Tuesday, August 22, 2017

But Every Now and Then I Fall Apart

We can take it to the end of the line 
     Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time 
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
     We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
     Forever's gonna start tonight

Yesterday was one of those spectacular events, a total eclipse... if you were in the right place at the right time with the right weather. Otherwise, it was another day/night and even in places, like here in Austin, it wouldn't be hard to miss since its peak was about a minute at 65% at 1:10. I got out there, set up my iphone to take a picture of it and it was pretty cool (hot actually since its Texas August). Its not like I was nerdy enough to watch other views and reactions to it on TV and social media and the internet before and after my own personal experience. (Also, in case anyone asks, there's no way I started an astronomy club when I was in middle school or decorated my daughter's room with glow in the dark star constellations or named her after the Hawaiian moon goddess, oh wait...).

But I sat out there on Kiana's first day of school with a little extra time to spare and reflect which is where most of this train of thought today is coming from. I'm almost at 7 years of cancer, the median for people with my type of brain tumor. Is that almost a passing grade for a kid who who liked straight A's? But the grade that was messing with me the most was that morning I had dropped Kiana off for 5th grade, the last year of my dear's elementary. Hadn't it only been 5 minutes since Kindergarten started and I was the one making pancakes, plain old ones, not the blueberry and chocolate chip ones that she had made into smiley faces that morning? Everyone else was thinking about the don't look at the sun without proper eyewear during an eclipse (by the way isn't that just good advice on say any day?) but the advice I keep giving myself as Kiana grows up also has to do with my eyes but it's even more basic, just don't blink.

We had just returned from a trip to Alaska Friday. Without exception we took a hike and adventure into nature everyday. There were boat, helicopter, train, bicycle, off road vehicle tooks you could purchase but if you're in the last frontier, it just felt right to do it on our feet (though to get to the different adventures it probably was the most I've driven in one week). It will go down probably as the one week of my life that without any injuries or impediments, I was walking more than I was running. We climbed up Glacier Exit for a 9 mile round trip where Kiana was shouting and singing snow and threw a snowball at me. We climbed Mt. Marathon, a hill so steep that when they do a 5k on it people like me who do a 5k at almost a 1/4 that speed can't break an hour on it. I kept insisting to Kiana that she had now done her first marathon, a premise she rejected since it wasn't 26.2 miles. We finally compromised and said her first marathon was a mountain climb. Elaine had put together the entire trip and we realized that this 10 year old had enough energy to where there were times we were struggling on keeping up with her on some of the hikes. On one of them she literally would run to a section and come back to our walking speed, run out again. We ate a variety of local foods from salmon to reindeer to picking wild blueberries (sorry mom we ate them right off the vine without washing them, neither they nor the salmon, gave us salmonella).

Due to the nature of often needing your hands on some of the climbing, that a lot of it was on rainy days, and that there was no reception on mountains, my phone was away from me most of the time, social media tucked away with great landscapes in front of us. A week with each other showed clear natural, organic connections on so many levels. It was never lonely at the top, the middle or the bottom. On the way back down from our last and most dangerous climb, I took a serious fall and slid down some rocks and let out a string of swear words that is rare for me. I am not sure I've ever sworn quite that many times in a row but I'd certainly never done it in front of Kiana. When I got to the bottom, I looked up at Kiana, semi apologized and told her if she ever thought she was about to die in a bunch of rocks slide and she let out a bunch of swear words that even if everything turned out all right, she would not be in an ounce of trouble. She said okay and who knows if it was out of relief or reflection she said, well if you did die, you always say you want to die in the middle of an adventure. I laughed internally and externally smiled and said, that's true but I'd rather it not be one that you and Elaine are having to watch and remember. Maybe just maybe that fall and the thoughts immediately around it shows something about the way this kid and I are raising each other. Kiana would often shout when we were in certain areas because there were solid echos and she was amused by them. I encourage people to generally not live in echo chambers but that one was okay by me and perhaps the resounding of my approach towards life was at that mountain top when someone had laid out in rocks, 'love life' and I think each one of us at the top reaffirmed that we did.

There were things we'd hoped to catch up there that didn't happen. Mt. Denali, the great one, was not visible in any of the 3 days we were near it. The Northern Lights or even any stars were hardly visible because of cloud coverage (we did get to see the Northern Lights on our way out because it was a midnight flight out of the plane window). We got rained on the majority of the hikes and even when it wasn't raining every one was muddy and wet. But it was an absolutely incredibly great trip.

Okay perhaps not absolutely or at least not perfect. This is something that always percolates in my mind how much we strive for perfect or absolutes or totality. (There was an amusing moment in Alaska of a business building that was for sale but on the sign that had it for sale they had "John 3:16" and underneath "for sale by owner.") There were people here expressing large disappointment in that we weren't in the totality zone and I've already got facebook events for when it's total in Austin in 2024. I'm still not placing high best on whether or not I'll get to 2020 but either way I don't know that I think quite that far ahead on looking up into the sky.

In an age where it seems political or too much discourse is so black and white, where if you disagree with my wedge issue or candidate or favorite color then you are evil, it was comforting that a day that had started with rain, had great sunshine in the middle ended with the biggest rainbow, I've ever seen. There are hunters and hunted out there in the wild and Alaska has decided to leave them in place and not protect one from the other. There are other not native things like rats they are trying to eliminate but it is a minority of things that they take that approach, that attitude with. With most of life, it's live and let live and also die when the time comes. On most of those hikes if something had gone wrong, well we were on our own.

With John McCain being diagnosed with a higher grade of the same type of cancer that I do, there has been something floating in the news, the cancer communities, social media etc that I'm not quite sure what to do with. A basic google search will say that tweets of support from people like the who guy who he ran with against President, should not happen, "Cancer doesn't know what it's up against, give it hell.since plenty of people who try hard and give it all they got, well many of those still die. With this type of cancer, most of us still die from it. I've been trying to balance that with one of the mantras from Livestrong, 'attitude is everything.' Ours is a cancer that has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental component but even the ones that have cleaner causes or cleaner treatments, there's none that have a 100% batting average or perhaps strikeout average is the better term. Even if you have cars with every safety feature and always do the speed limit with your seat belt on, random luck can happen and you can die in a car accident. Actually, no matter what, aren't the two certainties in life death and taxes (that's why I headed to Alaska to relieve my nerves on Texas tax free weekend)?

But does attitude matter? Should we dismiss it or dismiss the discourse of fighting against something within our system that is betraying something else within it? I think so thought it's not black and white and in the last 48 hours I've heard total eclipse of the heart more than I had in the last several years, even kareoked it to Kiana last night. I grant that Partial eclipse of the heart probably would not be as catchy of a song. Maybe why Livestrong go with "attitude is a high percentage change effector or at least it makes your mind and friends capacity better in the short and long run' (yeah I should never become a marketer). To dismiss attitude of fighting as irrelevant... isn't that somewhere not too far from dismissing medicine, hope, faith etc? Aren't they all ways that have given us tools to navigate life even if none are absolutely successful? A lot of life from conception to death is random but many of the things in the middle don't have to be and I believe attitude is one of those.

Neither life nor cancer is a clear journey for me, perhaps for anyone? It has had some well publicized messes and successes. My tumor isn't fully removed, it's just stable. These days the medical appointments are the exception not the regular occurrence of each month but there are still twice a day pill. I see and cheer for the people who get the NED, no evidence of disease, markers and mourn with those who it gets worse or with those who pass from it. Mount Marathon didn't have a clean trail for us on the way up or down (there apparently was an easy trail that we skipped and the tougher trail we made a wrong turn and didn't go up it). This was the only hike in which after a while Kiana had any complaints and I offered her to turn around early but she stated unequivocally no we've gotta get to the top. And we got there, with conviction and turned around with the same. We had some funs and some slips and cuts on the way down. I looked up the speeds and names of the Mount Marathon 5k runners and thats a way I thought of climbing to the top back on 4th of July when the event is held but ultimately decided that I'd rather do it at a family pace rather than a race one. Partial eclipses may not be as easy to write songs about, non absolutes may not be easier proclamations but I'm thankful to love life and find beauty in their presence. So maybe that's why there's something I can do as I continue to turn around to find bright eyes and why there's still light in my life.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Generic faces and races

A frustrating challenge of being in video media and having facial recognition issues is that people often come talk to me and I don't recognize them. The convenient time is when they aren't quite sure who I am and my standard joke about it is "I just have one of those generic faces," and after the laughter we introduce ourselves (it can be strange when a stranger in another state who happens to behind you in a random line goes you were on that ESPN piece right?. Perhaps I should stick to things like the more recent Rogue Running podcast since my face was built for radio.

But through this summer, just because it's summer and there's more time Kiana and I have been riding, swimming and running and I couldn't help but notice that the one event that I had done ever that she hadn't was a triathlon (I've only trained for one and until yesterday had only done 2). I'm a horrible swimmer but she is not and so I signed us up for one which seemed perfect, Jack's Generic Triathlon where there byline is "where you're not just a number, you're a barcode." This year happened to be the 15th anniversary so they had a little fun with it and said they had brought 15 years of generic smiles (and you know generic smiles in the age of selfies, constantly posing for camera phones and showing everyone on social media that you're officially happy is quite important). This generic face couldn't resist that invitation and knew Kiana and I had to get signed up for one. Kiana's had some very cool experiences and so have I but I do hope that she enjoys the daily scenes and local races and moments as much as the big ones. It's arguably which ones matters more in life.

My parenting philosophy is you give kids roots, than you give them wings and this event would
embody at least the beginning of letting those wings spead. (It's not as easy as I thought it would be to encourage her to grow up. When I joked about how she should stop aging now that she was 10 because that's all she could count with her fingers. Without missing a beat, she said using binary code I can count to 1023. I'm not sure whether that or today's dental appointment where they said my baby only has 4 baby teeth left was harder to grasp). But in triathlons swimming isn't interactive and in cycling you're required to not be beside anyone unless you are actively passing them. In all racing, I train the way I intend to perform so as we trained for this, I didn't ride next to her and when we swam, like the person who trained me, I'd land a swimming arm or leg to prepare her for what would come. We even went and did the course on a hot summer day 3 weeks before and I honestly wondered how much she would dislike me at the end of the race.

Still when race day came, the weather was actually very good. The tweaks we'd work on like transition, dismounts, drinking while on a bike, brick workouts, well we were going to see how they all came into play. Her paternal grandparents, both of her parents and their significant others were there to cheer her on and dad was going to stay as close as he could. However, I'd forgotten with so little triathlon experience that they let you out both in age groups and gender and well... Kiana and I don't match in that. I tried to ask one of the course people if I could just start in the women 39 and under (I thought making a joke about how I hang out with her enough that maybe I identify as a 12 year old girl but who knows how that would go over in the current political climate). With Kiana standing next to me, they said that I would then be disqualified under triathlon rules for not starting with my heat and Kiana said no it's okay dad, just start with your heat cause I don't want you getting disqualifed for breaking any rules. I was amused at that because well to do a sprint triathlon you have to be 12 years old and the person who registered her (me) might have lied about her age to do that. I suppose it's not as bad as Spartan races where her first one she did at age 8 even though you're supposed to be 14, the age I might have said to everyone she was when asked (Part of this is me trying to get her into so many things at a young age because she's capable and I honestly fear there may be too much of her life I miss if and when my cancer grows. The other part of me fears that not too far down the road her justifying to herself that her dad letting her do things when she was officially too young for them).

So I started with the men's 39 and under heat and actually swam it fast enough to where I was back before her heat started and may have gotten lost on that 500 meter swim and done another 500 behind her. If you think it was because I was watching out for her well you would be wrong because 1000 meters was the most I've ever swam in one day and it turns out it's hard. But luckily I'm a little taller and was able to start walking a little earlier and make it up as we went into transition.

She had done three formal rides before, two of 20 miles and one of 25 miles. This one was 12.9 but on those others it was stop in the middle and get some snacks, rest and socialize. Now we were in race mode and many of the people doing the Olympic distance were doing their second loop. I stayed behind her and she got cheered on by many generic strangers who were impressed with a 12 year old taking this on (in triathlons you wear your age on your calf). We were actually keeping a decent 13 miles an hour on her mountain bike with the wind at our back but then it went down to 11 as we faced a strong headwind. She didn't fade at all and while she was passed plenty, she also passed a few people and her dismount was more gracious than any I've ever made.

Then we got to our game, the running game. The legs felt funny to Kiana but it wasn't long before she was moving pretty well. She was passing people and I mean passing people. If she started to slow down I did the old fashioned running backwards heckling of you want to get beat by an old man running backwards and all of a sudden she sped up and would say 'you're not old'. In the entirety of the run, while conceding she started in the very last heat of the day, she was passed by only one person and passed a lot of other people. With about a mile left, because I'd started the watch at my start and not hers I mistimed where she was and you're going to have to hurry if you want to do it under 2 hours. She said I'll hurry at the end. She turned it on at the end and... literally at the finish line passed the one person who had passed her on the run. As she huffed and puffed after we finished. I was like whoa you really sped up on the last bit, maybe you had too much left in the tank. She looked at me and said, 'that's not how it works dad. No matter what I find a way to finish strong and pass people at the end.' I don't know where she gets that competitive attitude from. She didn't place in any age group but she was the youngest finisher at...12 years old.

We've actually done several other races this year and we've both taken home some placement trophies but it was the first finisher's medal we had earned on the same race this year, over a year since the last one, longest gap since we started collecting them almost 3 years ago. But in a race where we weren't just a number, we were a bar code, it was great that the first medal of 2017 was on her first triathlon ever. By the way, while I have a generic face, out of all the little girls the universe has, she comes first  and helps an old man with a damaged brain know his heart's still working.