With Dave on His Birthday.

This time last year, I was traveling to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro. It was my third international trip of 2013, so the wonder was a bit lost during the trip preparations. It took actually getting to the airport and getting a bag checked before I felt true excitement surrounding the trip. Before my mom and I sat down for a cup of coffee together before I entered security, I felt a sadness for leaving town on Dave’s very birthday. Even on the plane, I wrote, “This is my last big trip for a while. I want so much to be at home and to spend as much time with Dave as possible.” Now, a year later, I’m home with Dave. I got what I wanted, but I was wrong about one thing. Everything that’s happened with and around Dave during the last year has been the greatest trip I’ve ever taken.  Continue reading

Prepping for the Holidays.

I’m holding my breath a bit. There’s one thing happening at work that could cause the next week to be complete and utter hell. Or it could turn into absolutely nothing, and I could have a delightful week. I’ll know more tomorrow and obviously have a strong preference as to which way this turns out. I want to enjoy turning 40 on Sunday, celebrating Christmas, and my final preparations for Africa. Keep your fingers crossed for me, will you? Continue reading

Brad Pitt is Turning 50?

I read this morning that Brad Pitt is turning 50 in December. Huh? What? Mr. Sexy Abs and Dimples In A Cowboy Hat is turning 50?

I remember seeing Thelma & Louise in the Academy Building of Phillips Exeter Academy during my senior year of high school. I was taking a course called the Art of Protest taught by Christine Robinson, one of my favorite instructors, and watching the movie was our homework. (Yes, it was an incredible course for many reasons.) The movie had come out the year before and was new to me. I gushed when Brad Pitt came on screen wearing blue jeans, a cowboy hat, a gorgeous smile, and nothing else. What that man can do with a hair dryer still makes me blush.

To think that gorgeous young thing is turning 50…gives me hope.

Never once have I looked at a picture of Brad Pitt and thought, “Damn, that dude’s getting old.” Sometimes I’ve thought he looked strange or unnecessarily scraggly, but never, ever old. If anything, he’s more attractive now than he was in 1991. I love the lines on his face, the sometimes there ponytail, and the ever-changing facial hair. I love that he wears more clothes and sometimes has kids hanging on his back. I love that he’s grown a big family and become a humanitarian. He’s just stunning. And he’s 50.

I’ve been fretting the whole turning 40 thing since even before I turned 39. Why? Yes, I’m single and didn’t expect to be. But in every way, my life is a million times more meaningful than it was ten years ago. I have a job I enjoy that supports a wonderful lifestyle of freedom. I have another job writing, which feeds me in more ways than a paycheck ever could. I have a beautiful home in the country that I share with my beloved Bread and Butter. I have parents who love me more than life, and I have the most amazing friends – people I’m completely crazy about who support my goals and dreams. I get to travel the world racing. I’m faster now than I’ve ever been. I’m leaner now than I’ve ever been. And I was reminded this weekend that my story isn’t over. In fact, a new story is just beginning.

This weekend at the Storyline Conference, I started down a path of really looking at who I am, what I want, and what I have to offer the world. One part of the process is to do an inventory of personal experiences. That’s a hard thing because not everything I see in my past is beautiful. Some of it is downright heinous. But I was reminded this weekend of a little thing called redemption. I was reminded that I can look at the downturns in my life, identify something meaningful from each experience, and by doing so, turn that suffering into something useful and beautiful.

For the next couple of months, I’m going to continue the work I began in Nashville, and when I’m done, I hope to emerge with a plan for a new story for my life. I have some ideas of what some of the elements might be, but I’m excited to see what bigger, more clear picture comes out of the process. Whatever it is will be my gift to myself as I turn 40 in December just four days after Brad Pitt turns 50.

Then, one week after I turn 40, I will hop a plane to Africa to climb Kilimanjaro. When I get back, I will pick back up with my Ironman training and chase my dream of a fifth Ironman finish next June in Coeur d’Alene. I will continue to chase my dream of being published as an essayist. And I will go down the path of the plan that comes out of the Storyline Conference experience, whatever that path may be.

I have no doubt that, in December, when Brad Pitt turns 50 and I turn 40, I will look at him as a 50-year-old man and say, “You, Mr. Pitt, are way more sexy today than Mr. Sexy Abs and Dimples In A Cowboy Hat ever was.” And I will look at myself and say, “Hey, you in the mirror who enjoys traveling the world and pushing your limits and loving the people around you in big and beautiful ways, you are too.”

Three Months to Africa.

In three months, I’ll be getting on a flight to Tanzania for my Kilimanjaro climb and safari adventure. That feels so strange to say because Africa was never on my list of things to do. The idea just came to me one day in mid June as I was thinking about possible ways to spend new years, and I decided to follow my heart even though I thought my heart might be crazy.

The first thing I did was mention the idea to my friend Matt who has done the climb. This was Sunday, June 16, days before I was leaving to race Ironman Coeur d’Alene. My thought was to set up a lunch for when I got back, but Matt was so excited that he responded to my e-mail on Monday with, “You have lunch plans today?” I didn’t, so we had lunch, and his enthusiasm was so complete that I walked away from that lunch committed in my own mind about the effort. I got back to my office and immediately requested information from the outfitter that Matt had used. When I got back from Coeur d’Alene, I reviewed the information they sent me and, on June 29, I put down my deposit. Acting in 13 days is record time for me, as I am perhaps the slowest decision-maker on the planet. I suppose I could have walked away from the deposit, but on August 7, I bought my ticket. Then I was in for sure. On September 3, the outfitter charged my credit card for the balance of what I owed. Then I was in for damn sure.

Now I’m buying travel insurance, rescue insurance, and health insurance for the trip. I’m looking at immunization lists and gear lists. I’m trying to figure out what I have and what I need and what I want for this trip. How will I charge my phone and camera on the climb? What will I carry in my day pack? Will I take paper books or an e-reader? How much can I pack in the duffel bag that porters will carry for me? What do I need to buy and what can I borrow from friends?

My Grand Canyon trip has helped because I now have a day pack, sleeping bag, hat and gloves. Hood to Coast helped me because I now have a compact pillow and small travel towels. Matt has helped by loaning me his trekking poles, which have been up the mountain before. He assures me that they know the way! But I need to figure out the clothes, especially because most of what I own no longer fits me. I’ve lost almost 19 pounds since January, so I’m having to buy new pants all around. Even the pants I bought in July with Rey are getting loose. At some point, I’ll do a big REI trip to buy a bunch of clothes and gear. That will be a fun effort.

But logistics aside, it’s hitting me that I’m going to Africa, and I’m going alone. My first international trip (to Italy and Greece) was with a girlfriend and her family. My second (to Spain) was to meet my friend Erin, who was studying there for a semester. My third (England and Germany) was for an extended family reunion on my dad’s side. This will be only my fourth big trip, and I’m flying for over 24 hours alone to climb a mountain in Africa with five other people I’ve never met. The me of two years ago before I’d done any international travel would never have done this.

Who have I become?

I’m someone who is turning forty in less than three months and doesn’t want being forty and alone to feel like…well, the way I expect forty and alone to feel. I want to appreciate that I have a wonderful job that allows me travel. I want to take advantage of not having kids and not being responsible for anyone but myself. I want to enjoy being able to book a trip on a whim – or as close to a whim as I’ve ever come – and seeing it through. I love people and want someone by my side, but I also want to be completely okay with being just me.

Africa is about me doing something I never thought I would do. It’s about proving to myself that I can adapt to a different and challenging environment, that I can enter a foreign territory with no one holding my hand, and that I can battle my way up to any finish line I choose to face. It’s about me trying something new and having fun. Africa is about me enjoying being forty and being forty the best way I know how.

I’m excited. And a little scared. But mostly, I’m excited. I can’t wait to get on the plane. This experience will be all my own, and I have a feeling I will come back changed somehow. I don’t know how, but I suspect it’ll be for the better.

Africa, I have high hopes for you and for me. I can’t wait for us to meet.

Post-Race Activity.

How do you spend the first weekend after an Ironman event? With no eight-hour bike ride on the schedule and no need to be home particularly early on Friday night, I made a point of having some fun.

Last night, Erin, Jeanie and I went back to trapeze. The idea was that we would do a release move – that we would do exactly what we did last time but that we’d be caught in the air by another person. The thought of that terrified me, but I agreed to try. When we Trapezearrived at the new location, we saw that the trapeze was set up outdoors rather than indoors under a tent like last time. We also had a different group of instructors and six other people who were there as part of our class. They walked us over to the low hanging bar to practice our moves before heading up to the apparatus, and I froze. I could not for the life of me convince myself to get back up there, so I didn’t. I sat in the bleachers and took photos and videos of Jeanie and Erin while they and others performed. That felt right to me. I felt calm as soon as I made that decision, and since I’m trying to trust myself these days, I went with that feeling of calm. But Jeanie and Erin did the new moves and did beautifully. I’m so proud of these girls and in awe of their bravery and ability. As for me, maybe next time I’ll give it another try.

Trails

Then this morning, Jeanie and I met on Lady Bird Lake to walk. Yes, walk. I had my coffee and camera in hand, and we walked and talked and toured the newish boat house and took pictures and had a wonderful morning. Then we went to Austin Java for breakfast and more conversation. I love running and working hard, but I also love just being. This morning was exactly what I needed, and it was a treat to spend that time with my friend. Thank you, Jeanie, for spending the morning with me.

After my morning with Jeanie, I came to the office. I’m working a bit and then hope to catch up with another friend or two this weekend. Tomorrow I’ll gather with my Ironman crew for a post-race celebration poolside. All of this is good stuff for a first post-race weekend.

But I’m not just thinking about the weekend. I’m looking ahead now. That’s something I haven’t really done or wanted to do in a while, but I’m finally ready to think about what’s to come and how to make the most of it all.

I’ve mentioned before that I turn 40 this year. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to mark the occasion. My original plan had been a trip to Vienna, but I’ve decided to put that off for a bit. Instead, I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro. I’ve never been to Africa, and I’ve honestly never even had a desire to go to Africa. But I do love challenges, and I’m all for having new experiences and listening to my heart. Almost out of nowhere, my heart is telling me to go to Africa, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to spend my new years on the mountain, and after the climb, I’ll do a brief safari before returning home.

To say that I’m excited doesn’t adequately capture what I’m feeling. For the first time in months, I sit in joyful anticipation of the time ahead and the experiences it will bring. That, my friends, is a lovely place to be.

Going Places in 2013.

I didn’t plan it this way, but 2013 may be the year of travel.

I have three international trips planned. I’m going to Spain in March to see my friend Erin and run the Barcelona Marathon. I’m going to Germany in July for a family reunion. I’m going to Austria in October for an early celebration of my 40th birthday.

I also have a number of domestic trips planned. I’m going to Rochester, New York, in February to see an old friend and boarding school roommate. I’m doing an Ironman next year, so I’ll spend a week of June in Idaho. I have a reunion of dear childhood friends planned in Iowa for the first part of August. It’s also looking likely that I’ll be doing Hood to Coast at the end of August. Then just now, I got an email from my friend Jennifer about planning a trip for her 40th birthday. When and where that will be, I don’t know, but I plan to go.

Those are just the confirmed trips. I’m considering traveling to St. George in May for a half-Ironman. I have my eyes on an out-of-state marathon in December close to my actual birthday, but I won’t know until January if I can get in. I also suspect I’ll be traveling some to just see friends in various places.

That’s a lot, huh? Maybe 2013 is looking a bit better than I thought…