For those of you who have been living under a rock, or who have simply blocked me from your Facebook feed because of my incessant narcissistic posts, I wanted to share with you that I recently went on vacation... and the most amazing thing happened.
We went to Whistler, British Columbia. That's all the way in Canada, you guys! It's a "province" (like that's a real thing). The whole trip was kind of a lark that happened due to my poor impulse control. Back in April I was recovering from a very minor outpatient procedure to remove a small Tyrannosaurus rex from my left ovary, but that’s a story for another blog (and let’s face it, I’m reaching the age where a blog in which I discuss my old person medical issues is pretty much on the near horizon, not to be a tease). So on that Saturday night back in April, we were making Chicken Tikka Masala and drinking copious amounts of wine and talking about potential places to travel when The Boy decided to take the dogs outside for a quick walk. While he was gone, I surreptitiously booked a 5-night stay in a suite at Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler. Cuz that, friends and neighbors, is how I roll.
And sometimes my character flaws pay off.
The trip was spectacular food for the soul. Neither of us actually realized how much we miss the mountains since moving from Colorado to the Seattle area last year. And we did the right combination of planned activities (the Planning Tribe for the win!) and spontaneous ones. We hiked, we kayaked with beavers and over beaver dams with a particularly dreamy Frenchman named Morgan, we jet-boated UP a whitewater river in a boat piloted by a legitimate extreme skiing celebrity, we took a chairlift over a sheer vertical cliff at 7300 feet straight to the top of Whistler Mountain that took my breath away, and we ate outrageously good food.
And somewhere in all of this outdoorsy and foodie goodness, I had a breakthrough.
Some of you know I’ve struggled with my weight most of my life, and some of you know that I have a genetic heart disorder called cardiomyopathy that makes physical activity rather difficult for me (in fact, there are many things I’m not even “allowed” to do, like jogging or lifting anything over 20 lbs). Some of you know that I was told 13 years ago that I likely had a 25% chance at 10 more years. To put it in layman’s terms, on an average day I do everything you do, but I do it with 1/3 of the heart that you have. There are times in my life where I wish so badly that you could spend 30 minutes in my body, walking uphill. I wish so badly that you could see that I’m out of breath not because I’m out of shape (although I am) or overweight (guilty as charged) but because my poor giant fucked up heart is only capable of giving me 1/3 of the oxygen that your heart is giving you.
Most days, this is a source of keen embarrassment for me. I do the usual tricks to try and mask that I’m out of breath and desperately need to stop doing whatever it is that I’m doing. I usually don’t tell you that I have pain shooting up my left arm—the kind of sharp and panic-inducing pain that would make an average and sane person stop and say “holy shit, I think I’m having a heart attack”—because I’m ashamed. Because I don’t want to have to discuss my genetic misfortune with you and because I know that most of you will think I have heart problems because I’m overweight—even though the truth is that I am overweight in large part because I have heart problems. I can’t do boot camps or Crossfit or whatever other extreme weight loss thing you talk incessantly about on Facebook. You know what I can do? Die.
Or not. And mostly I choose not.
While we were in Whistler, The Boy found a great 5-mile “moderately difficult” hike for us on the now-aptly named Cougar Mountain called the “Ancient Cedar Trail.” Easy-peasy, right? Well for you, yes. For me, “moderate” means extremely difficult, especially if any portion of the hike is uphill, and this one—being on a mountain—was almost definitely going to be uphill. On the way to the trailhead, I managed my anxiety by reminding myself that The Boy is incredibly patient and understanding when I need to stop and catch my breath. I reminded myself that I’ve been shocked once before by the defibrillator implanted in my chest and that it wasn’t that bad and that if it happened on the hike, I’d be fine. I reminded myself that I’m not a hostage and can stop and turn around and go back to the car at any time. And then I set my mind to it that I would do no such thing and that no matter how hard this hike was, by God, I was finishing it. I’m stubborn like that.
It was beautiful. The flora and terrain in the Whistler area are so like Colorado, but so different. And the dry air, after the humidity of Seattle, was fantastic (good hair!). True to form, the first third of the hike was steeply inclined and required numerous stops for me to catch my breath. During each of these stops we were attacked by clouds of giant, ravenous, biting horseflies—or as I came to think of them, “Nature’s Little Encouragers.” They definitely kept us moving at a decent clip. I am not even kidding when I tell you that we each got really great swats in against these pterodactyl-like things and while they were shaken, they lived to bite another day.
The worst part of the hike was a fairly short but stupidly steep section of trail that was composed entirely of softball-sized limestone rocks. It was almost my undoing. But I slowed my pace, took tiny steps, and swore to myself that it wouldn’t defeat me. And it didn’t. In fact, once past that section, I found a shaded stump on which to sit and carried on a lively if rather delirious conversation with a biting horsefly in which I found myself screaming things like “Go ahead, DO IT! Bite me! I WILL END YOU!” Seriously, The Boy was several switchbacks ahead of me and called back with some alarm to make certain I was okay. It’s like he doesn’t know me at all.
(Sidenote: My tiny steps got me to thinking that I could create a new fitness craze called Geishacize™. You heard it here first, you guys!)
|Sweet, sweet stump.|
Eventually we got to the giant ancient cedars and they were incredible. Incredible, and yet strangely beside the point. Because this hike, for me, wasn’t about seeing 1,000 year old trees with 30-foot circumferences. This hike was about being able to do this hike.
You see, we don’t know when I’m going to get worse, we just know that I probably will. We don’t know when I will no longer be able to do these things because I’m in heart failure, we just know that the time will come. And I long ago chose not to be bitter about that but rather to let it propel me farther and to let it push me to do more, see more…all while I can.
We passed probably 8 other human beings on this hike; some lovely Asian women from the UK, a group of polite and fastidiously-dressed Germans, a May/December couple from Australia, a heavily-tattooed youngish couple in inappropriate footwear who sounded like they were from the Midwest. It occurred to me only later that each time we greeted these other hikers they likely looked at me and saw a heavy-breathing and moderately sweaty fat girl (but with a “pretty face!”) and her long-suffering but fit boyfriend. And on the heels of that thought was the realization that until now, that’s how I’ve seen myself. I’ve spent decades self-loathing and hating this body I’m in and thinking all manner of negative thoughts about my physical shortcomings…just constantly bashing myself in a never-ending and very familiar litany of stinkin’ thinkin’.
But not that day. That day, I realized I’m a freaking badass.
I am a warrior.
I have died 4 times. And I’m still here.
I am a woman who was perhaps dealt a cruel hand when it comes to hearts, but who has decided to embrace the time she has left and who refuses to miss a single beautiful thing because it’s physically difficult to get there. I decided that instead of hating these chunky, graceless thighs and these wobbly upper arms and yes, this soft little belly that I sometimes feel moving independently of me when I walk—I should love them. They allow me to do wonderful things. They carry me through this life, they shovel delicious food into my mouth and let me see and do and experience what so many people will never get to see or do or experience.
And that is amazing.
I am freaking amazing.
And far more importantly, not by me.
|An organism that has endured and triumphed against all odds. |
Also pictured: A 1,000 year old cedar.