Category Archives: Spring Break

Hiking Montana

I was an overweight kid, and my least favorite class was gym, or physical education, as it is euphemistically called. My least favorite week of the school-year was the week of physical fitness testing: no pull-ups for this fat girl, only marginally more sit-ups, and if I could be violently ill on the day of the dreaded “600,” that was all good…until I had to make it up the next time I was in attendance. At least I didn’t come in last since I was the only one “running.”

An overweight, asthmatic (diagnosed in adulthood), I was always the last person to complete the torturous 600 meters around the track, often forced to face the ridicule of my classmates, especially the boys. Gym teachers took little pity on me, probably just as disgusted with my poor physical condition as my juvenile classmates.

I started smoking around 12 years old, and by the time I reached the age of majority, I was fully addicted to nicotine, a fantastic accomplishment for an overweight asthmatic. With the exception of about a year when I was pregnant with my son, I smoked until the age of 34, finally succumbing to the intense pressure to conform to appropriate social norms and give up the devil.

About this time, which would have been the latter half of 1996, I decided to get serious about exercise. Previously, my attempts at physical fitness had been sporadic and mostly related to weight loss. In 1989, at the age of 27, I finally got sick and tired of being fat and tired and joined Weight Watchers, losing fifty pounds in six months. During that time, I did exercise occasionally, but I was also smoking, so my weight loss can be mostly attributed to calorie restriction. When I quit smoking in 1996, I gained back about twenty of the fifty pounds I had previously lost, and in order to get back to a desirable weight, I started walking. The exercise had a two-fold effect: it helped with my weight loss efforts, and it also helped distract me from my addiction. The healthier I got, the more I had to lose if I reverted to unhealthy behaviors, so it became a new, healthy preoccupation.

Sometime previous to this, I saw a doctor about my allergies and asthma and got treatment and medications for my breathing problems. As my walking picked up, I gradually started jogging, and soon, my jogging became regular running. I began running up to six miles a day, which helped me drop my weight back to my goal of 138 pounds. For several months, I ran Highway 89N between Clyde Park and Wilsall, always trying to improve my speed and/or distance. Sometime around the year 2000, I developed a stress fracture in my pelvis requiring eight weeks of nothing more rigorous than walking. I put back a few pounds.

Since then, my weight has gone down. Today, I consistently weigh in the 140 range though I can fluctuate five pounds either way. I have not had any tobacco products in 22 years, and my nutrition is constantly informed by my training in Weight Watchers. I whole-heartedly endorse the program that gave me a “normal” life, twenty-nine years ago. Though I am now vegetarian, I eat a normal diet, one that sometimes includes indulgences, and I always eat food I enjoy. More than anything else, though, I credit physical activity with my ability to maintain a healthy weight.

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This last weekend, I hiked with Mark on Friday and Saturday, and today, I logged four miles on the walking path near my house. Tomorrow we’ve planned another hike. For someone who used to dread the 600 meter fitness run, I’ve come to love, really love, the exertion and challenge of cardio exercise, especially the zen-like results of a hike in Montana. More even than the physical benefits, of which there are many, the mental and emotional benefits of hiking Montana cannot be over-stated. Some people would claim that I tend to emotional extremes, and that’s probably an accurate assessment, but I am much calmer now than I was as a teenager, and I often wonder how different my early years might have been if I had known the calming power of a walk in Montana’s natural beauty. The peacefulness is part of it, the beauty, the challenge, the vastness of Montana’s natural spaces, the quiet, the forced focus on the here and now, the demand that other stuff be relegated to later. All of that, and more, is part of the magic.

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I thought about that today while on my walk, listening to Staind, one of my favorite stations on Pandora. I thought about it again when Mark asked me to meet him tomorrow afternoon for a hike: I felt the endorphins spike in response to the stimuli. My teenage self could not have known that at age 55, I would be healthier than at any other point in my life. She could not have known how the prospect of a five-mile hike in 40 degree weather would be the equivalent of a date at the movies. She would have been very hopeful.

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I remember, as a young kid, longing for the day when I would be forty years old. At that age, I reasoned, I would be a grandma and it wouldn’t matter to anyone if I was fat: how wrong I was and how sad that I thought my joy in life would be as a fat grandma, feeding my grandchildren cookies. Turns out I haven’t gotten any grandchildren yet, but more importantly, the last thing I want to do is bake cookies. There are mountains to climb, rivers to ford, trails to follow, and many places to get lost. Love where you live.

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Day 10

You’ve been wondering; haven’t you? Come on, admit it: you’ve been wondering how I was doing with my April abstention. Fair enough, it was a lofty goal, but as my bff June said to me today, when I make a decision, I’m like a bulldog with a bone. It’s gonna happen or I’ll die trying.

That might be what happens, actually, because I have been very under the weather this week, and it seems to be getting worse. Now, I caution my students about drawing conclusions about causation where there’s only correlation, but this seems to me too coincidental: I quit drinking on March 30, and I started feeling a little ill soon after. A sore throat, head congestion, fatigue, those were the initial symptoms, close enough to my usual spring allergies that I ignored it at first. As the week went on, the symptoms got worse: terrible head congestion, plugged ears, headache, fatigue, sore throat, and now, today, a cough! The congestion has begun to move from my head to my lungs, and I get to coughing so hard sometimes that I nearly pass out. I quit drinking—I get sick: coincidence? I think not.

Nonetheless, I’m stubborn that way, and if I can make it ten days (albeit with pneumonia), then I can make it another twenty. And besides, anticipation precedes satisfaction, right? Think how great that first glass of wine will taste on April 30th, and even better, my tolerance will be down, so I’ll only need two glasses before I’m giddy as a teenage girl.

Due to my illness, I’ve not been able to hike. I did walk about four miles today, between fits of coughing that double me over like a punch to the gut, walking to the store in Montana City for a newspaper. A man came up to me and said, “I like your socks!” I was wearing one of the mismatched pairs I got as a gift from Pam, a student from the fall of 2015. One was a bright, neon pink with green stripes, the other neon yellow with pink stripes, and I love those socks (one of several she gave me) because they remind me of her, and because they’re silly. The man went on to say, “It reminds me of how I dress!” I noted his Carhartt ensemble and his long, messy hair and wondered what that says about me.

April continues to move ever closer to summer, and I’m not gonna lie: that makes me very happy. My birthday is just days away now, the big 5-5, which brings me around to that other “A” word from last week. I didn’t have any mystical experiences this past week, which is a little disappointing, but I still had some encounters with beings I would consider angels. A male colleague, a friend who shall remain nameless, asked how old I am, and I told him 55 in 10 days. He said, “You look good! I would have thought you were in your forties!” We will be friends forever, now. And then there is Kiera, a student from last semester, creative writing class, who’s also a member of the newspaper club that I advise. She emailed me Thursday morning and said she had a gift for me and when could we meet? She came to my office that afternoon, with her father in tow, to deliver a beautiful rock-like mineral called a geode that has dark purple crystals on the inside. She got it for me in Arizona while on her spring break, and the fact that she thought of me at all during spring break makes me feel like I won the lottery.

And so it goes, friends. That is a recap of week one, addiction detox. Do me a favor, will you? Leave a comment, so I’ll know who’s been visiting my blog. My stats show visitors from all around the world, and I just can’t imagine who in Australia or Romania or Canada would have any interest in reading the blog of a middle-aged teacher in Montana who quit drinking wine in April. But thanks for reading.

SPRING BREAK 2017

Since 2003 when I first started college at Montana State, I’ve never vacationed during Spring Break. Other people would talk about their vacations, sometimes even exotic locales, but not me: I had work to do. As a nontraditional college student, I was driven and focused on doing well at school, and just generally, vacations were few and far between. As a teacher, I always have plenty of work to catch up on, and I always used that time to grade papers or finish up unfinished business. Sometimes it was spent working on taxes. Finally, after fourteen years of higher ed, I planned and enjoyed a real Spring Break. This might be the beginning of a tradition.

My friends know that the last several months have been difficult; during that time, my cousin Jamie has been one of the stalwart supports in my circle. Always just a text message or email away, she frequently checks in and checks on. More like a sister, she and I share a connection that goes deep. We understand each other at a very intimate level, and we share pretty much everything. Despite that we’re separated by more than ten years, we have a lot in common. I’ve wanted to visit her in the Bay Area ever since she moved there, and finally, we made it happen. I gave myself a gift last Christmas: a trip to San Jose to visit Jamie over Spring Break. Finally, I was one of those people who actually spend Spring Break having fun rather than working the entire time. Maybe I’ve turned over a new leaf!

The first day of my “vacation” was spent traveling, and it started out badly. Due to stormy weather in Salt Lake City, my flight was postponed so that instead of arriving in SJ around 4:00, I didn’t get in until after 9 p.m. Dinner plans with Jamie and friends were ruined (for me, at least), but I still arrived on the same day. On Sunday, Jamie had everything planned: brunch at Absinthe in Hayes Valley; a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge; a stop at Coit Tower; shopping at Union Square; a drink at a beautiful hotel in the area; dinner at Dosa, a fabulous Indian foods restaurant. It was perfect.

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Monday Funday was reserved for wine country! We started our day leisurely, then drove first to Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma County. A light breeze cooled the day, but the sun shined, and I felt crazily indulgent, tasting wine midday on a Monday. We shared the patio with only a few other lucky people. From there, we headed north to Robert Keenan Winery in the Napa Valley. There, we were nearly alone with the winery staff who were very friendly and accommodating, even inviting Jet to join us inside. I splurged and bought two bottles of wine and spent much more than I usually do (think 14 Hands Hot to Trot at Costco), one for me and one for Jamie. I brought mine home in my suitcase, worried that all my clothes would be pink when I got here, but all’s well, and I’m saving the bottle for a special occasion. We wrapped up with dinner at Rutherford Grill, where I ate the best veggie burger I’ve ever had and drank more wine.

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Jamie, me, and Jet

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Tuesday, we hiked; it was beautiful and pastoral, and Jet joined us. Happy dog, happy dog, happy, happy, happy dog. I miss my dogs a lot, and spending time with Jet was therapeutic (she also shared the bed with us). She is a beautiful animal with a loving heart. The first hike of the new year, it was challenging and exhilarating at once. My smile in the photos shows clearly how I was feeling. After returning home to shower, we ventured to Half Moon Bay where we shopped in some sweet little stores and bought matching bracelets. I had bought us both matching bracelets when we hiked in Glacier last fall, and we were wearing them while I was in California; it might, also, be a new tradition. We stopped for drinks in a watering hole/hotel and it seemed like we generated a certain amount of attention though I’m not sure why. Maybe we were having too much fun.

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Jamie and me Half Moon Bay

Finally, we ate dinner at Moss Beach Distillery; enjoying an ocean view table, we watched the sun set on the water as we ate and contemplated our last day together. The meal was perfect, as all our meals were, and I felt really happy and content and about five pounds heavier. We also laughed, a lot. More than once during my visit, we found ourselves wiping away tears as we laughed about some silly thing. It was a bitter-sweet ending to an exciting and emotional four days together.

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Yesterday, we rose early, and Jamie delivered me to SJC for my journey home. It was mostly uneventful except for some crazy turbulence between Seattle and Helena; I wondered for a moment who would teach my classes if I didn’t make it home. Sorry, students: we didn’t crash. I was in bed before 8:30 last night and slept until nearly 7 a.m. today. I guess I needed the rest after such a fantastic experience.

Today, life resumed its normal rhythm: I graded papers, went for a lovely 4-mile jog, and did some laundry. I also got word that my tenure has been approved by my college; now I just await the final decision by the Commissioner and the Regents. That’s a nice gift to return home to and a reminder that my work is what enables me to enjoy the finer things, like visiting my cousin in San Jose. I guess I’ll keep teaching for a while; I can’t wait to open that special bottle of wine. Cheers, friends.