Category Archives: Living

On being a mediocre middle-aged athlete

The other day CFL and I were looking at the calendar and thinking about what else we’d like to accomplish this year before the rainy season begins in earnest. He mentioned a couple of hikes that he still wanted to do. I reminded him that at the beginning of the year we’d agreed to do a metric century (100 kilometers or 62 miles) bike ride in honor of CFL’s 60+ years of age.

We’d picked out a group bike ride that we wanted to do: the Chuckanut Century in Bellingham on September 14. But then I had to go and break my arm, which put a serious crimp in my cycling and running plans for this year. After I was finally cleared to ride again in July, we thought long and hard about that century, but by then we had a date conflict with another event.

It was looking like the metric century just wasn’t going to happen this year. Autumn arrived quite dramatically; high temperatures dropped precipitously exactly at the time of the equinox. We’ve had nearly half an inch of misty rain over the past week. Still, I watched the weather forecast and found a small window of opportunity. On Friday morning I casually suggested to CFL that we go for a bike ride on Saturday. What would you think, I smoothly added, if we were to get up early, take our time, and ride to the end of the Olympic Discovery Trail and back? How about if we throw in an extra three miles somewhere along the way and make it a 62 mile day?

Our longest ride to date had been 43 miles. We were talking about going almost 50% further than that! Yet I was reasonably confident that we could do it, assuming that we’d take our time and take breaks along the way.

It was a perfect day for a bike ride. It was sunny but cool, about 50 degrees, when we started out at 9:00 AM. It never got warmer than about 65. There was no wind — hence no annoying head wind all the way home. The trees were beginning to turn colors in earnest. In many places there were leaves already down on the pavement, which made giant swishy sounds as we rode through them.

At the end of the trail my GPS watch read 29.25 miles. We continued on a quiet road until that road ended at the busy highway at exactly 30 miles. We turned around at that point and stopped soon after to eat our lunch of mixed nuts, dried apricots, and Clif Bars.

On the way back we stopped at a local diner for milkshakes. We figured we’d burned at least a thousand calories by then and the shakes tasted really good.

We picked up the pace in the final few miles because we’d promised ourselves dinner out at our local gastropub. I was smelling and tasting the beer in my mind as I pedaled! I didn’t even mind the extra 2+ miles we rode along the downtown waterfront just to get our total mileage to the right number.

At the end we were tired but we mostly felt elated. We’d done it! 62.3 miles. Our total elapsed time was a leisurely just over eight hours. Actual riding time was 6:11:52 — we’d managed to average ten miles per hour.

After dinner, at our second pub stop to be precise, we ran into some friends. They asked us what we’d done that day. We told them, and they were dumbfounded.

Later I posted a quick status on Facebook: Just finished a 62 mile bike ride. My first metric century!  Friends commented: Wow! Impressive! Congrats! I could never do that!

Wait a minute. What?

Well yes, you could. It’s not like I just got on my bike for the first time and rode it 62 miles. You have to work up to these things.

If I can do it, so can you. I look at photos of myself from six years ago. I was never fat, but I was quite flabby. I carried myself awkwardly. I looked old and world-weary.

Want proof?

Here I am on one of the happiest days of my life: on graduation morning from my PhD program.

I felt old. And I didn’t like that.

When I started running, I wasn’t merely slow. Most of the time I wasn’t even running! It took me months to work up to running a quarter of a mile without stopping to walk. I used to tell myself, Just run to that tree, to that shadow, okay now you can walk — and now run to that rock!

My feet hurt. My knees hurt. My hips hurt. But somehow, my brain liked it and was happy about doing it. So I kept going.

One step at a time.

I like myself much better this way!

I was 53 years old when I started to run. I was really, really slow. I’m still slow, but I’m not as slow as I used to be — and as I complete my sixth year as a runner I now have 3,456 miles of running experience behind me.

I have a daily activity streak (walking, running, cycling, and/or hiking some distance) that now stands at 636 days and 4,538 total miles.

If I keep running, I might have a shot at qualifying for Boston. The older I get, the slower the qualifying standard becomes. There is still a chance that those lines might someday cross for me. 4:40:00 at age 65? Yeah, that sounds doable.

As for cycling? I don’t know where I’m going with that, but I hope I’ll still be able to ride my bike for many years to come. CFL and I have talked about doing a multi-day ride someday. I’d love to tour around Scotland by bike.

I’m a mediocre middle-aged athlete and I feel healthier and more vibrantly alive than I ever have in my life.

I don’t mean to imply that I’m fearless or invincible. I’ve said those “I can’t” things just like you have:

  • I could never hike up that hill.
  • Run a whole mile? No way!
  • Break a 10 minute mile? Impossible!
  • Break a 9 minute mile? In my wildest dreams.
  • I’ll never run a marathon, no way not ever.
  • A bike? I’ll crash!!!!

But what I’ve learned is that a lot of seemingly impossible things become not merely possible but fun if you simply practice and tackle them one step at a time.

Now I’m going to step away from this computer and go for a walk. It’s sunny and brisk outside.

Won’t you join me? We’ll start out slowly. :-)

 

So many wonderful moments, such a grand life!

I usually focus on the upbeat in this blog. With a title like Slow Happy Living, that’s to be expected. But life is lived in moments, and not all moments are happy ones.

My father passed away last week, one week after his 87th birthday. Per his wishes, there will be no service. I would like to write something by way of a eulogy but the task may be too big for me, at least for now. So I’ll just reflect a bit on his life.

His passing was not unexpected. He’d had a stroke several years ago from which he’d largely recovered. A second stroke this February was more debilitating, but he had come home and was adjusting to the use of a walker or wheelchair. He insisted that he surely would drive again soon and that he and my step-mom would take one more vacation together. Yet he worried constantly about the next stroke that he was sure would come.

The third stroke in late March was massive. He could still speak, but he was confused. He could do almost nothing without assistance. There would be no coming home from the nursing home this time. Although doctors said he might live for several more years, he never talked again about his plans for the future.

Last week he suddenly developed complications from that stroke. CFL, my daughter, and I made a quick trip south to see him. He recognized and acknowledged us. The next day he slipped into a sleep that took him away peacefully early the following morning.

My father was a proud yet humble man, a Depression-era stoic with a sometimes-difficult childhood home life. Although he attended school sporadically through the first year of high school, he told me late in his life that he’d really only had a 4th grade education.

Despite his lack of formal education, he became a scientific glassblower, a man so highly skilled in his craft that engineers struggled to design a bulb-blowing machine that could approximate the intricacy and precision of the work he did by hand. Among other accomplishments, he made a glass sensor that went into the lunar astronauts’ backpacks. Those packs were left behind when the astronauts returned to Earth. My dad’s glass sensors are still up there on the Moon.

The Moon is an appropriate home for my dad’s glasswork. He was fascinated by astronomy and used to talk to my brothers and me about the vastness of the universe. He, who had no use for institutional spirituality, made the scientific idea of infinity meaningful for me. When I contemplate the stars I hear his voice.

He had an abundant curiosity and an amazing memory for facts and data, places and times. He did long division in his head. He pored over maps. He kept records of every gallon of gasoline he put into every one of our cars.

My dad loved to travel; we took regular Sunday drives to the mountains and deserts of southern California. We hiked. We camped. We collected interesting rocks. We climbed Mt. San Antonio (Mt. Baldy), the highest peak of the San Gabriel Mountains at 10,068 feet, when I was about 9 years old. While my friends’ vacations consisted of holiday visits to grandparents, we took epic summer vacations to National Parks. He took movies, which always seemed to start with a shot of his nose as he peered into the camera lens — if they had been sound movies, you would have heard, “Is this thing on?” Why he never figured that out, I have no idea.

He was active well into middle age. He used to get us up early for Sunday morning bike rides before breakfast. There were no bike paths in those days; we’d whizz around on empty boulevards while others were still sleeping. He rode 40 miles on his 40th birthday and vowed he’d continue that tradition through the years. He rode regularly until his early 60s when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer; then he put the bike away and stayed close by her side. My mom and he took one or two more short vacations before she became too sick to travel. After she died he tried to start riding again, but found it difficult. He was in his mid-60s, and he was no longer comfortable out on his road bike.

When he met my step-mom, he became young and energized again. It was so good to see him smiling! They traveled all over the world together, up until just a few years ago. I am so grateful that she came into his life and made his last 21 years such happy ones.

Every family has its dynamics, and my dad was not perfect. But he taught me to love learning, to see beauty in nature, and to enjoy experiences more than things.

With my dad’s passing, I suddenly find myself on the cusp. My generation is next in line to go. I have reached that moment when I suddenly look around, see myself in a mirror, and finally, fully understand that I am no longer young.

CFL and I vow to stay active for as many years as we can, while knowing that someday we too will decline and fade. What we have now are moments, and we can only strive to make the most of each of them.

Yesterday I went out for a long run along the waterfront trail. As it happened, I was out there just as 250 cyclists from the Cascade Bike Club’s annual Ride Around Washington (RAW) were coming through on their tour. I was proud to share “my” trail with these riders. I thought about how thrilled my dad would have been to ride with them.

Just as long runs did for me after Kurt died, yesterday’s long run invited and created a safe place for cleansing, healing tears.

Dad, I’ll miss you. You were the best!

Now I’m going for a bike ride.

The joy of walking

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absoutely free from all worldly engagements.

– Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

In recent days I have been doing quite a bit of sauntering, and as I saunter I often think of Thoreau. I had the privilege of visiting Walden Pond as a teenager. I was underwhelmed by its small size and its decidedly non-wild contemporary setting. It’s difficult to imagine the area back in Thoreau’s day, when he wrote:

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do. First along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant.

In my corner of the world, there are still places where it is possible to walk for some distance without seeing a house. I can even walk to some of those places from my own house, although I have to pass by many houses on the way to the trailhead. I wouldn’t want to live in total wilderness or total solitude, so that’s all right by me. Yet, like Thoreau, I do find peace and inspiration in those places that have not yet lost their wildness.

At walking speed I see things that I would have missed while running or cycling. Recently I spent a few moments watching two river otters in full courtship dance. No photos, sorry… while I’m watching something like that, reaching in my pocket for my phone to take a photo is the last thing on my mind.

In an effort to make peace with the place where I fell and broke my arm, I have hiked several miles of the Olympic Adventure Trail. It’s an easy, pleasant, relatively level trail. In several places the trail meanders through recent clear cuts — so it’s not exactly pristine — but those clear cuts open up views southward to the Olympics or northward to the strait and Vancouver Island.

At walking pace I was delighted to find calypso orchids on the OAT! There are at least 100 of them in the first mile from the trailhead. I have never noticed them on this trail before.

I’ve often put orchid photos in this blog, but to refresh your memory here is what they look like. They are tiny flowers, not much more than an inch across.

Calypso Orchids

The other day on the OAT, in the midst of all of these “normal” calypsos, I came across a pair of unicorns.

IMG_1480

Those, my friends, are “albino” calypso orchids! It’s not the greatest photo, but I hope you can see that the outer petals are pure white while the inner petals are muted compared to the “normal” flower. Over the past three years I have inspected hundreds of calypso orchids but I’ve never seen any like these before.

Yesterday we went out to the mouth of the Elwha River. I haven’t been to the mouth since before the dam removal project began. The mouth is now at least a quarter of a mile north of where it used to be! The silt that has flowed downriver from the dams has created a broad, easy-walking silty beach.

IMG_1483

IMG_1482

At the water’s edge the river and the tide are joining forces to create small canyons, cutting vertical mini-cliffs through the silt. I took this photo looking straight down. The water here is about a foot below the edge of the silt.

IMG_1484

The configuration of this river delta changes from day to day, but the clear trend is growth of the land northward into the strait. A few hours after I took these photos, I was standing on a high ridge line looking down toward the strait, where I could clearly see the river’s current fanning out and outlined against the saltier water of the strait.

While I deeply miss running (and eagerly look forward to the day when I’m cleared to run again), I’m finding deep happiness in hours of leisurely walking. These are all steps in my journey, and each of them is to be savored. There is no going back, no other way but forward.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that will never be trod again.

– Antonio Machado

Slow and happy — here’s to the joy of walking!

Good news and bad news

I had good news and bad news from the orthopedist yesterday.

The good news is that I had a very clean break! Just a sliver of separated bone. There is little to no swelling at the break site. There will probably be no ligament damage. I have full feeling everywhere on my arm, and full movement everywhere below the shoulder. Therefore I am already cleared to take my arm out of the sling for moments to hours (whatever feels comfortable) with only a few restrictions:

  • no movement of my arm laterally away from my shoulder
  • no weight bearing activity whatsoever with my left arm
  • if I feel any pain, stop doing whatever triggered the pain.

She encouraged me to walk as much as I like and was agreeable to the idea of a bike trainer (a device that turns your bike into a stationary cycle machine) as long as I don’t use my left arm. I don’t yet own a bike trainer but now I’m looking into getting one! She did warn me that I’ll quickly lose muscle strength and endurance over the coming weeks, and that I should not be looking for another PR when I run (or walk… we’ll see…) the NODM half marathon on June 1.

Now for the bad news.

My arm broke in a way that should not have happened from a “standing fall.” That is, the force of the left forearm hitting the ground is not normally enough to crack the humerus where it meets the shoulder. However, I was running (which added X amount of force) slightly downhill (which added another Y amount of force). You’ll remember from your high school algebra that X and Y are unknown and variable. Maybe it was enough force to justify the break, or maybe not. We don’t have any data on the forces at play in this case.

But I have a history of a previous fracture that “should not” have happened. I broke a bone in my left foot when I missed the last step of a flight way back in 2001. The chronic, lingering foot pain after that accident was the very thing that inspired me to start running in the first place! Now after 5+ years of fracture-free running I may have increased my bone density from the hips down. Everywhere else may be a different story.

Bottom line, the doctor is almost certain that I have osteoporosis. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known for years that I have almost all the risk factors:

  • I’m female
  • I’m white
  • I’m slim and always have been
  • I had an early (surgical) menopause
  • I now live at a high latitude where I get little sun exposure for much of the year (I do take supplemental vitamin D)
  • I’ve had a previous fracture
  • A DEXA scan at the time of my previous fracture showed that I already had osteopenia (borderline low bone density)

As for the few risk factors I don’t have:

  • I don’t have a family history of osteoporosis
  • I’ve never smoked.

As I say, this doesn’t come as a surprise. I run, cycle, hike, and walk with a conscious awareness that these activities are good for my bones (and for lots of other reasons). But somehow I’ve never gotten sufficiently motivated to do any weight training or other exercise above the hips.

All of that is about to change. Time to break out the hand weights! Time to start hiking with a heavier pack!

I’m scheduled for a bone density test in a few weeks. I’ll be tested in at least two places (my wrist and somewhere lower) so I’ll get an idea of how helpful the running has been for my bones.

After that, I suppose there will be a treatment plan, which I hope will include an exercise program to limit the damage and keep me as active and healthy as possible. I recently met a runner who took up running after her osteoporosis diagnosis and is doing just fine. So I have every reason to be optimistic.

Meanwhile I’ll start physical therapy on my arm on April 17, which will be two weeks after my injury. I’m looking forward to that!

And later on this misty, mild April afternoon I’ll go for a nice long walk. The activity streak shall endure.

One step at a time!

If there’s a rock on the trail

If there’s a rock on the trail, try to step over it. (If there are lots of rocks, dance your way through them!)

If you trip on a rock, try to regain your balance.

If you can’t regain your balance, try to fall gracefully.

If you go down too fast and hard to fall gracefully, then take your lumps, get yourself up, start running again, and finish the last 0.7 miles of your otherwise-awesome 11 mile trail run.

Then get yourself to the emergency room.

If you follow my running blog, Slow Happy Runner, you’ll know by now that a few days ago I tripped over a rock while trail running and wound up breaking my left arm just below the shoulder. No running or cycling for me for at least 4-6 weeks. Therefore no OAT Run trail half marathon on April 26, no Bikes and Brews group ride in Seattle on May 3. Even my local North Olympic Discovery half marathon on June 1 is looking iffy.

I’ll know more about the recovery prognosis and timeframe when I see the orthopedist tomorrow, but the writing on the wall is pretty clear. My priority now is to heal both quickly and well. As a lefty, I shudder at the thought of not regaining full use of my left arm. Once the bone has healed, I’ll want physical therapy and lots of it!

My right arm is trembling right now from the unaccustomed effort of pecking out letters on the keyboard one by one. Trying to feed myself is a chore. Cooking is nearly impossible. Brewing a batch of beer is out of the question.

I’m committed to continuing my activity streak, which is now at 461 days. I’m still walking daily, although it’s surprisingly difficult to walk several miles, even on a flat paved surface, while focusing on keeping one arm absolutely still in its sling.

Perhaps the toughest part was looking at all the gaps in my calendar after I removed all my planned training runs, bike rides, and brew days. I caught myself this morning wondering why I should bother getting out of bed if I couldn’t run, hike, ride, or brew. I don’t like thinking thoughts like that! So I know I’ll have to watch my attitude. I still have LOTS of reasons to get out of bed! It’s crucial that I find a way to feel happy in the midst of all of this.

Slow happy living, indeed!

On my walk today I made a point of looking for things that I don’t always have time to see when I’m running or riding. The salmonberries are starting to bloom. So is the evil, invasive, but undeniably beautiful Scotch Broom. Small black-and-white butterflies are suddenly everywhere. Parents and small children are out on the trail enjoying slow, wobbly bike rides. Spring has finally reached the Pacific Northwest!

Maybe I’ll make one simple practice — slowing down to observe — the focus of my coming days and weeks. This setback is temporary; meanwhile I still have my health and my desire to make the most of each day.

What did you do with this precious day of your life? And what will you do tomorrow?

One step at a time!

 

A shiny new year deserves some big, bold plans

Happy New Year! As years go (and so they do, faster and faster it seems) 2013 was a rather great one. CFL’s and my casual decision last January 1 to “be more active” turned into a 365-day activity streak that is still going strong as we begin 2014.

CFL’s approach to it was rather casual, but he never missed a day — even if it meant setting out on the 2.1 mile uphill/downhill neighborhood “lap” at 11:45 PM.  Me? Of course I kept a spreadsheet, which now allows me to regale you with some numbers that still boggle my mind.

In 2013 I completed:

  • 1,001.14     run miles (including 2 half marathons, a full, & a 10K)
  •    307.47     bike miles (including 33 miles with 15,000+ others)
  •    134.73     hike miles
  •    720.73     walk miles

     2,164.07     total miles

Oh, and I drove just over 11,000 miles — much of which was long-distance driving to and from events (bike rides, concerts, brewfests, and the like) and trailheads.

We brewed 21 batches of beer, and made the leap from extract to all-grain brewing. We have a never-ending list of brewing equipment that we want to buy (a bigger brew kettle to prevent boilovers, a plate chiller to cool the wort more quickly, a couple of pumps to save CFL’s back, the list goes on and on).

So what’s in store for 2014?

I think I’ll run a little less, since I won’t be training for a full marathon and doing the super-long runs. I think 900 running miles is a good goal.

I plan to do a LOT more bike riding. I don’t have a specific mileage goal but I do have some events that CFL and I want to ride. I’ve got my eye on a new bike that I hope to buy before the end of January. I weighed my current bike and was astonished to learn that it weighs 33 pounds — no wonder I work so hard going uphill! The bike I’d like to buy will be at least 10 pounds lighter.

I’m looking at my calendar and figuring out how I’ll weave together training for and participating in multiple running and biking events throughout the year.

So far, the event schedule looks like this:

February 23: Bike Ride
The Chilly Hilly on February 23 — 33 miles around Bainbridge Island with 2,675 feet of elevation gain. I’ll need that new bike for those hills!

April 26: Trail Half Marathon
The Oat Run (Olympic Adventure Trail) — I’ll run this one and CFL may be a volunteer worker.

June 1: Half Marathon
North Olympic Discovery half marathon — this local race will be my fifth NODM and CFL’s first; he’s going to walk it.

August 3: Bike Ride
Ride the Hurricane is a 17-mile 5,000 foot climb up the Hurricane Ridge Road in Olympic National Park, followed by a rapid 17-mile descent! The road is closed to cars for the day. CFL has done this a few times. He tells me I may be ready to tackle it this summer. I think he’s nuts, but we’ll see…

August 10: Bike Ride
The Providence Bridge Pedal in Portland was so much fun last year that we’re going to do it again. Just us and over 15,000 other riders, riding over ten (count ‘em) Willamette River bridges on closed roads and freeways.

August 24: Bike Ride
The Tour de Victoria will be our first metric century — a 100K bike ride around downtown Victoria, BC and its surroundings.

October 12: Half/Full Marathon
We’ll be back in Victoria for this one. This is where I ran my marathon in 2013. For 2014 I plan to go back to the half (it will be my third Victoria half marathon), and CFL says he is going to walk the full marathon. We’ll see how he feels about that one when the time comes.

I’m sure other events will come up, and we’ll fit them in somehow. These are just the major ones that will require planning and preparation. We have several road trips planned as well, all of which will include some brewery tourism.

Yet even with all the training and traveling, we should have plenty of room on our calendars for hiking (I really need to do an overnight backpack trip this summer), walking around town, and hanging out with friends. And brewing, of course.

I’m guessing that we’ll end up doing at least 2,400 total miles this year. That seems like a worthy and achievable goal.

Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m thinking about an easy afternoon hike on a lowland forest trail. Although the sunsets are already noticeably later than two weeks ago, I’d better get out there while there is still plenty of daylight!

What’s on your calendar? What new goals have you set for yourself in 2014?

Slow and happy!

A moment’s pause

I was driving home this afternoon after going for a run. It hadn’t been a particularly enjoyable run.

It was chilly — about 45 degrees with a breeze as I started my run. As usually happens when it’s cold, my hands and feet promptly went numb. I was wearing gloves and waving my hands around, so that part wasn’t so bad; my hands warmed up within a few minutes. But it’s tough trying to run on numb feet. It took two and a half miles for my feet to thaw out, and when they finally did, I realized that (as often happens) they’d been slapping the ground rather hard while numb and were now sore.

I’d almost given up and turned around in the first cold mile, but I’d decided that today it was my job to be out there and keep running in spite of feeling less than stellar. I went on and completed my run (from a county park to an Audubon center/park and back, 7.6 miles round trip), patting myself on the back at the end for toughing it out.

On the way home I stopped off to pick up some vegetables for tonight’s dinner. I also grabbed a bottle of fruit/vegetable juice to drink on the way home.

As I left the farm store, I noticed that the sky was quite dramatic. Heading west toward home, I was driving out from under dark gray clouds and into blue sky and broken clouds that were spectacularly lit by the late afternoon sun. I drove by two or three possible locations where I could have stopped to take photos. By this time, I was actually in a hurry to get home because my darned fingers were going numb again from holding the cold juice bottle (if you’re wondering, I have Raynaud’s phenomenon). So for a few miles my inner dialogue went: “Do I stop or do I hurry home to get warm?”

Finally the sky became so beautiful that I had to stop — fingers be damned! I pulled into a downtown parking lot and quickly snapped these shots with my iPhone.

It was a moment worth pausing for, don’t you think?

Some moments are just too good to let pass unnoticed. This is a lesson too easily overlooked, a lesson that demands we practice it, every day.

What did you notice that gave you a moment’s pause today?

October and half of November

Well, that was quick! I knew October was going to be a busy month, but I had no idea I’d be so swept up by events that I wouldn’t have another chance to post here until mid-November. While the living has not been so “slow” lately, it has certainly been happy.

October began with the Yakima Fresh Hop Festival, as documented in my last post. The following weekend was the Victoria marathon. As I’ve written here, I can now and forever call myself a marathoner!

The weekend of October 19-20 we went to Seattle to see the Moody Blues for what I believe to be my 40th time (CFL’s second). They never disappoint, and this was yet another great show by my all-time favorite band. The following evening we attended the 10th anniversary celebration for the local region of the sports car club that I belong to. As a charter member of the region, I was among those who stood up to share memories of our early days. Good times!

Our big travel event for late October was a trip down to Eugene, Oregon for a philosophy conference at which I presented a paper. My paper was a very preliminary attempt to make sense of what I have learned (and continue to learn) about running and personal transformation. I’m playing with the idea of the literal steps and place-to-place movement of my running “career” as a metaphoric movement through the course of caregiving, grieving, and re-creating one’s life anew. My paper was well-received at the conference, but I didn’t get enough feedback to determine which direction I want to go further with this.

Here’s the dilemma I’m mulling over in my mind. I think these life experiences that I’ve had make for a good story, but I want to frame them conceptually as something more than a simple memoir. As a scholar/philosopher, I want to put them in a philosophical context — which would seriously limit the potential audience. At the same time, as a person who has actually had these very real and human experiences, I do want to make them accessible to others — not as a slick “self-help” book, but as some sort of a guidebook for the journey. I’m sure there is a happy medium there between conceptual “navel gazing” and pop psychology, but I can’t quite grasp yet what that middle ground might look like.

So I think I will do some noodling around with alternate takes on writing projects and see whether the work finds the right direction, or at least the direction that it wants to go. Many times in the past, I have begun to write without having a clue where I might end up, and I have learned what I needed to learn in the process of writing. I sense that this will be another one of those times.

That was October. Now, what the heck has happened with November so far? I think I must have exhaled and collapsed!

We’ve brewed two batches of beer — a black IPA for Thanksgiving and an Old Ale for mid-December — and I’m tweaking my recipe for the imperial stout that we’ll brew next week to have ready for New Years.

We keep talking about a hike up the Elwha River valley before winter really sets in, but we seem to be so busy from day to day that we haven’t blocked out a full day for a good, long hike. We haven’t let up on the daily activity streak, however — yesterday was day 317, and I’ve logged just under 1,900 miles of running, biking, hiking, and walking since the beginning of this year.

This time of year, when everything changes suddenly and dramatically from green to gold and then to brown/gray, it can be difficult to escape a sense of the urgency and inevitability of passing time.

The “slow happy” mantra is a reminder to ourselves to appreciate and make the most of NOW. But it can be difficult to resist packing too much into each NOW.

Sometimes NOW needs to be a silent soaking-it-in time/place — even if we only get to be there in our memories or thoughts.

IMG_1198

I’ll try to remember to slow down and pay attention as I go about my busy day.

How about you?

Don’t let another moment slip away

In keeping with this blog’s theme of slow HAPPY living, I usually try to keep things here light and upbeat. Sometimes, however, a bit of philosophy is in order.  After all, I AM a bit of a philosopher… but I’ll try to restrain myself and not do any really deep navel gazing in this post.

Today I went for a hike. Usually CFL and I hike together, but he’s busy working on a big project. If you wonder whether the economy is ever going to improve, you may take heart from the fact that architects are suddenly getting work again. That’s great for CFL, but it has put a crimp on our summer hiking plans.

So today was a perfect, clear and warm late summer day. We’ll only have a few more of these days before the rainy season returns. I sat around the house for a while, but when I found myself watching cat videos I knew I needed to get out of my chair, get outside, and move my feet.

We’re 255 days into 2013, which means we’re 255 days (and I’m 1,520 miles) into our activity streak. On a busy day like today CFL still manages at least a two mile walk around the neighborhood. But I like to do a little more than that.

So today I went for a hike. I went up to Hurricane Ridge and hiked the same trail that I did back on August 4. It’s an up-and-down trail that meanders along the side and top of a minor ridge, ultimately connecting with trails that climb steeply up the north side of the mountain. The elevation of this section of trail ranges from about 5,100 to 5,600 feet. Nothing really strenuous, just a lot of ups and downs, and on a warm day like today it’s a good workout.

It’s a front country trail, so I felt comfortable hiking alone knowing there would be others in the area and that I would never be more than three miles from the car. As it turned out, I saw about ten other hikers — busier than some days but not so busy that I couldn’t do a whole lot of thinking and simply taking in the views and the moments of silence.

Views like this kept me happy.

I turned around at the first major fork in the trail.

The Klahhane Ridge Trail (the trail I was on — and yes it is misspelled on the sign — if you look closely you can see that someone has corrected it!) begins to climb steeply at this point. The Switchback Trail descends very steeply down to the road a few miles below where I’d left my car. This sign, therefore, marked the perfect place for me to turn around and return to the visitor center.

I returned a little more slowly, even though the shadows were beginning to lengthen. I found myself deep in a meditation about life, about how wonderful it all is, how awesome is the fact of simply being alive. Not merely being here but participating in it, making it happen, step by step by intentional step.

Sometimes I wonder if this whole “activity streak” has become an obsession. Perhaps it has, but if it has, I’m convinced that it’s an obsession of an entirely positive sort. It’s become a way of marking my days, of keeping a promise to myself that I will do something every day to ensure that I live it. I log my daily miles and how I attained them in a spreadsheet (are you surprised?). It’s become a diary of sorts. I can look back at the end of a day, a week, a month… or soon, a year… and know a little something about how I chose to spend my finite, precious time.

Today I did a 5.3 mile hike in Olympic National Park. I stopped along the way to notice things like the moon low in the summer sky over Hurricane Ridge.

As  I was driving down the hill toward home, I lost myself in another way, listening to music in the car. Michael Franti’s “Hey Hey Hey” came up. It’s a simple song, and the lyrics as a whole aren’t that relevant to the thoughts I was having today. But the catchy refrain “I won’t let another moment slip away” resonated deeply.

Despite the best efforts of the medical profession and the best care that I could give him, my late husband spent the last days of his life angry and in pain. Perhaps in some part of my heart, in my daily quest for significant movement, I am still running away from my memories of those moments. I prefer to think that I am running toward the opposite of those moments.

I want my moments  and my miles to add up to something. I want to experience each of them fully — slowly and happily. I don’t want to let another moment slip away.

Right now?

I’m relaxing and having a home brew. And writing.

And tomorrow?

I’m going for a run.

Oh yeah, and after that there is grocery shopping and bill paying and pre-cooking for a potluck. Those moments matter too. I shall be intentional about doing them, however. And then I’ll go out and meet some friends for dinner.

What did you do today?

What will you do tomorrow?

Don’t let another moment slip away!

Signs of spring… at last!

Winter here in the Pacific Northwest can feel like it will last forever. Although I’ve done well this year in staving off the seasonal blues by staying active whatever the weather, the long gray slog continued throughout March and most of April.

Then all of a sudden — BOOM! — spring started bursting out all over the place!

Trees that were bare suddenly turned day-glow green. The big-leaf maples produced their odd green flowers, followed quickly by miniature-but-rapidly-growing big leaves.

A deer walked right through my back yard!

Wildflowers began to bloom. Here’s a trillium just getting started, rising out of a carpet of moss.

We discovered a new (to us) trail. The trailhead is less than a mile from my house — we can walk to the trailhead! The trail follows a stream, meandering into the National Park and through low-elevation second-growth forest. Scenes like this beckon to us… wouldn’t you love to duck under the fallen log and up those steps that disappear around the corner? We’ll walk this trail frequently this summer, I think. It sure beats doing a lap of the neighborhood streets!

If we needed any more proof that summer is on its way, we got it the other day when a small (100-passenger) cruise ship pulled into City Pier for a two-day stay. This boutique cruise line has committed to doing a total of 13 Puget Sound cruises with port calls in our town in May, September, and October. The tourist season is upon us!

Today is May 1, and the sun will set at 8:27 PM. In another day or two I’ll notice the morning and afternoon sun coming through my north-facing windows. By the time we reach the solstice, sunset will be well after 9:00 PM and the last of the light will fade to the northwest at 10:00 PM.

This weekend the forecast calls — finally — for high temperatures over 70. Woohoo! Break out the shorts and tank tops, summer is actually coming!