Monthly Archives: July 2007

Gray’s Anatomy

One popular leisure activity during summer months here in Colorado is hiking to the tops of 14,000+ foot high mountains. For Denver residents, this is a (relatively) easy undertaking, since there are several 14ers within an hour or so drive from the city, and there are umpteen books and websites describing various hiking trails to get one to the top of said mountains.

Yes, I said 14,000+ foot high mountains. Many of you may know that Denver’s nickname is the mile-high city, meaning the official altitude is 5,280 feet above sea level – a bit lower than that of Santa Fe, but significantly higher than the capitols of most states. This means that, in climbing a 14er, a Denver dweller will ascend approximately 9,000 feet in just a few hours, in driving to the trailhead and hiking the mountain. I don’t know how many of you have visited altitude while living at sea level, but let’s just say that altitude can have an interesting effect on one’s physical and mental health (it’s a lot easier to get drunk, for one thing, which has the correlating effect of enabling Dan and I to drink like rock stars when we visit sea level). The first time I visited Colorado we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park my first day here and drove to the parking lot near the top of a 12,000+ foot peak, then hiked the rest of the path to the top. I was considerably loopy that day, being completely unused to altitude, and that evening at dinner I was off my rocker having consumed 1/3 of a glass of wine.
Aww, aren’t I cute? This was August of 2001.
Here’s Dan on the same day.

So climbing a 14er can be a bit of an undertaking just in the unforseen effects altitude can have. There’s a reason why John Denver sang about a Rocky Mountain High – the most common symptom of altitude I get is a brain high from the lack of oxygen. One can also get cramps of various sorts, nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue, and muscle weakness, among many other things, and this can happen to people who live in Denver or even in the foothills – you never know what altitude might do to you on any given day. So when one prepares to climb a 14er, one must be prepared for any or all of these things to occur.

One must also prepare for other things – you need to bring a lot of water and some food, since you’re burning a lot of calories when you hike. You need to be prepared for sudden weather of all types, since the one predictable thing about 14ers is their unpredicability. It can be the end of July and you can have a snowstorm, rain, hail, thunder and lightning, all just minutes after the sky was clear and blue and beautiful. There’s just no way to know. Therefore, climbing a 14er can be a bit of a gamble, since you never know what your body or the weather might do. It’s part of the challenge, part of the adventure – will we make it to the top today?

Most 14ers are inaccessible for the majority of the year to people who are inexperienced. One can need some serious equipment to tackle some of the more challenging mountains, since they’re covered in ice and snow about 10 months out of the year. Most of us try to get in our 14er climbing during the two months where you’re more likely to have clear trails and decent weather (at least before noon), so during that brief period of time, the trails can be pretty crowded on weekends. Some of the easier trails (and by easier, I mean mostly just hiking and not a lot of rock climbing) can have lots of dogs and/or kids. Dan, for example, summited Gray’s Peak when he was 8 years old.

The best precaution (and most conventional wisdom) surrounding the climbing 14ers is to be off the summit by noon. This means one needs to hike up the mountain in time to be able to start hiking down by noon, since afternoon is when storms are most likely to occur. Let’s just say that it is extraordinarily unfun to get stuck at the top of a 14er during a lightning storm, since you are thousands of feet above treeline and usually have no cover to protect you from the storm. This also means that one must wake up at the buttcrack of dawn to drive to whichever hiking trail one will be using and start the hike in time to get to the halfway point (the top) before noon. Some trails on some peaks are longer than others, so some people actually start the hike one day, stay overnight, and finish the hike the next morning before coming down. Some trails are short enough that people can start hiking at 8 or 9 AM and still start back down before noon (depending on how fast one can hike, and how difficult the trail might be – like I said, you never know what might happen at altitude so it’s better to assume you’ll be slower than faster) – but this still means you have to get up early, get in the car, drive to the trailhead and start up the trail before a lot of people even wake up on a weekend.

This past Sunday, we got up at 6 AM, having packed and filled our camelbacks the night before. We blearily ate bowls of cereal, put our hiking boots/shoes in the car, and drove west on I70 for a while until we got to a road that would lead us to the trailhead for Gray’s Peak. Our plan was to summit both Gray’s and Torrey’s peaks (one can do both in one day, since there’s a half-mile-long trail between both summits). Our plan was also to drive to the trailhead, but it had been a few years since we drove that road and it’s much worse than it used to be. We got only a little way before having to turn Moxie around and park at the base of the road. Dejected, we decided that we probably wouldn’t get to summit both peaks that day since we wouldn’t have enough time, but we gamely began to hike up the rutty, bumpy, muddy 3-mile-long road to get to the trailhead.

Luckily, someone took pity on us when we’d hiked about a mile up the road, and we hopped in the back of their truck only to find 5 other people in the same boat. The seven of us shared a short adventure in the truck and were very grateful when we were deposited at the trailhead with plenty of time to begin our hike. We started up the trail right away. My hiking style is the opposite of Dan’s – I hike in short, fast bursts and then stop, burst and stop, while he hikes slowly and steadily. So in effect, I end up waiting for him, hiking ahead, waiting, etc. It usually all works out (eventually) but on Sunday Dan realized after we’d only gone a short way that he wasn’t feeling especially well – the altitude started to bother him. That particular trail up Gray’s is about 4 miles long, during which time one ascends about 3600 feet in altitude, which means one STARTS the trail at over 10,000 feet – it’s not exactly easy to hike uphill starting at 10K feet, even if one lives in Denver. I kept asking him if he was OK, and he kept saying he wasn’t sure but that he wanted to keep going. Eventually even I ran out of my freakish altitude-induced energy and had to eat something to stave off the nausea that’s the second altitude symptom I generally experience.

The halfway point on the hike is marked with a sign that tells you that you are 2 miles from the summit of Gray’s and the estimated hiking time from that point is 1.2 hours. I suppose if you’re in really really good shape and climb 14ers all the time you might make the summit in that amount of time, but I doubt most people do – we generally give ourselves an hour for each mile, just to be on the safe side, but the first two miles of the trail weren’t too bad (of course, we were climbing UP but it wasn’t as bad as the second part of the trail). The third mile is somewhat more difficult, and of course all physical activity becomes more difficult as one climbs in altitude since the air is so much thinner and it becomes harder to get enough oxygen. We saw big groups of kids, lots of dogs, lots of people of all ages on our hike, and by the time we’d finished 3 miles I was pretty sure Dan wouldn’t be able to make it to the summit that day. Especially because the trail became less of a hiking trail and more of a “scrambling over rock that has some dirt here and there” trail.

I turned around at one point and could see how exhausted and miserable he was and waited the few minutes for him to catch up with me. We decided that if he was having that hard of a time during that part of the hike that it wouldn’t make any sense to summit and then have to come back DOWN the mile of rock (down is much more difficult than up on the rocky bits) and then down another over 3 miles to the trailhead – and then possibly down another 3 miles to the car if we didn’t find someone willing to give us a ride to the bottom. We’d probably made it 3.5 miles of the 4 mile trail to the summit of Gray’s, but it wasn’t worth what it would have taken out of him (or worth risking further illness or injury due to exhaustion/altitude) to summit that day. As soon as we turned around and started back down, he seemed to feel a little better, and we both felt better once we got back to the part of the trail that was actually trail-like. We headed for a grassy area and had a little mid-morning picnic, since it was about 10:30 AM at that point.

I hadn’t taken any pictures on the way up the trail, being too focused on making my body do what I wanted it to do despite it telling me it didn’t have nearly enough oxygen to do those things. But during our picnic, and on the trip back down the mountain, I took lots. We passed some amazing scenery and some gorgeous fields of wildflowers – all taking advantage of the super-short mountain summer to bloom their fool heads off. The trail took us through mountain willow (sort of a scrubby plant) and all the way back down to the treeline where the trailhead begins. We sat a bit and rested, then continued down the road until a passing car stopped to pick us up, and we had a nice conversation with some strange people who also like to hike until we got to the bottom of the road. It was 12:30. We drove back to Denver, showered, and took naps and decided to be lazy for the rest of the day. Our hike, while it didn’t include the summit of a 14er, was still a success, and was plenty of exercise for a Sunday morning.

Quarter Century

Today my sister turns 25. I hope the next year of her life brings joy and adventure.

Happy birthday, Lissa!

What I’ve been waiting for

Summer in Colorado is supposed to be hot. It is supposed to be dry, and there are supposed to be afternoon thunderstorms most afternoons that cool things off for the evening. Sure, there can be a week here and there where it doesn’t storm, so it stays hot even at night, but that usually only goes on for a few days before the next storm develops.

This summer has been different. It’s been mostly consistently hot since mid-June. We haven’t really had any breaks, and the few thunderstorms that have come around haven’t cooled things down. We haven’t gotten rain. I’ve been waiting for WEEKS for the weather to break, for the afternoon thunderstorms to bring rain and cool down the inside of our house. It’s been over 80 degrees even in the middle of the night in our house because the temperature outside hasn’t dropped below that in at least six weeks.

Last night, it dropped a bit; we got a tiny storm with about 18 drops of rain, and today was cloudy and somewhat cooler. As I walked home this afternoon, the sky began to darken and I could feel the pressure change in my sinuses, so I had great hopes that we’d finally get the big thunderstorm that’s been due for weeks now. Finally, my hopes were realized as a large clap of thunder followed the lightning out the window at 5:20. Then, the rains came, in great sheets, soaking the parched ground and running off down the street. Loud booms and claps continued, and flashes, and the kitties turned into bottle-brushes and raced around the house in both anxiety and excitement. Finally, finally, it is raining and thundering and lightninging and BOOM!ing for long, rolling seconds. I loves me some thunder/lightning, just as I still love the snow, both weather conditions being unusual to my place of origin. Our yard is going to be so much happier from the temperature drop and the water. It’s 5 after six and the rain is still coming down, the thunder is still BOOM!ing, and the temperature in our apartment’s down to about 75 degrees. Finally, I am happy.


Petra perches on paper, but won’t stop moving


Loki decides he is unconcerned, because he is the devil.

Wet garden. You can see our tomatoes, peppers, basil and marigolds.

More True and False

Which of the following statements is the lie?

1. Since toddlerhood, my hair has never been shorter than my shoulders.

2. I have one appendix, two wisdom teeth, and no tonsils.

3. My first dog “sang” on command.

4. I went an entire year without eating meat.

5. My ancestry is (to my knowledge) entirely European.

6. I didn’t eat macaroni and cheese from a box until I was ten years old.

7. When I was little, my favorite color was yellow; I never liked pink/purple.

So which one is it? First to guess right wins 8 gold stars.

That Girl goes to my gym

One of the reasons I like my gym so much is the variety of people (ages, body types, interests) who use it. I see teenage boys lifting weights, trying to build impressive muscle, and I see geriatric women with no qualms about walking around the locker room in the altogether, boobs and bellies showing what gravity does after so many years on the planet. I figure that as long as people are there to work out and not “see and be seen” like some gyms I’ve been to in the past, it’s all good – nobody has ever made me feel uncomfortable or tried to pick me up. It’s a big mishmash at my gym, and there are pretty people as well as us regular shlubs, but I don’t feel bad about myself around them because they’re not showing off, they just have nice bodies because they work out a lot.

I’ve written before about my own body image, and the concept of body image in general. I’ve also written about my fascination with a website showing what women’s bodies look like during and after pregnancy, and how drastically some women change. However, some women’s bodies seem to look exactly the same shortly after giving birth – most of the ones we see like that are Hollywood celebrities who have nannies, personal trainers, personal chefs, and have time to sculpt their bodies back to pre-baby size and shape. People are astounded, it seems, by how little time it takes some celebrities to get their “pre-baby” bodies back, as unusual as that is it seems to be a) unfairly represented by movie-star types (even the ones who have twins! Even the ones who are older! coughMarciaCrosscough.) and b) seemingly impossible to attain unless you’ve got a staff. On the one hand, yeah, it’s pretty unusual to bounce back as quickly as most Hollywood types seem to do. On the other hand, their bodies have to look good, the sooner the better, or else they won’t work, because that’s reality in CelebLand. So they hire people to get themselves looking good again, or they have plastic surgery, or both.

However, today I saw That Girl at my gym. Several months ago, I started seeing her in the locker room and sometimes on the weight machines. I didn’t realize for a few weeks that hey, her belly was getting a little bigger and her size x-small t-shirt was pooching out a little. Then in the dressing room I saw her putting on what were obviously maternity pants (they had one of those elastic band thingies at the top). I continued to see her here and there, tiny belly growing a bit more each time, but the rest of her looked exactly the same as it had before the belly had begun to expand. I vary my gym times, even though I go at least 4 days a week, but I’ve been going for nearly three years and I’ve come to recognize the other gym rats, even if they don’t always go exactly when I do. This girl disappeared for a month or so, and I didn’t think much of it because I wasn’t always there between 1 and 2 on Tuesdays and Thursdays which is when I used to see her. I figured she was getting bigger and that eventually I’d see her back in the gym.

I saw her today. She had no belly. Her body was taught and toned, and if I hadn’t seen her obviously pregnant a couple of months ago, I would never have known. I have no idea when she had her baby, or what the circumstances under which she lives that she’s able to regularly go to the gym in the middle of the day with (presumably) an infant at home. Perhaps I just don’t know what I’m talking about; maybe she was a surrogate mom, or maybe she gave her baby up for adoption. Maybe she had a late-term miscarriage. Whatever the circumstances, I gotta say, she is the living proof that some women have bodies that magically bounce back after pregnancy in a frighteningly short amount of time. I don’t know her and have never talked to her, and I’d never presume to ask her about her reproductive history or how she came to look unpregnant so soon after being pregnant. Maybe the last time I saw her she was 9 months pregnant despite looking about six (the rest of her is quite small) and so there wasn’t a whole lot of bouncing back to do. I only hope that I look as good as she does within a year of giving birth (should I decide to do that)(well, I’ll probably never look as she does, because I’m not 5’3 and 120 lean pounds), and she seems to have managed to do it in a scant month or two. So I guess they do exist, those women who can wear bikinis or tight gym clothes only weeks after giving birth. Something tells me, however, that I’m not likely to have won that particularly rare genetic lottery.

Assortment

I had my 6-month dental checkup and cleaning yesterday.

Good news: For the first time I can ever remember, I have no new cavities. My dental hygenist praised my brushing and flossing and claimed I had no plaque and my gums looked great.
Bad news: I probably have a cracked tooth. I have to see an endodontist to get a second opinion, but if it is cracked it will likely need a crown. Not that I have the money for yet another crown, but I’m also sick of only chewing on one side of my mouth.

My Show: SYTYCD was on last night, and yes, I read the spoilers religiously, so I already knew what kind of dances the partners had and what the judges comments were. I watch the show for the dancing, and I wasn’t terribly disappointed last night. I really liked 3 of the dances and thought 2 were terrible and one was just bizarre (plus, the weird one was danced by my least-favorite couple). Unfortunately, people vote based on likeability or popularity or something rather than based on talent, so I have no faith in the voting tweeny public to keep the right couples safe and the crappy couples in the bottom 3. However, I guess if I really cared enough I’d get off my bum and vote my own self, which ain’t never going to happen.

This weekend: We went on a hike in Evergreen (the foothills) because Dan had new hiking boots and wanted to break them in a bit before he tries a 14er in them. We got rained on and thundered and lightninged on, but most of the hike was really nice, plus it was an up-down-up-down hike (meaning up-down-up-down back) and my legs got a great workout. It was billed as a waterfall hike, but as you can see, there wasn’t much water to be falling. We did see a cool rock that looked like a dragon, though.

Finally: Harry Potter. First, I’m totally pissed that someone leaked it on the internets days in advance. Now I have to avoid all kinds of media (because, apparently, the New York Times wrote an article about the leak and included spoilers in the article!) until at least Monday, because we’re only buying one and Dan gets to read it first. I read really fast, so maybe I can get it done on Sunday if he reads it Saturday, but that means no hiking and no doing anything, just an entire weekend of reading book 7 – me on tenterhooks Saturday watching him read, and him wanting to discuss it with me on Sunday and having to wait until I’m finished. I am so afraid that I’m going to be spoiled and I really, really don’t want to be. Spoil me on a reality show, sure, because I have no investment in that. But I want to read every bit of HP7 for myself and I don’t want to find out beforehand what happens.

He blinded me with science!

A few weeks ago, I turned on the TV because I was mildly curious about a one-off show listed on tvguide.com. The premise of the show was sort of “The Bachelor” meets arranged dating – some guy was given 50 potential women to date, and narrowed them down by stating a few preferences about the women he likes, then the 5 finalists were paraded in front of him and he chose 3 to speak to. After he spoke to the 3, he got to pick one to go on a date with and see if some sort of spark occurred. The twist (because there always has to be a twist) was that the show had retained all these experts in various fields (handwriting analysis, psychology, etc.) to test the guy beforehand to determine his actual (not stated) preferences and then narrowed a pool of 50,000 (so they said) to one woman who Science felt would be his perfect match. After the guy went on a date with the girl he chose, doing activities he chose, he then went on a date with the woman that science picked, doing activities picked by the show to facilitate falling in love.

I know, it sounds really dumb. Mostly I was intrigued to learn what sorts of things “science” feels are more likely to make people fall in love with one another. The manufactured date had things like experiencing an adrenaline-inducing event (bungee jumping), eating aphrodesiac foods, “gazing into one another’s eyes for x amount of time”. The date the guy planned himself had a trip to a football stadium to toss a ball around, dinner, and dancing at a club. He liked both the girls, but ultimately decided on the one the show had picked for him, despite her marked differences from his stated preferences (the show decided they knew his preferences better than he did). I wasn’t surprised in the least and it wasn’t just because the girl he had picked himself was kind of bitchy. Because it was pretty obvious that the different events of the manufactured date were having their intended effects on the guy and the show-picked girl (who kind of looked like Scarlett Johanson if ScarJo were a drag queen) – maybe it was just the editing, but it’s pretty clear when two people have chemistry, and the chemistry is made that much more obvious when the events increase it.

I think there’s something to be said for what “science” has determined are likely events to get people to fall in love (or at least in lust). Many years ago, I personally experienced a time when I was away from home and out of my element, met someone, had a whirlwind romance with an amazing connection to him, had all sorts of adventures together, and then went back to the real world, in which we were obviously not right for each other as a long-term couple (He was a Christian Republican cowboy country singer. Yeah. But it was really fun while it lasted, and we were good friends for years afterward.) The connection we felt was strong and mutual, and developed over the course of only a few days while we first traveled together. In that experience, both of us being away from our real lives and the real world, surrounded by new and strange things, the connection was forged far faster than it would have been back in real life. For me, “travel in a strange place” is one of those adrenaline-inducing situations, and looking back on my experience, I’m kind of surprised I didn’t fall for the first guy I met on the trip!

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for old-fashioned courtship. Dan’s and my relationship began online, exchanging instant messages (and then having phone conversations), all without ever seeing one another in person for months. It was kind of the modern version of the courtship-by-letter that people used to have (and quite a few actual letters were exchanged as well during the long-distance portion of our relationship). By the time we met in person, the only thing left to be determined was whether we’d have real-life chemistry – usually the first thing you know about a potential partner, but not when that partner is 3 states away and still a virtual person. Turns out that we did, so all the falling for each other that got accomplished before we even met made for a very comfortable yet exciting first meeting. We spent the whole weekend (minus a few hours) together and it was like peas and carrots.

What nobody on that show mentioned was what happens after the falling in love part, after the initial rush of hormones and excitement. It’s really easy to fall for someone who isn’t the right person for you. It’s really easy to think that the heady rush at the beginning stages of getting to know a person is what will sustain a relationship long-term. Luckily for me, long-ago-boy and I were too logical to think that a real relationship would have worked between us, so left it as fond memory rather than trying to figure out how to overcome all our differences to “make it work.” Luckily for me, Dan and I were friends on the internets before we fell for each other, and had a pretty solid basis for a relationship before we even met in person. I fall in love with him all over again every time we travel together, every time we have new experiences together, and it’s sustained by all the day-to-day stuff of our relationship. I have a feeling that the TV is never going to show what happened to Mr. Dude and his Scientifically-Chosen Girl after the cameras turned off and the show stopped paying for the Scientifically-Determined Falling In Love Events. One day’s worth of adrenaline and chocolate strawberries probably will not a love match make.