Cafe de Desiree

August 14, 2012

Hiking in the Smokies-Getting out!

Filed under: Athletics,Blogging,Exercise,Health,hiking,photography — desi83 @ 10:07 pm

(Please read the previous two posts beginning with “Hiking in the Smokies” before you read this if you haven’t yet done so)

(Yes, we climbed down these rocks and weeds)

I gathered my sleeping bag, tent, and backpack, and I took a deep breath as I stood up and looked down at our destination. I took a step forward, and I felt a sharp pain shoot through my leg. My ankle and knee had been banged up pretty badly the day prior. I dreaded the idea of climbing down the mountain with fifty pounds of weight strapped to my back on a bum leg. “Hey, Zack, do you mind helping Desiree carry her pack?” Mike called to him. “Sure thing, man,” Zack replied. He already had his own bag on his back that probably weighed at least as much as my pack. I strapped my sleeping bag and tent to my backpack and handed it to him. He strapped it to his front. “Alright, now I’m more balanced,” he joked. “Alright, I’m going to help you slide down this thing,” Jeff offered. “Slide?” I asked. It had rained some the previous night, so the ground was wet. “Zack and I got a little wet last night while we were sleeping. Did you manage to stay dry?” Jeff asked. “I did, I wrapped up in the thick hammock that Mike let me use. Mike was under me, so he didn’t get rained on,” I replied. Jeff laughed. “So, Mike was under you all last night, huh?” he joked. “He slept in a sleeping bag on the ground under my hammock. Shut up!” I said laughing. I limped over to a clearing, and I knew that I was going to just have to ignore the pain. “Hey guys, I’m going to go ahead and plow down this mountain to try to find us some water. Just meet me at the first stream,” Mike announced. “Alright, but you better not get water for yourself and take off,” Jeff shouted. Mike had the purifier, and the last thing we needed to do was risk ingesting bacteria and having it come out both ends the rest of the hike. “I could, but I’m not that mean,” Mike answered him. Miked took off down the mountain, literally plowing his way down. We could no longer see him. Next, Zack started struggling down with both of our packs. He was still moving down it pretty quickly. “Go towards your right when you come down. You’ll avoid the thick brush,” Zack advised. “You ready?” Jeff asked. He sat down. “Okay, I’m thinking the easiest way to do this is for us to just slide on our butts,” he advised. I looked down at the wet mud, but I reluctantly obliged. We started sliding down as if we were about to plow down a water slide. I wished I was at a water park right now instead of atop a scary mountain. I felt the mud soak through my pants and then through my bikini bottoms. I wanted so badly to be in clean underwear and clothes, but there wasn’t anywhere to change up there. A shower was going to be the most beautiful thing I’d experience once we got away from the trails and to the facilities. It wasn’t nearly as horrifying as I had thought, though. We were literally sliding, and it became kind of fun and surreal. Jeff made an animal-like noise, and Zack responded. “It sounds like he’s towards the right,” Jeff noticed. “I don’t think we’ll be sliding down those,” I pointed out. There in front of us was a shallow stream covered by several large and small rocks. Jeff got up and carefully stepped down the rocks, leaning backwards. I took his hand, and we made our way down the rocky death trap. I had taken possession of one of Mike’s walking sticks, so between that and Jeff, I felt confident that I wasn’t going to fall down the mountain. I took a step forward, and I felt my foot slip on a slick rock. I held onto his hand as I almost fell. “Be careful,” he said. I led myself with the walking stick so that I wouldn’t have to put pressure on my bad leg. I let Jeff walk ahead of me. We came to another muddy, grassy area and slid down a bit.

“Hey, there is a karn!” Jeff shouted. I remembered it. Oh, it felt great to see something familiar. “I think we’re about half way down, and it’s only been about thirty minutes. It took us almost eight hours for the whole hike yesterday. I’ll bet we finish this in four hours today,” Jeff guessed. I laughed, “I don’t know about that, but it definitely won’t take as long, that’s for sure.” We continued down, climbing over rocks, sliding down mud, hacking away at thick brush and weeds. “Hey, guys, I’m at the next karn!” Zack shouted. We were catching up to him. I felt guilty that he was carrying my pack. However, I don’t know that I would’ve made it down the mountain if I had worn it. We made it to the karn, and Zack was waiting for us there. We were at a fairly large creek bed, and we were almost to the bottom. Zack and Jeff studied the area and the direction of the karn to figure out which was the best way to go down. “Mike better stop and wait for us, because I’m fucking thirsty,” Jeff complained. We were completely out of water.

We continued down, and I kept hoping to see the the bottom of this mountain, to be walking on a somewhat flat trail. Then, we came to the “wall of karns”. It was this huge wall that someone had made with the river stones. We were there, at the bottom, and it had only taken two hours. We were all shouting with glee. “Oh man, now I have to deal with those damned nettles again,” Jeff complained. Nettles are devious little plants. They look soft and feathery, but the little hairs get in your skin and sting for a good hour or so afterwards. Apparently, they release formic acid, serotonin and histamine into your skin. Jeff was especially freaked out by these things.

We made our way through the first batch of nettles and rhododendron by hacking away at them with our walking sticks. Jeff and Zack had picked up a couple along the way. Once we made it through this first part of the blinding, unmarked trail, we came to a clearing, and there was Mike at the creek.

“You made it! Alright, hand me your bottles,” Mike shouted to us. Zack and Jeff through down the packs and dug out all of our bottles. I couldn’t look Mike in the eye. I was embarrassed about throwing a temper tantrum when he said we’d half to climb down the mountain. He had been right-we made it, and it wasn’t as bad as it had been climbing up. “Okay, do you guys mind taking the sleeping bag and tent from Desiree’s pack? I need to take some weight off,” Zack pleaded. Now I felt really guilty. I asked myself the question, can I make it the rest of the way holding my pack? “I can take my pack, Zack. Thanks for hauling it down for me. I think I can take it if you guys can handle my sleeping bag and tent,” I offered. Jeff took my sleeping bag, and Mike took my tent and shoved it into his pack. Mike handed us our bottles one at a time, and we guzzled down the water as if we hadn’t had any for days. Well, it had been about a day, and we had come a long way on a difficult trail. He ended up refilling our bottles a second time after we drank the first fill. “Do you guys mind if I take off ahead of you? I want to make it to the road before dark so that I can get a park ranger to help us out. I figure we can meet at the old houses that we passed before we got to our camp the first day. There is a dirt road that leads to the main road nearby. I’ll find a ranger who can get us a ride to our car, or we can hitch a ride,” he suggested. We agreed. We would agree to anything that would get us home. He handed us the remains of his trail mix and some beef jerky, and he practically did run through the trail. We passed around the mix and jerky, devouring it until it was almost gone. I kept a little bit of the mix in my pack for later. We strapped on our packs, and I leaned heavily on my walking stick. I didn’t even feel the pain. I just felt confident and determined at that point.

“Okay, we crossed the creek about ten times yesterday, and there were karns at every crossing,” Zack remembered, “so we should come out of this area and to the first stream crossing.” We hacked through more nettles and rhododendron, and Jeff hiked his shorts down almost to his feet. “My bad, but I just can’t deal with more of those fucking nettles,” he apologized to me. I just laughed. As we plowed through the dangerous plant life, we noticed something awesome. There were tons of fresh blackberries! Jeff grabbed a handful and gave some to me. We munched on them as we hiked, and I grabbed a few more off the bush. We came to the first crossing and saw a karn. We crossed this section, but the next time that we attempted to cross the stream, there was no karn. There wasn’t a clear, distinct trail any where in sight. Zack headed down the creek to see if he could spot a clearing, but there was nothing but thick weeds and shrubbery all around us. “Okay, guys, we know that if we follow the creek, we’re going the right way. So, let’s just keep walking down the creek,” Zack suggested. I sighed. We walked over the rocks and through the creek. By that point, we had given up trying to avoid the water by stepping on the slippery rocks, and we just stomped through the knee-high water. We did this for awhile, and I was growing impatient. “Do you guys not see any sign of a trail or a karn?” I asked. “No, do you?” Zack asked. I stomped out of the creek and scoped out the woods for a sign of a trail. There was nothing. Zack was further down, and he checked out both directions. “Hey, there is one over here!” he shouted. “Thank God,” Jeff muttered. We stomped through the creek toward Zack, and we finally made it to the bank where Zack was. “Look, it’s a karn,” he pointed out.

We continued on without stopping. I was reliant upon my stick to carry me as fast as the guys were going. We made it away from the creek and plowed through the last part of the jungle-like trail with the dangerous nettles and blinding rhododendron, and we continued to scarf down blackberries. “We’ll take a break once we get to our original campground,” Zack suggested. He was proving to be a very reliable and encouraging leader on this hike. We finally came to the old campground, and there was a group of campers sitting by the fire where we had camped our first night. “Hey, how’s it going?” Zack greeted. “Hi, where did you guys come from?” one of the guys asked. “We did an unmarked trail yesterday and ended up sleeping on a mountain last night,” Jeff answered proudly. “Wow, that’s awesome. Hey, you guys are with the tall, bald guy, right?” the girl in the group asked. “Yes, did you see him?” Zack asked. “He went through here about an hour ago. He wanted us to tell you that if we saw you,” she answered. “Awesome,” I said. We didn’t stop there to take our break, but we decided to wait until we came to the creek that we had swam in the first day. It wasn’t far from the campground.

We sat down on some rocks by the creek by the bridge. Zack had brought some military meals, so he pulled out what they could eat without needing hot water. Jeff inhaled a strawberry “milkshake” after he poured some of his water into the container and shook it up. Zack ate some crackers, and I pulled out my last protein bar. “Alright, we’re almost to the meeting point, guys! I can’t believe how fast we’ve gone,” I suddenly realized. “It’s been three and a half hours. That’s not bad compared to the eight hours it took yesterday,” Jeff replied. “Well, let’s get a move on, then!” I said excitedly. We gathered our things and headed over to the bridge.

We crossed the bridge, and I remembered the ice cold swim that we had taken a couple of days ago. I normally would have whimped out and not jumped in, but this trip was definitely pushing me to do what I wanted but was afraid to do. We made it over the bridge, and we were coming close to the meeting point. Then, a strange looking young man with no pack or supplies approached us. “Hi, do you know if it’s too late to camp out here?” he asked. His eyes were darting back and forth. He was definitely high on something. “I think since you made it to this point, you should be fine. There is a camp about a half a mile past this creek,” I replied. “Thanks, thank you so much,” he said as he walked unsteadily past us. I hoped he wouldn’t fall off the bridge.

“Oh my God, what the hell is that smell?” Jeff asked. “What?” I asked. Then it hit me. “Zack, what the hell?” Jeff shouted. “You don’t smell that, Desiree?” he asked. “I do now. Damn those meals,” I commented. Zack just laughed. Then, the foul smell grew stronger followed by a loud noise coming from Jeff. “Oh, man, why did you guys drink those shakes?” I asked. We came to a strange crossing right before we got to the houses. We didn’t know where to go. “Hey, check this out! Mike totally did this!” Jeff noticed. There was a large stick in the ground with grass carefully tied to the top of it pointing to the left. “Oh, that Mike,” I said. We headed out of the trail going left, and we came to another Mike reminder. “Hey, look at that!” Zack pointed to the ground. ‘Jeff Stop Farting’ was drawn into the dirt. “Hey, how’s he going to call me out like that?” Jeff asked. We made it to the meeting point at the old houses, but there was no sign of Mike. “I’ll bet he’s gotten a ride. I say we walk down the dirt road since it’s only a mile long,” Zack suggested. “Well, you’re the leader,” I said in agreement. “There’s no way to miss him at this point. If he’s on his way with a car, we should see him on the road. Those people back there said he’s about an hour ahead of us, so he should be coming this way soon,” I said. “Okay, the sign says it is a mile long, so that’s not too bad,” Jeff noticed. I wasn’t even upset about having to continue walking. We were so close to salvation by now.

We walked down the dirt road fairly quickly, and we were reminiscing about all that we had accomplished. “I think the sign lied. It has definitely been more than a mile,” I said. Zack looked down at his watch, which also served as a gps. “It’s been three-quarters of a mile. It just seems long because we’re tired,” he answered me. Zack noticed there was a car up ahead. “I wonder if that’s our ride?” I asked. “I hope not,” he said. It was a small hatchback, and a fairly old car. The headlights were still on, and it sounded like the motor or at least the radio might be on. There was no one in it, though. “That has to belong to that weird dude,” Jeff said. We came to the end of the dirt road and sat down on a log by one of the small parking lots. “I think we should wait here. He’s eventually got to pass through this area,” Zack suggested. I dug out the small bag of trail mix that I had held onto, as well as a small bottle of hand sanitizer. “Sanitizer, anyone?” I offered. Zack and Jeff both held out their hands. Zack inhaled his hand after he had rubbed it into his skin. “This smells amazing!” he said excitedly. I laughed. “Oh, did you jack this from Walgreens?” Jeff asked. “No, not exactly. It was in a free care package that the pharmacy was giving to new patients. So, yeah, I guess I did sort of jack it,” I realized. They laughed. We shared the trail mix, and Zack kept smelling his hands. “We just haven’t been clean in a long time, so it smells especially nice,” I pointed out.

We patiently waited for our ride, making fun of each other and chattering about what had just transpired. A park ranger finally emerged from the road and stopped to talk to us. “You guys need a ride,” the ranger said. We all jumped up. “I don’t know, we’re waiting for a friend to meet us here so that we can all ride together,” Zack answered. “No, that wasn’t a question. That was a statement. You need a ride. Your guy sent me over here to pick you up and take you to the ranger cabin. He’s waiting there, and you all are going to take a cab to your car,” he explained. “Yes, thank you,” I said. We were all so relieved. Yet, we were all in a pretty calm mood by this point. “Can I ride in the front? I mean, is that allowed?” Zack asked. “Sure, climb on in,” the ranger replied. There was a huge gun in the front seat. “Holy crap, look at this!” Zack pointed it out to us. The ranger climbed into the front seat. I was holding my and Zack’s packs in the seat, and Jeff crawled in beside me with his own stuff. “Oh man, I can’t wait to go home and have a shot of whiskey after this,” I half-joked. “I’m coming to your party,” Jeff replied. “You have to celebrate an anniversary with your girlfriend tonight,” I reminded him. “Yeah, if she doesn’t dump me for coming home too late to really celebrate it,” he pouted. “You know what, if she can’t deal with this, she can just go on,” he said grumpily. Zack laughed, “yeah right, you would take her back no matter what.” We arrived at the ranger’s house, and Mike was there waiting. He was a sight for sore eyes, for sure.

We got out of the jeep and sat on the porch of the ranger’s cabin. “So, is the cab headed over here?” the ranger asked Mike. “She said she’d be here in ten minutes,” he answered. “Okay, I’ll wait to make sure that you guys get picked up. I’d take you all myself, but it’d be out of my area, and I’m on duty right now,” he explained. “Thanks for helping us out though, man,” Mike said. “Does anyone need to use the restroom?” the ranger offered. “Oh my gosh, yes, thank you!” I said with glee. I wanted so badly to use a real bathroom after peeing in the woods all weekend. The cab driver called Mike and told him that she was lost. “How can you be lost when you’re a cab driver for the area?” Jeff said. Mike explained what restaurants were near the entrance and that there was a large Smokey Mountains sign at the entrance. It was dark, but still. The ranger was getting antsy, and I could tell that he wanted to give us a ride. He got a call about a lost hiker on his radio. This cab driver needed to get a move on.

She finally pulled into one of the spaces in front of the ranger’s cabin. “Have a safe trip home. I hope y’all will come back and finish the trail to the At next time,” the ranger said as he drove away to try to retrieve the lost hiker. We all climbed in the taxi and headed out. She started talking on her cell phone with one of her friends, and it was apparent that she wasn’t really paying attention to where she was going. “You know what I do every night. I’m driving. No, I only do that one night a week,” she said almost in a whisper. Jeff, Zack and I all had to cover our mouths to keep from bursting out laughing. We missed the sign for the trail head where our car was parked a couple of times, but we eventually found it. “Will you guys wait to leave until I do? I get scared in these woods,” she pleaded. We all wanted to laugh. You are a cab driver, for Christ’s sake. We got into Mike’s car, and we waited for her to pull out of the lot. Her car wouldn’t start. Oh, crap, we were going to have to stay and help fix this cab driver’s car. We would definitely need a refund for the ride if that was the case. With a few false starts, she finally succeeded in starting her struggling van and headed out.

We were IHop bound, because by this time, Cracker Barrel would be closed. We were still in the Eastern time zone, so it was after eleven by now. We found an IHop, our oasis. We walked in with our muddy, sweaty clothes on and sat at a table. Okay, I’m not a huge fan of IHop, but these were the best eggs and bacon that I had ever put into my mouth. My taste buds and my stomach were throwing a party. The coffee was disgusting compared with the instant coffee we had drank by the fire on the first morning of camping, but the food made up for it. I inhaled all of this protein rich food, and then I downed a glass of water. Zack and Jeff downed a couple of pitches of tea between them, along with several pancakes, eggs, and steak. This was certainly the perfect reward for climbing up and down a mountain and plowing through unmarked trails. I did bring in clean clothes and change in the bathroom, because I just couldn’t bear to eat in those disgusting threads that I had to peel off of me. I guess in that sense, I was still being a girl about everything. However, I had hiked the most difficult trail in the smokies with the boys, and I was proud of growing a pair this weekend.

I have been stuck in this retail management job that I hate for the past five years because I’ve been too afraid of taking a risk and trying something else. This trip made me realize that fear is what has been holding me back. It’s also the reason that I have not kept trying to get my book published. It is the reason that I haven’t felt inspired to keep writing my second book. So, I’m finally looking fear into the eyes, and I’m shoving it out of my way as I begin to climb this new mountain in my life. I’m walking away from what is making me unhappy, and I’m pushing the reset button. I’m returning to school to start a new career, a journey to something better than what I have now. I’m having to take a low paying job and live with my parents in order to make this happen, but sometimes you have to walk through a few nettles and crawl through the mud and rocks to get where you need to be.

Let the new journey begin.





August 8, 2012

Hiking in the Smokies Continued

Filed under: Athletics,Blogging,Exercise,Health,hiking — desi83 @ 7:07 am

So, I left you all stranded at the top of the mountain in my last blog. Now, I suppose I’ll let you know how we made it out of the Smokies alive. Zack and Mike were searching for the unmarked trail that was supposed to lead us to the AT, and Jeff and I were still sitting right below them trying not to think about dying. Jeff was shivering, but he was trying not to show his fear too much, so he just sat there quietly. I was worried about his getting hypothermia, but I was in too much pain to climb the rock to get his pack for him. So, I did what I do best. I started panicking in an annoying way. “Did you guys find it yet?” I yelled. They didn’t respond. “Hey! Is there a trail out of here? Jeff is getting hypothermia, and I can’t move my leg!” I yelled again. “We’re trying,” Mike called back calmly. Mike and Zack were both so calm about the fact that we were lost on a mountain. It was frustrating yet comforting, because as long as they seemed in control of the situation, I wasn’t totally doomed. Also, while my leg was in horrible pain, it was not broken or even sprained. “I want to get married to my girl before I die,” Jeff said. “I want to meet someone who I want to marry before I die,” I said. “I really want to have that meal at Cracker Barrel after this is over,” I said. “Yes, that is a good motivator for staying alive,” Jeff replied. We both laughed. I began to stare at the darkening sky and the tree tops that were now eye level. I finally noticed how breathtakingly beautiful this scene was-we were on top of the world almost literally. I smiled even as I still felt fear growing inside of my gut. “I need to see what is going on,” I said as I began climbing the rock above us. “Hey, be careful doing that,” Jeff said nervously. I was moving aggressively out of fear, so I practically jumped on top of the large and slightly unstable rock. Mike and Zack finally returned, still as calm and collected as ever.

“So?” Jeff asked. “No luck. We’re going to have to make camp right here because we don’t have much sun light left,” Mike announced. “What? No, no I can’t do that. Sleep on top of the mountain? Seriously? This is like some ‘Man vs Wild’ or ‘I Shouldn’t be Alive’ situation. Have you guys seen that show?” I panicked. “Yeah, I’ve seen that,” Jeff said with a laugh through his shivers. “I need to get into a dry shirt, man, can you hand me my pack?” he asked Zack. I had forgotten about his pack. I felt guilty, but I was too consumed with worry to think about anything but escaping the situation. I had found a somewhat level place to sit, but everything was pretty much on an incline. “I can try to call a ranger to see if we can get a helicopter as soon as my phone is charged,” Mike offered. He had a solar/fan powered usb charger. This guy had everything he needed to survive an apocalypse. “Yes, please, get us out of here,” I whined. “I could never look anyone from the guard in the eye if I took a chopper out of here,” Zack commented. He had been in the Air National Guard for quite awhile, and he had been in combat in the Middle East. He could definitely handle a situation like this. Jeff had also been in the guard. “I’m not in the military, nor am I an adventure hiker who watches way too much ‘Man vs Wild’, so I need a helicopter!” I said through tears. I hated being the only whimpy girl there. Mike called the ranger, and after losing signal several times and being transferred to different departments, he finally gave up. “They said to call in the morning. I told them that you have an injured leg, and they suggested that we try to help you down the mountain. They said going down the mountain and back down the trail from where we came is the best route,” Mike explained. I looked down in horror.

“I’m not climbing down a mountain with a bum leg! Are you serious? Is there no way to the At? I mean, I thought that was what you had planned?” I yelled, frustrated. “Somewhere along the way, we made a wrong turn. It is easy to do when there is no clear trail. The ranger said we just needed to climb down,” he said calmly. “I tell you what. Zack and I will try to track down the trail to the AT early in the morning. Then, I will call the ranger again to see if we can get the helicopter,” Mike promised. I felt a little better. He was like the Dali Lama in how calm and serene he was being in this time of doom. I spread out my sleeping bag and dug my pillow out of my pack. I swaddled myself inside of my sleeping bag and propped my feet against a sturdy root so that I wouldn’t slide down the mountain during the night. “Do you want to use my hammock?” Mike offered. “No, I’m okay,” I replied sleepily. “Well, I’m going to set it up, and you can use it if you like. I’m going to try to find a decent place to sleep,” he said slyly. I smiled through my tears. Suddenly, with the realization that I had no choice, I felt a peacefulness settle into me. I was going to sleep right here, next to the tree tops. Then a thought crossed my mind. “I’m kind of by myself over here, what if a wild animal comes? I’ll be the first one it gets,” I commented. They all laughed. “There are no wild animals this far up,” Zack said. I breathed a sigh of a relief. Even though they had gotten us lost up here, I knew Zack and Mike were skilled and knowledgeable about survival situations. I kept feeling myself slide down toward the tree root so that my knees were almost to my chest if I didn’t keep sliding myself back up. Frustrated, I decided to take Mike’s offer and sleep in his hammock. It was also getting cold, so I could cover myself with the hammock as it was quite thick and large enough for two people.

As I began to fall asleep, I heard something rustling underneath me. I covered my face with the excess material from the hammock and stiffened. Then, I heard a slight moan that sounded human. I peeked underneath the hammock and saw Mike lying in my old spot right underneath the hammock. I smiled. I had chosen the best spot in this area for sleeping because he had gone searching for another spot earlier. The temperature dropped dramatically, so I buried myself into the sleeping bag and hammock, including my face. I began to feel very comfortable and sleepy, so I drifted off until the sun came up. I uncovered my face and looked at the sky. The birds were flying closely above us, and the horse flies were surrounding me. I covered my face with the hammock again. Ah, the perils of nature. When was Mike going to wake up? They were supposed to get up early and find us a way out. I almost got up to wake them up, but I decided not to push it.

I finally heard Mike moving around below me, so I peaked to see what he was doing. He was reading the manual that he had brought with him of the Smokies. I heard Zack and Jeff talking below the boulder. Mike shouted to Zack, and they both took off into the wilderness in the clouds. “Hey, are you feeling better today?” I shouted to Jeff. “Yes, I just needed dry clothes last night. That, and I was fucking exhausted,” he replied. “How are you?” “I am really hoping that we can get a helicopter up here today,” I said. “Oh, is that the plan now?” he asked. “Mike said that he was going to try to get them to send out a chopper for us this morning,” I replied. “Oh, cool,” Jeff mumbled. Jeff called out loudly some kind of animal noise that maybe was supposed to be a bird call. Zack mimicked him. I hoped they were returning with good news. “Did you guys find anything?” I shouted. They didn’t say anything. “Did you find a trail?” Jeff shouted. “No,” Zack replied. “Oh, God,” I said in frustration.

Mike sat down underneath my hammock and continued looking at the manual. “Are you going to call for the helicopter?” I asked. “Yeah, in just a second,” he replied as he read. “Are you going to ride the chopper if it comes?” Zack asked Jeff. “I might,” Jeff responded half-jokingly. Mike grabbed his phone and put it on the solar charger. He called the ranger and was on the same cycle of getting transferred and losing signals as he had done last night. I brushed my teeth with the small amount of water that I had left, and I wiped my face clean with a wipe that I had in my pack. I couldn’t shower, but I could at least have a clean face and teeth. We didn’t have a water source up there, so I hoped that whatever happened, we’d get fresh water. I had some fruit juice and a protein bar in my pack, and I enjoyed that pitiful little breakfast as if it were bacon and eggs. Then I began to think about bacon and eggs. We were planning on going to Cracker Barrel after all of this, and I still wanted that to happen.

Mike hung up the phone and went to talk with Zack and Jeff. I was afraid that he was mad at me for being so whiny about the situation. I couldn’t help it, though, I was deathly afraid. I really didn’t want to die without doing any of the things that I want to do with my life. I’ve been in a slump for many years, and I haven’t done what I need to do to get out of it. I’m just always too afraid of making another mistake or getting into a situation that I can’t escape. Now, I was quite literally in that very type of situation, and I was hoping for a rescue. “Mike, what did they say?” I couldn’t wait anymore. I didn’t know why he hadn’t talked to me about it yet. “They said they couldn’t get out here until tomorrow,” he said reluctantly. I screamed. Then, I sighed. “Is there any way to get to the AT from here, or do we have to go down the mountain?” I asked, afraid of the answer. “We have to go down the mountain,” Mike stated. I covered my face and moaned. “Okay. Okay, you know what? I’m going to grow some metaphorical balls and climb down this fucking mountain!” I said. “Alright!” Jeff said with a laugh. I suddenly felt this self-assurance and strength that I had never allowed myself to reach, because I knew that I had to. There was no one to rescue me from my situation. I had to rescue myself with some assistance from my fellow hikers who were not much better off than I was. “Think of it this way. You will have an awesome story to tell your grandkids one day,” Zack pointed out. “Yes, we will definitely have a story to tell everyone,”

To be Contiued…I had no idea this would span more than 2 entries!

July 30, 2012

Hiking in the Smokies:Conquering the Hardest Unmarked Trail on the Map

Filed under: Athletics,Blogging,Exercise,Health,hiking,photography — desi83 @ 8:12 am

Part One of Two:

I hiked the trail that the book said not to this week at the Smokey mountains. I went with two military guys and an extreme adventure hiker. I was told that it would be mostly a scenic hike with lots of waterfalls and a few rough spots. The whole “most difficult trail in the park” detail was left out of the description of our plans when Mike convinced me to go. I figure he didn’t think I’d go if he mentioned it, but he knew I’d be glad that I did afterward. He was right. The first day, we were supposed to hike eight miles to our campsite. I had a backpack with my tent and sleeping bag tied to it on my back weighing heavily on me the whole time. I don’t really have a good camping bag, so I just used what I had. My shoes are okay, but my toes are now screaming to me that I need some tough hiking boots instead of these hiking/trail running shoes or whatever they are. The eight mile hiked ended up being eleven because apparently the map was wrong. I was exhausted and sore, but it was the prettiest hike I’ve taken in Tennessee. It was tough, but manageable. We took a detour to see an overlook that was led by a narrow trail through some of the most exotic plant life I’ve ever seen. When we got to the overlook, I literally felt the breath escape my lungs and stop for a moment. I could really see now why it’s called the Smokey Mountains, and it was the perfect view of them. We stopped at a creek near the campsite to wash off our sweat. Mike and I got in and braved the nearly icy cold water, and it was quite exhilarating. I shamed the other two guys into joining us by pointing out that “a girl can do it”. I slept amazingly well after a hot bowl of soup from Mike’s camping boiler. It’s called a Bunson burner, I think? Jeff and I tried to start a fire, and the plastic he threw in got it going for a few minutes, but after the rain from the previous day, it was no dice. Mike and Zack piled on the wood they had gathered, and I was blowing on it like birthday candles, but it was too stubborn. I slept in a small one-man tent on an air mattress inside my Wal-Mart sleeping bag. The sound of the crickets and the wind in the trees put me to sleep. I was the first to awaken around seven the next morning, ready to blaze more trails. I couldn’t wait for Mike to brew us some instant coffee, and I peeled open a tasty protein bar for breakfast. He finally got up and boiled the water. I smiled as I smelled the Starbucks Via from my coffee cup. Finally, the military guys came stumbling over from their tents still waking up. Jeff started messing with the fire pit again, still resentful of the failure of it from the previous night. Mike told us that we’d be hiking for two brutal miles, and then it’d be an easy six mile hike to the campsite. He warned us that a blogger had said that it took her and her group five hours to hike the two miles because it was an unmarked trail. So, it’s a matter of finding karns (stacks of rocks) and other signs that other hikers leave to find your way through the trail. At some point, he said, it gets kind of hard for people to leave any marks because of the rough terrain. I don’t think it quite sunk into my mind at that point how difficult he was saying that it was going to be. I just packed up all my gear, threw it on my back, and set out with the guys with full confidence.

I felt like Indiana Jones or Tarzan in the jungle hacking away brush through this unmarked trail. There were nettles that temporarily burned and caused a rash on our skin. There was so much rhododendron in some parts that we were constantly smacking it away with our sticks and at the same time trying to look down to prevent tripping over stumps and rocks. It definitely made me start to feel like an adventure hiker. We hopped over a creek bed about ten times along the trail, and each time we searched for karns, and we left our own if there weren’t obvious ones marking the trail. The guys got creative and made a carnal karn at one spot. It was definitely a photogenic moment. After several attempts to not get my feet and legs totally soaked, I finally grew tired of risking a bad fall from jumping over rocks. I stomped through the shallow water figuring eventually my shoes would dry enough. We crossed over a narrow bridge at one creek crossing spot, and my fear of heights was tested a bit. Then, there were several logs that had fallen along our path that we had to climb over or under. Luckily, I had some strong and helpful dudes with me to help me with the crawling over. Sometimes being short is a problem. However, I laughed arrogantly when I barely had to bend down in some spots while they crawled through the mud. We took a few breaks; Mike filled our water bottles with water that he purified from the creek. I slammed down tuna, protein bars, and Mike’s trail mix. I have never felt so hungry in my life. It was fun, and just a little difficult. That was the first mile.

We began to encounter areas that were a little more inclined and rocky, but I was able to manage without hurting myself. Then, we came to the mountain. We are so not going to climb that, I thought. Oh yeah, we were. It was just inclined enough not to have to use rock climbing gear. We did have to climb up on our hands and knees most of the way, though. It began with our climbing large, slick rocks. I had bashed my ankle the day before and it was still a little red and swollen. So, of course, I banged it again a couple of times going up these rocks. I cursed and questioned how I managed to hit my ankle in the same spot each time. We stopped a couple of times, and I whined a bit. I kept asking how far. He said we’re almost there. Yeah, no we weren’t. I slammed down some tuna fish and sweet potato chips and drank most of the water I had left. I hoped we’d come to a water source soon. We climbed some more, and I asked how long we’d been out that day. It had been six hours thusfar. We had hiked/climbed about a mile and a half. Well, crap. Mike pointed in the direction where we were headed. Jeff pointed out that we could see the sun, and the tops of the trees were getting closer. Hope was alive, but barely breathing. I banged my knee and screamed out from the pain. They said keep going, you’re doing great. I kept climbing, and then I banged it again. What the hell? My right leg kept getting injured repeatedly in the same two spots-my knee and ankle. I still can’t wear shorts for all the bruises and scars. I yelled to them that I couldn’t go on. I had a panic attack. I cried. Oh, man, am I embarrassed about that, but it was a test of will that I never thought I’d be taking. They said you’re doing great, you can do it. Mike asked had I rather go up or climb back down. I looked down, panicked some more, and nodded my head. He offered to take my bag, and I gladly obliged. After all, I was at least sixty pounds lighter than everyone else on the hike, so it was physically harder for me. We got to a point where there weren’t so many rocks, and it was mostly moss. I scooted myself up by grabbing onto the somewhat tough moss. I slid a few times and looked death in the eye. I grunted and growled as I pulled myself up the mountain. It was the first time in my life I was enduring a truly death defying moment, and I was kicking death in the balls. We called out to Zack, who was several feet ahead of us, and he told us he was almost to the top. We kept crawling, and Jeff was losing steam as he was wearing a wet tank top and the temperature was steadily dropping. He would later be in the beginning stages of hypothermia. We called again to Zack, and he announced that he was at the top, but he didn’t know where to go from there. It was a complete drop off from where he was standing. We were supposed to come to an area at the top that would take us to a trail that was fairly flat as compared to the rest of the hike. We had taken a wrong turn. It’s okay, they reassured. We’ll figure it out once we get to the top. All of us finally made near the top where Zack was standing, but Jeff and I stayed in a somewhat level spot right below Zack and Mike, waiting to see if they could find where the trail was located. Jeff was shivering, and he had thrown his pack over the rock above us, so he couldn’t get out any more clothes. I was nursing a very sore and slightly injured knee and ankle. We both sat and complained about how tired and sore we were, and how we just weren’t ready to die.



February 23, 2012

Screw You, Ben and Jerry

Filed under: Athletics,Blogging — desi83 @ 9:43 am

I have started running again after being on hiatus because of some minor health issues, and I was feeling very proud of myself. I did my second day of training today, and I ran like I did before I got lazy and out of shape again. I was running full speed, totally ignoring the pain. Well, except once I did stop for a bit until the shooting pain stopped piercing my side. But as soon as the pain subsided, I was back to it. I’ve been eating healthier, for the most part. I’ve gone gluten free as my doctor suggested to help with my frequent stomach aches. Fish, peanut butter, and fruit were becoming more prevalent in my diet. So, in celebration tonight, I decided to treat myself to my favorite ice cream. I first wanted a blizzard from Dairy Queen because that would mean that I wouldn’t have to go into the dreaded Wal-Mart, but it was after eleven, so the lights were out. Ben and Jerry’s would be worth a walk through the hell fire, so I braved it. Wal-Mart isn’t quite as bad at eleven o’clock at night, so I walked right to the ice cream section and searched for the premium pint section. There it was, a selection that I’ve never seen at a store before as I usually go to Kroger. Wal-Mart definitely has the advantage of buying pretty much whatever flavors they feel like getting from the company, so there were flavors that I didn’t even know existed. They also had a large supply of the one serving-size B&J’s. However, the pint was staring right at me-Phish Food. I put my hand around it, but something else caught my eye: Phish Food Froyo! It’s half the fat! So, the decision was made. I nabbed it along with some fresh strawberries to make myself feel better. I had a plan. I was going to go home, scoop some Froyo out into a small bowl, and watch the newest episode of Glee that free Hulu will let me watch (I can’t watch the most current episode that has everyone freaking out online because free Hulu makes me wait 8 FREAKING DAYS!). That is exactly what I did. Then, I saw that there was a new Cougar Town episode. I haven’t watched that show in several months, but I remembered liking it. It is done by the same guy that wrote Scrubs, or produced it, or something along those lines. Anyways, the humor is always fantastic even if the title doesn’t make a lot of sense. A lot has happened since I stopped watching it. Grayson and Jules were talking about having babies, and they went to Hawaii to convince Travis to come home with them and go back to college. The last time that I watched the show, he was just starting college, and he had just met the chick to whom he’d proposed and was subsequently dumped by her according to this episode. So, naturally, I wanted to watch yet another episode. I had planned on being in the bed by one o’clock. It is now two-thirty in the am. So, that was one goal shot to hell. Anyway, while I was watching the second episode of Cougar Town (it was actually a two-part episode, so who could blame me?), I got an uncontrollable craving for that Froyo. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The craving carried me to the kitchen and forced my hand to open the freezer and pull out the pint. It was still three quarters of the way full. I had done so well with portion control earlier. The craving carried me back to my seat where I continued to watch my show and slowly make my way through the pint. I told myself that I would eat half of it. But the craving would not let me stop. One more marshmallow swirl, I thought. One more chocolate fish, I thought. One more caramel-chocolate spoonful of goodness. Then, I could see the bottom. So, that was two goals that I bombed tonight. I was going to put all of the blame on Ben and Jerry for making ice cream, or in this case Froyo, that is so deliciously irresistible that I can’t stop eating it. However, I have to let Hulu share the blame. I don’t spend a lot of time in the living room watching television. I’m busy working, running, shopping, socialising, or doing anything else besides sitting on the couch watching television most of the time. However, when it is late and I should be getting in the bed, I get the urge to pull out my laptop and watch television. I can’t stop at just one show. It’s one after the other after the other after the other. But I will say this: that was a glorious moment watching a simple sitcom and devouring some of the best ice cream/froyo in the universe. Tomorrow, I will start eating healthy again as I obviously do not have any self discipline. It’s not that I’m worried about weight, because I’m fine with how much I weigh. It’s that I know I can be so healthy and in shape that it is sick, but it is sometimes more fun to binge eat and watch mindless television. Ah, the struggle continues. Tomorrow is a new day! Well, actually, I suppose tomorrow is already here, but right now, this is a new day!

November 7, 2011

Winter Running: It is Only the Beginning

Filed under: Athletics — desi83 @ 2:19 am

Running in the summer is intense because it is hot, obviously, and running makes one even hotter. I would walk outside on a hot August day in the afternoon with the sun blazing down on me, and all I wanted to do was return to my air conditioned haven. Yet, I ran anyway, anticipating the sweat, the heat that would burn my face to a deep red color, and the suffocating feeling that the hot, humid air would give me. I ran until it hurt, and I would keep running until my side began to feel like it was going to split open. Then, I would stop and catch my breath, apologize to Glen for slowing him down though he never seemed to mind, and delve into self-loathing until the pain seized. Then, I would get this second wind that made me feel like my lungs had actually grown a bit, and therefore could hold more air. I would get this energy surge that would power me that next mile, and I would feel that beautiful high that one gets as a runner, the reason one keeps doing it. Afterward, I would revel in the sweat dripping off of me, knowing that it was a sure sign of accomplishment, of pushing my body to the limit.
I have only been a runner since the beginning of last summer,as far as my adult life. I ran for a year in high school on the cross-country team, but that was a decade ago. So, I had forgotten what it feels like to run in the cold. Oh, how I miss the summer heat now. Winter running is so much worse. I start out running in a jacket with a long sleeve shirt underneath, and I’m wearing spandex pants instead of my usual running shorts. Glen is wearing his ridiculously tight Nike Pro shirt under his long sleeve teck shirt and pants. It is not quite winter yet, but it is the cusp of fall and winter, so temperatures are down into the forties in the evening. It is definitely too cold to comfortably be doing anything outside for a long amount of time if you ask me. We didn’t think to wear a hat or ear muffs. I mean, it wasn’t down to a freezing temperature yet, right? We didn’t even bother to do a warm-up walk this time. I actually jogged to the restroom first, and not because I was trying to get ready for the run. I was trying to stay warm. When I came out to meet Glen for the run, we started out running. My dog, Maggie, was more than happy to run with us, too. She even did her business before we got on the trail, much to the delight of Glen who is often interrupted by her doing it whenever she pleases along the trail. Just a few minutes into the run, I started to feel hot in my jacket. I wasn’t sweating, I was just uncomfortable; I felt suffocated in all of those clothes. So, I stripped off the jacket, which now that I think about it, was actually Glen’s jacket. I wasn’t even planning on wearing one, but as usual, he was more prepared than I was. I felt better after I shed the extra garment, and I appreciated the cool air. However, my chest began to tighten. It felt as if the cold air was freezing my lungs. I was trying so hard to breath through my nose, but it also began to feel frozen. Mucus built up in my nostrils, and I had also forgotten my handkerchief. Yes, I know, I forget a lot of things. I began breathing through my mouth, which always leads to cramps in my side. I felt the angry pain shoot through my side, threatening to debilitate me. I kept running, trying to fight the pain. It was now my mission to conquer it. However, my chest continued to feel tight, and I felt no air coming through my lungs. I thought for a moment that this first winter run was triggering the asthma that I thought I had long out-grown. “I’m sorry…I…need to…stop!” I barely uttered through gasps for air. Glen and Maggie stopped. “It’s okay, catch your breath, baby,” Glen replied. We walked for a few minutes while I breathed slowly, trying to catch my breath and prevent an asthma attack that I though for sure was coming. I could finally feel the air circulating in my lungs again, and my chest didn’t feel as tight. I was actually able to form complete sentences and have a conversation with Glen without feeling like I was going to pass out. “Okay, I think I am good to go,” I said. And with that, we continued to run. We ran for probably another mile when I had to stop for a second time because of the continuing tightening in my chest; however, we only paused for a few seconds. “This is the midpoint where we usually turn around,” he said. “Okay, let’s turn around and keep running,” I replied enthusiastically. We ran for what seemed like forever. The race we are now training for is not a 5K. It is a four and a half mile run, which is almost a mile and a half longer than our usual 5K race. So, I knew that we couldn’t keep jogging for ten minutes at a time like we have been doing the last few times we have trained. I ran through my tight chest, runny nose (which I kept wiping on my sleeve) and aching ears. We ran underneath the bridges, up the small hills, and finally reached the last hill. “Almost there, baby, just make up the hill!” he encouraged. My ears were throbbing. I was hearing everything around me as if I were under water. I grabbed my ears and moaned. “Keep your arms above your head,” Glen suggested. He thought it was my breathing that was bothering me. “No, it’s my ears,” I shouted. “I have to get that surgery soon, the ear tube surgery. It’s getting worse, and I don’t want it to ruin running for me. I am slowly losing my hearing because of this,” I complained. “I’m so sorry, I meant to bring that head band for you, and I forgot. Damn it,” he said, angry with himself. “It’s fine. I should’ve gotten one myself. I knew this would happen,” I replied, feeling guilty that he was feeling guilty. “Why haven’t you gotten the surgery?” he asked. I have been complaining about the constant popping, pain, and clogging of my ears for a long time, so of course it seems silly for me not to do anything about it. “I didn’t want to pay $700 for the surgery; that is out-of-pocket cost,” I answered. “That is it? $700 for surgery that could stop you from losing your hearing and from going through the pain? I think it would be worth it; you want it done right, I mean, it is your ears. If it was done incorrectly, you could lose your hearing,” he said, shocked at my silly reason for allowing my ears to continue to make me suffer. He is right. I love running, but as winter approaches, the ear aches are going to get even worse. So, it is time to buy some good ear protection and find a doctor to take away this annoying interruption to one of the few passions in my life that I actually have time to pursue.

July 18, 2011

2 A Runner’s Diary: The Triumphs and Tragedies of a Beginner

Filed under: Athletics — desi83 @ 7:17 am

The Second Race:
(Please read part one below before reading this post)
I was glad to merely finish my first 5K and to be running at the end. I discarded any goals outside of that as I ran without the confidence and preparation that I needed to successfully race against anyone, including myself. I decided that this time, during my second race, I was going to win the race against myself. I finished in just under 32 minutes during the first race. I walked at least five, maybe even ten minutes of it. I didn’t time it, so I am not certain exactly how long I walked up those hills with slumped shoulders and my head hung low. My goal was to beat myself. If I ran under 30 minutes and didn’t walk during the race, I’d feel accomplished. Glen gave me a perfect solution for the problem of not feeling prepared. This was a simple solution that would help us both feel ready this time. I couldn’t believe that we didn’t think of it the first time. He discovered on the website of this particular 5K, the Brentwood Race Against the Spectrum, that there was a map of the run. It was so obvious. We were going to check out the trail ahead of time. If there were hills, we were going to train on them. I refused to be beaten down again by the beginning runner’s enemy, the hill. This was planned last minute, so we were just going to drive there and walk it on this particular day. However, I realized that I had a bag of gym clothes and running shoes in my car from a light work out that I had done the previous day. They weren’t sweaty or stinky, but even if they were, I was going to get them that way after the run regardless. We had planned a run the following day, but we agreed to run the trail that day. It would be the best way to prepare. So, Glen made the long drive to my work, which is close to Brentwood, and I got into his car to go to Crockett Park. We drove through the streets of Brentwood, daydreaming of our future home. We chose a couple of homes that we could be comfortable living in. They were on large plots of land, 2 or three stories high with brick or stone walls around them, and they had the architecture of modern day castles. We passed a sign that said “Starting in the 500’s”. Some day, we thought, it’d be nice to be rich enough for houses like those. We arrived at Crockett Park, which had everything one could imagine having in a park: an especially nice frisbee golf course as Glen pointed out, soccer fields, tennis courts, and a decent outdoor amphitheater. As we neared the amphitheater, we noticed there were several cars pulling into the parking lots, and there were parking lot attendants directing the traffic. “We just came here to run,” Glen said,laughing. We heard “Smooth Criminal” playing from the stage. People were getting out of their cars and herding to the stage with their lounge chairs, coolers, and whining children. “What the hell is going on?” Glen asked rhetorically. “Let’s check it out,” I suggested. We parked and began preparing for the run. Glen strapped on his compression running socks and light weight running shoes. I already had mine on, but I took one last swig of water. We stretched our muscles, which is something that we tend to forget to do. His shoulder tends to bother him, so I try to remind him to stretch his shoulders. We are good for each other in that way. He tends to remind me of a lot of things that I don’t remember for myself. I like to tease him about always being prepared since he was an Eagle scout and is now a scout leader. I love that about him, his always being prepared because I am usually not. I love that he dedicates himself to the scouts as well as other endeavors. He motivates me to have that sort of dedication as I’ve never really had that quality. Running is something immediate and concrete that I can dedicate myself to.
Once we felt ready to run, we made a detour to the stage. We had to know why the entire city of Brentwood had flocked to this amphitheater in the park. What we saw seemed to scare Glen to some extent. A young, black Michael Jackson impersonator wearing black leather pants, a blue shiny, frilly shirt, and a curly ponytail was thrilling the audience with old Michael Jackson favorites. Don’t get me wrong. I adore Michael Jackson’s music. But the impersonator was a bit ridiculous, and we weren’t sure why he was so popular. I mean, there is only one Michael Jackson, and it is futile to attempt to be him as a performer. We left, or rather Glen grabbed me and quickly began walking away. I had to know what this was about, so as we walked past a parking lot attendant, I asked him what was all the hype about. “It’s a free concert in the park that they have every week in the summer,” he replied. Apparently there were several other cover artists who took the stage during the summer. Free entertainment made sense, even in an upscale town like Brentwood.
With our curiosity fed, Glen told me where the run would begin, but we walked a little further until we passed the traffic going into the amphitheater. “Are you ready?” he asked with a smile. I nodded, and we sped off down the concrete path. We sped past the tennis courts and soccer fields. We ran through the woods on a slight downhill slope that gave us temporary relief with shade and a breeze. I was enjoying the trail so far for its scenic beauty and lack of hills. I was actually enjoying the run instead of just suffering through it, as I have during some training sessions. It was about 7pm by then, so the sun wasn’t blazing down on us as much as when we trained in the afternoons previously. My mouth began to feel dry, so I stopped at a water fountain outside of the public restroom just to rinse my mouth. “I’m not going to drink the water, I just need to wet my mouth,” I announced as he turned to see why I had stopped. “I don’t think Brentwood water will hurt you,” he joked. “I just don’t want to get a cramp from drinking too much water,” I explained under my breath. Talking was not easy at that point. “Alright, let’s go then,” he urged. We continued running until we came to a parking lot, and I suddenly stopped. “I have a cramp, and I am melting in this heat,” I cried. “It’s okay, we can walk for a bit. We did a mile and a half, so that’s half-way,” he replied graciously. I love that any time that I have to stop and walk, he never complains or makes me feel bad about it. However, he doesn’t enable me to be lazy either. After a couple of minutes, he asked me if I was ready to run again. I always know that if I say I’m not ready, he’ll give me a couple more minutes. At that point, however, I was ready to push myself a bit further. My cramp had subsided, and I was able to speak clearly again. We pushed ourselves to run that last mile and a half (minus whatever distance we walked). My body began to heat up to the point that the wind felt cold on my skin. I was covered in sweat, which always gives me a sense of accomplishment. I love to feel my body sweat because that tells me that I am pushing it to the limit, and also it cools my skin. I started to get worried, though. The wind felt colder and colder, and I had chill bumps all over my skin. I just felt incredibly uncomfortable. It is a strange feeling, being hot and cold at the same time. I was afraid that this would lead to vomiting. I absolutely did not want to vomit in Crockett Park. I wanted to finish, though, so I told myself that I could make it just a little bit further. For some reason, I thought that we were parked closer than where we had actually parked. That is a terrible feeling for a beginning runner. After we passed the first two parking lots, I finally gave into the fear. “I’m stopping, you keep going, babe,” I shouted. He turned around to look at me, and he continued to run. I never want to hold him back, just as I know he wouldn’t want to hold me back. So, I don’t mind it if I have to walk behind him for a bit. I know that with consistent training, he can be a great runner. I think with more experience, I could say the same for myself. I stopped shivering as I finally approached the car. “I couldn’t do it, I just didn’t feel right,” I lamented. “It’s okay, sweetie, you ran most of the trail. And we have our run tomorrow,” he said sweetly. “I felt cold. I was afraid that I was going to throw up, like I was sick or something,” I explained. “You felt cold because your body became hotter than the wind outside,” he explained, “it’s okay to throw up as a runner, it happens.” “I know, but I didn’t want to throw up ‘here’,” I said as I waved my hands in the air. “True,” he said smiling. He stripped off his sweaty socks and running shoes and slipped into a pair of flip flops. I didn’t have mine with me, so I just dealt with the sweatiness for the time being. “I really want to run the entire race this weekend without stopping to walk,” I complained. “I know, sweetheart. We still have tomorrow to train. I know that you can do it,” he encouraged as he kissed me on the cheek. “So do you want to go home and take a shower before we hang out?” he asked. “It’s getting late, so I guess if you think that I have time,” I replied uncertain. “I mean, we’re both stinky and sweaty, so we can stay that way if you really want to, I don’t care,” he joked.

The night before the race, I took a sleeping pill. We went to bed at 10 pm, so I was sure that I was going to get plenty of rest. I laid there in the bed beside Glen, and I felt my body become heavy. I was so relieved to know that I was going to have a restful night before the race. I continued to lay there, feeling heavy. Yet, sleep did not find me. I didn’t understand how I could feel so drowsy, and yet my mind would not shut off. I was worried that I wouldn’t sleep well, and as a result, I would not run well. I was worried that I wouldn’t improve from the last race. Glen was sound asleep, heavily breathing (but not snoring of course!). I eventually drifted in and out of sleep until 4:30 am when the alarm sounded. After hitting snooze a couple of times, he rolled out of bed. I had asked to sleep until 5 am. I drifted back to sleep until he came into the room and kissed me. “Wakey wakey, eggs and bac-y,” he said softly. “Hmmm,” was all that I got out. “I know, but it’s time to get up and get ready. I don’t want to be late,” he said. “I know, I’m getting up,” I complained. The sleeping pill was still in effect. I felt like I was floating inside of a heavy cloud. Glen started the shower for me, and I slowly made my way to the bathroom with my toiletries and clothes. I stepped into a steamy hot shower, and the heavy cloud began to disappear. I felt alive again. I used to think it was silly to take a shower before a run since I was just going to get sweaty, but Glen made a good point. A hot shower energizes the muscles before a run. I have learned so much, and there is still so much to learn about being a runner that even Glen probably has yet to learn. I had learned from my last race not to eat a heavy breakfast or have coffee right before the race. So, I had a piece of toast with honey and just a couple of sips of coffee rather than a whole cup. I drank as much water as I could hold. I was so ready for this.We made our way to the race with his sister behind the wheel. She raced through the streets to get us there on time, as Glen was very apprehensive about being late. He had every reason to be apprehensive because the gun was to go off right at 7 am, so it wasn’t the type of thing that we could be casually late for. Out of the three of us, none of us are morning people. We were almost there, when we approached a tunnel and had to stop behind a parked truck. “Is there anyone in that truck?” Anna asked. “It doesn’t look like it,” I answered uncertainly. “Oh my gosh, there is a bus stuck in the damn tunnel,” Anna said to the dismay of all of us. “Damn it!” Glen shouted. “It’s okay, it’ll re-route us,” he reminded us. The female computer voice told us where to go from there, and we arrived at Crockett Park, somehow with minutes to spare. We were pre-registered, so other than a quick bathroom break and a warm up jog, we were ready to start. “Where should we line up?” I asked Glen. “We’ll get in the middle of the front section,” he suggested. We lined up behind the pros, and we did our last few stretches. “Are you going to wear your shirt during the race?” he asked. I looked around. “No one else is wearing just a sports bra,” I observed uncomfortably. “Um, look harder. I have seen girls here dressed skimpier than you. You’ll feel better if you take off the shirt,” he suggested. I smiled shyly and removed my shirt. I tucked it in the back of my shorts, and I already felt much cooler. “I hope that I can run the whole thing,” I said desperately. “If you feel like you must stop and walk, count for twenty seconds. Use the timer on Anna’s watch if you have to,” he advised. Anna always lets me borrow her watch. That is something that is on my list of things to buy as a beginning athlete. “Just don’t let yourself walk without timing yourself, and start running again after that twenty seconds is up,” he said looking me straight in the eye. “Okay, I can do that,” I said confidently. This was a much bigger race than the last. It was actually time-chipped, and there was at least three times as many people as the one in Nolensville. The announcer came over the speaker, and the gun went off right at 7 am. We ran together for probably a mile. We ran through the parking lot, through the woods, and finally we came to the small hill that led to a small parking lot near the tennis courts. I had to stop to walk. I remembered what he had told me, so I began to count. Eight seconds went by, and the small hill had now flattened into level ground. I had seen too many runners pass me that were not as fast as me. I decided to run again. Glen had taken off, so I had lost site of him. One day we’ll finish together, I thought. I wanted him to do his best and go as fast as he could, so I wasn’t bothered that he had passed me. I was only bothered that I couldn’t keep up with him just yet. But in that moment, I knew that I had to refocus on my goals. Eight seconds of walking was not bad at all. I was running fast, wanting to make up for the time that I had lost. I had passed the two mile marker, and I was still going strong. I started having trouble breathing about a half a mile from the finish, so I had to stop and walk one last time. Note to self, take a allergy pill before the race next time. I felt my chest tightening, and my nose was terribly congested. My shirt had been threatening to fall out of my shorts throughout the race, so I finally made use out of it. I used it as a handkerchief, and I felt better. I took deep breaths, long breath in, long breath out. I centered myself again, all the while counting to twenty. Once I reached twenty, I really did feel like I could breath again. I knew that I only lacked about a half a mile. A ten year old kid struggled past me. I had seen him run, walk, run walk since I had slowed down. I wanted to tell him to find his pace so that he could finish the race running. I could see that he wanted to run fast more than anything. I also knew that I really didn’t want to be beaten by him. He would go on to win in his age group, by the way. I ran a bit faster than I had run previously in the race, but I found a pace that I could keep. I wanted to finish strong. I pushed myself, seeing the walkers and the joggers struggle up the hill on the other side of the loop. Then, I could see the giant red timer up ahead at the finish line. I ran as hard as I could. It was dejavu from the last race. There was a girl about my age running just a couple of feet in front of me. I heard Glen yell “beat her,” from the crowd just as he had done at the end of the last race. So, I pushed a little bit more. So did she. Bitch. My legs literally would not push me to catch up with her. Was she on skates or something, I wondered. That was a small battle that I accepted as a loss that day. Yet, as I crossed the finish line, I looked up to see 28:10 on the clock. That was all that mattered. I had beat my time by almost four minutes from the last race. Also, I only walked for a total of 28 seconds. I just wish that girl hadn’t gotten in front of me when Anna tried to take my picture. I was actually trying to have a photo-ready facial expression at the finish line this time. I had a big smile of triumph on my face when I crossed that line. I finished at fourth place in my age group for females. The girl who placed first in my age group only beat me by two minutes. So, I had triumphed that day, and I also had a new goal. Glen had finished at a little over 26 minutes, which was near his goal. So, if I could shave off two minutes, that would put me at the same running time as him unless he improves. I hope he does though, because running with someone who is a little faster than me is constant encouragement to get better. Because there is no point in running this race if we ever become satisfied with our performance.

July 12, 2011

A Runner’s Diary: The Triumphs and Tragedies of a Beginner

Filed under: Athletics — desi83 @ 7:06 am

I sit here in my own sweat, with achy legs and feet, trying to muster up the energy to go take a shower. The shower is what transforms me from the exhausted runner to the normal lazy person that I have known for awhile. My boyfriend, Glen, has turned me on to this phenomenon, running for fun and even paying to run to the point of exhaustion. We train together, and we keep each other motivated.  I have on my new kicks, New Balances from Running Warehouse.  These are the first decent running shoes I have owned since high school. I ran in hiking shoes for the first two weeks of training, and that is when Glen offered to help me find some actual running shoes. Hey, it was either that or work shoes. I also donned a Frederick’s of Hollywood bra underneath an ill-fitting Wal-Mart-special sports bra during the first month of training. Then, I broke down and bought my first decent sports bra. No wires and no bouncing? I never thought it possible. I had no idea how much was going to be involved with this running thing. As it turns out, it is pretty complex, and quite an investment.

Running is free, but being prepared to run without injuring yourself is surprisingly costly. I also had to buy running socks, a running hat, running shorts, and pay for the 5K events themselves. It is also a lifestyle change. I am a night owl. I like to stay up late, not just kind of late, but into the early morning hours. I write, read blogs, watch shows or clips on Hulu, and basically just stay up for the hell of it. I have always been this way. However, sleep is very important for a runner. I have tried to train on days when I didn’t sleep much the night before, and my body simply refuses to cooperate. I feel as though I am running through molasses when I am sleep-deprived.  I am still not disciplining myself in this area, as I am writing this at two a.m.  Then, there was diet, something I didn’t need to worry about in terms of weight. I used to eat breakfast and coffee, have a danish and coffee for lunch if anything at all, and then I’d eat a dinner composed of whatever beef or pork entree that my dad whipped up. Rarely were there vegetables involved, but always present were grease and carbs. Then, I’d follow it with ice cream or several miniature candy bars. You see, I was blessed with high metabolism. I can eat anything I want, as much as I want, and the most I may gain are love handles and a slightly bigger butt. Yet, with clothes on I looked pretty damned good. Then, I started running. As it turns out, foods without nutrition don’t give me energy, and junk-food gives me cramps.

Running three times a week, along with twice a week work-outs at the gym, actually caused me to crave healthy foods. So, I loaded up on fruits, vegetables, protein bars, soy and almond milk, soup, fish, and lots of water. I started to feel healthy, athletic even. I have been claiming to have an “athletic build” for awhile, though “skinny” was probably the better word. My waist started shrinking, my legs started getting toned, and my abs started forming. I could finally say honestly that I had an athletic build. This has not come without a cost. Every now and then, I’d be sitting in my chair wasting time on the computer, and I would feel my muscles spasm in my legs. I freaked out. Was there something wrong with me? Did I have MS or Parkinson’s or some other disease or condition that was causing spasms? No, it was just my muscles reacting to the sudden stimulation that I was giving them that they were not accustomed to. Then there were the blisters and the calluses. I have always been proud of my feet. I have nicely shaped feet, very feminine. I don’t have knobby toes or toes that are of weird sizes. I don’t have big feet, chubby feet, or squarish feet. Yet, I suddenly felt self-conscious about my feet. I was worried that if I wore sandals, people might be disgusted with my feet. Then I realized, I had runner’s feet, and it was something to be proud of. My boyfriend also had rough feet from constant running. My feet were working hard for the first time since high school when I ran cross country for a short time “for fun”. So, I had embraced my worn out feet, my spasming leg muscles, my new diet, and my new investment. Now, I was facing my first 5K. My goal was to run it in less than 27 minutes. During our training sessions, my boyfriend and I averaged between 8 and 9 minutes, so this seemed feasible.

Once I got to the 5K, I decided that my goal would be to merely run the entire thing without stopping to walk. I looked around to see people who were obviously avid runners, probably just doing this to prepare for bigger events. Then there were older people, overweight people, and even kids. This really was an event for everyone. We did our warm up walk before the run began, and we stretched. My boyfriend and I began running together. Then, he increased his pace and I lost sight of him. I decided that I was going to run at the pace that felt comfortable to me, and I didn’t need to prove anything besides the fact that I could run an entire 5K. I didn’t need to win the race. I was doing alright, when I came to the first water-stand. A man was sitting at the table, and a little girl with a bored look on her face was standing beside the table, which was holding several cups of water. On TV, I had seen the people at the water-stand actually hold out the water so that the runner wouldn’t have to stop. I guess this was too difficult for this poor girl. So, I stopped to get a cup of water, and I downed the whole thing. I threw it in the garbage, even though apparently I was supposed to toss it on the ground so as not to have to interrupt my running, but alas, it had already been interrupted due to the girl’s laziness. I began running again, and a cramp started in my side. It was as if someone had stuck a knife through my side and left it there to give me continuous pain. I stopped to walk. “Fuck,” I mumbled. I began to curse myself in my head. I told myself that I was a loser and a failure. I could not finish the race by walking. Everyone started passing me, and they made it look so damned easy. How did they do it? I let myself walk until the cramp subsided. Then, I started again.

There were two guys behind me, and the three of us ran close together through most of the rest of the race. I kept trying to lead them, but we kept switching positions. It gave me new motivation, racing these guys. I was feeling capable until I came to the first hill. “Holy Fucking Shit,” I said maybe a little too loud. This hill went straight up. I couldn’t see what was past this hill. I had no idea that I was going to be climbing a hill during this race. “Fuck it,” I said as I began to walk again. I figured I could continue running after the hill, and this wouldn’t hurt my time too badly. I was hoping to at least finish in 30 minutes. That is not really that great, but it’s not embarrassing. As I climbed the impossibly steep hill, I noticed my boyfriend walking up the hill several paces in front of me. Neither one of us had trained for hills. I didn’t feel so bad. After we crossed the hill, I saw him begin to run at a fast pace, and I slowly began running again several paces behind him. It didn’t take me long to lose sight of him again. I think at this point it would be incorrect to call what I was doing running. I was jogging, but it was better than walking. I saw people in their front yard a few feet ahead, watching the 5K runners and cheering us on. I couldn’t look pathetic in front of these strangers. So, they motivated me to start running. I whipped past them, sweat dripping into my eyes and my stomach warning me that the eggs and toast that I had consumed might make its way out. Once I passed them, I slowed to a jog again. The guys that I had been racing were behind me, but not far behind. We were soon racing again, so I jogged a bit faster to lead them. Then, the unthinkable happened. There was another steep hill! What the hell? I decided that I needed to try to run up the hill so as not to feel like as much of a loser. I pounded the pavement with all my might, but my legs were feeling too weak. So, with a sigh of defeat, I halted to a slow, shameful walk up the mountain-like hill. The guys that I had been racing jogged past me. Screw it, I thought. I didn’t want to be last, and I didn’t want to walk the last of the race. It would be the walk of shame, and my pride would not allow that. So, once I was on an even path again, I began to jog again. A couple of girls who had been so far behind me throughout the race that I hadn’t noticed them until now were running close behind me. It was just like my race with those two guys again. We switched back and forth in the lead of this three person race within a race, and I saw a sign that was like an oasis to me: 1K. There was only one kilometer left, which was much less than a mile. I had to finish this without walking. I didn’t increase my speed very much, but I got to a pace that was doable.

Then, another breath of fresh air came with the 1/2 K sign. I could see the finish line. I could see the runners who had already finished cheering us on. One of the girls that I had been racing was right on my heels. Then, we were running beside each other, or rather, jogging. Finally, I saw Glen smiling at me and cheering me on to the finish line. “Beat her”, he mouthed to me, pointing to the girl beside me. I smiled a devilish smile and gathered up all of the energy and adrenaline that I had left. I took off running at full speed, faster than I had ran throughout the entire race. His sister snapped a photo of me as soon as I approached the finish line. It is a picture that I would like to see burn and be destroyed forever. That picture said it all. I was in pain. I had maxed out my body during that race, and my distorted face showed it. I decided that my next running investment would be sunglasses to cover up that horrible, painful expression in future races. Once I finished, his sister handed me a bottle of water then looked at me and asked me if I was okay. “I need to throw up,” I said through heavy breathing. I ran to the bathroom and poured water on my face. I didn’t need to throw up afterall; I just needed air conditioning. She came into the bathroom to check on me, and I just laughed and said I was not throwing up. We came out of the bathroom and my boyfriend was there waiting. We hugged each other, and he offered me a banana, the apparent staple of running events. I did not finish in thirty minutes, but I came out of it running, so I didn’t feel too bad. That first 5K did make me realize how unprepared I was for the event, even with all that I put into it. This was not just a frivalous hobby. I was going to have to live the lifestyle and work at it. Because even through all of the pain and suffering that I’ve gone through as a novice runner, I feel more alive and energetic than I have ever felt, so I am ready to live the lifestyle of a runner.

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