Things that last

The shortness and breath and lung congestion persisted, so I couldn't go snowboarding on Monday — as had admittedly been my hope. My mom urged me to take at least one rest day after the 29-hour fat bike ride that often left me winded to the edge of hyperventilation. She wasn't wrong, of course. 

"But I'm only in Salt Lake for a couple more days," I protested. I won't be coming back this winter. "These opportunities are rare."

Monday's weather made the right decision easy, with more than an inch of rain that reportedly fell as sleety snain up at elevations where I couldn't breathe anyway. I retreated to the basement to go through several boxes of old things. Since my parents both retired last year, they've begun downsizing. I needed to decide what was worth keeping. It was easy to cast aside the old books and toys, but I lingered longer on the photographs and news clippings, the high school artwork that still reflected dreams of becoming an illustrator, the earnest first newspaper columns, the concert tickets and binders full of angsty teenage journaling. I read through a few entries and thought, "Wow, am I lucky to have gotten through adolescence before the Internet really got huge." After all, the Internet never forgets. I zipped up the binders and carefully placed them back in the trunk. 

 A few of the items in the trunk were a complete mystery, and I lingered over these longer than anything else. A broken seashell, a pen shaped like a skeleton, a small bottle of sand, a tiny bean bag. "What are these?" I wondered. "Why did I save these? Why did they survive every other cull of my archives?" I scoured my memory but it was a blank wall. There were a few other items whose meaning I remembered distinctly — the plastic frog that the boy with whom I was hopelessly and unrequitedly in love at 16 won in an arcade game, and gave to me; the fern-leaf "fossil" I pulled off a mountain in the Wasatch as a young child; the gold accordion pin I was given when I completed accordion lessons in second grade. Each one of these trinkets sparked a rush of warmth to my fingertips, which made the forgotten pieces all the more irksome. "They were important at one point. And now, nothing."

It's an unsettling reminder — that everything gets replaced, and everyone gets forgotten, and time erases everything, eventually. Still we all spend our lives striving to find experiences that have meaning and moments that matter, and this in itself is a beautiful mystery.

 On Tuesday my dad turned 62, whose milestone, he bragged, was that he now qualified for a lifetime Golden Age national park pass. It's another perk of retirement that he seems to be enjoying immensely. He's as vibrant and strong as I've ever seen him, if not more. I had a few free hours on Tuesday morning before my deadlines set in, so we headed for a hike up Grandeur Peak. The mountainside was carpeted in more than a foot of fresh powder, and low-hanging branches rained continuous showers of snow down on our heads and necks. Otherwise the morning was quite warm and I was stripped down to "summer" wear — pants and a thin long-sleeved shirt, no gloves or hat — as I gasped my way up the mountain. Dad broke trail and I lagged many meters behind, wondering whether I should perhaps be more concerned about this raspy breathing. Was it potentially damaging to my lungs? The night before, I had dinner with my best friend from high school, and we discussed our "30-something" aches and issues. She still feels lingering effects from a serious car accident that happened more than 15 years ago.

"When you're young, as long as you survive something, you think it's over, it's okay. And then, when you get older, you realize that no, these things stay with us."

 I decided against extending my stay to snowboard with my sister on Wednesday. Although I wanted to spend time with my sister, my lungs were still raw and sore, and my congestion was getting worse again. Also, the truth of the matter is that I'm downright terrified about the prospect of snowboarding. It's been a lot of years and my balance seems to be getting worse. I'm not 20 anymore and can't go cartwheeling down a mountain with the same consequences I enjoyed back then, which were none. 125-mile fat bike rides are something I understand well now, something I can handle. Snowboarding is ... something in my past.

Still, the lungs issue was a bit disconcerting. There were times in the Fat Pursuit when it felt like a 500-pound man was sitting on my chest, squeezing out all of the air. A friend of mine who is a physician suggested that high altitude pulmonary edema was one possible cause. Even though 8,000 feet is a relatively low elevation for such a severe reaction, a combination of sea-level acclimation, a high rate of exertion, dehydration, and the cold virus I was battling, could produce an environment ripe for HAPE. Unless I get my lungs scanned, there is no way to know what affected my breathing, or whether it might persist in future efforts. What if it's the kind of thing that sticks with me?

The drive home was uneventful, except for getting out of my car to walk three miles in the Ruby Mountains north of Elko. I just wanted to break up the drive to better my chances of staying awake, and kept the effort very low, but still fought with my lungs for oxygen flow. Still, it was a beautiful day and nice to get out; I was feeling triumphant as I hurtled toward Elko while dreaming about smothered burritos. A motivating song came onto my mP3 shuffler: the theme song from the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. This song is an overwrought pseudo-latin march from a film about Christopher Columbus, appropriately titled "Conquest of Paradise." Beat often has me make playlists for him before races. I downloaded this song before the Tor des Geants specifically to annoy him, as this song is played incessantly at UTMB events.

So I downloaded the song as a joke, but admit I find it enjoyable for the memories it elicits. As I was singing along with the lyrics — which in my mind just go "Du-du-dum, dum-du-du-du-dum" — a text pinged on my phone. "Congratulations for getting into UTMB!" Beat wrote.

Even though I'm not sure what I want to do with my summer, I signed up for the UTMB lottery last month, because I badly want to try again to finish a full race in the Alps after one partial UTMB and two DNFs in longer races, and because at my current rate of ultramarathon racing, I may not qualify again for a while. When the news pinged my phone just as "Conquest of Paradise" was playing — and I promise I'm not making this up — it seemed like a sign, an important precursor to a meaningful experience. I turned up the music, pumped my fist triumphantly to the rhythm, sang the "du-du-dums" as loud as I wanted, and felt invigorated for the long drive home. 


  1. Oh how great it would be, to be at your place, during a party, and have you whip out the accordion to play a few tunes!

    As far as your, "I'm not 20 anymore and can't go cartwheeling down a mountain," goes, I'm going to call bull-poop. I'm forty something, upper end even, and I'm finding I'm speeding up not slowing down. I fully accept the risks associated. I don't think I could give up anything because I felt I was too old. If/when I give up anything, it's because my interests have changed. In other words, rock out with your socks up! Dust off the board and hit the slopes!

    1. Jill M11:54 AM

      Yep, I second this, my thirties were way better than my 20s in regards to physicality. I can't say much about my forties so far :/

  2. Jill M11:50 AM

    I found positive resolution in burning all of my old writing, angsty journals, and painfully self-centered travel writing. I saw no reason to re-live all that stuff and I certainly didn't want to share it with anyone, so into the fire it went! I'm so glad I'm not lugging around all that old stuff, mental and physical, anymore!

  3. Hope your lungs are better by now! My 50's aren't doing too badly except for my arthritic knees. I'm hoping that once I have them replaced, I'll keep being able to push my limits.

  4. Jill, Did you get a new camera? I am really enjoying the photos, although I have always come for the words.

    1. Thanks Nick! I've mainly been using a Sony RX100 for about two years now. It's been a great camera, easy to use, and has endured quite a bit of abuse — which are really all I ask of a digital camera. Recommended if you're still in the market.

  5. Jill,
    Purchase and fire up a humidifier while you sleep for a few nights.

  6. Hahaha, I feel the same way about not having the internet when younger. I shudder to think of the drivel I would have posted on Facebook. I think we were luckier then not to have that stuff. We got handwritten love letters! We got trinkets from boys we were hopelessly in love with instead of texts. I'm like Jill M though--I didn't keep any of that stuff. I'm a minimalist. As far as your dad, that really gives me hope. I like to think I am getting better and better. There have been some things I have had to leave behind, like you with snowboarding, but that means more opportunities to discover.

    1. I can discard all kinds of things without regret, but I enjoy having my archives. A medium-sized trunk can hold a lot of memories, even if some of them are embarrassing. And I haven't necessarily given up on snowboarding, but it it hard for me to not think about all of the season-ending injuries I could incur if I took the kind of board-over-head falls I used to take when I was a teenager. :)


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