I feel like the universe came down a little hard this year after the hubris of last year's birthday post, where I declared that everything was only getting better with age. 36 hasn't exactly been my year of great health, and yet there's still no hard evidence that my relatively minor issues are age-related or even lifestyle-related. Sometimes people's allergies worsen and they develop asthma in their mid-30s. Sometimes people take several wrist-damaging falls on their snowboard as a teenager, and 17 years later finally incur that last damaging hit that leads to debilitating carpal tunnel syndrome. These things happen. It doesn't necessarily mean I have one foot in the grave.
These health issues did lend some valuable perspective. With my breathing problems, I occasionally feel like a 70-year-old smoker, so now I value good days so much more than I did before. Earlier today ... er yesterday ... right before we drove to the airport, Beat and I did a quick run up the west ridge of Bear Peak. It can be a very short route from our closest trail access — fewer than three miles round trip — but with a segment that gains nearly 700 feet in 0.3 miles, it's a great test of fitness. On Friday morning, the air was cool, misty, and almost autumn-like. I was taking it easy — my heart rate was moderate, breathing steady and relaxed, no gasping. We spent a few minutes at the top gazing over the fog-shrouded prairie. This easy effort turned out to be my PR on this segment that I've run more than a dozen times — sometimes breathing so hard that I became dizzy and had to sit down. Good results on runs or rides no longer seem to indicate how hard I'm working, but rather how well I'm processing oxygen on that particular day. Still, good days are now outnumbering the bad, and I feel more confident every day that my treatments are working (or at least providing an effective placebo effect.)
Because of recent asthma malaise, I've failed to fully acknowledge just how thrilled I am with the results of the carpal tunnel surgery I had in June. I think most people don't realize that carpal tunnel syndrome can be a disabling injury when it becomes severe enough, and my case went from zero to severe literally overnight. I had CTS for all of three months, and during that time I lost most practical use of my right hand. I also developed constant low-level throbbing pain that occasionally escalated to electric shocks. Now that the pain is gone, it's interesting to look back on those three months and realize how much it impacted my daily life. A lot of people live with chronic pain, and I always wondered how they could possibly cope. I know CTS doesn't come close to the worst or even typical level of chronic pain, but it did expand my perspective on living with pain. It's surprisingly easy to absorb it into day-to-day life, until you don't even notice how it affects your mood and daily decisions. No doubt I was developing into a less enthusiastic and more surly person until pain was rather quickly whisked away. I complained during recovery because it wasn't instantaneous, but it was fast enough that I noticed the difference. Now, just two months later, I'm pain-free and back to driving, hand-writing, normal typing, riding my bike, and scrambling class-five rock slabs. I owe it all to CTS surgery. Yay modern medicine.
It also was interesting to quit cycling for four months — my longest break since I a knee injury forced me off a bike for three months in 2007. Cycling is most definitely my "flow" mechanism, and losing that while uprooting everything to move to Colorado was more upsetting than I care to admit. Returning to cycling amid these recent breathing troubles and the stress that causes has been even more disappointing. I find myself avoiding cycling just to avoid the stress. It will be interesting to see where this relationship falls after another month of no cycling, as I'm unlikely to gain access to a bike in Europe.
And now I've spent all these words blathering about my health again, when I meant to write about the two major things that actually happened to me this year — moving to Colorado with Beat, and fulfilling a long-time dream of riding a bike to Nome on the Iditarod Trail. The seeds for this dream sprouted more than a decade ago, and occupied more space in my head than I care to admit. But it seemed impossible then, it seemed impossible every year since, and it seemed the most impossible when I stood at the starting line on Knik Lake. I'd just had too many setbacks in preparation, my training seemed inadequate, I had asthma concerns then, and the crash that left my hand mostly immobilized happened on the first day. That fact that Nome was so impossible, and happened anyway, became a magical experience. The incredible memories from the Iditarod balance out anything negative that happened this year, and then some.
And of course there's Colorado. I'm excited to be here (or there, I suppose, as I'm in Munich right now.) I still dream about returning to Alaska, and I'm not sure that desire will ever go away. But Beat and I are happy to be anchored in Boulder, where we find the best of most worlds — a beautiful place to reside, people who share our values and passions, private space, trail access out our front door, a 25-minute but nicely scenic commute to town, access to good health care, desirable and lucrative work for Beat, mountains and more mountains. I suspect the climate and possibly altitude of Colorado has contributed heavily to my asthma woes, but I'm still optimistic there's a way around all of this. Beat says he doesn't miss the Bay Area at all. I do, just a little, if I'm being honest. We made some great memories there. I miss the trail-running community, and friends, and the redwoods. And I miss Montebello Road — my go-to road bike climb. I want to return to California in November for the 100 Miles of Nowhere. Beat thinks I should substitute Flagstaff Road. But he doesn't understand. It's not the same.
And, speaking of the Homer Tribune, the book I wrote about Homer is doing reasonably well. Between Kindle sales, paperback sales, and the Amazon lending library, I've distributed the equivalent of nearly 5,000 copies of "Becoming Frozen" since its Aug. 17, 2015, release. This is the first time I enrolled in Amazon's lending library, and I'm impressed with the program — basically, readers pay a flat rate and authors are paid a small amount for every page read. So it's low-risk for readers, and authors only get paid if people actually read their work. No tricky marketing schemes or $25 hardback duds here. It's the great democratization of the book publishing industry. Yeah, it's probably a good deal for Amazon as well. I still think everybody wins.
I like the idea of aiming to produce a book every year to increase this baseline, which is a bit like having a salmon wheel picking up fish for you when you're not even working. I have a few more ideas for autobiographical projects that may be entertaining enough to snag page reads in the lending library. It's clear I enjoy working in autobiography — not because I think my life is so uniquely interesting or worthy of intensive documentation (although I thrive on intensive documentation all the same), but because as a writer I aim to depict authentic experience. Some writers do this well through fiction, but it's much harder, and that's one of the reasons I mainly read nonfiction. So far, my ventures into fiction have been lackluster, and my efforts with biographical nonfiction have been somewhat frustrating (the book I co-wrote with Tim Hewitt was a great experience. I am having more issues with the Ann Trason project, which I don't really want to delve into right now.) I'm sure I'll branch out eventually, but right now I still have a few more stories to tell.
So, finally, the next book ... it's close to done. My editor has most of the copy and I'm planning on an Oct. 1 release. Here's the working cover:
Be Brave, Be Strong." I've always wanted to develop a photo book, and I'm finally doing it with this one. It's a full ~70,000-word narrative with more than 200 illustrating photos. Such an endeavor is not super-cheap to produce, but I'm planning to sell the full-color signed paperback for $29.95 directly through my store. This will likely be a limited release, and the retail/Kindle version will come a bit later. If you are interested in pre-ordering the photo version, there's more information at this link: http://www.arcticglasspress.net/agp/?p=216
So that's my long-winded, jet-lagged birthday update. I'm really looking forward to 37, and if all goes well, more of this: