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!

Date Night

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It’s like this. Friday night, and your husband calls on his way home from work to invite you out on a night run. With the smallest sliver of moon for guidance. You’ll be on the trails with trees on one side, canyon walls on the other, and the smell of a seasonal creek running below. Glowing coyote eyes in the distance. Bob cats? Most certainly. Your husband runs very fast. You run excruciatingly slow. What do you say?

If you’re me, you say yes. But you make him promise to stay close to you, and not run ahead. You don’t want to be left alone in the dark where you can’t see your feet and you have to trust they’ll land in the right places. He has to stay by your side. “Promise?”

He does. You leave the house feeling the cool air against your face. The night envelops you in a comfortable embrace. You forget all the things you have yet to do tonight, and think only of how nice and cool, and quiet it is out here. Your heartbeat slows and you’re cheered at the realization no one else is out. The stars glisten above and you’re alone in the dark with your husband. This is going to be fun!

The traffic light at the end of the street is still green, and you both laugh knowing without words that you’re going to try to beat the light before it turns to red. Your feet hit the crosswalk as the warning light blinks seven seconds to red. Six seconds. You make it across in the nick of time.

Running down the sidewalk together, your feet beat in rhythm with your husband’s. Your breath becomes rhythmic, too. Everything working together. Slow, pant, pant. Slow, pant, pant.

You can do it, you tell yourself. You can run the whole distance without walking. You’re not going to think about the big hill toward the end. Not yet. You’ll think about it when you get there.

He knows you’re not used to running in the dark so he warns you before you reach the trailhead. “Be careful. The asphalt is broken up here soon. It’s easy to trip.”

You can’t see the asphalt, much less where it might be broken up. But you lift your feet a little higher. And in a few moments you feel the distinct edges of lifted asphalt beneath your shoes. You note the change in texture of this brokenness in other places. Potholes, rough dirt, tall grass, mud. Broken, bent, and missing sidewalk.

In the dark your senses are heightened. Your eyes adjust to the smells, the sounds, and the shadows of darker shapes within other shadows of darkness. Over there, a cluster of trees. Next, a trash can. Above, the slit of moonlight grins down. A cold air thermal passes through you. And you’re not afraid. Of anything.

“I love how it smells,” you say.

“Oh yeah? What does it smell like?”

“Water.” And it’s true. There is water in the fog and water in the stream below, water on the grass. On your face. You taste it. Pores open up the creosote and chaparral around you. The bushes smell of delectable goodness. Fresh.

A cacophony of frogs greet you as you run the mile-long stretch of night time creek songs, bushes rustling, dew drops mixing with sweat rolling on your neck before you reach the biggest hill of all. Dreaded hill. The one you’ve never been able to walk up without resting, much less run. Will you do it? Why do you think you can? You’ve never done it before. But you don’t want to let him down. You want to show him you’ve been working on endurance.

So you start up. Small steps. You can’t see your feet. But they don’t need to see where the ground is. Your feet have faith ground will meet them. You can’t see the top of the hill, but you trust it is there. You tell yourself: take small steps. Stay in this moment. Don’t try to go too fast. Slow will get you there. Only work on this part of the hill right now. Don’t worry about the rest.

He stays right beside you.

The top is nearing. Don’t stop now!

So you keep going. Five more steps, four, three…

You make it. This is such a major feat. A milestone. You want to cry. But there is no time for such ceremony. You’re not done yet. There is another mile to go before you’re back at the crosswalk and nearly home.

But wait. He’s coming in close for a kiss. He knows this was difficult for you. It’s enough that he knows and he acknowledges that you did it. Your heart wants to burst.

One and a half miles left.

The light is red at the crosswalk. Another damp kiss, waiting. Together, you walk up the last hill home holding hands sometimes, sometimes laughing. You discuss the milestone, the run, the night, the smells and sounds of the dark, and the slit of moon grinning down from above.

And you’re in love.

It’s the best date night ever.

The End.

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?