maybe next year I’ll get my own bad news, but for now, I haven’t been put on the sidelines for a chemo schedule or nausea.

This doesn’t take away my fear about the journey to Newfoundland. I have crippling anxiety that comes on for no particular reason. I’m a freak about flying in airplanes. Imagine a wet cat on board. God help us all on the 10-hour flight to Newfoundland if I begin to hyperventilate. Also, I’ve never been so far from home without my family. Never spent this many nights away from my husband.

When I look into my friend’s blue eyes, and hold her small hands in my own small hands…because we love each other like that even when she isn’t sick…I know I’m not canceling this trip. I have to go to Newfoundland, and layer myself with the strength of these other women. Take on new ideas. Challenge myself physically and mentally. Continue the conversations Traycie and I have always had about the sisterhood of women, mothering, education, feminism, politics, the environment, and now, medicine. She should actually be there, too, backpacking with us, but she’s busy right now, getting well. When I come home I’ll have new ideas for her to eat up, and I know she’ll be ravenous for them.

Here's something else I can do.  Yoga class with my girlfriend.

Here’s something else I can do. Yoga class with my girlfriend.

Lipo and a boob job would be too easy. Someone pass me a slice of that cake. Traycie, order up the Sauvignon Blanc.  I think it’s a two-bottle night.

After a workout, doesn't everyone go out for a glass of chilled wine?

After a workout, doesn’t everyone go out for a glass of chilled wine?

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“Don’t Pee on the Tent, REX!”

Tales from a backyard camping experience

IMG_2339 We’re preparing our two-year-old Labrador retriever for an upcoming backpacking trip. To do this we thought we’d start small. How about a backyard tent sleepout? Just to see how he reacts to the tent and sleeping outdoors. This is a pampered dog, you know.

On the actual backpack trip, we want Rex to sleep in the vestibule (aka front porch) area of the tent. We decided this because a) we have a two-man tent and Rex won’t fit inside the actual tent. And, b) the Lost Coast is the “land of ticks.” We did a short hike there in December where Rex picked up no less than thirty-two ticks. And thirty-two is when my daughter and I stopped counting and began screaming.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not trying to exclude Rex from sleeping inside with us. Rex will be the most protected animal on earth from ticks, fleas and other vermin when we commence this trip. It’s me and my husband I worry about! The ticks will crawl on Rex, and when they cannot attach, where are they going to go? That’s right. They’ll be climbing on us. I’m not going to be wearing a tick collar, and I don’t want armies of ticks crawling on me.

I was getting over a cold so my husband had full dog duties the weekend we chose to test Rex and the tent sleeping arrangement. Hey, it was his idea. Not mine. I was on the couch with my box of tissues watching television when I heard the shout, “No! Don’t pee on the tent, Rex!”

I didn’t think they’d last ten more minutes.

Come on, Rex! Don't be scared of the tent.

Come on, Rex! Don’t be scared of the tent.

I have to give my husband credit. They came in at 5 a.m. Rex never seemed so grateful to be inside. He quietly rolled into a ball at the foot of the bed so he wouldn’t bother anyone as if saying, “Please. I’ll be good and super quiet if you just let me sleep here inside with you.”

“You guys did so well,” I said. “Did he sleep in the vestibule?”

My husband replied, “Not exactly. I got him to come into the tent for a while. And then he went and sat on the lawn furniture by the back door and stared back at me.”

We’re calling the experience a success because Rex slept mostly near the tent or inside of it. And he didn’t pee on it.

We decided to work on Rex sleeping in the vestibule (aka front porch) at a later date.

Staying the Course

It was January 5th and my daughter and I had planned to go for a 3-mile run. She was upstairs getting dressed. I was in the kitchen putting food away when she came up behind me.

“Mom? You ready to go on that run?”

“Just a minute.” I stuffed the last bite in my mouth. “I…just…need to swallow…this brownie.”

So much for that “No Sugar” New Year’s Resolution. Agh! Sometimes I irritate myself.

In case you thought my lack of writing and diet conscientiousness meant I was going to flake and NOT go on a 100-mile backpack trip with 40 fabulous women writers, I’m here to tell you I AM GOING. I am going. I am going. I am going…

I keep telling myself that because some days, I wonder what the heck I’m doing. Let’s be clear. While I’ve always called myself adventurous, I am no Cheryl Strayed, as in Wild. You might’ve read her book or seen the movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Yes, I’m adventurous, but my version is tamer. I’m also a lot older than Cheryl was when she embarked on her Pacific Crest Trail hike. So give me a break.

Still, one hundred miles of hiking with a house on my back, sleeping in the dirt in another country in potentially cold, wet weather with forty strangers is huuuge adventure in my book (which I haven’t written yet).

Sometimes I just don’t feel very confident. It’s embarrassing, but even at my age, I begin to feel like the night before my first day of middle school. Will the cool kids like me? I indulge my anxieties, and imagine problems like: What if I can’t keep up with the other women? What if I’m too slow? Everyone else seems like they’ve done a lot more than I have, seen many more countries, hiked distant lands. What if I’m not worldly enough? Also, they write an awful lot and publish a lot. They have articles all over the place. All I have is this little neglected blog and a few short stories published in some literary magazines.

Over the holidays I did a lot of thinking, and decided to stop the self-sabotage. This trip, this adventure…It’s for me. Who cares what the cool kids think. And if I end up alone? So be it. (But I don’t really think I’ll end up alone). Travelling has always been empowering to me. I suspect the same is true for my new hiking buddies. My mind is a fresh slate when I’m in a brand new place. I’ll bet we have more in common than differences. For instance, I’m sure we all have some trepidation about the toilet facilities or lack thereof. I really can’t wait. For the hike, that is. And the bonding over hardships that is sure to ensue.

Besides cleaning out all that negative thinking in my brain, I am refocusing on training. I have to walk a long way, right? House on my back, etc. The hardest part for me is my sugar, wine and bread addictions. (Are there self-help groups for this?) So in addition to my attitude adjustment, I’m also still meeting with Max, the Trainer twice weekly, and I’ve begun running or walking every day. Although I haven’t given up my nasty sugar habit, the sheer amount of time spent on my feet should help me get through a hundred miles.

Staying the course. Sometimes Often, I veer off. Way off. Like when I eat a massive chocolate brownie right before a 3-mile run. Sometimes I veer only a little. Like when I indulge in my pity parties. The important thing is that I always come back. The goal is there. I know the way.

Please tell me you understand.

A Month Later. What’s Up?

What’s Up?

Sunrise in Dana Point

Sunrise in Dana Point

It’s been a little over a month. What have I been doing to prepare for my 100-mile backpack trip?

Well, I got serious and hired a trainer. Best decision I’ve made in a long time. We’re not at a fancy gym or using fancy equipment. We’re working out at a couple of local parks, and mostly in the dark—which is how I happened to accidentally roll in a smidge of dog poo. Story of my life…

I’m in the midst of being reacquainted with planks, push-ups, burpees, squats, and the jumprope. If there are stairs—you can be sure we’re running them. Max, my coach, is training a small group of fitness enthusiasts, and me, his challenged student who tries to keep up. I don’t mind because I’m okay with making fun of myself. I’m the one doubled over laughing when I hear him say, “Today we’re going to do pull-ups at the monkey bars.”

What? Bahahaha!

And there goes one of my heroes, Paloma—she can do pull-ups like nobody’s business. She is so dang fierce! I want to be like that. So I try to be fierce, too, when Max gives me the super-modified version of a pull-up. I have no shame. They cheer me on like I’m in the Olympics going for the Gold Medal of modified chin-ups. How can this not be the best motivating tool ever? I’m starting to think one day—Max says in about six months—I’ll be able to do a real one. Baby steps to a chin-up. One day at a time. It’s totally something to look forward to.

We’re in our 3rd week of training at the park, and I’m already noticing a change in my body. Don’t freak out. It’s not anything anybody else would notice. The changes are subtle. For instance, I sort of jogged with the dog the other day, and I was able to hold my torso with a new strength. My posture is better, and I have more endurance. This even though I haven’t been running much—beyond the mailbox—and all. The dog even noticed! Usually he’s able to drag me down the street. Not so much anymore. I have new muscle in my core and arms. One of the best changes I’ve noticed is if I’ve forgotten my reading glasses upstairs I don’t mind going up to retrieve them. My legs take those stairs with gusto.

It’s the little things. Things we take for granted when we’re twenty or thirty or even forty. It takes more effort to be fit at forty-five and beyond.  But trust me, I’ve only been doing this for about a month, and it’s coming back.  There is some muscle memory!  For now, for the Newfoundland backpack trip, I’m working on basic strengthening and conditioning.

I’m also working on commitment to the training program. I’m super-flaky. I won’t lie. I don’t like waking up early to work out. I don’t like going later either. I’m not a lover of sit-ups and push-ups. Deep down, I’m an Elvis. I want to sit in the sun with a glazed donut and coffee, and a good book.

I have my role model heroes like Paloma and Allie with their healthy, hard little bodies. Stopped me in my tracks when I wanted to share my craving for a deep fried jelly donut as Allie talked about eating a banana at work for snack. See? Craving immediately diverted. There’s no way I’m gong to eat a donut! Call it good role modeling and peer pressure.  Hey, whatever works.

And there’s Max. Always constant, always keeping me accountable. If there is one thing I can count on it’s that he will be there for the workout. On the days I want to cancel all I have to do is remember there is someone doing his best to help me achieve my goals. He’s there on time with a smile, waiting by his truck with those dreaded kettlebells and the stinkin’ jumpropes. All I have to do is show up.

Then we get the workout party started when he says, “Let’s begin our warm-up with thirty seconds of jumping jacks. Go!”

What are you doing to get in shape?