How to Heal A Broken Ankle

I have this personal trainer, Chris. I first met him at Colorado Athletic Club. I liked him right away. Chris is the kind of person who restores your faith in humanity. He served in the Army in Afghanistan, earning his degree by taking online courses in between missions. He wants to help other veterans through exercise and nutrition. He’s a bona fide hero.

Earlier this year Chris opened a gym with another trainer, Mike. Mike is from New Jersey, a fact he will remind you of whenever he feels misunderstood. He said one time someone complained that he was a misogynist, and Mike replied that he didn’t know what they were talking about and he hadn’t been massaging anyone.

What do you expect? I’m from New Jersey! Mike will say, as if this explains any perceived deficiency in his education or etiquette.

Mike is loud and brash, and he will not hesitate to yell at you as a motivating tactic. Personally, I do not respond very well to this tactic. Mike says he was a chubby kid, which is hard to imagine. One day he just decided to change his life. He joined a boxing gym. He says that you know a really good boxing gym when the guys jumprope double-dutch. I would love to see that.

Mike will not take no for an answer. You can’t do it? Impossible. You can’t lift heavier? Mike doesn’t believe it. Is that all you got? You can’t do 10 more? You can. You will.

This kind of driving optimism must have been how Mike got in shape, how he got out of New Jersey, how he got his own gym. And he’s only like 26. One time I saw him running through Boulder with a backpack on, and you just know he ran all the way up and down Sanitas. He probably ran all the way from Denver.

Mike yelled at me in my first class because I wasn’t trying to win a race across the room. I rationalized by saying something like “I’m just not very competitive,” which is like throwing down the gauntlet to Mike. He vowed to get it out of me, to make me a competitor, to make me want to win.

After a six-week introductory deal, Mike and Chris had me hooked on their exercise crack and I was ready for more. I was pumped. Sore today, strong tomorrow. I prepaid for a three-month membership.

Mike took my measurements so that we would have baseline numbers to assess my future progress. He pinched me with those creepy gym teacher calipers and then measured the circumference of my arms, legs and torso. He was like, “Wow, your legs are surprisingly fat.” That’s not exactly what he said, but it was something about how I was carrying more weight than was apparent to the casual observer. If anyone else had told me this, I might have been offended. But it’s Mike. He’s from New Jersey.

We talked about my goals. I wanted to finally have the body I’ve always dreamed of. I wanted to be a boxer. Mike designed an aggressive schedule of classes in the coming weeks. We were going to do it together. I was going to win. U-S-A! U-S-A!

The next morning, I got up early and went to boot camp. I felt strong. I felt like I could do this every day, get up before the sun, exercise, sweat, start off like a fucking champion.

It was the last round of reps in the last circuit. There was 10 minutes left in class. I was running in place with my hands on the wall. My partner, Kristi, was on the floor doing crunches — I had to run for as long as it took her to finish her reps. I turned my head to see how far along she was, and my left foot landed like a limp fish on the floor.

My ankle rolled out. There was a loud POP! — so loud that Kristi heard it clearly over the blaring music. I crumbled to the ground. I knew something had happened, but I didn’t feel any pain. My ankle started swelling. I was in shock. Mike asked me where it hurt. I found out later that he thought I had ruptured my Achilles. Kristie offered to stay with me at the hospital, but I told her that I’d be fine. I thought maybe I’d just twisted my ankle. Even the doctor seemed to think it was less serious at first. But the x-rays showed a clean break through the lateral malleolus of my left fibula.

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When my foot landed wrong, the ligament yanked on that little protrusion on my fibula and just snapped off the end like a rice cracker. Because it is not a weight-bearing bone, I was able to put pressure on it without feeling much. It didn’t require surgery, but I would have to be in a walking boot for at least six weeks.

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It has been exactly four months. The recovery has been pretty easy, all things considered. I’ve moved from the boot to a bandage, to nothing. But as I’ve transitioned to using my ankle more, walking more, standing more, I’ve been feeling it.

X-rays show that my bone has healed. They actually say that a healed bone is stronger than the original bone. It comes back reinforced, even better than it was before. But now I have the other effects from being in the boot, which restricted motion in my entire foot and calf during the recovery.

All my good intentions succumbed to Netflix and comfort food. I did manage to move to a new apartment while in the boot, so I wasn’t totally inactive, but it’s been the polar opposite of the Rocky workout montage I envisioned prior to my injury.

As I try to jumpstart myself back into shape, I am faced with new challenges — weakness, atrophy, lack of balance. And mostly, I just don’t trust myself anymore. If my ankle could roll once, it could roll again. (I saw this funny thing that said, “I don’t always roll a joint, but when I do, it’s my ankle.”) Even the doctor told me that once you’ve had an injury like this, you are more likely to repeat it.

My medical treatment up until this point has been spotty. The doctors at the ER were cool, but they couldn’t do much more than give me some crutches and send me on my way. My primary care physician is at a community clinic, where they have way more serious issues to deal with. They said that if it swells really bad, go get it checked out. So far I haven’t found any way to measure what really bad swelling looks like as compared to just sorta-bad-normal swelling. But hey, I’m not a doctor.

Last week I had my first physical therapy appointment. My experience with my PT, Lindsay, was totally different. She was focused and present. She talked through her observations.

The fact that I was just running in place against a wall when my ankle rolled told Lindsay that there was a disconnect between my mind and my body. The inner ear controls our sense of balance. She hypothesized that I had inner ear issues prior to my injury, and my ankle rolled because the message from my brain to my foot misfired.

I remembered that my left foot had been acting up the night before and the morning of my injury. I knew my foot was tired. I could feel that it was stressed, but my mindset was to ignore what my body was telling me and push through the fatigue. To power forward.

But sometimes forward motion actually requires that you slow way down.

I was at this bowling alley once where they had automatic scoring — rather than writing or typing in your own scores, the computer scored the game for you. In order for the lane to keep score, the sensors had to read the position of the pins accurately. Any jostling of the pins would throw off the sensors and require the system to reset again.

When it was my turn to bowl, I was chit-chatting and didn’t notice that the system hadn’t finished resetting the pins from the prior turn. I positioned myself just left of center and sent the ball rolling down the lane, only to have it smack against the rail of the pinsetting machine.

The guy working at the bowling alley was sort of a country dude. He had a thick twang, and he looked like a larger version of Eminem in the Slim Shady video. He came running over to tend to the pinsetter like it was a sensitive child.

He turned to me, sounding very annoyed, “Can you pay intention please?”

I remember we got a real kick out of that. Pay intention. It’s a brilliant flip. Rather than simply paying attention, why not pay intention. Don’t just observe; declare your purpose. Participate mindfully.

It is not surprising that my body rebelled just as I was about to launch a huge push to change. That’s the way life works. Just when you are ready to do something monumental, just when you are about to face a challenge bigger than you’ve ever faced before, you are shown your weaknesses. Not as punishment, but to reveal where you are vulnerable.

My body said, OK, if you are serious about getting in shape, you’re going to have to communicate better. Sometimes pushing is not the way. Sometimes you simply can’t force things. You can’t progress to a higher level until you’ve mastered the one you’re on. Life intervenes to show you where you still have some work to do. This isn’t a failure, but a matter of timing and experience. It’s like cooking — you can have all the right ingredients, but then you have to let them blend together. If you take the casserole out too early, you miss the full flavor. If you force yourself to compete at a level that you’re not ready for, you are going to stumble.

I’ve been back to the gym a few times. Chris and Mike have been their typical supportive selves. They modify exercises for me; they look out for me; and of course they just believe in me so much. It’s kind of annoying sometimes.

Mike usually is bursting with energy, bouncing around, singing along to Beyonce with his hair dyed green or purple as he barks at you to run faster, push harder. But a couple of weeks ago Mike and I were alone in the gym, and he was quiet. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that he’d just returned from a trip home. One of his friends had overdosed on opiates, a huge problem where Mike comes from.

The neighbors who found the body also found Mike’s friend’s dog alone and in need of care. The friend’s ex-girlfriend lives on a farm several hours away, so Mike and another guy agreed to drive the dog to the farm. Mike showed me photos of their road trip on his phone. He and the other guy are wearing suits. They are in a convertible. The dog looks elated. They’re from New Jersey.

I can tell that his friend’s death lays heavy on Mike. Having mustered so much personal strength himself, Mike feels a responsibility to show others the way. He knows what is possible and he believes in overcoming obstacles. He believes you can do it, anyone can do it, no matter what you are up against. But, as I learned the hard way, it doesn’t matter how much Mike believes in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

With Lindsay’s help I hope to get back to the starting line soon, back to where I was four months ago. Mustering the energy is very challenging, but no one can do it for me. No one can listen for me. No one can restore the communication between my mind and my body but me. No one can save me but me. Just as the lateral malleolus of my left fibula has grown back stronger than it was before, I know that I will be stronger for acknowledging my vulnerability. I will be wiser for seeing my weakness. I will pay intention. And I will reach my destination better than when I started.

 

A Vacation of Fitness and Terror, Vol. 3: Rise of The Pelican

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After being fire-drilled out of bed that morning, then enduring a harrowing drive to Puntarenas and 70 minutes on a floating strip club, followed by another hour or so in the middle seat in the back of the RAV-4, capped off by a mile of muddy jungle road up to the house where my friends would be staying, I was dead tired.

I was also nervous about meeting the owners of the property. I didn’t want them to think that I was trying to scam them.

Getting “scammed” was something that we joked about a lot throughout the trip. We were especially wary of “scammers” who might try to pull a stunt like dressing up as an elderly couple whose car had broken down on the side of the road. Likely story, abuelitos. You can’t fool us with your scams.

Anyone who looked remotely sketchy, it was like, “That guy definitely wants to scam you.” We never discussed explicitly what it meant to be “scammed,” but we all knew we didn’t want it to happen to us.

So, almost immediately upon meeting Alex and Khalida, who own the rental property, I blurted out that I would be staying at the hostel in Montezuma, just so they knew I wasn’t trying to scam them.

They seemed pretty cool. Alex is Costa Rican and Khalida is American. We weren’t sure how to pronounce her name—turns out it is the feminine form of the Afghan name “Khalid,” and is therefore pronounced Hall-i-dah. She is a very petite and pretty blonde woman whose parents did humanitarian work in Afghanistan.

We didn’t get the full story, but somehow, Khalida and Alex met and fell in love. They lived in New York/New Jersey for a while, which Alex found stifling. Especially the idea that, in some spots, you have to pay to use the beach. (He was flabbergasted by this. Pay? To use the BEACH??!… He couldn’t imagine how this was justified.)

Eventually, they moved back to Costa Rica and bought the property (dubbed “Aqua Vista”) where they now have several rental houses. They walked us from the big house, where they live with their two young daughters, down a tidy little path toward “Casa Morfo.”

We are pretty sure that “morfo” means “butterfly,” even though “butterfly” in Spanish is “mariposa.” Someone suggested that “morfo” could mean “moth,” but “House of Moths” doesn't sound like a very inviting vacation home.

We are pretty sure that “morfo” means “butterfly,” even though “butterfly” in Spanish is “mariposa.” Someone suggested that “morfo” could mean “moth,” but “House of Moths” doesn’t sound like a very inviting vacation home.

Unlike most landowners in the area, Alex and Khalida do not have dogs, therefore, they said we were much more likely to see wildlife. Alex said that we would see more animals at Casa Morfo than we would if we went to the nearby nature preserve, Cabo Blanco.

As if on cue, we were summoned to some nearby trees by a group of capuchin “white faced” monkeys.

Jenn had a snazzy new digital camera, so she was taking pictures like it was frickin' National Geographic up in here.

Jenn had a snazzy new digital camera, so she was taking pictures like it was frickin’ National Geographic up in here.

In between the two houses was a beautiful pond, full of the happiest looking koi you have ever seen. They were darting all over the place in the crystal clear water under the shade of a green tarp. A lovely bridge crossed the width of the pond. Alex told us that this was the best place on the property to get WiFi.

We wouldn’t have any internet access in the house—and with the calling capabilities on our cell phones turned off, we wouldn’t be making or getting any calls either. We would be essentially free of technology and disconnected from the world unless we came up to the pond, thus earning it the title, “The Koi Pond of Knowledge.”

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Brian was the most frequent visitor to the Koi Pond of Knowledge, or “Information Point” as he also liked to call it. The knowledge he gathered consisted mostly of football scores.

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The house had two nice-sized bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a bathroom with a washing machine and a private outdoor shower. Just out the front door was a dining area and outdoor living room complete with a small “plunge pool,” a swimming pool about four-feet deep and the size of a very large bathtub.

We decided to eat lunch, take a dip in the plunge pool, and relax for a while before venturing back into town to check me into the hostel. We hadn’t been sitting out there ten minutes, when we met some of the locals:

There was a whole family of these little guys--they're kind of like raccoons, I guess, but they come out during the day. They're called "coatis." We first saw the baby, and then a couple bigger ones, who we assumed were the parents. We named them Jim, Helen, and Liam Coati.At one point, later in the trip, Liam got a little wild one night when he found a single-serve packet of Crystal Light in Chris's backpack and proceeded to get high as a freaking kite on diet sugar drink crystals. His little sticky paw prints were all over the outdoor living space. We were surprised we didn't find him floating in the pool like Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones.

There was a whole family of these little guys–they’re kind of like raccoons, I guess, but they come out during the day. They’re called “coatis” (ko-watt-ees). We first saw the baby, and then a couple bigger ones, who we assumed were the parents. We named them Jim, Helen, and Liam Coati.  Liam got a little wild one night while we were all sleeping. He found a single-serve packet of Crystal Light in Chris’s backpack and proceeded to get high as a freaking kite on diet sugar drink crystals. His little sticky paw prints were all over the outdoor living space. I was surprised we didn’t find him floating in the pool like Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones.

coati family

After plunging into the pool—and the rum—we all agreed that it would be ridiculous for me stay in the hostel. Alex and Khalida had a single-occupancy cabin on the property that appeared to be vacant. (In fact, we were the only guests at Aqua Vista for the majority of the trip. The timing could not have been better. We had come at the end of the rainy season. In about a week, the entire area would be swarming with tourists.) Chris volunteered to go up to the big house to discuss the situation with Alex and Khalida.

He returned with a completely different option—that we all move to a larger rental house on the other side of the property, which would cost only $35 more for the week. We went and checked out the bigger house—where I would have had a real pullout sofa bed and we all would have had more room—but something didn’t feel right about it. We loved Casa Morfo. (And the big house didn’t have a plunge pool, or the view.)

For some reason, the view was really hard to capture in a photo. But there's water in the distance, and a whole lotta jungle in between.

For some reason, the view was really hard to capture in a photo. But there’s water in the distance, and a whole lotta jungle in between.

There was a day bed on the porch that had a lightweight mattress. I didn’t really want to sleep outside (even though—amazingly—we had encountered very few mosquitos), so we did some experimenting. The mattress fit nicely in the kitchen. I could bring it in at night and we could still use it outside during the day. We agreed to pay Alex and Khalida the price of the bigger house, but stay at Casa Morfo.

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My bed in its daytime capacity, next to the plunge pool.

Jenn's beautiful photo of my bedroom, aka, the kitchen.

Jenn’s beautiful photo of my bedroom, aka, the kitchen.

The outdoor dining area came to be known as the Depression Table, for its tendency to make the women talk about deep and serious things.

The outdoor dining area came to be known as the Depression Table, for its tendency to make the women talk about deep and serious things.

That night was just a lot of talking. And a lot of tequila and rum. We discussed the events of the day. That is where the legend of The Pelican truly began to take shape.

During the drive, Brian had revealed that some people refer to him as “The Pelican.”

Neither Joy, nor I, who have known him for 20 years, have ever heard him referred to as “The Pelican.”His wife has never heard anyone call him this. But, Brian insists that it’s true. It has something to do with his golfing buddies.

Regardless of how it originated, for the remainder of our time in Montezuma, Brian became a sort of mythic, Godfather-type character in my mind. Whenever something went wrong in a restaurant or if there was a traffic jam, we joked that the townspeople were like, “We are so sorry for the inconvenience, Pelican…” “Don’t you know who that is? It’s The Pelican.” I picture him dressed in white linen suits and a fedora.

We spent quite a good bit of time sketching out the beginnings of Brian’s autobiography, Dangerous Beauty: The Pelican’s Story.

The next day, we set out to walk along Montezuma’s beach. We stopped off in town beforehand to set up the logistics for a horseback riding excursion . We signed up at a place called Zuma Tours. For some reason, it was incredibly complicated. The guy who was helping us (who we affectionately refer to as “Crazy Eyes,” or “Ojos Locos”) was either really stoned or just a little bit off, and there was a lot of confusion about where we would go, when we would be there, and how we would pay. But we finally got it figured out. The guy drew us a map that included something about a yellow gate and a panaderia (a bakery), and we agreed to be at the Indiana Horse Ranch at 8:30am.

With our horseback riding plans set for the next day, we set off for our beach hike. Alex had told us that about a 45-minute walk along the shore would get us away from the tourists and onto more secluded beaches. We set off, taking note of what else was on the beach, including a chi-chi looking restaurant and hotel called the Ylang Ylang Resort, where we thought we might have lunch later. And where we suspected we might run into some celebrities like Matt Damon

A little further down, we came upon this area with dozens of multicolored rocks stacked on top of each other, a la The Blair Witch Project.

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It turns out that the rock garden and plaque are in honor of a young Swedish couple named Olof “Nicolas” Wessberg and Karen Mogensen, who founded Costa Rica’s first national park, the Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.

According to Wikipedia, Nils and Karen moved to a farm just outside Montezuma in the 60s and became leaders in the local environmental movement as they fought against developers and big business to save what was left of the wild jungle. Sadly, Nicolas was murdered in 1974 by people who opposed his conservationist work.

This photo was stolen off the internet. This is the picture of Nicolas and Karen that appears on other educational signage near the beach.

This photo was stolen off the internet. It is the picture of Nicolas and Karen that appears on educational signage near the Montezuma beach.

(Incidentally, when we went to Cabo Blanco a few days later, these are the images of Nicolas and Karen on the memorial there):

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Later in the trip, I made Joy a sand sculpture of this bust of Karen Mogensen because she enjoyed it so much.

We kept walking, and walking. We went along the beach and then onto a shaded path in the tree cover. This was when Joy warned us that Chris likes to push for a little more physical exertion than one might be hoping for on vacation. He kept saying, “Just a little further” Just around that bend” “Let’s just see what’s over this hill here…” Before we knew it, we were working out.

This was when we realized what we were in for. It was like he was a personal trainer who fools you into thinking you’re having fun, when really he is interspersing cardio with quick, muscle-building exercises. We had all been duped into a Chris Parkes Fitness Vacation.

Thankfully, he took it easy on us that day and we ended up at a nice beach where we lounged about in the tide pools.

We like to call this "plunge pool south"

We like to call this “plunge pool south”

The next day, we got up early and made our way to the Indiana Ranch for horseback riding. Unfortunately, the map made no sense because one of the main landmarks we were meant to use—the panaderia—did not actually exist. And the yellow gate we were supposed to be looking for was on the wrong side of the road. But somehow, we backtracked and managed to find it.

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The ranch was owned by an American woman who operates a veterinary practice in the nearby town of Santa Teresa. We felt this was a good sign that the horses were well cared for. Our guides were an American man named Lee and a local named Rigo.

They led us on a leisurely ride up the country roads from the ranch, through a small town, and into a wide open meadow. We then tied up our horses and walked down some very steep “stairs” built into a hillside that led us to a small waterfall. We swam and ate pineapple.

There was a rope swing that you could use to jump from the rocks into the water. Rigo showed us how it was done, and then Chris did it. I’ve never been one for jumping off sharp rocks into waters of unknown depth, but I thought it was time to face my fear. There was a moment as I was dangling over the water that I wasn’t sure if I could let go. But that is the only rule of using the rope swing: You MUST let go. I did it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it much.

We got back on our horses and headed back toward the Indiana Ranch. Jenn and I tried to chat up Rigo using our beginner’s Spanish, but he wasn’t really a chatty kind of guy. I managed to get out of him that his horse’s name was Orion, although it took him saying it about a dozen times and then Jenn translating for me to get it. Jenn said she tried to ask him some questions, but he just basically didn’t respond.

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That’s me riding my horse, Nativo, who was pretty fun and not a big jerk like the last horse I rode. With Rigo assisting.

As we were driving away from the ranch, we joked that Rigo was going to pull Brian aside and say, “Pelican, why are your women speaking to me?”

Stay tuned for Vol. 4 where the guys go fishing, the ladies have psychic massages and the gang meets an adorable Frenchman who cannot for the life of him pronounce the name of a certain leafy green vegetable.

**Thank you, once again, to Jenn Superka for letting me use her photos. There’s the one of the sunset on the boat, which, actually, Brian must have taken. Thanks, Pelican. Then there’s the horseback riding shots, the monkey, Liam, Plunge Pool South, and the lovely shot of my bedroom.

Hiking with Dad

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Toward the end of our first hike together in a long while, my dad asked if I ever regret not getting married.

We were back on the asphalt after four hours in the wilderness, walking the final stretch to our parking space, way down in the Day Use Lot, which Dad said would have seemed unbearably far from the trailhead back when he and his brothers first started coming up here 25 years ago, when barely anyone knew about this place yet.

I said no, I don’t regret it, mostly because of what I have learned about relationships since calling off my wedding five years ago. I have dated rich guys, poor guys, train-hoppers, musicians, writers, a painter, a chef, the VP of an ad agency, an evangelical Christian, a Muslim, an amputee, and lots of other dudes with lots of other things that made each of them unique. What I learned was that none of that stuff matters. Not money, or physical perfection, or even religion. What matters is that soul connection—humor, laughter, communication, trust.

Dad: “I guess we’ll just find you a one-armed, homeless Muslim and you’ll be all set then.”

This is the kind of wisdom you get on a Friday hike with Dad.

We left the house around 9:30 a.m., cutting across the Diagonal, past Coot Lake, where the roads are called Niwot and Neva and Nebo. We went up James Canyon, through Ward, the kind of funky little mountain town where things are just a little too rusted out and broke down to be quaint. The charm in a place like Ward lies in the freedom to live however you want to, I suppose.

The sun was already blazing and there wasn’t a significant cloud on the horizon when we arrived at Brainard Lake and bought a $10 day pass from the salty old ranger woman, who nonetheless told us to keep our “eyes on the skies.”

Dad had packed us a lunch of turkey sandwiches, chips, Sweet Cajun Fire trailmix, and yogurt-covered pretzels. We sat on the hillside just above Lake Isabelle, and Dad told me about a time long ago when he and his brothers tried to take the trail further beyond the tree line, up to the ice field on Isabelle Glacier. None of them had done much serious hiking then; they were eager and enthusiastic, until they found themselves stuck on the rocky slope as the sun started to set, and their excitement turned to fear. They eventually made it down, but they still talk about it to this day.

Dad’s older brother, Dave, has become a kind of shaman, an evangelical from the church of the mountain. For Dad and Dave, these hikes are like spiritual pilgrimages. They don’t rack up 14’ers or trudge road bikes up the twisty roads just to prove they can. It’s not about speed, endurance, or fancy gear. It’s about tapping into the deeper wisdom of the natural world.

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On the way back, as we crossed over a sparkling creek, Dad bent down and submerged his bandana in the water. “This is what we call BDT,” he said. “Bandana Dipping Time.” IMG_3435

A little while later, we met a family on the trail. The wife asked Dad if he spoke Japanese, and if he knew what the writing on his bandana meant.

Dad said no, but he heard that the same kind are worn by street vendors in Japan who sell ice cream and cold treats. “So, every once in a while,” Dad told the woman, “someone will look at me like, ‘Hey, you got a Sno Cone for me, or what?’”

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The bluebird skies started to turn to gray, and thunder followed us down the mountain. Dad joked around like he was afraid, but he wasn’t. When you’ve been coming up here as long as he has, you know how to watch the skies.

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These wooden paths remind him of the moving walkways at the airport.

We took the scenic route back, around Long Lake, where every vista was more beautiful than the last. The bark on the trees looked silver under the muted light of the rainclouds and their insides burned orange and gold.

We talked about the husband I haven’t met yet.

Dad said, “You know, he’s not just going to materialize out of thin air. He is out there somewhere right now, walking around, not knowing that he is looking for you and that you are looking for him.”

“I know, I know,” I said, but I must have still seemed skeptical.

“Don’t worry,” Dad joked. “This will all make a lot more sense when the ‘shrooms kick in.”

Portland finale: hiking and floating

I’m getting on the bus to Seattle today and guess what? It’s raining! But yesterday was “sunny.”

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So, I walked around the Hawthorne neighborhood and took in some sights, like this rad literary giants mural:

rad muralHere are the close-ups:

woolfe agatha wright fyodor wilde tennessee plathIn honor of Sylvia, I went down the street and got this avocado “bubble tea” smoothie:

IMG_1224Then there was this:

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I was extremely lucky to have a local (and mother of my beautiful friend Kate B.) take me out to the Columbia River Gorge for some hiking. I’m not qualified to say it is THE most beautiful place in the world, but it is sure up there in my book:

IMG_1178 IMG_1183 IMG_1186 IMG_1189 IMG_1194 IMG_1198 And I walked across this bridge…

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Even though there was this warning:IMG_1204

Finally, last night I tried out Portland’s version of an Austin-style taqueria:

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grammaNot bad, Portland. It’s no Taco Deli, El Chilito, or Torchy’s, but not bad

For my big finale, and continuing the spirit of adventure, I scheduled an appointment at a place called “Float On.”

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The idea is that you get inside this big tank full of SUPER salty water (60% saltier than the Dead Sea). The high salt content allows you to float, completely effortlessly. It’s the closest thing to zero-gravity that most of us civilians can get. It is absolutely dark and silent inside the tank, and your spine is able to totally let go of all the stress associated with walking, standing, and holding itself up. Supposedly it’s really good for the nervous system too. The guy told me that float tanks were originally developed by the military as a potential torture, but when the test subjects got out, instead of being stressed, they were all blissed out and zen. I floated for 90 minutes in this bad boy:

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My only suggestion is that you shouldn’t eat oniony tacos before locking yourself in a pot of salty water for an hour and a half. I felt like the French chefs in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Austin greatest hits: what to do

Nature and stuff


Before I had my bike, my favorite thing to do on a day off was to walk all the way down the Shoal Creek path from around 38th St. to Lady Bird Lake (and then take the bus home because I would be fucking exhausted.) The path has many phases, at times beautiful and solitary, at times crowded with dogs and  runners, at times strange and sad—like when you read the historical markers describing pioneer girls abducted by Indians, and you feel sad for both the girl and the Indians.

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Are you kidding me, Hamilton Pool? You are amazing.

But the main attraction in the Texas sunshine is definitely swimming. I am totally spoiled by Barton Springs and Hamilton Pool. I doubt if I will ever be satisfied with a regular old chlorinated pool again.

Farm culture

Austin has an amazing community of sustainable food advocates and farmers. The East Austin Urban Farm Tour was well worth the money. I was part of Farmhouse Delivery’s CSA for a while and loved it. I also got really into cooking, and the Farmhouse Delivery folks put out a beautiful recipe blog.

Yoga with AdrieneYoga

During the summer, there is free yoga outside Barton Springs on Saturday mornings. If you are affiliated with UT, you can go to the University Yoga Club, which is also free and takes place every Thursday on campus. It is very chill and includes meditation. But my absolute favorite is Yoga With Adriene at Salvage Vanguard Theater. Adriene is so gracious and compassionate and her classes are always fun. Case in point: she once did an entire class based on TLC’s album “crazysexycool.” Check out her web series!

Writing & Literature

Bookpeople gets just about any author who you would want to see in the store at one time or another, so it is definitely worth watching their calendar. I worked on the events staff for a while and I was always impressed by the quality of the authors. I also enjoyed the Texas Book Festival, where I saw people like Russell Banks and Colson Whitehead, and the Texas Observer Writers Festival, where I saw Jim Lehrer and my literary crush, Jake Silverstein, the editor of Texas Monthly.

la-ca-jc-manuel-gonzales-20130106-001As for writing, I took an adult writing workshop at Austin Bat Cave with ABC’s executive director, Manuel Gonzales, who was recently profiled in the Chronicle. Manuel was one of the best writing teachers I have ever had. He struck a perfect balance between challenging and encouraging us. If I get into an MFA program, it will be in part due to my workshop with Manuel. And if I don’t get in, I blame him too. Haha.

OrlandoSports & Leisure
Even though it is hot as balls, Austin is still a super sporty town. I joined a beginning running group with Rogue Running that almost made me forget how much I fucking hate running. And as a UT employee, I was able to take adult swimming lessons at Gregory Gym, where I kinda (sorta) learned how to swim laps. But the best was Absolute Beginning Ballet with Orlando Canova at Ballet Austin. Picture the sassiest person you’ve ever met. Then multiply that by 10 and remove any sort of political correctness filter. Then put him in charge of teaching 25 adult women how to do ballet. It was hilarious, and it finally satisfied my unfulfilled childhood desire to be a ballerina. Because now I understand that ballet is for masochists.

The rest of my time in Austin was pretty much spent working, drinking, or watching movies. I used to rent five movies at a time from the Faulk library, where they have a highly respectable collection. The other best place for movies is obviously I Luv Video. Free beer on Tuesdays and every weirdo, classic, avant garde movie you could ever want? And messages like this on the marquee?

I love video

Forget about it.

Please don’t kill me with your vehicle

Believe it or not, I usually get through most of my day without anyone trying to mortally wound, or even maim me. Which makes sense, as I am not an international spy, a drug dealer, a cow, a chicken, or anything else that routinely faces imminent death. But for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening when I am on my bicycle, I get the distinct feeling that the very sight of me sends everyone in a car into a homicidal rage. They rev their engines, honk their horns, come within inches of sideswiping me, swerve in front of me, and just generally act like they hate my fucking guts.

This hurts my feelings. I am a perfectly nice woman. I hold doors open for people. I make sincere small talk with strangers. I let people cut in line if they are in a hurry. I am fairly certain it isn’t me personally, because these same potential vehicular manslaughterers are sweet as pie when I see them outside of their cars (unless I see them at the grocery store, where they are flatulent dickbags who should just get the fuck out of my way and let me use the produce scanner).

Is there some kind of bicycle hatred pheromone that is only released when I start to pedal? Is it the maddening rotation of my bike tires that whips drivers into a venomous frenzy?

Whenever possible, I try to make eye contact with these folks, much like I imagine a gazelle looking into the eyes of the lion who is about to take a big chomp into its jugular. This way, at least there is a moment of karmic acknowledgement that a much larger, more aggressive, and more physically powerful thing has just taken me down.

Except the lion eats the gazelle for dinner, and these people are just worried they will miss the first five minutes of American Idol.

Perhaps I would understand the whole situation better, if in fact, they planned to strap me to the back of their enormous fucking trucks, make steaks out of me, turn the rest into jerky, and hang my head in their den.

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I commuted several hours a day for years, so, believe me, I understand road rage. You don’t exactly know why you are so angry. All you know is that you FUCKING HATE EVERYONE AND IT IS ALL THEIR FAULT. Well, shit. Maybe you are right. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why you might hate a tiny little woman on a bicycle:

1) Because you had to slow down. First of all, no offense, but you were probably going too fast anyway. Especially on the residential streets where I ride. There is a reason why speed limits are low in places where kids or animals might accidentally dart into the road. If you want to drive fast, then get on the highway. Oh, right, you will end up sitting in traffic on the highway. I guess you should be glad that I only slowed you down for one or two blocks.

2) Because some bicyclists are assholes and do dangerous things. Well, fuck, man. I don’t like those shitheads anymore than you do. Just as you may not be the kind of driver who purposely cuts off a bicyclist, I am not the cyclist who rides stealth with no lights in the middle of the night, darts in front of you, and throws an empty PBR can at your windshield. An asshole is an asshole. Let’s not judge each other by the worst examples of our kind.

3) Because cyclists are elitist and judgmental, and they don’t understand that some people can’t commute by bike. It is obviously not fair to judge anyone whose health or other circumstances make it impossible to ride a bike instead of driving a car. However, it seems to me that car commuters should be grateful to bike commuters who can and who choose to lessen their carbon footprint. Like it or not, a person on a bike is doing a helluva lot less damage to the environment and “reducing our dependence on foreign oil” if you care about that kind of shit, so show a little respect for the sacrifices and the effort it took for that person to ride instead of drive.

4) Because cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road. I am guilty of not stopping completely at every stop sign, but let’s be reasonable. If I approach a stop sign where a car has obviously gotten there before me, I will stop and wait for that car to go. However, if I get to the stop sign first (or it is clear that I would have gotten to it first), then I take some liberties with being able to keep my momentum and not come to a full and complete stop. Especially if I am going uphill. I know this isn’t technically fair to drivers who have to stop completely, but the amount of effort it takes me to stop and start again is equivalent to propelling ALL of my body weight forward, while the amount of effort it takes you to stop your car is this (makes small motion with one foot).

Please try to have just a little bit of compassion for the fact that I am lugging all of my daily necessities through blazing heat, humidity, rain, and wind while being harassed by arrogant, self-absorbed buttholes who are trying to run me off the road. Meanwhile, you are sitting comfortably in your temperature-controlled car, barely paying attention as you text and listen to the radio and eat the stray french fries that have fallen out of their cardboard container and into the bag.

So, to sum up: I think we will both be happier in the long run if you don’t kill me with your vehicle. Thanks a bunch. See you on the road, you murderous maniac who looks like a nice little grandma but who is actually the minion of the devil himself. Unless I see you at the grocery store first, in which case, GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY. I AM TRYING TO BUY SOME BANANAS.