You know what I love about road biking? How much distance and elevation it enables me to cover during relatively small efforts. Some days, I like a good challenge. Others, I simply want to cover miles, view new scenery, and taste different air. Today I had errands in Palo Alto, so I decided to head to Woodside and point my road bike west. I had three hours, so today's goal was "what can I see in three hours?"
I rode up and over Skyline Ridge and down Tunitas Creek Road, a thin ribbon of pavement wending through the redwoods. The weather was almost unrealistically perfect. I was wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt and a pair of tights, and I was comfortable during both the climb and the descent — never hot nor cold. After seven miles of mostly coasting on a smooth surface amid a temperature equilibrium, I began to have a strange sensation that I wasn't even there — that I was somehow distant from this place, sitting on a stationary bicycle and watching tree trunks stream by on a movie screen.
That is, until I neared Highway 1. I could smell the honey sweetness of mustard fields in bloom, and taste pungent sea salt wafting on a light breeze. The sun emerged from a thin veil of clouds and cast the hillsides in rich light. I rode along the highway until my watch read 1:22, and then turned to find an overlook on the cliffs above the Pacific.
I found a place hidden in plain sight by a rusty old gate and a rough gravel entry. I sat and ate an Odwalla Bar, slowly so I could better taste the infusion of salt and savory ocean air. Waves crashed into the shoreline a hundred feet below the cliffs, distant enough to sound like purring. I watched a solo walker stroll barefoot across the sand. The baby blue Pacific yawned over the horizon, fading imperceptibly into the similarly blue sky. It was a peaceful place, and it made me feel happy, enough so that I could have laid there all day. It seemed strange that I ran a quick errand, rode my bike for ninety minutes, and somehow ended up here. So close and yet a world away.
Still, I only had three hours and a long way to climb, so I set back out toward the mountains. Up and up and up toward the crest of Skyline, then back to Woodside. It didn't seem like all that much work, which is why it was pleasantly surprising to upload my ride stats find out I rode 35 miles with 5,500 feet of climbing. That kind of distance and elevation would take me the better part of a day to cover on foot, but the road bike makes it too easy. It almost feels like cheating — if it wasn't so wonderful.
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…