Archive for January 2011

Snowshoeing at Halibut Point

January 26, 2011

Poles again in hand, but this time with boots buckled securely in snowshoes, I scrape across the narrow road from the parking lot of Halibut Point State Park.   There are only two other cars in the lot; no one is in sight.  The air today is damp, the morning’s thick blanket of fog seems to have spread itself onto the very snow.  The trees’ bare limbs are coated with a thin layer of white that muffles the sound of my steps, giving the wooded trail’s silence a richness I can taste in the air around me.

The trail is well-defined— boot prints, ski tracks, and dog tracks pack the snow.  The edges of the trail are dotted with bunny paw prints that veer off into the brush.  I keep to the edges, too, not quite bunny-like, my snowshoes sinking into the powdery white fluff of yesterday’s snowfall.  I reach a fork and choose the trail on the right.

I move along the edge of the quarry, digging the toes of my snowshoes into the patches of ice beneath some of the snow on the trail.  I can hear the ocean ahead of me.  The roar of the waves mixes with the rustle of the wind in the branches of the trees.  I decide to add my own soundtrack to it and stop to tuck my ear buds under my headband.  Alexi Murdock’s smooth voice and evocative lyrics turn my hike into my very own movie.  He sings about  love and life, loss and change.  I keep the volume low so that I can hear my music and nature’s together.  As I walk upon the snow,  acutely aware of my alone-ness, the feeling of being part of something so much bigger than I am forces me to recognize my smallness, my  insignificance.   That recognition floods me with a sense of relief.  I embrace this feeling of smallness, of letting myself off the responsibility hook for a little while.

I follow the Bay View Trail downhill, where much of the gravel beneath the snow is exposed.  I stay to the side again to avoid the scraping sound of the crampons on my shoes.  Turning the corner, the rocky shore is exposed.  I stop.  The sky is layered with gray clouds that roll ahead of me with surprising speed.  To my left, the long, low, flat brown rocks at the edge of the sea are covered in frozen salt spray.  When salt water freezes like that, it looks like dusty white cotton candy— there is a softness to the look of it, as if when touched, it would crumble in my fingers.  The water is a steely gray-blue, dark and rich.  The horizon reflects the water, deep gray-blue melding up to touch the clouds.  I breathe deeply, feeling the cold air on my cheeks, the wind on my face.  I continue along the path, counting my blessings.  This day, this park, the solitude and beauty, all here, minutes from my house, available any time I care to come.

I like the Bay View Trail so much that I take the loop again.  I go straight at the end of the trail, heading toward the visitor center.  I see a little side trail called The Back 40 Loop and take it way around the back of the park.  The trees lean down toward the earth and the pathway bears less wear; I take that loop twice, too.  I pass the visitor center, and decide to go through the park one more time.  I take a different trail, short and a little bit steep, to an ocean overlook.  At the top, I stare out at the stark landscape.  The waves pound the rocks beneath me; the silence of the woods gone.  The sea goes on forever.  The air smells of salt and snow.  Tiny flakes begin to fall and I could stand right here until darkness falls, breathing, listening, being.

Slippery Slope

January 25, 2011

Cocooned in the muffled silence of the snowy woods and listening to the soft voices of my companions, I struggle to keep up.  My feet and legs have absolutely no control over my shiny, brand-new cross-country skis.  Jane and Miranda promised me no hills, or at least a minimum of hills, but each time I raise my eyes from the snowy track, I find I’m either looking up or down.  My fingers are frozen sausage links stuffed into my gloves, curled in a rigid grip on my ski poles, as if these thin plastic rods will save me.  I like the feeling of having something to hold onto, though, and try to relax into this strange new posture.  My fingers and wrists ache.

The layer of fresh snow that landed softly this morning gives me something to dig my skis into as I try to duck-walk my way up the next hill.  Barbara, the other woman who came with us, glides along in front, following the smooth, narrow track cut by a previous skier.  Jane or Miranda follow behind her, taking turns, one of them always careful to stay behind with me as I stumble along.  Brambly pricker bushes catch the tips of my skis, first on the left, then on the right and my legs are not sure what to do to dislodge the narrow strip.  I stand, stuck, pulling my leg back and forth, trying to find a way to convince the ski to pull itself from the tangle.  I escape by chance, and each time I repeat getting caught, try to figure out how to move myself to get what I want.  Frustrated, I look down and see I am stepping on one ski with the other.  I grunt and wrench myself loose, hurrying to catch up with whichever woman stands waiting patiently ahead for me.

Each in  turn shares their special tips for skiing through the woods of Dogtown.  On the steeper hills going down, I should turn my skis in a bit to slow down.  Going up, Jane tells me to almost try and run, to barely touch down so I don’t slide backwards.  I slide.  I turn my feet out, forcing the skis to follow, and dig my poles into the snow to hold every inch of ground I gain.  Miranda demonstrates the glide I should be aiming for with each forward movement.  I work on the glide along the flatter parts of the trail, but mostly find myself hiking along, awkwardly lugging the sticks locked into my boots.

There are moments when I sense that feeling hiding just around the corner— that feeling of being one with my mind and body, of moving almost effortlessly along with the rhythm of my heartbeat.  The air is cold on my cheeks, but my fingers finally warm up, although they retain the grip of the terrified.  My legs don’t mind the work.  I am happy to have strong thighs and calves from running so many miles, ankles firm from doing so much barefoot work.  My shoulders feel good too, and I am grateful for choosing to spend time working on upper body strength.  But my elbows throb, my fingers ache.  I find myself using the poles just to hold my own ground, pressing hard into the edges of the track, tensing my shoulders, working hard to keep my elbows bent.

I choose to fall rather that zip down some of the hills, and the women turn to look at me, asking if I’m okay, if I need anything.  I count each fall, even the ones I choose over speeding downhill.  After a while, I lose count, though and it doesn’t really matter.  I fall easily, lightly, sometimes to the left side, sometimes to the right.  A couple of times I go down backwards, and wonder how I will feel tomorrow.  I scoot right back up to standing, grateful again for strong legs, and continue.  We stop at Whale’s Jaw for a minute, then again when we meet other skiers on the path.  After a little more than an hour, I realize I need to go back so I can pick up my daughter from school.  Although I feel confident about making it back on my own, the group decides to turn back with me.  The return trip is faster, either because I am improving or because that’s just how return trips feel.  I look for my tracks in the snow— not my ski tracks, but my body imprint tracks from the places where I toppled by accident or necessity.  I can only find six.  I know that next time there will be fewer, and cannot stop thinking about snow, skiing, the woods, these friends, and the gift of this day.

We part at a fork in the woods; Miranda and Jane decide to continue on for a bit longer; Barbara has had enough.  She leads me out to the edge of the trail, guiding me, sharing more tips for success out here in the snow.  I follow behind her, doing my best to imitate her movements.  She is graceful, like both of the other women I trailed behind today.  Their bodies barely move; their skis, poles, legs and arms find their own easy rhythms and they glide along gracefully and silently, their occasional chatter floating up into the snow covered tree limbs, disappearing into the blue-gray sky.

Old-Fashioned Workout

January 21, 2011

The first phone call came at 5:30 this morning.  We expected it, yet I groaned grumpily from my sleep as I reached over to answer it.  The superintendent’s recorded voice announced the snow day and I pressed the end call button, rolled over, and slipped back into my dreams.  The second call came before I was out of bed, but at least I was awake.  It was my morning client, canceling his training session.  He was apologetic, offering to pay for the session anyway, but, as I peered out the bedroom window and saw the snow flying hard and fast, I assured him he was off the hook for both his hour of exertion and his payment.  I sensed an old-fashioned workout day coming on.

We pulled ourselves out of bed long enough to fix steaming hot cups of coffee, then climbed back in to snuggle down to watch the news.  We moseyed downstairs for a hearty vegan non-BLT, subbing soy bacon for the B, and garlic-sauteed kale for the L.  Bundled in blizzard-wear and armed with shovels, we trudged outside to clean off the cars, clear the driveway, and expose the front walk.

Back indoors, I took out the mixer and whipped up a double batch of cookie dough.  The scent of chocolate chocolate chip cookies filled the house with cocoa-y deliciousness.  Then the workout began in earnest.  With company coming for dinner this Saturday night, and a bunch of girlfriends from high school on deck for next weekend, I vacuumed with a vengeance.  I slung the nozzle into every nook and cranny in the downstairs of the house.  I moved rugs, tables, and chairs, dragging the canister behind me, thrusting the wide head of the vacuum back and forth over all visible areas.  I stuffed piles of papers into bags and shoved them into my studio.  Three big bags of clothes for the thrift shop were hefted from the front hall and tossed beside the papers.  Framed but unhung paintings and posters that had been stacked against the walls in the dining room, the foyer, and the office were lugged away and stacked in the studio, too.  I DUSTED!  With a can of beeswax spray in one hand and a couple of exhausted dishtowels in the other, I sprang into action in the living room, the dining room (who invented wainscoting, anyway?), the bathroom, and the kitchen, squirting and wiping down tables, cabinets, the pellet stove, wooden chairs, doorways, picture frames, and anything else that looked like it could withstand my vigorous touch.

I sprayed copious amounts of Mrs. Meyers window cleaner and soon the bathroom mirror sparkled.  Her all-purpose cleaner revealed the pretty pedestal sink we put in the bathroom last year.  I scrubbed the worn wood of the bathroom floor, and although it looked no different, I could sense an improvement.  Back in the living room, I shoved the big chairs around, moving them closer together to create a seating area, rather than the open screening set up we use to watch movies.  I moved the couch and the ottoman.  I cleared off end tables.  I stacked magazines neatly in the magazine rack, knowing deep down that once they were there, I had almost no chance of ever looking at them again.  (They become invisible once they are put away…)

Back in the kitchen, I measured and mixed up a batch of seitan, kneading the stiff dough with all the energy left in my upper body.  Placing the patties in broth on the stove to simmer, I headed upstairs for a shower. My body felt the same as after yesterday’s run and Body Combat class.  There’s nothing wrong with an old-fashioned workout once in a while.

Body Combat

January 20, 2011

I sneaked in a five mile run this morning before joining my friend Charlene at her gym to try out her favorite class— Body Combat.  The streets proved to be just wet, and because I was not sure of my timing, having to drive my daughter to school and still meet Charlene at 8:45, I opted for a figure-eight loop to stay close to home.  The cold morning air felt good on my face and helped me let go of some of my anxiety about participating in a class where almost everyone else knew the basic routine.  I am not particularly graceful and suffer inhibitions about my synchronized-move capabilities.  Charlene is quite fit, and has been attending this class for a couple of years.  It’s her fitness equivalent to my running addiction.  I knew she would take care of me— she’s the kind of friend who would not leave me in the dust.  I still needed the run.

I ran downtown, zipping up Main Street focusing on my breath and letting go of my nervousness.  I ran the length of Beach Street, turned around, retraced my steps, and chugged up the hill by my house.  I welcomed the scenery of my old route as I looked out onto the ocean by Old Garden Beach. The ocean was white-capped, a rich sapphire blue raising the foaming tips of the waves.  I ran back home along Marmion Way, noticing how much damage the tides had done to the street by Straitsmouth Cove.  I forgot all about the class.

After I drove my daughter to school, I hopped in the shower for a quick freshening, dressed in indoor workout clothes, pulled sweatpants over my capri pants and a warm fleece top over my tank.  I paced around the house for a little while, dwelling on what was to come.  I made myself get into my car, drove to the club, and parked.

“Hey!”

Charlene scampered across the snowy parking lot and met me on the front steps.

“Hey back!”

“Here’s your guest pass.  I’ll take you down to the locker room.”

The gym was big and cold.  We passed the pool on the way down the ramp to the locker room, and I glimpsed a water aerobics class in progress.  I shivered.

We locked up our keys and clothes and headed to the classroom, which turned out to be a basketball court.  The room was almost empty, but by the time I had helped Charlene move the instructor’s platform into position, a handful of people had wandered in.  I worried about losing my place in the very back of the class.  I did not want to be anywhere near the front.  I wanted to be able to follow the other participants through the class, and to see the instructor without being seen too well myself.  Charlene did take care of me, too, showing me the basic front punch, upper cut, cross punch, roundhouse kick, back kick, and front kick.  I had a hard time keeping my balance as I tried to take it all in and perform each move at least adequately before the class began.  It seemed hard.  I wondered if my run was a mistake.

Body Combat is like kick-boxing.  Loud, techno-influenced music flooded the room as the instructor began the class.  I stopped thinking completely as I struggled to follow along.  She demonstrated every piece of each segment a few times at an easy pace, moved on to the next, then sped it up, incorporating multiple moves into one long segment.  She had fantastic energy and I soon saw held no judgment about my ability to follow along.  She used an amplified headset to communicate with the class, and took time to make sure we all were on track with the choreographed punches, kicks, jumps, and postures.

I could feel the smile on my face as I struggled to learn the new moves.  I stopped being embarrassed about ten minutes into the class and began to have fun.  I laughed at myself as I watched the other people in the class, mostly women, move in unison while I repeatedly thrust out the opposite fist or the wrong leg, while I jumped forward as they jumped back.  I did pretty well for me, though, duplicating most of the moves on time and fairly rhythmically.  By the time we reached the peak of the cardio segment, I was jumping and running in place with the same freedom that comes for me in a good run outside.  I was sweating, a good sign.

Suddenly Charlene ran over to me, then past me.

“Lap time!”

I chased after her, expecting to run around and around the room, but she veered off right after the first lap.

“Grab a mat!  Floor work!”

I followed her to a corner in the hall, took two of the thin mats, not knowing what to expect.  Floor work!  I could do that no problem.  We splayed out on our backs and did a few oblique crunches, turned over and did plank with alternate leg raises for about a minute, then executed maybe 10 push ups.  I was excited, ready for more.  I looked over to my friend to see what was next.  She grinned at me, sweat running down her pretty face, her flat little belly.

“Cool down!”

I was stunned.  That’s it?  I looked at my watch.  A full hour had gone by. I was ready for another hour.  Pulsing with energy, I forced myself to a seated spinal rotation stretch with the rest of the class, wondering if the instructor would start another session right away, wondering if Charlene would stay with me for another round.

I did the cool down, a combination of yogic stretches with which I was familiar, mixed with graceful martial arts poses. The music ended.  The instructor hopped off the platform and everyone pushed toward the exit.  It was definitely over.  Charlene and I parted in the locker room.  She had errands to do after a quick shower, so I headed home to my own shower, yearning for more Body Combat.

Letting Go (part 2)

January 16, 2011

When I go for a walk with my husband, we hold hands.  If it’s cold, I hold his arm and we keep our hands tucked into our pockets.  If I walk down stairs and there is a rail, my hand is on it.  Drunk, I find myself holding on to the nearest wall or counter top, careful to remain standing.  I do this without any feeling of self-consciousness.  I find comfort in securely attaching myself.

This body behavior translates easily to my mind and emotional dependence.  I remember both people and events that support me or hurt me and hold onto them with the same instinct and intensity that keep me upright and holding on in times of physical peril.  So, when we planned our vacation this winter, choosing to skip Christmas and all its decorating and consumerist entrapment, I planned and mapped out running routes for the Caribbean vacation we chose instead, only to discover, once there, that I would not be able to run.  My mind gripped tightly to my plan, despite the  evidence piling up against it.

“Well.  You actually run six miles a day?”

I tell our host that is true, that there are many days I run much farther than that, and I cannot wait to try the intense hills on this tiny island, St.  John, known in part for a run called 8 Tuff Miles, where a thousand runners line up to race up and down steep, ravine lined narrow roads of questionable pavement and unnaturally perilous cliff edges.  She smiles at me, adding a skeptically raised eyebrow.

“Well, you can certainly try.”

I show her my route maps.

“Oh.  I don’t think it’s a good idea to take these routes.   You could try…”

And she begins to name roads and routes.  I furiously scribble her words onto a piece of scrap paper, desperate to catch the instructions.  I stop suddenly when I hear the word dogs.

“A lot of the locals keep pit bulls.  You should be really careful out there.”

“Pit bulls?  Well, they’re on leashes or chained, right?”

“No.  We don’t have a leash law.  But, as long as you’re careful, you’ll probably be fine.”

My husband asks if I brought my pepper spray.

“Are you kidding?  I wasn’t allowed to bring in a bottle of water!  Do you think I’d try and bring pepper spray on a plane?”

My shoulders tense up and I feel panic rising in my chest.  How am I going to survive the next week without running?  My suitcase is in the master bedroom of the villa as we speak, loaded with clean summer running clothes— my naked shorts!— and I wore my running shoes to the airport and on the plane in case my suitcase got lost, I would still have my shoes and be able to run.  My carry-on bag holds only my Kindle reader and an extra running outfit, instead of the miniature toiletries and bathing suits my family has packed in theirs.  I WILL RUN on my vacation.  I will SUMMER RUN on my vacation.

Or not.  Our host continues to explain how the hot tub works, the best way to skim the private pool on the lower deck of the villa, how the tap water is potable, even though it’s rain water that has been collected in a cistern.  Here are the beach towels.  The beach chairs you may use.  This is the best view of St. Tomas at night…Miss Lucy’s has great food, the local market is….pit bulls.  Pit bulls!  I have to let it go.  I give myself a new mantra for the day, for the week if necessary.

I LET GO OF MY RUNNING PLAN.  I AM OKAY.  I WILL FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO.  I WILL ENJOY MY VACATION.

We unpack and begin to explore the island.  One day we do a five mile hike— two and a half  steep miles down, the opposite back up— steep, steep jungle and palm trees and old sugar mill ruins and later,  a waterfall surrounded by ancient petroglyphs carved into the rough stones.  We drink cold local beer with lunch.  We rent snorkeling gear and shimmy beside coral reefs wearing swim fins that make me feel like I am both the Little Mermaid and also Jaques Cousteau’s personal underwater assistant.  Carnival-colored fish swim beneath my seaweed hair, oblivious to my snorkel breathing and humanness.  Every night my husband, son and I submit ourselves to the hot tub on the deck beneath the winter constellations, sipping cocktails and grinning like fools for our good fortune this holiday.  My daughter spends the evenings in her own room at the villa, desperately trying to catch up on her AP History and AP Spanish reading, falling asleep in the warm night air, books open, light softly pooling around her face relaxed in tropical slumber.

The days slip by.  Item by item, bathing suits, tee shirts, shorts and towels pile up to be washed.   My running clothes remain strapped into the bottom of my suitcase, unworn, fresh for next summer’s excursions out into my own neighborhood’s heat.

We do laundry and pack on our last morning.  I am surprised to see how little room a week’s worth of running clothes take in the bottom of my suitcase as I roll presents bought for my parents tightly into the thin fabrics.  I slip into socks and my Nike Free shoes, ready to take the ferry back to St.  Thomas, then to fly to Puerto Rico and Boston.

We had a perfect vacation.  I only needed the mantra for the first day!

I held my husband’s hand on the plane both ways.

Humiliations of Winter Training

January 15, 2011

When I was about four or five years old, I used to watch a television program called Romper Room.  The teacher, I think her name was Miss Jean, had a Magic Mirror in which she could see me at home, crouched in front of our black and white screen, watching the romper room kids play games with her.  She invited me to play, too, and I did the best I could, given that there was a snowy television screen between me and all the kids on the show.  The kids had these crazy shoes called Romper Stompers. They were small yellow plastic cups, turned upside down, to which were attached long stretchy plastic cords.  To use them, you stepped onto the cups, held the cords, and with each step, lifted your foot while simultaneously pulling the cords with your arms to move the plastic cups as you went along.  The kids on the show made it look so fun!  I begged my mother for a pair and she eventually succumbed, taking me to Child World and forking over what was probably some of her cigarette money for the toy.  Once I got them, I practiced marching around the house, clomping and stomping my way through the kitchen and down the hall, making tiny scrape marks on the surface of my mother’s highly polished hardwood floors.  I used them for a while, but by the time I was seven, the Romper Stompers had made their way to the very back of the toy closet, and Romper Room had been replaced by Leave It To Beaver.

Today I am running on Granite Street.  It’s barely light out; I rely on a flashing light fob attached to the zipper-pull of my running jacket so that I am visible to the drivers of oncoming cars.  The sidewalks have disappeared into snowbanks.  The streets are mostly clear, except for a few patches of ice and compressed snow.  Because the soles of my Nike Free shoes function like tiny snowboards on snow and ice, I wear a pair of winter trainers to keep from slipping and falling into the middle of the street.  The trainers are warm— made from Gortex— and weigh in at almost a pound.  They do not flex, so I must completely lift each foot off of the surface with each step I take.  In order to lift my stiff, heavy feet to run, I have to pump my arms hard and fast, up and down, like the thin pistons of a small engine.  I jump to the side and into a snowbank each time I see a truck coming down the street, or each time I hear a car coming around the corner, afraid I will be unseen and so splattered all over the road.  When I jump, I have to consciously shift my body weight, torquing my pistons to the side, twisting my upper body to secure myself in the top crust of the snow.

My body remembers the long-ago motion of using the Romper Stompers, the hard work it took to remember to lift my foot and pull the cord at the same time, the rhythm foreign and unfamiliar.  I feel my face flush as I think of the clumsiness in my gait, the awkward motion of my arms, the struggle to lift my feet against the weight of the shoes.  I think of one of the Rocky movies, where Sly Stallone is trying to sprint in thigh-high snow, looking like a worn out sled dog on its hind legs, with Burgess Meredith screaming at him to keep going, not to quit.  I wonder what the early morning drivers think of me, running in the road at dawn, jumping into snow banks, wildly pumping my arms and sweating through my fleece cap and thick, over-sized Ragg wool mittens.

My second toe on my left foot aches.  The toenail seems to be banging against the head of the shoe and the throbbing makes me even slower.  My cheeks are numb, which only becomes noticeable when I try to smile at the oncoming cars.  Unable to actually turn my lips up, I imagine the strange snarl my face must form for all those who pass by me on these freezing cold, post-storm mornings.

Despite feeling the sluggishness of my run each of these mornings, of knowing in my heart and mind that I am slow in the cold, in these Gortex Romper Stomper shoes, I still feel compelled to keep track of my time.  It takes me 55 minutes to run 6 miles, almost a full mile less for my usual time.  I read in a running magazine recently that during winter training, one mile is more like two.  My body certainly agrees with that, but I am unable to convince my mind to concur.  Despite many rigorous workouts with clients and on my own, strength training like a fiend, intense core work, and my wildly successful return to the regular practice of Svaroopa  style yoga, a rich and complex feeling of disappointment creeps into each run near the end.  It’s a feeling of having lost something precious, of losing a strong accomplishment that had been taken for granted up until now.  There is a flame of fear burning behind the loss, a fear of never regaining what I had.  I guess it might come, in part, from taking a hard look at the calendar and noticing what number I will turn on my next birthday, and wondering how long my body will let me keep running.

I know that when spring comes and the roads are clear, when my legs are bare and my feet are free, I will be grateful for having worked this hard through the winter.  I will forget my age, open my shoulders and my heart, and just run.  I will check my time and smile, maybe even pump my piston fist high in the air with pride and accomplishment.  But for now, I would like to leave the Romper Stompers in the closet and move on.