I underdressed, again. Say what you will about the lack of winter in coastal California, but when the air temperature is 41 degrees and a brisk 15 mph wind is whipping along a bald ridge, it's cold. But of course the California sun has lulled me into a sense of complacency, so here I am, up on Black Mountain with the Fatback, trying to slap some life back into my rigid fingers, again. If Fatty Fatback had a personality he'd probably be silently laughing at the poetic justice of my discomfort, trapped as he is in a land without snow.
I steamrolled over some rocks and launched down the fall-line, mowing over clumps of grass on a faint deer trail. The cold wind tore through my meager layers and chilled the beads of sweat on my skin. I mashed the pedals as the contour turned upward, and topped out with an even better view of sunset. Wispy clouds, golden haze, and the distant mirror of the Pacific Ocean reflecting fire from the sun. Squinting into the sunlight, I failed to see a herd of grazing deer until they erupted from the grass mere meters away, then raced down the ridge. I scanned the sloping meadow for a good place to drop toward Indian Creek but thought better of it, because it is illegal to be in this park after dark, and this is still highly-regulated coastal California. No more off-roading today; the sunset view would have to do. I touched my frozen feet to the ground and smiled, because it was worth it.
The reverse culture shock I'd been experiencing since I returned from Nepal was finally starting to fade. I think most people who travel through a developing nation experience this to some extent. At first there is relief ("Wow, look how smooth these roads are. So strange not to have motorcycles buzzing around on all sides as diesel trucks bear down on you.") Then there is the sense of novelty. ("Wow, there's so much fresh produce in this one store, and I don't need to haggle with a guy pushing a cart full of tangerines.") Then comes guilt. ("Why do I have so many bicycles? I met a young man in Nepal who walked three hours to work because he couldn't afford any other form of transportation. I should start a charity that raises funds to give sturdy work bicycles to families in Nepal.") Then comes a kind of cultural despair, which can happen when you return from a place where people do so much with so little, to a place where you can't go to Target for cat litter without finding yourself fully submerged in a mad holiday frenzy. ("I watched men building a stone levee with their hands, hoisting huge boulders and hammering them into place, in an effort to divert monsoonal flooding that had killed several people in their village. That was the human spirit. This is insanity.") Then, finally, acceptance. ("I have so many opportunities. I'm free to ride my fat bike any time I want. I really am lucky to live here.")
So I returned to my routine, still grateful for my opportunities back home, still enthralled with the landscape and people of Nepal, still disturbed by holiday excess. Normal life returned to me quickly, but I did spend more time thinking how I could better strike a balance in my own world, and how I could find a way to add a few of my own stones to that life-saving levee. Not because I believe Nepalis — or frenzied holiday shoppers — need saving. People can do a lot with a little if they have to. And people with a lot can do a little if they want to. I can do a little. I can contribute where I can, and on the homefront, I can focus my energy toward the world I want to live in. Be the change I want to see, so to speak.
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…