I had a fun weekend "at home," a distinction that included traveling to San Francisco to visit my friend Monika. Monika and I were good friends in college. We even lived in the same house for more than a year. We've only gotten together a couple of times since I moved here, one of the sad truths of busy lives and the way social networking has replaced face time. But it is fun to get together with an old friend and interact as though the last decade never happened. Monika still remembers me as the naive Utah girl who embarked on daylong slickrock canyoneering adventures wearing jeans and Sketchers. I remember her as the funny Slovakian who was one of the only friends willing to join my more harebrained adventure ideas, such as climbing Mount Timpanogos in the middle of the night. We treat each other as though we were still the same vivacious 20-somethings, and it's fun.
Monika invited me to breakfast on Saturday morning and asked if I wanted to join her and her friends who were visiting from North Carolina for "this bluegrass festival." I pictured a small gathering in Golden Gate Park where I could lounge in a camp chair and chat with my friends. I honestly had no knowledge or concept of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a massive annual music festival that draws upwards of 750,000 people over three days. I didn't have any idea that I'd be pressed into a crowd near the stage during a Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard duo, or that I'd be dancing on the periphery during a Broke Social Scene set (one of my favorite indie rock bands), or giving up all hope and plopping down near several sketchy-looking men who launched into random, screaming rants during Gillian Welch. I used to be a big live music fan but realized some years back that I actually don't like feeling trapped by swarming masses of humanity. Now I've apparently fallen so far off the bandwagon that I wasn't even aware this huge free music festival was happening this weekend. It was a treat to experience, but exhausting. Monika would ply me for tips on how I could "run all day" and I would insist that ultrarunning was easier and less harrowing than waiting in line for the port-a-potty, which, between the four of us, we spent most of the day doing anyway.
Then we waited in line for the train. I saw the line of festival-goers at the train stop and asked my friends to consider walking home. They protested that Monika's house was "across town," which I knew in urban-speak basically meant five or six miles. The crowd grew and I tried begging, to no avail. We ended up waiting nearly an hour to be wedged in a train so full of bodies that I could feel two different strangers' breath on my neck, then had to catch a connector train that was similarly crowded and slow. It took us more than two hours to travel "across town." There are a lot of aspects of San Francisco that I appreciate. I like the cables strung over buildings like a crackling spider web. I like eating Guatemalan food at a heavily decorated storefront in the Mission district and almost feeling like I'd traveled to central America. But I'm glad I live farther away from the crowds, closer to more sweeping trails and even some small mountains, in the burbs — or, as the city people I met on Saturday put it, "Oh, wow, way down there" as though I lived in Mexico and not Los Altos. I guess if you're used to spending two hours using public transportation for a five-mile commute, then Los Altos would seem impossibly far.
Today it rained for the first time in a few months, a long-awaited weather event that I was thrilled about. I only had time for an hour-long run before dark, so I headed to Rancho, thinking I would do my usual five-mile loop. But I was running so strong up the PG&E trail that I decided to continue up to the top, a seriously steep four-mile climb, then launched down the other side of the ridge as rain pelted down. The trail was deliciously sticky, covered in a thick moon-dust paste that clung to my shoes, but it was worth it. I felt like I was running on the moon, light and fast without worrying whether my feet were going to slide into gravity's gravel purgatory after every step. At one point I looked down at my GPS and saw "holy cow sub-seven-minute mile!" so I picked up the pace even more. I still made it back before dark, just barely, having run nearly twice as far as I'd planned to run.
Just over two weeks ago, I was having dinner with friends in Fairbanks a few hours before heading to the airport. We were at a Thai restaurant with harsh lighting, and I was describing my exercise woes to friends I hadn't seen in a while. The quick explanation is: "I can't breathe when I exert myself, really, at all. It doesn't take much before I start gasping and become dizzy, and sometimes I have to sit down. I used to be able to run entire 50Ks with an average heart rate in the 160s, and now I rarely hit that number before I'm breathless." Corrine, who is a family doctor, looked over at me and said, "You know, your thyroid looks enlarged."
That set off a series of medical visits, and the latest was to an endocrinologist today. I'm very lucky to have good health insurance (thanks Beat!) and medical providers who sympathize with my desire to participate in the ITI, so they fast-tracked me through several tests ahead of the race. This much now …
My physical self has become a stranger to me recently; I don't really "know" my body anymore. I've mentioned the energy rollercoaster, the good days and bad, not quite knowing how much of this is adjusting to thyroid medications, how much is fluctuations of hormones, how much is psychosomatic, how much is just "me."
On one hand, I've struggled with real fatigue — feeling more sluggish in my daily routine, blinking against sleepiness at 3 p.m., sneaking off to take actual naps, and setting an alarm so I don't pass out for hours. This happens despite full nights of sleep and better morning alertness. I've learned that if I want to accomplish something mentally taxing, I'm better off attempting it before lunch. Jill one year ago would give a side-eye to this zonked-out person I'm becoming.
There have been other symptoms that one might ascribe to an underactive thyroid — I'm often cold in the afternoon and have to wrap up in my down com…
Simplicity. To pare life down to its basic necessities. This is the very reason I love backpacking and bicycle touring so much. And, paradoxically, it's also my largest obstacle to embarking on overnight and multiday excursions. I don't particularly enjoy poring over gear options and I'm especially resistant to the planning part of any trip. In my perfect world, a backpack full of gear and food would materialize and I would just pick it up and wander off into the mountains with no clue where I was or where I was going. Of course, if you want to return in good condition or at least alive, a plan-free trip is simply not realistic. But on Monday morning, as I tapped away at my computer and contemplated a hiking binge week, I wondered about the real possibility of an overnight, nearly-plan-free backpacking trip.
Keep it simple. I wrapped up my work and went to my gear closet to pull out my summer sleeping bag (down, rated to 20 degrees), Thermarest and bivy sack. A down coat, h…