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?

“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.

Time on Your Feet

My supportive family practices the "time on your feet" philosophy with me.

My supportive family practices the “time on your feet” philosophy with me.

Once upon a time I used to run marathons. Like, the whole thing, the 26.2 mile enchilada. And I loved it! Loved training for them, the camaraderie of waking up basically in the middle of the night on a Saturday morning to run long mileage of twelve, fourteen, seventeen miles or more in 36 degree weather. Who was that crazy woman I used to be??

I don’t recognize her now. The woman who inhabits my body today sounds like Rice Krispies breakfast cereal. She has achy feet and snap crackle knees, and she would much rather wake up mid-morning on a Saturday, and go for a leisurely paced hike with her family and the dog.

However, as I train for this amazing Newfoundland backpacking trip with my Writing Walking Women I am reminded of a couple of things from my marathon training days.

  1. Mimic the conditions. In marathon training, that meant studying the route. If the route was hilly, I ran lots of hills. How would I fuel myself? Would I need to wear a belt with electrolyte drinks and GU? (For my non-runner audience, GU is an unappetizing flavored paste runners often squeeze into their mouths to fuel a long run). Depending on the marathon city’s local climate, I ran early in the day when it was colder or later for hotter desert weather, or indoors at the gym where it was stale and humid. Training depended on where the race would be held.

Even though Newfoundland is still a few months away, I’m already practicing by wearing a daypack full of water. This is to get me used to carrying the extra weight and also to get used to wearing the pack. I can tell you I already have chafe marks on my chest from an errant strap. It’s important to practice things like this. I would much rather find out now where I’m prone to chafing, and make adjustments. I don’t want to find out on the trail where I’m not prepared to take care of it.

As far as the climate is concerned, I live in the desert, and I hear Newfoundland is a damp, wet place. What to do? So far, I’m really just looking at how to dress for that. Although, my daughter and I did one long hike in the rain where I found out the dirt turned to clay, and clung to my shoes. Hopefully, this won’t be the case in Newfoundland.

  1. Second tip? Time on your feet. I once had a wonderful running coach. He had us run long, but only up to 3 or 3 ½ hours at a time. For the really long runs, 16 or 17 or 20 miles, he pushed us right up to the 3 1/2 hour time limit. He said anything over that and our muscles would be breaking down. But it was important to run that long, however slow we did it, just to get our bodies used to the “time on our feet.”

This tip, more than any other has resonated with me. It is absolutely true. This is the tip I think will transfer over beautifully in training for the Newfoundland backpacking trip. It doesn’t matter what kind of great shape I’m in if my body isn’t accustomed to the time just being on my feet.

For the last five or six weeks, I’ve been doing one long hike of 3-3 ½ hours while wearing the dreaded daypack with water. It’s usually around 11 miles. The first few weeks my body was sore and achy the next morning. Think snap, crackle, pop! But I can tell you the last two hikes I bounced right back, and even had enough energy to run the next day.

Time on your feet. Believe in it!

Here we go hiking!

Here we go hiking!

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.

Colinas Bluff Trail Hike

Climbing those hills are beastly, but the ocean views are worth it!

Climbing those hills are beastly, but the ocean views are worth it!

This hike is perfect for getting ready to backpack a hundred miles.  Why?  The HILLS.  It is  a thigh burner, for sure.  Take a friend with you if you go.  That way the hills won’t seem so bad if you’re too busy talking about where you’re going to eat afterward.

Rex and I only hiked about three miles on this day, but the trail goes on further.  Colinas Bluff Trail follows the ridge line between San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Niguel starting on the corner of Marina Hills and Golden Lantern.  This is a suburban hike, but take a few steps onto the trail and you’re surrounded by open space.

Scare tactics to keep me on the couch??

Scare tactics to keep me on the couch??

You’ll see signs like this at the beginning of all trails in Orange County, but you’re more in danger of skin cancer than any wild animal.  There is no shade and no water here.  This is the kind of place where you need a hat and sunscreen year round.  I have never seen a mountain lion or poison oak on this trail.  However, I have seen several rattlesnakes on Colinas Bluff.  Late spring through summer is their season.  They’re not threatening if you give them their space.  I only mention it because it can be dangerous for dogs or children who may come upon them accidentally.  I have been fooled a few times by what appeared to be a stick on the trail which has turned out to be a rattlesnake as I got closer.  On this day, Rex and I saw only roadrunners and a horse. That’s the nice thing about hiking in November!  Too chilly for snakes.

5 Freeway in Orange County.  Ten lanes of metropolis.

5 Freeway in Orange County. Ten lanes of metropolis.

Remember this is a suburban hike.  You’re never too far off from other people and red-tiled roofs.  As an out-and-back trail, It’s almost impossible to get lost on Colinas Bluff.  Hike about 3 miles in and you end up along the very tony neighborhood of Bear Brand Estates.  The trail is a great way to get a thigh burning workout and still be close enough to civilization all around.

The important thing about getting ready for a one hundred mile backpack trip is to get out, and get walking.  And the views of the ocean?  Worth every step of thigh-burning madness.

IMG_3105

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?

Getting Started

I am about to embark on the craziest journey ever.  Oh, but not just one!  I’ve committed to two journeys in the next year.  The first is an epic backpack trip of 100 miles in Newfoundland.  The second is another epic backpack trip along the Lost Coast of California.  They are epic and crazy because I don’t like backpacking.  I’m a nervous woman, and my feet…are finicky.  They bruise and blister.  They don’t like shoes.  I absolutely hate the pack!  I hate the sweat, the tears.  Hills.  I hate hills.  Walking with 30 lbs. on my back.  Hate that.  And the food.  Dehydrated powdered meals.  Baggies of nuts.  Bleh.  Sleeping in the dirt?  Not a fan.  There are so many, many reasons.  But the main issue is the bathroom.  There are no toilets on a backpack trip.  Just let that one sit with you for a moment.  I’m not complaining about lack of flush toilets.  I’m talking about no toilets. Once you fully digest the lack of toilet, then not having a shower will seem like a breeze.

Collapsed after an 8-mile backpack trip on Catalina Island. 100-Mile backpack trip? Easy-peasy. Not!

Collapsed after an 8-mile day backpacking on Catalina Island. 100 miles should be easy-peasy.

So why go at all?  If I’m going to whine about everything and hate everything.  Why go?

Because.  Backpacking is also exhilarating in a way that can’t be expressed until I’ve finished a trip.  I get to see places beautiful beyond words.  Backpacking is about making goals and reaching them. There is no choice.  Once I’m out there, I gotta get back to the car!  I’m always amazed at what I am able to accomplish when it’s all over.  I may be tired and stinky, but as I walk back to my ride, I’m celebrating, cheering on the inside.  And, did you know?  Weight loss and fitness are natural byproducts of backpacking.  Bonus!  Overcoming the minor discomforts of backpacking allows me to put everyday life into perspective.  It’s an emotional cleanse.  I feel like I can do anything.  That’s the thing about backpacking.  It teaches me how to go through difficult times and come out of the woods with grace and dignity.

And that’s why I love backpacking.

Follow me as I chronicle the training and preparation for these journeys, and a few others I take along the way.  You can laugh with me as I attempt to appreciate the beauty of being in nature while wearing a backpack.  And laugh with me some more as I attempt to push harder, go longer in a training session.  Maybe you’ll see me as goofy.  Maybe you’ll see the courage it takes to get up and go try something new, something difficult I’d never imagined doing before.  Either way, let’s laugh.  The Universe is a jokester.  Let’s see what She has in store for me.  Because the truth is I am a slightly overweight, moderately unfit, forty-something year old woman who enjoys clean sheets and hot showers, loves red wine and chocolate cake, and quietly reading in a comfy chair, a stream of sunshine lighting the page, with modern-day bathroom facilities nearby.  This whole 100-mile journey thing ought to be good.

The hardest part of anything is getting started.  Here we go!

After hiking all the way up here, you know I’m going to drink some wine later!