Monthly Archives: March 2014

Fit and feral

As I was riding my bicycle today, it occurred to me that I do almost all of my running, and a fair percentage of my cycling and hiking, as a solo activity. CFL doesn’t run at all. We do try to bike and hike together, but often he’s working on a project with a deadline just as I’m itching to get out the door. This week, CFL is far away attending the funeral of a family member, so I’ve been busily entertaining myself with some big and audacious activities.

I make a practice of texting him after I’ve completed whatever it is I’m out there doing. He usually replies with something like, “Good job — you’re an animal!”

At first I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be described as an animal, but at some point I decided to embrace the concept. I am an animal. A big part of the endorphin rush is that feeling of becoming attuned to my body and reveling in the things that my body can do.

Yesterday I ran 7+ miles of steep roads and muddy, even steeper trails. There is something magical about trail running that really brings out the animal in me. I bound along, sailing over rocks and roots. I giggle when I get my feet wet sloshing through mud puddles. My eyes and ears tune into the sights and sounds of the forest — this varied thrush, that raven, that mysterious swish of an unknown and unseen creature, those big tree limbs overhead creaking in the breeze. As I ran, I thought to myself: this is a feral activity — and I am feral.

When I run trails, I generally don’t set ambitious pace goals for myself. I’m out there to have fun and enjoy the beauties around me. Therefore I had no qualms about stopping to take a few photos. Tell me — would you want to hurry through places like these?

The little guy in the next photo is a rough-skinned newt. He’s cute, but don’t mess with him. He’s highly poisonous. The only creatures that can eat a rough-skinned newt and survive are some populations of garter snake, and only because they have evolved resistance to newt toxin. In response, the newts have become more and more toxic. It’s a classic case of co-evolution.

So that was yesterday. Today, however, putting aside the charms of stopping to view rough-skinned newts and other trail delights, I set out with an ambitious and very specific goal. I was going to ride my bike 17.5 miles east on the Olympic Discovery Trail, and then I was going to turn around and ride back. My longest bike ride to date had been the Portland Bridge Pedal last summer at 33 miles. I was going to beat that distance, and I was going to do it as quickly as possible.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. I’m a female in my late 50s. My boyfriend is 1,200 miles away, literally graveside at the moment I’m starting my ride. My jumping-off point is a trailhead on a dead-end road about seven miles east of downtown. I’m going to ride on a “rails-to-trails” biking/running/walking trail that, for the most part, stays well away from well-traveled roads.

In the dozen years I’ve lived here, there has been only one attack on a lone female on the trail — she escaped successfully and the guy was caught. Still, I’ve seen all kinds of things on that trail. I’ve witnessed a moving domestic dispute: the girl bleeding, running after the guy and shouting, “Why did you hit me? Why are you leaving me?” I’ve watched the local police trying to lasso a runaway ram in a chase scene reminiscent of the Keystone Kops. Just a couple of weeks ago, I rescued a black Lab that some idiot had left chained in the back of a truck. The dog had jumped over the side and was hanging itself. I saved the dog’s life. So I’m not kidding when I say, you don’t know what you might encounter on the trail. It takes a certain amount of guts just to go out there alone.

I do it because I’m fit, I’m quick, I stay alert, and I will not let fear rule my life. I do it because I know I can do it.

So I got on my bike and off I went! On my eastbound leg I rode almost non-stop, pausing only at street crossings in Sequim. I flew along, barreling up and down the hills (aided a bit by what felt like a slight tail wind), all the way to my turnaround point at Sequim Bay State Park. Here I stopped to eat a small snack, text CFL, and take a couple of photos.

CFL replied to my text: “You go girl!” I texted  back: “I am so feral!”

Awash in endorphins, I started back. And immediately hit the headwind! For 17.5 miles I battled a 15 MPH headwind. I even dropped my hands down and fully utilized my drop handlebars in an effort to be more aerodynamic. It didn’t help all that much, but I felt ever so athletic.

I thought I’d get a break from the wind in the last couple of miles, which are hilly but heavily wooded. But it was windy there too. Windy and hilly. It took me about ten minutes longer to come all the way back than it had taken to go out, and I was really tired when I finished.

But I never, not even for one moment, doubted my ability to do it.

I rode my bike 35.23 miles solo, and I completed the ride in just a tick over 3 hours — my longest and fastest bike ride ever.

One of my favorite theories (don’t we all have a favorite theory?) is Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. Bandura defined self-efficacy as “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations.” It’s that sense of “I can” that empowers us when we dare to set big hairy audacious goals and then dare to achieve them. There’s a lot more to the theory, but that’s the gist. Because I have self-efficacy, I can decide to train for a marathon, and then go out and train for it, and then run it.

I occurred to me, as I was riding into the headwind today, that there is a connection between self-efficacy and experiencing myself as feral. Please bear with me for a couple hundred more words while I try to tease out this connection.

Last month I celebrated my second anniversary of becoming “post-corporate” — okay, I’ll say the word “retirement.” I truly feel that it’s taken all of two years to fully detox from corporate life.

When I finished my undergrad at UCLA lo these many years ago, I jumped into corporate life with the feeling that I would do great things and be amply rewarded for them. For the first few years, that was true. Then I married, had a child, took on a mortgage and a couple of car payments. Suddenly the stakes were higher — I needed my job and I couldn’t afford to screw up. I became cautious. I did whatever I had to do to get by and not much more than that. I lost the fire. I lost my sense of self-efficacy.

In the two years since I left the corporate world, I have had to re-learn how to relax. How to take deep abdominal breaths. How to sleep for as long as I need to sleep. How to fully live each day, wring it to exhaustion and deep satisfaction, and then let it go in anticipation of the next day. How to be feral.

I have let go of all that toxicity. I am no longer a garter snake facing down a rough-skinned newt and hoping I’m resistant enough to survive. I have come back to that more-innocent animal that I once must have been.

I have regained self-efficacy.

I am fit, I am feral, and I know that I can do the things I set out to do.

Oh, and I’m still a bit bashful about taking “selfies” — but here I am anyway.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

Hiking at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

I wake up every morning thinking about what I’m going to do for exercise that day. Some days, it’s easy — my calendar tells me it’s a running day so I run! Other days, I know I’ll be walking downtown in the evening for dinner or a special event.

On those mornings when I have no special plans with respect to exercise, I have to get creative about what I’m going to do.

The other day the big item on my calendar was my twice-monthly trip to Costco. Okay, so driving to Sequim was a given — but what could I do while I was over that way?

Somehow the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge popped into my head. Dungeness NWR is comprised of the entire length of Dungeness Spit along with a section of forested bluff top. Dungeness Spit, one of the world’s longest natural sand spits, extends into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is more than 5.5 miles long.

I had visited Dungeness NWR only once before, in the summer of 2001, the year before I moved here. Why I never returned, I have no idea, but when I mentioned it to CFL, he was immediately enthusiastic. He hadn’t been there in years either!

Our timing was good — it was low tide and it looked like we’d have a few hours’ break from the rain. We parked the car at the first possible parking area so that we could walk the bluff top trail before hiking down to the spit itself.

The first view of the strait from the bluff top 140 feet above is stunning.

As you walk down the trail from the bluff top, more of the spit reveals itself.

Once you are down on the sand, it’s a long flat walk along a beautiful beach. The outer (strait-facing) side of the spit is the hiking side, while the inner (mainland-facing) side is off-limits to humans. This is where hundreds of water birds amass at various times of the year, whether as a migration stopover or as a home for some species who nest here. To see the birds, we needed to scramble onto the large driftwood logs that collect at the “summit” of the spit.

The logs themselves are so beautiful that we didn’t want to walk all over them, so we didn’t see that many birds. I’d forgotten to bring binoculars so we couldn’t do any serious birding anyway. But we certainly enjoyed the logs!

As we continued our hike along the beach, the Dungeness Lighthouse came into view. Can you see it there in the distance?

We turned around about two miles short of the lighthouse, as the afternoon was getting later and the sky was looking darker. Here you can see both sides of the spit, looking back toward the bluff.

On our way back I noticed an odd object on the sand. A jawbone! We think this was a juvenile seal, based on the fact that the rear molars appeared to be only partially erupted. It was probably 6-7 inches long.

By the time we got back to the car, we’d hiked ten miles. When we return — and we will — we’ll give ourselves enough time to get all the way out past the lighthouse. And I’ll remember to bring my binoculars so I can identify some of the birds!