37

I'm spending Aug. 20 in that sensory deprivation portal that is trans-Atlantic travel. It's half past noon here at the Munich airport, so I think it's my birthday in most places in the world. Nothing like sleep deprivation and lots of coffee to spur a ruminative blog post.

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.

My work is going well. I contract for an Alaska newspaper publisher who recently acquired the Homer Tribune — the weekly newspaper where I worked in 2005-2006. It's a little to surreal to return to the Tribune after a decade, still working with two people I worked with back then, and most everything about it is pretty much the same. Community news is a passion of mine. I believe it's vitally important, even though the tough economics of producing newspapers pushed me out of the business and then out of Alaska. This publisher has made it work, and I'm honored to play a small part. It keeps me connected to community news and connected to Alaska. Someday I will visit Barrow, and Dillingham, and Unalaska ... since I've been editing and sometimes writing about these places for three years now.

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:

This book is the about my March 2016 ride across Alaska, and all of those setbacks leading up to it. Thematically, it's a perfect sequel to "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:

Thanks for checking in.

Comments

  1. Happy birthday! I've been inspired by your blog for several years now, and I'm glad to see you're still at it. As a recent 39 year old, I'm constantly discovering new health issues as I push myself harder. I also developed, or at least aggravated my benign asthma in my 30s, although since I've moved from the west to the Midwest it's improved. Hope you have a great year!

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  2. At 37 I was just moving to Alaska! I can't wait to read the new book. One of my great frustrations is having severely limited time to write.

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  3. Happy birthday, Jill! Can't wait to read your new book. Love the cover and the title. I definitely want a signed limited edition copy. Good luck to Beat in his races in Europe and have fun with your adventures. I have an interesting 100MoN planned for here in Fairbanks involving fat bikes. Maybe you should join me here!

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  4. Happy Birthday Jill, and thank you for Becoming Frozen. It was recently my first ever eBook read on the free kindle app for iPad as I recovered from major surgery (hysterectomy). Your character and writing style are so sublimely modest and calming and what you write about so interesting - I couldn't put it down (well, I did ... Eventually :)
    Thanks for the outdoors inspiration that made me feel I was out there with ice crunching beneath me, flushed cheeks and little icicles forming around my face as I lay recovering in the sunshine in my bed by the beach in Australia. I don't ride bicycles except the ones with big engines and fat tyres, but it didn't matter, While reading your memoir, I was a cyclist. And I found renewed inspiration for my own passion - thru hiking. You're a very talented person, Jill.

    Have a wonderful birthday, and thanks again for the great read.
    Nadine

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  5. Happy Birthday! Have a great time in Europe. I am jealous of being there (though not of Beat doing PTL). Enjoy the beauty of The Alps. With no race to do you should just try to soak it all in.

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  6. Funny, the mid thirties was when I started feeling like I wasn't physically invincible, so I'm not entirely surprised at the year(?) you had. Plus going from sea level to CO foothills. Seriously. But it seems like things are finally coming together, and that's always a great feeling.

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  7. Wow...it's that time of year again suddenly...Happy Birthday Jill! Have FUN in Europe...we were over in Munich last Sept (spent a week there for Oktoberfest...I wasn't really stoked for the trip cuz I thought "how fun can drinking beer all day be for more than one day?". Well...call me surprised! It was a freaking BLAST and I can't WAIT to go back! (of course, we didn't go ever day, only every other day to the festival...the rest was sightseeing in the Munich area). Stay safe in your travels and 'recreation' while Beat is out doing his thing...and keep us updated...your pictorial posts are flat out awesome!

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  8. Oh...and thanks for the heads up on your new book...I'm kind'a broke just now but I will definitely want a signed copy!

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  9. Happy Birthday, Jill! It's good to read about your progress and I'm eager to read your new book. Setbacks are tough. I recently took a spill and I have some nasty road rash on my hands. I have a 100 mile mtb race coming up in two weeks and wanted to get a couple big rides in this week in preparation, but I'm too sore. I hope that 37 is great!

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  10. Gosh, it seems just like yesterday you were posting about your 30th birthday Jill! Time flies when you're having fun...or so they say...(just WHO are 'THEY' by the way?)

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  11. I had childhood asthma, which I fortunately outgrew, but even now I remember the terror of not being able to suck in enough oxygen. I hope this eases for you!

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  12. Tonya S.9:12 AM

    Happy birthday, Jill, and have a great time in Europe!

    Just remember that your age is just a number. Even though I've been active my whole life in some ways I didn't really hit my stride until my late 30s.

    I can attest that the new book is another beautifully written and inspiring great read!

    --The editor :)

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  13. Save me a copy!

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  14. Anonymous4:36 PM

    Maybe this article will resonate with you, Jill:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jamie-varon/to-anyone-who-thinks-theyre-falling-behind_b_9190758.html
    Wishing you all the best in your recovery to health.

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  15. Anonymous3:30 AM

    Jill, I've enjoyed all your books so much! I love your writing and on the blog I can't get enough of your stunning photos. I'm delighted that the new book will have photos. I'll be signing up for one and now I know what to get my friends for Christmas! - Barbara

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  16. I am really looking forward to your new book, Jill. Reading "Ghost Trails" was a great part of my preparation for riding the 350 and I expect to find the same true with this book as I prepare for the 1,000 in 2018.

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    1. Thanks Lars! I appreciate your support. I look forward seeing you again this winter. I'm guessing (wild guess) that '17 will be a good year for the walkers. :)

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  17. Anonymous9:56 AM

    I see you are in for the 2017 ITI ..1000mi....did you discuss that here in the blog?

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    1. Still the plan! I think I've mentioned it before. The sign-ups are in April and my resolve always wavers a bit during the summer ... it did last year as well. I will start blog-tracking my training in October.

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  18. Anonymous11:27 AM

    OK...Wow...Been following for years and admire your willingness to commit to that again. Especially considering the physical pain you had with the CTS. Will be reading and dot watching closely for sure.

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