Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Descents Day 3: So, this is what you call a "Rest Day?"

Yoga is not my friend. It never has been. In my mind's eye, it would go something like this:

Or this:

So why, after knocking over co-workers at Cendant years ago at our lunch-time yoga wellness program session like dominoes, and all my previous attempts & fails at yoga before, I decided to join the yoga session on our 3rd day with an instructor named Pretzel, I couldn't tell you. Perhaps it was because I was so in the moment, and I had succeeded in suspending enough of my neuroses that I felt that I could conquer it.

I'm pleased to report that I didn't knock anyone down. But Pretzel's pace was too great for me to keep up with and her "modifications" weren't frequent enough for me to follow. I'd asked her before the class if she was going to include modifications, which she said she would, but me thinks her definition of "modifications" and mine were about as similar as chocolate and umami. But, that's ok. I had done enough Windsor pilates to be able to modify some of the poses well enough. Besides, thanks to Bethenny Frankel, I kept reminding myself that yoga is more about the breathing and feeling one with the breath than the actual poses themselves.

It wasn't until we got to some of the stretches of the chest and back, however, that I broke down. As many of my fellow teammates from my years in basketball, fencing, softball and even ballet can tell you, I've always been flexible from the waist up. I could hook my arms backwards and pull myself in all kinds of different directions. Before. Before the butchery.

However, as we held a simple stance, reached behind ourselves, grabbed our hands, and then had to stretch our clasped hands up, I felt a strange tugging and disconcerting shifting in my chest.


The implants. My pectorals. These fucking, G-d forsaken foreign objects that yield to no one, that have turned my pectoral muscles to the surface just below my skin, so that every twitch of the muscle causes a disgusting, gut-wrenching yank and pull and ripple in what had been my soft, supple cleavage. I could lift 100 pounds, and my breasts still looked feminine. Now, just stretching made me look like a roided up Arnold Schwartzenegger in the Mr. Olympia contest.

My primary goal of this adventure with First Descents was to try and feel like myself - something I haven't felt since my diagnosis. I hate my body for betraying me. I hate my body for falling apart. I hate my implants. I hate these stupid fake nipples with no sensation. I hate my skin that is in a constant state of tangible numbness. I hate it all.

I felt the tears start to fall, and I tried so hard to stick it out, but when I felt the onslaught of sobs, I had to bail. I tried, as quickly and quietly as possible, to run to the bathroom where I just let it go. I felt so defeated. I'd have slammed my fists to these false breasts repeatedly, beating them up, if there were any option to feel anything - even pain. But there wasn't any point - I wouldn't be able to feel anything. I couldn't do anything with them. And I couldn't feel anything with them. They simply fill in my dresses and bra cups. That's it. They are hollow, useless, and unattached, but attached, permanent accessories.

I broke down, curling up on the floor, breathless with grief. My breakfast to this point consisted of my coffee cup and now a serving of tear water and snot. I was mortified. I couldn't believe I abandoned the class. I couldn't forgive myself for not being stronger. I just wanted my cat, Sammy, to force me to play with him and out of this funk. But he was at home. I had to do this by myself. I closed my eyes and just breathed. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. In through the nose. Out through the mouth.

I tossed cold water on my face, as I know I have inherited my mother's tendency to get flush and terrible red eyes when crying, and I go back to the outside patio where the yoga class was continuing. I struggled through the poses again, quivering, stumbling, kneeling, chest heaving...

Yoga ended, Namaste, and I just wanted to curl up and die. But it was breakfast time. The coffee and food was too good to escape company, so I joined the group at the table. We prepped for the next part of our rest day - a hike, some shopping in town, and chilling. (I was opting for the shopping, as I wanted to see the town and I always enjoy seeing what the locals do wherever I visit.)

We pile into the vans, and our first stop is a drive through Rocky Mountain National Park. The views were spectacular. The photos say it all:

Hot Pink in a field of wildflowers...
Well, not really... just a planting at the gas station.

Yeah. I climbed over the safety wall. And?


The Amazing FD 2012 Estes Park Gang
"I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school...
I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy... "

The Amazing Wildflower

Yes, that's an Elk Bull.
Yes, we were that close from the car.
Next, we were onto our hike at Gem Lake. Those of us who were shopping would not complete the entire hike while the rest actually completed the trail to the lake itself. Though I'd been feeling winded during some of the walks we were doing to the rocks, it wasn't too problematic - I simply dismissed it as altitude or something. But I figured this hike should be a piece of cake - I've always been able to hike - granted, my knees would be problematic, but it's not that much of a challenge. Hell, most of my mountain bike races are hikes on the way up, and that's with a full Camelbak and a Trek 3900 in tow! But, in this case, it was merely a backpack with a couple of light items and no bike, and I was near hyperventilation almost immediately. Not only was it inconvenient, it was thoroughly pissing me off, which wasn't exactly helping. Chopper, Mermaid, Little Bits and I walked along - clearly, they were designated sweeps. The negative was falling back. The positive was that I was with a local, a photographer and a local birdwatcher - this meant I could take in the beauty around us. This trail was stunning. Well kept, looking over vistas that I'd never seen in this country, birds flitting about - it was lovely. We talked, got to know each other.

I didn't know that Chopper, for example, was a former cycling pro until Bits & I started talking about cycling, and I was trying to explain some of the strategy to Mermaid. He seemed impressed that I knew about the sport, the Tour, etc. If I recall, it was when I was comparing hiking up to cycling, and pointed out that I was more like a Jans Ullrich vs. a Contador when it comes to climbing, but the ideal is to be more like an Armstrong - with powerful legs but not overly heavy, so you can be a well-rounded player. Unfortunately, the topic didn't come up until we were almost at the overlook, so I didn't get to pry Chris with questions.

Here, Wildflower explained we would have a rock ceremony. We were, in silence, to choose 2 rocks, and a Sharpie marker. On one rock, we were to write down everything that we wanted to leave behind - every insecurity, trait, etc. One the other, what we hoped to keep with us, earn or takeaway with us. Tomorrow was graduation day, so it was time to really think. For my positive rock, I found a lovely stone with quartz crystals. It was small, light and lovely. The other had to be huge. I had a tome to write in order to list all the things I wanted to relieve myself of - so many issues, qualities, etc.

Now, I've participated in my fair share of similar ceremonies. And there is always this forced silence while you wait for everyone else to finish. But this was different... there was no urge to break the silence. There were no giggles, sneezes, awkward shifting. I sense that most of us finished our rocks long before anyone said a word. The air was so clean, the sun felt so good - it felt like such a whole moment that I don't think any one of us wanted to disturb that purity.

We all gathered at the edge of the overlook and, on the count of three (well, I needed 4 since my rock was SO large that I had to wait for everyone else lest I accidentally hit one of my friends in the head with mine), and our rocks went flying over the ledge. Poetically, mine hit an edge and splintered into hundreds of shards. I breathed in, looked at Snapjacks and the others (she happened to be right near me) and I said, "I may have been the last one up here, but I'll be damned if I'll be the last one down!"

It seemed like a bold statement, I could understand that, but bear one thing in mind - while I'm not a great cyclist, and at the speed required for mountain biking, I can't always find the line, when I have the chance to study a course, I can pick some damned fine ones. I knew I didn't have to run, but just find the lines of least resistance and approach it to scouting out a bike trail or road course. So I zipped down. Except for the occasional confirmation that I was making the right turn at junctions, there was no looking back, no stopping, no slowing down - just forward momentum. Until I saw a hairband on the ground.

Suddenly, I had a strange urge - something that had merely been a longing for months. I picked up the hairband, ran my fingers through my hair, pulled back as hard as I could, and deftly wrapped and tightened that band against the stub at the back of my scalp. More than likely, I looked more like George Washington vs Lady Godiva, but, for the first time in just under a year, I was able to pull my hair - my own hair - into a pony tail. (Ok. Pony tail is stretching it - maybe a bunny tail.) I grinned and then just let gravity lead me down. Before I knew it, I was leaning against the van, looking up at the trail, and I couldn't see Wildflower, who was the first one in the pack behind me. It was a few minutes before the group broke the clearing into the parking lot.

I had done it. I finished first. And I was barely winded.

Shopping in town was fine, though not my cup of tea. We only had an hour, which was a shame, because that barely left us much time to do more than hit some of the typical t-shirt/souvenir shops and an ice cream store. Personally, I love to mill around, look at the galleries, look at the craftswork, jewelry and art work and spend $50 on a piece of local, handcrafted specialties that represent the place I'm visiting vs. $50 worth of t-shirts and hats, but that's ok. I was able to find keychains for both of my kids - a tradition I started several years ago - a keychain for every state I travel through for each of them, a couple of magnets and some postcards (which, dummy me, I forgot to put into the mail). Besides, I'd already gotten my special Estes Park goodies earlier in the week, anyway - a key chain and key from the Stanley Hotel Room #217 and a door plaque for my bedroom, now known as Room #217.

I will say this: Huckleberry Ice Cream is Colorado's equivalent to Maine's secret weapon, Blueberry Ice Cream. I won't choose one over the other, but they are both equally divine.

We met up with Wildflower and the others and headed back to the ranch for dinner and our campfires, which aren't actual campfires - but more like a communal gathering where we reflect upon the day and award each other with one of 3 special tokens - a monkey for work "On The Rock," a set of maracas for work "Off The Rock," and a turkey hat for... well... anything else - spirit.

Before dinner, though, I was feeling stiff and tense for the next day's climb. The guides and staff had been hyping it all week, and the fact that, at best, I'd done moderate climbs, everyone else had attacked the advanced and expert climbs. I didn't. I felt out of my league, so I did something I didn't think I would - I went into the hot tub. Everyone else went downstairs to play Hydration Pong (I never really got Beer Pong, anyway), and I just took in the mountain air while surrounded by bubbles. I started to sing. I felt that if I could sing, in the hot tub and perhaps even the mountain, I could maintain my breathing and pace myself. I think I was in there for 2 hours.

Then, I heard the announcement that dinner was ready - those beautiful lasagnas Antelope Jamboree and Chamomile had been working on all day with their hearts and souls. It was sumptuous. Everything (but the pasta) was homemade. It was divine, comforting, soothing, nutritious and filling.

As we went through our campfire ritual, we gave our staff and guides a token of our affection - a Red Solo Cup printed with a cute message, signed by each of us. And then it was onto the awards.

I was still so relaxed by my soak in the hot tub, I was barely awake when I heard Snapjacks re-quote me to the group,  "I may have been the last one up here, but I'll be damned if I'll be the last one down!" My meltdown repelling on Day 1 made an impact on everyone, as it was mentioned a few times at Day 1's campfire as a moment of inspiration, but this one I wasn't expecting. The next thing I know, I'm receiving the monkey for work On the rock. ME.

I was honored. And stupefied.

And I realized I had a lot to live up to the next day on Graduation Day. I would be carrying the monkey.

Failure would not be an option.

Was I ready for the Challenge?

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