Thursday, May 25, 2017

Back to summer

 The seasons change constantly in the Rocky Mountains. For all those days of summer we had in February, we enjoyed our fair share of wintry days in May. I mostly dread summer and didn't want it to end, but last week's three feet of snow disappeared as rapidly as it came. 

There were three days over the weekend when everything was a mess. Luckily we plowed the road on Friday, so by Saturday at least that was available for running — albeit through many puddles and shoe-sucking mud. Beat wanted to venture onto the trails, but shin deep slush was too strong a demotivater. We only made it about 200 yards, and I was the one who cried uncle.

 Trail conditions were significantly better on Sunday, so we ran the Walker Ranch loop. There was still plenty of slushy, splashy fun to soak the shoes.

 I was in the midst of what I've come to think of as a "bad week," experiencing similar symptoms to my winter struggles — labored breathing, feeling tapped out at a low heart rate (140s), and also feeling more off balance than normal. There were also a few other symptoms unrelated to exercise — a rash across both shins reappeared for the first time in months, I woke up several times in the night, and my thoughts became fuzzier.

I know many of these symptoms could be "poor recovery," but it felt like I might be hyperthyroid again. When I asked a physician friend how likely it was to swing between too much and too little thyroid hormone on a weekly basis, she theorized that my body was just adjusting to new normals after being hyperthyroid for so long. It still feels as though I fluctuate between the symptoms of two extremes — one week I feel sleepy and cold and my hair falls out, and the next I'm having trouble breathing again. Always between the two are increasingly longer strings of "good days," where I feel much closer to my "old normal." I'm certainly not the only one on this kind of rollercoaster — I've found many such discussions online. Most of those people talk about fine-tuning medications, nailing down "triggers" — mostly food- and allergy-related — and removing stressors to avoid the downswings.

 Avoiding stressors — I recognize that I can and possibly should dial back my efforts during "bad weeks." In a way, I already do, since my breathing prevents me from pushing myself, and motivation tends to decrease as well. I still carry the "so be it" mindset that I forged during the winter, when I didn't quite know what was wrong with my body. Whatever it was affected the activities that bring me joy, but these activities didn't seem to make it any worse. I decided I was going to live my life through it, rather than around it. This still holds if "it" is thyroid disease. All of the medical evidence shows that my hormone levels have been consistently dropping and I'm in a healthy place right now. If the rest of my body takes more time to catch up, or even if it there's always these types of fluctuations, so be it.

 By Monday, as though by magic, I was already feeling better. This came after a night of poor sleep (also increasingly more rare), when I woke up at sunrise. (Which happens at 5:30 a.m. this time of year. Too early. Bah, summer.) There was a lovely skiff of new snow on the hillsides. It looked like snowline dropped to 8,000 feet overnight.

 I set out for a run toward Bear Peak, and it was a little too soon for that trail. Through the burn, a few more trees had fallen down, and I lost the trail amid slushy drifts that were occasionally thigh deep. On the way down, I wrenched my left ankle in the melted space underneath a concrete snow drift. It wasn't injured in any way, just sore, which made me grumpy. It didn't require hobbling, but I lost my desire. Any ambitions to make up for all those shorter snow days with a "long run" faded, and I turned around and mostly walked home.

For good measure I rested on Tuesday, and set out on Wednesday for a ride into town. One thing that summer always reignites is a strong desire to explore new places, which means longer and longer rides if I set out from home. I suppose if I can make the time, there's nothing wrong with this. The rear tire on my mountain bike developed a bubble. Rather than risk tire failure, I borrowed the fat bike that I rode to Nome, which is technically Beat's bike. The Eriksen had an unfamiliar handlebar setup and a saddle that I strongly dislike, but it felt right to be reunited with this bike. I never had a chance to ride "Erik" in Alaska this year, and I'd missed him. The temperature had warmed to 80 degrees, and there was a fierce downslope wind generating violent gusts. I was being tossed all over the road; eventually I just had to creep along the switchbacking descents, and then creep forward because much of the uphill riding was due west. Well, I chose this.

My body felt strong, which never fails to be an empowering sensation after these brief downturns. The 80-degree temps felt comfortable (A nice change from feeling overheated while running through the slush on Sunday, when it was sprinkling rain and the temperature was much cooler.) The wind buffeted me around, which was oddly motivating, like a boxer egging on his opponent. Without too much effort, I pedaled upward through the gales, eventually climbing onto a network of closed forest roads. There are so many of these roads in Colorado that I'd love to spend a summer exploring, if only I had the strength and the time — they're always rocky and steep, and this time of year they're little more than rutted stream beds. I hoped to sniff out a link to the West Mag trails and Eldora, but the snow was still unworkably deep above 9,000 feet. I trudged along for a half hour while closely watching the time (because I hoped to reach Boulder by 5 p.m.) My feet were numb and the icy snow cut my shins, which were still raw from the now-faded rash. Time moved too quickly, and I was getting nowhere. Finally, I conceded. "This probably isn't the best choice."

So I turned around, in time to catch a glimpse of the tiniest train approaching Rollinsville. It was 5:30 by the time I rolled into the Google parking lot, which would make this a 6.5-hour ride, 57 miles, 6,500 feet of climbing. That's about how far I need to roam to visit entirely new places now. With luck that will keep expanding. With more luck I'll continue to be up for such wanderings, even when I can't be as fast as strong as I think I should be. It's still my best way to live.
Friday, May 19, 2017

Thyroid update 2

Although not the most compelling subject to write about, I've decided to post regular updates about my dealings with Graves Disease, both for my own reference for others who lead active lifestyles and struggle with thyroid issues. I've found similar accounts to be helpful. 

Since being diagnosed in mid-February, I've taken a daily dose of 30mg methimazole — a drug that suppresses thyroid function. For about two weeks in April, I experienced what seemed like symptoms of an underactive thyroid — I'd become sleepy by noon and stay that way, even if I took a nap. I lost more hair than usual; knotted clumps would come out when I brushed my hair after a shower. My fingernails flaked off, down to nubbins. They've only now started to grow back. None of these symptoms were alarming enough to warrant a trip to the doctor, so I decided to wait for my May 12 blood test to see what was happening.

May came around and I hit another upswing. By May 12, I was feeling downright perky — that was the day before Quadrock. I even had an allergy shot in the afternoon — something that usually leaves me feeling more downtrodden — and it didn't make a dent. But the labs ultimately revealed that I had dipped into the hypothyroid range. My thyroxine levels were below normal, even though TSH was just about normal (last month, my endocrinologist told me it takes "many months" to bring TSH up. But it's been fewer than three.) 

So my dose has been lowered with expectation that it will be reduced further next month. Interestingly, this week I've felt what I've come to recognize as "hyper" symptoms again — some jitteriness, the weird itching on my shins. These symptoms are very mild if they're anything at all (beyond psychosomatic.) I now have several new questions to ask my doctor when I see her in June, including whether the rollercoaster is real — do I really swing between hyper and hypo in a given day or week? And if so, how do I manage this? 

Lifestyle and diet may play a role, but in this short time period, I haven't yet found a pattern or correlation in my personal experiences. I'm just as likely to feel fantastic after a long run as I am to succumb to "extreme sleepiness" at 9 p.m. on a rest day. As a side note, the sleepiness is an interesting experience. I expect it isn't extreme at all; this is just how normal 37-year-olds feel. But for the past six-plus years I've become increasingly more restless at night, with periods of true insomnia. Even during what I considered good sleeps, it wasn't abnormal to get up four or five times in the night to use the restroom. My father has sleep issues, so I figured this was just my lot in life. Then I went on thyroid meds, and now I have slept through the entirety of nearly every night since April. And I wake up just after sunrise, on my own. It's all so strange.

So I'm a sleepy morning person now. But this doesn't seem to affect my active energy levels. Because my breathing is so much better and my heart is stronger, *all* of my workouts feel significantly better than they did during the months prior to March. Regardless of how many miles I have on my legs that week, or how sleepy I was at home, it always feels like I can run and not be weary. Of course I know this isn't the case. Contrary to what my blog posts might portray, I am making efforts to tread lightly. 

However, as the recent blood tests show, I am now a person with normal thyroid levels — actually mildly hypothyroid levels. Thus, I am not in the immediate danger that I was always in, without knowing it, when I was hyperthyroid. The goal is to never go back there again, obviously. Since my body has been so responsive to medication, I intend to stick with it indefinitely. 

I'm thrilled about how significantly three little pills have improved my life. Although I mostly write here about my outdoor exercise and related struggles, easy breathing is almost a secondary perk. The most encouraging improvement has been a sharp reduction in "brain fog." Even when I'm sleepy, I'm usually still clear-headed enough to work, write, terrify myself with newspaper reading, etc. The brain fogs were nerve-racking. For a time, I wondered if I was developing early-onset dementia. I never said anything to anyone about these spells of listlessness and confusion — as much as I griped about my breathing — because they were truly terrifying. Even thinking about them directly made the possibility all too real. If anti-thyroid drugs are a cure for brain fog, they're worth any other negative symptom. 

 And now, snow photos! Three feet of snow was a pleasant thing to wake up to. The power was out again, the inside of the house had become downright frigid, Beat was out of milk, and we realized our Starbucks Vias had expired in 2015. I still thought it was an awesome morning.

 The goldfish ponds are frozen over again. Although I could live with endless winter and be happy as can be, I've been fretting about the goldfish. They've made it through much worse, so I'm sure they're fine. It is interesting how much emotional energy I've directed at the animals around here — the fish, the hummingbirds, the deer leaping through this concrete snow. I just hope they're all okay.

 An update from the power company told us that we'd likely remain in the dark until Friday evening. I was perfectly content to sit by the woodstove and read a paperback, but Beat seemed a bit panicked about his lack of milk. He also hoped to put in some hours at the office today. So we went on another plow adventure. Riding in this Silverado as it plowed through the concrete snow was like standing on the edge of an icebreaker in the Arctic, watching icebergs build to terrifying proportions before crumbling away.

 We managed to break an escape route to the main road, and decided to carve out an hour for another short snowshoe adventure before heading to town. And I do mean short. This was 1.8 miles in an hour and fifteen minutes. We even took turns breaking trail. Who needs a Stairmaster ... if by Stairmaster you mean a machine filled to knee level with loose sand, jutting upward at impossibly steep angles.

 Beautiful, foggy morning, though.

 Back in town, I went to the gym and realized I had strained some shoulder muscles, either from snowshoeing or shoveling this leaden snow out of the driveway. Life isn't quite as easy here as it was in California, but a mid-May snowstorm is one of the many things that makes it all worth it. 
Thursday, May 18, 2017

Snowmageddon 2017

The date was May 17, 11 a.m., and the temperature was a pleasant 58 degrees as I packed for a ride. Looking out the window at a hillside bursting with vibrant green foliage, it was more than a little difficult to believe the upcoming weather forecast — "a cold storm system is expected to track slowly eastward across the region into Friday night. Total snow accumulations of one to three feet possible." 

One to three ... feet? 

Of snow?

On May 18? 

When it was nearly 90 degrees just five days ago? 

Yeah, right. 

 However, I am one to be prepared, so I threw a rain jacket, fleece hat, and mittens into my pack, and wore tights — for sun protection more than anything. It was a beautiful afternoon and I wanted to put in five or six good hours, just in case Snowmageddon did happen to shut us down for the weekend. Looking toward the plains beyond Fourmile Canyon, there was hardly a cloud in the sky.

Bluebird day on Sugarloaf Mountain. I explored singletrack trails that didn't go anywhere, so I reluctantly drifted over to pavement. I had forgotten the ridiculous steepness of Sugarloaf Road, and plodded upward with steely displeasure. I suspected I was somewhat overdoing the "string of long rides" version of Quadrock recovery, and wasn't in the mood to push myself. Still, some places don't give you much of a choice.

A fierce headwind tossed sand in my face as I watched the weather approach from the west on the Switzerland Trail and Gold Hill Road. I'd ascended to nearly 9,000 feet, where the air was still warm. My extra layers stayed in my pack; I had long regretted the choice to wear tights. Snow? Bah.

 But there were rain clouds over Boulder. I somehow missed the sprinkles altogether as I descended nearly 4,000 feet into town to meet Beat at work. He was planning to run home from the office, where patters of rain were starting to hit the sidewalk. "Are you sure you want to run tonight?" I cautioned. "The weather's supposed to get bad." There was still a giant sucker hole — abundant blue sky — hanging out over the Flatirons.

"I'm scared," he said, mockingly.

 Then it was the morning of May 18, 6:30 a.m. Nearly a foot of snow had accumulated on our once-green yard. And the power was out. Thursday is trash day and the nearest collection point is a mile down the road, so we had to dig out the truck first thing. Then we went home to Starbucks Vias, mixed with water that Beat heated on a camp stove.

 Hummingbirds were battling the wind for breakfast, and Beat scrambled to make them more sugar water before he'd even had coffee.

 The power was out all morning and into the afternoon. Beat decided to work from home but needs to Internet to work, so he rigged a car battery to power the modem. This worked, but our laptop batteries were dwindling, and we were well aware of other inconveniences — we have electric heating, an electric stove, and a well with an electric pump, so without power we effectively have neither heat nor water. We do have wood stoves, though, and happily huddled around the small one in the bedroom. I vowed to be better prepared for the next Snowmageddon ... you know, that one that's likely to hit in June.

In the afternoon we set out for a short hike, but not before making an effort to plow the road, just in case a window opened to escape to town on Friday. I was amazed how much snow had accumulated since we took the truck out in the morning. Presumably the cars are under there somewhere.

Then we climbed our neighbor's driveway to borrow his plow. The driveway itself is a half-mile long and took us 20 minutes to ascend, wearing snowshoes. This broken trail was useful for finding our way back out with the truck.

Digging out the truck gave a sense of how much snow had accumulated — two feet, at this point, and still coming down.

 I was a skeptic about the capabilities of this old truck, but it made quick work of two feet of wet cement. Beat's driving skills did help.

 Contending with a broken tree branch across the road.

 We ran into a neighbor and Beat offered to plow her driveway, which became another ordeal that led to us pushing her vehicle out of a snow bank. At least we had an opportunity to meet another neighbor. By the time we finally started hiking, we'd already burned up two and a half hours of daylight. Luckily it's mid-May and there was still plenty of evening daylight left.

 We planned to plod to South Boulder Creek, which is about a ten-minute run when it's dry. The 2.5-mile out-and-back through a couple feet of wet cement took us an hour and fifteen minutes.

 South Boulder Creek looked mighty angry.

 The snow conditions were treacherous — a greasy cement that stuck to snowshoes but somehow not any other surface. The snow gave way under my snowshoes here — within seconds after I took this photo and put my camera away — and I fell all the way down  — seven or eight feet, atop big boulders. Miraculously nothing hurt afterward. At least this ludicrously wet snow lubricated my tumble. I was glad we hadn't attempted anything more technical (there was talk of climbing Bear Peak, mostly by me, but I'm grateful it didn't work out. I might have died.)

 Back at home, Beat battled the greasy snow to clear a path for truck, and the hummingbirds battled the blizzard to stock up on fuel.

 Usually they are not into sharing, but everyone knew it was going to be a cold, snowy night.

I took one more photo of the cars to try to get a sense of the accumulation. The official measurement for Eldorado Springs as of 6 p.m. was 26" — but the station is located at a lower altitude, to the southeast. My guess would be ~30"? And it was still coming down hard as gray daylight faded. How much more will fall overnight? No one can know, but one prediction is all but certain — temperatures will be in the 70s by next week, and the melt is going to be a humongous mess.