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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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!

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!