The Best Worst Hike of My Life

Up until a year ago, I had never even heard of Conundrum Hot Springs, but once it showed up on my radar, I knew we were meant to be. The best thing about these hot springs is that they are still wild. What I mean by that is that they haven’t been boxed up and commercialized like so many others around Colorado. No, in order to experience Conundrum Hot Springs, one must hike close to 10 miles one way, cross several “bridges” with high water rushing under them and ford at least one river. It is not for everyone and that is precisely why I loved the idea of doing it.

One of many piles of avalanche debris that created obstacles on our path.

I knew that once we made it to this beautiful place, the solitude and views would make it worth the effort. The allure of being completely isolated and surrounded by mountains and nature had become my favorite addiction since moving back to my birth state. When I first imagined myself hiking to this glorious place, I did not consider any of the real life challenges that I might experience, I just knew that I had to do it. I knew the distance was something I could manage, and the elevation gain was within my reach, but I forgot that starting a hike at 8,800 feet elevation is much different than ending one at that height. I also didn’t consider the challenge of being loaded down with food, clothes, camping gear and snowshoes.

A river runs through it.

With so many mountains and trails to hike in Colorado, I had put this one on the back burner until a friend of mine got a coveted reservation and asked if I would hike it with her at the end of May. I naively jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. By the time our reservation date was on the horizon, I had already hiked over 40 miles for the month and my achilles tendons were thoroughly pissed off. I had been battling severe achilles tendonitis for over a year, and had finally figured out a way to alleviate the pain through lots of stretching, trigger point work and proper gait. I just hoped that I could maintain this balance after an already full month of hiking.

Our reservation was for Thursday, May 27 so we decided to go up the night before in order to get a good night’s sleep and an early start the next morning. We packed and unpacked our backpacks, attempting to keep the final weight under 30 pounds. The snowshoes seemed like an unnecessary burden, especially when we woke to bluebird skies and no snow in sight. We arrived at the trailhead just as the sun was beginning to light up the sky. There were only three vehicles in the lot and that included my friend’s Jeep. Where were the crowds I wondered silently. If you arrive to a trailhead in the Boulder area at 6:30am, you are lucky to find a parking space. I shrugged it off and we heaved our packs onto our backs and began our adventure. To my dismay, we barely rounded the corner when we hit the first pile of dead pine and aspen trees blocking our path. Undeterred, we gingerly walked through them and marched on.

The aspen were just starting to show the bright green of new leaves and were waving with excitement in the light breeze. A young moose hidden in their trunks stared silently at us as we walked by, a healthy distance from where he stood. We had read that the snow drifts would be bad further up the trail, but aside from giant piles of avalanche debris on our path, the trail and weather helped us forget what lay ahead. It was shocking to see so many rivers of broken trees laid low like dominos on the mountain tops around us. I tried not to think about the unleashed power that caused them.

This was my first backcamping trip since having a partial meniscectomy on my left knee the previous July. My knee had healed beautifully, but having that extra weight strapped to my back made me feel completely unbalanced. When we came to the first of three big river crossings, I was totally unprepared for the fear that washed over me. I felt a ball of anxiety form in the pit of my stomach. The bridge, if you want to call it that, was pretty high, had no rails and consisted of nothing more than two fat logs. It was hard to ignore the water crashing loudly underneath it. While my friend made it halfway across and then laid on her belly superman style for a photo op, I took little bitty granny steps and just tried not to look down. Just thinking about it makes my stomach lurch. We had to cross at least two more like this and they didn’t get any easier with repetition.

As we got further along, it became necessary to strap on the snowshoes for a bit, but then we would hit another avalanche pile and have to take them off again. It became clear that the snowshoes, though necessary, were going to really slow us down. They were also using muscles I hadn’t used in over a year and my hips kept cramping up. Between this and the increasing slushy and slippery snow, our pace dropped steadily. We started to leave the open trail behind and walked deeper into the forest where the snow was piled up in drifts over five feet high. The sunny day had created drifts that were crunchy on top and slushy underneath, the perfect recipe for post-holing.

It is hard to explain just how mentally draining it is to take one trusting step on the snow with success and then to take another step and fall up to your knees in it. Snowshoes are supposed to prevent this, but they didn’t. I started to worry about how this would impact my freshly healed knee. It was very jarring. Every step was different and held uncertainty. Sometimes I would fall onto my hands and knees into a soft spot on the snow; other times, I would fall completely backward like a stranded turtle. About every third fall, I would feel it in my knee. The thought of having to have another surgery or suffer another knee injury had my stomach in knots. I felt like I was going to throw up any minute.

The best room with a view.

As we slowly made our way through the snow and trees the dread increased. It was as if time had stopped. We kept struggling our way forward, but we weren’t making any real progress. We got to a low river crossing with a single, thin tree in place that didn’t quite reach the other side. This was to be the last big crossing, but by this point, we were physically and emotionally exhausted. Our hiking speed was down to half a mile per hour and we still had several miles to go. There was no way we could cross the river without walking in the ice cold water and getting our feet soaked. We sat on the river bank and considered our options. My friend offered the possibility of turning around and going back. I quickly rejected this option and started crying like a cranky infant. I didn’t know how we were going to have the energy to keep going, but I knew we hadn’t come that far to tuck tail and turn around, at least not on my watch!

Soaking in the healing waters of the hot springs.

For the trip across the cold river, I kept my snowshoes on and dug my trekking poles into the slippery rocks. Once we made it across the river, I kept thinking to myself, “it’s gonna get better; it has to get easier soon”. My friend was of another mindset altogether and her realism about our situation seemed dire. It felt like I was fighting both the elements and her perceived negativity. The forest eclipsed the sun so it seemed later than it actually was. Every so often, my friend would comment on the dangers that we were facing if we didn’t arrive soon. She really started to scare me as she spun a picture of doom that included us freezing to death before we made it to our campsite. I was annoyed but too tired to argue with her. I had to pause after every few steps to rest and it felt like a luxury we could not afford. We were cold, weak and uncomfortably numb.

Eventually, we came across a sign that said the the first campsites were up ahead of us, yet when we reached them, site after site was completely buried under snow. My friend was hiking a little ways ahead of me and would call back every so often that we were getting closer. I couldn’t really hear what she was saying. I was lost in the sound and sloshing rhythm of my snowshoes scraping the snow. The next time I heard her calling to me, there was something new in the sound of her voice. She sounded hopeful, and that gave me a fresh burst of energy. A few more steps and as I turned a corner, the snow was gone. It was like stepping into some sort of garden of Eden. Everywhere I looked was dark brown dirt with bright yellow flowers popping out of it. I was awe-struck. I took off my snowshoes, walked past an abandoned wooden shack and then the springs came into view. Actually, I saw two tents first, and then two men lounging in the springs.

The first clear spot I saw, I dropped anchor. As the reality sunk in that we had just hiked for 10 straight hours through the most rugged and challenging conditions of my life, I started sobbing loudly in relief. I didn’t even care that it wasn’t at our official campsite. I was not about to budge. My friend walked over to the hot springs and spoke to the two men there. I’m not actually sure what they talked about, but the bottom line was that they were friendly and they did not care where we camped.

As soon as we set up camp and laid all our wet things in the sun to dry, we got into the hot springs. The other campers had graciously allowed us to have them to ourselves and it was such a treat. As I stepped gingerly into the warm water the stress of the day dispersed and my body finally relaxed. The water was so clear! I was enchanted with all the bright green and turquoise rocks. It wasn’t deep so I walked along the sandy bottom with my hands as my legs floated out behind me. There were little bubbles streaming up out of the ground in several spots, and that’s where we found the hottest water. To say the view from the springs was spectacular does not do it justice. Looking out over the horizon the rugged trail looked benign. There was no indication of the challenges we had just traversed. None of that mattered anymore though. All I wanted was to savor the bliss, the silence and beauty and let the heat and healing sink into every cell in my body. That is when the speed of time resumed.

Before the sun went behind the mountain, my friend got out to cook her dinner. I lingered and allowed the buoyant water hold me up. I was also topless, but there was no fear or shame because we were utterly alone. It was both liberating and strange all at once. With some prodding from my friend, I reluctantly got out of the water, and started to prepare my own dinner. Even the healing waters of the springs couldn’t undo all the stress in my belly, so I nibbled at my food and finally gave up. I could not find the energy or desire to eat. Once the sun went behind the mountains, we crawled into the tent and let go of everything but sleep.

As is my usual custom, I woke up at 2 a.m. and had to pee. It was really, really cold, but my bladder was not about to let me sleep through the night. As I got out of the tent, the full moon was shining over head. I grabbed my phone, took a few photos and crawled back into my warm sleeping bag. How I wish I had allowed myself to walk the few feet to the hot springs and get in. How amazing it would have been to soak naked under the full moon in the dark silence of the night.

The full moon shining over the hot springs at 2 a.m.

The next morning, it was literally freezing. My wet shoes and shoelaces had frozen solid. I made a mental note to untie wet laces before going to sleep in freezing temps for any future trips. Looking back, I realize I could have just put them in the springs to melt the ice. Not sure why I didn’t think of that until now. Clearly the previous day’s events had zapped my brain cells more than I thought. I could feel a sense of deep dread at the prospect of going back through the snow in snowshoes. My entire body ached. There was no point in hoping for a luxuriously slow morning and a second swim in the heated springs. The cold weather had frozen the slushy snow from the day before, but the untethered sun was already shining and we had precious little time to hike back over the snow before it melted again. We were packed and on our way back down the mountain by 7:30 with barely a wave goodbye to the mystical springs.

No bridge, no problem.

The hike back became a moving meditation. I started chanting a mantra to the Hindu god Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. It seemed completely appropriate, and it helped clear my mind. Om Gam Ganapati Namaha. Om Gam Ganapati Namaha. On and on I chanted it, sometimes out loud, sometimes silently. It worked. My achilles never started to hurt and we made it through the snowy forest without the snowshoes. Leaving early proved to be the correct choice.

Photo by Maria Pertile.

By this point, we still had seven more miles of solid hiking ahead and the fatigue from the previous day returned. I started thinking of different songs to occupy my mind. It became a sort of game. There was Steady As She Goes, by the Raconteurs, then “Just keep hiking, just keep hiking” a la Dory style from the Disney film Finding Nemo. I knew one verse of “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes”, but my friend knew all of them. I swear if anyone had heard us as we headed back down the mountain, they would have thought we were completely mental. We did in fact, finally start running into people heading up. We tried to warn them about what lay ahead, but they, like us, were on a mission and our warnings went unheeded.

We got to the river that almost derailed us the day before and discovered that the snow melt had washed away the thin tree that had been our partial bridge. There was really no choice but to get really comfortable with cold, wet feet again. I didn’t really care because my shoes were still wet from the night before. The water current was strong, but I dug in with my trekking poles and finally made it across. When we emerged from the trees, the sun was beating down on us and the piles of avalanche debris was even harder the second time because we knew they coming. Everything looked so different on the way back. It didn’t even seem like the same trail in some places. We were putting mile after mile between us and the springs when we rounded a familiar looking corner. I was expecting to see the original pile of debris, but to my surprise, a path had recently been cut through it with fresh chain saw marks on the tree trunks flanking us.

As soon as we got to the trailhead sign, we turned off our trackers. We had hiked a total of 20 miles and 2,848 feet of elevation gain. The unexpected detours we made over the debris piles had added to our total. Even though we started an hour later and didn’t have to use our snowshoes, it took the majority of the day to hike back. This was extreme hiking. In fact, it was gut-wrenching, anxiety-fueled hiking, and it was simultaneously the best and worst hike of my entire life.

I wanted to write about this sooner, but it has really taken me months to process it. When something big like this happens, it is easy to talk yourself out of your experience and downplay the hard stuff. Over the summer, I read other reviews from hikers who came after us. They were oblivious to the challenges that we faced because the trail had changed. It was no longer covered by dead trees and snow. It had completely reinvented itself.

Just as the trail changed, I felt changed. I didn’t notice it right away. The shift was subtle, but undeniable. It’s like John Muir once said, “and into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” Every hike and quest I complete helps me recover a part of myself and my soul that was suppressed somewhere along the way. And once I return home, I have to decide which pieces to keep and which to release because “returning home is the most difficult part of long-distant hiking. You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.” (Cindy Ross, author and triple crown hiker) The puzzle pieces of my old life are being replaced with new ones colored by every post hole, injury, sunrise and scent of warmed pines, and I can’t wait to see each new piece.

One of the many outstanding views along the way to the hot springs.

The New Number Rabbit Hole

I tried. I was willing to jump through a seemingly endless obstacle course of challenges put forth by my former cell phone provider to keep my old number until it all became too much. I’ve had that number for over 12 years. It was basically my longest (and healthiest) relationship to date; but just as the transition was about to be complete, I was told that there was one more special unlocking code that was required. Unfortunately, in order to get that code, I would have to visit the other provider in person again because their automated system had me in a hell loop.

If I hadn’t already been attempting to make this transition for a week, I probably would have done it. I was already on my third trip to one store or another to get this done. I had gone to the other provider to pay off my phone (this debt was basically the unsigned contract that I didn’t realize I had until it was too late). I specifically asked if there were any special codes I would need to change providers. The clerk gave me what he thought I needed. The next day, I went to visit my new provider, but just as freedom was in sight, I was told that I had to request a “network unlocking” from the other company. That process would then take another 24 hours.

After the allotted delay, I came back and again, was almost free when I learned that the port-out pin and my account number were still not enough. I needed a “network” account number, but when we called the other company they suddenly didn’t recognize my phone or account number and did their best impression of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

That’s when I lost it. I was literally almost in tears when I offered up a formerly unheard of solution; what if I just changed my phone number? The men behind the counter looked at me with disbelief. They cautiously suggested that this option could grant me my freedom more quickly. Ok, fine, I said, “let’s do it”. Within minutes, it was done. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. Instead of pushing my desire upstream, I let go. I shifted and let change flow toward the path of least resistance.

When they told me my new number, it sounded so strange: 720-653-6710. I instantly didn’t like it. I tried to think back to the time that I gave up my Houston number and switched to an Austin number. Had it felt like this then too? I couldn’t remember. I’ve been living in Colorado for over three years now, and since I have no intention of ever returning to Texas (sorry Mom), perhaps it was time to make this change.

As I was driving home, I started to think of all the people I would need to personally call or text to let them know my new number, but what about the people I’d like to forget? Suddenly, a new number didn’t sound like such a bad thing. It’s not like I have a ton of people to forget, or that they ever call. It’s just that a new number brings a breath of fresh air in a sense. It is a clean break. It’s kinda like the ultimate Feng Shui space clearing for our phone. Of course, the real work of changing all my business pages, website, social media links, business cards, etc., remain, but that is not a difficult task, just tedious.

Is it ironic that Mercury Retrograde is on the horizon yet again? The fact that Mercury, the planet of communication, is about to go retrograde and my most direct path for communicating has just changed, is not lost on me. On one hand, this makes me nervous, but it is also a little bit exciting. Getting a new number is giving me a chance for a fresh start and a new beginning that I didn’t know I needed, and I’m here for it.

PS: My new number is 720-653-6710. : )

Diving back into dating

I had such high hopes.  A few weeks ago, I set aside my abundant skepticism around what passes for dating in this day and age, and decided to reactivate my profile on a popular dating app. I keep calling it dating, but seriously, what we do now is not dating, and I am not even talking about how the Covid pandemic has impacted it. I’ve been around long enough to remember what dating was like before cell phones and texting and sexting and dating apps. I was just getting into the dating scene when meeting people through a website became all the rage. I’m not here to knock dating apps. I know a lot of people who have met their lifelong partner in this way, so I know it is possible. I am just oversharing about my own personal experiences in some hope that it will suddenly start to make sense.

So here I was, smack in the middle of Mercury Retrograde, (I do not recommend this in the least!) attempting to connect with cute guys via catchy one-liners and a mixture of photos (theirs and mine) and turn that into something that lasts longer than a handful of messages. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make this conclusion on so little information? It’s kindof like being invited to walk into a restaurant, sit down with a complete stranger and make small talk about them and yourself. It would go something like this,

“Hey how are you (insert name you barely remember)? I see you are eating food. I like food too! Wow, we have so much in common. ”

I know I am exaggerating things a bit, but really I’m not that far off. Dating, like everything on social media, is like a promotional event. We only talk about our good qualities, we downplay reality and insist upon quick intimacy when that hasn’t even had a chance to develop yet.

Let’s take for example, a guy that I’ve been “chatting” with for a few weeks. He had all the qualities that I find attractive. His children were all grown up, he had his own business, a great smile and an inviting sense of humor. He was tall, in my age range, had a cute dog and was obviously single. So far so good and so many boxes checked. For some reason though, planning a phone call, a short hike in nature or meeting in person for a cup of coffee seemed unusually difficult.

On one hand, he asked when we could meet and in the next breath (text), he mentioned that he was completely unavailable for a week. One of the things that I’ve discovered about dating is that there is a certain momentum that happens. There’s mutual interest, texting, a possible phone call, etc., and then at some point in the very near future, there needs to be an in-person introduction. Some people are very charismatic onscreen and then very shy or aloof in person. It is nice to find these things out before we invest too much of our emotional bank account on them. When the phone call or in person invitation doesn’t happen, the energy starts to wane, and that is what was happening in this example.

So here we are, two weeks invested into getting to know this person, and we finally make plans to have a phone call. Isn’t that just the funniest thing you ever heard? We have to make a date to talk on the phone. What the hell is happening to us as a culture? Sorry, tangent. Anyway, we had chosen a range of possible days when both of us could manage this overwhelming task, since committing to a specific hour was just too restrictive. I had forgotten about an online class I had that night, so when he did call, I couldn’t talk. He was very understanding and we made plans to try again after my class.

Since we both had iPhones, he wanted to have a FaceTime phone call. I wasn’t super excited about this because while I wanted to look my best I also wanted to take off all my work clothes, makeup and put my hair in a ponytail. When we finally did get on a call, I was happy to see that he looked as good on screen as in his photos which is not always the case. However, a few minutes into it, his face freezes and the internet shuts down, along with our call. I called right back, but he doesn’t pick up. Then he texts me that we should try again the next day because he is suddenly working on some report that needs his full attention, even though he was completely available a few minutes earlier.

To say I was a little tweaked by this response is an understatement. I had to have an emergency phone call with one of my best girlfriends for advice on how to respond. I tend to be overly honest in these instances, so I had to reign myself in a bit. In all her wisdom, she advised me to play it cool and nonchalant. Apparently that worked, because he FaceTimed me the next morning before I had even started to get ready for work. To give you a visual, I had smudged eyeliner on one eye and not the other, my hair had that smashed pillow look about it and I was still in my pj’s which means I was sans-bra. I’m not used to FaceTime calls so I picked up the call before I realized it had video and by then there was nowhere to hide!

In spite of all this, we had a nice conversation and I was smitten by his warmth and engaging personality. A few minutes after we ended the call, and completely out of the blue, he sends me a message saying, “Morning sex is so intimate . . . ” I’m like FUCK! please don’t be THAT guy, but it’s too late. He is that guy. I know exactly what he is doing, and I am not playing, not because I disagree, but because this is the equivalent of being back at that restaurant table with a stranger, taking a sip of coffee and saying, ‘You know, morning sex is my favorite’, just to see how he reacts. And that is exactly what this guy was doing. I’ve seen it before. I’ve experienced it before and I know how it ends. Once again though, I took the high road and side stepped his statement with my own truth, that all sex can be intimate with the right person. That’s when he decided to man-splain it to me since I clearly wasn’t getting it. He says,

“I was coming from the standpoint [that] sex feels different at various points throughout the day. Morning sex “to me” is so comfy and raw.”

Here’s the thing. I am not denying that sex is a really wonderful thing or that I miss it dearly, but I find it incredibly offensive when a man starts talking to me about this before we’ve even met and especially before we’ve had a chance to build any sort of connection. And just to be clear, in my early days of dating, I fell right into the rhythm of talking about sex before meeting a guy and you know what? When we did finally meet, I realized that I was physically attracted to his words, but not to him.

The really depressing part of all this is that I was really attracted to this guy on many levels. But here we are, early on a Saturday morning, and after all that talk about sex, all I hear is crickets from him. The modern day dating term for this is called “ghosting”. I start to question myself. Did I say something wrong? Or maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe he wasn’t being transparent with his intentions. Even though he said he wanted to “love on a level very few can imagine”(his words), maybe what he really wanted was someone to rev him up without all the effort of actually dating. Either way, I am chalking this one up as another example of what I do not want. I know it is the contrast that helps us redefine how we want to experience life, but dammit I feel like I’ve had enough contrast for a lifetime. I feel like Charlotte in one of my favorite scenes from Sex in the City when she says, “Where is he? I’ve been dating since I was 15, I’m exhausted!” I feel you Charlotte. I feel you.

This is Logynn Northrhip, reporting to you live from the dating trenches of Colorado. Back to you Trevor.

Who’s F*ck!ng Body Is This??

I’m turning 52 in a few weeks, and I’m going to just come clean here and admit that during my last mid-life crisis, when I turned 39 and saw 40 looming in the distance, I got a boob job. It was one of the those things that I never thought I would do, but once I did it I was like, “Oh wow, this is nice!” For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to get a small top and a large bottom because my body was finally balanced.

Now, let’s fast forward 13 years. My once firm and perky implants are somehow larger than when they started and are just as uneven as they were BEFORE my surgery. They are also heavy as shit and take up way too much space in my shirts. It’s like being pregnant on top of your stomach. There is no such thing as walking around without a bra. Yes, it does feel better than being bound up all day, but it is just as uncomfortable in a different way. At least when I am wearing a bra, I don’t feel the weight and heat of them.

I’m not sure what finally prompted me to consider surgery again, but a few months ago, I started fantasizing about having my implants removed and my breasts lifted. It has been like this constant buzzing in my head and it has only gotten louder. I looked into some of the doctor’s here in Boulder, but initially decided to check in with my original surgeon in Houston first.

Once I scheduled the tele-health session, I got the news that he would need me to take some full body selfies of all the areas that I wanted him to surgically adjust. When I had my original surgery, I opted out of a much needed tummy tuck because I thought I might meet someone and want to have another baby with him. As it turns out, that never happened and I do not plan to make that mistake again! Since the anesthesia part of the surgery typically costs the most, it makes sense to get as much done as possible while I’m under.

I locked the door and took off all my clothes, suddenly aware that the bathroom lights were more unflattering than I had ever previously noticed. I started taking these photos of my body from all the requested angles, showing off all my stretch marks, stretched skin and excess fat pads. That’s when I noticed that my belly button is not even in the center of my body! I was like, What the???? When did that happen?? How in the hell did I never notice this before? The right boob is way smaller than the left and the nipples are um, well, you know what? Never mind them.

As I looked through the photos, which was somehow worse than just looking at my naked body in the mirror, I swear I didn’t even recognize myself. How did this happen? I started to understand immediately why Demi Moore had so much plastic surgery all those years ago. I was already trying to figure out how I can come up with the extra $20-30,000 this will surely cost, when the reality set in that I’m gonna have to take some things off the menu, or sell everything I own.

I feel like I’m in the plastic surgery drive thru placing my order through the window of my car: “Ok, give me an implant removal with a breast lift and a side of liposuction please. No wait, wait. Let’s skip the lipo and make that an implant removal with a tummy tuck. Nope, no, I really need to add that lift back in so how about . . . At any rate, once I uploaded all my naked selfies, I promptly deleted them from my computer, my phone and my email, horrified at the possibility that they might accidentally show up during a zoom call or a screen share with my colleagues.

A few days later, after my much anticipated call with the surgeon, I learned that this whole tummy tuck thing is a bit more extensive then I realized and after careful consideration, I will not be traveling to Houston. I had no idea that I would have to stay in town for 14 days of recovery time. This combined with the fact that I really, really hate Houston has caused me to find a local plastic surgeon instead. I have also decided that I’m going to buckle down and do my part by losing a few pounds first. Now that my knee is almost totally healed up from last year’s unexpected medial meniscus surgery, I can start working out more. Nevermind that real winter is about to hit Colorado like a freight train. It will be fine. I like working out in the snow.

When I decided to go under the knife the first time, I kept it a big secret. In fact, I didn’t even tell my parents. Truth be told, I was a little embarrassed. For the longest time, only one close friend knew I was getting implants and that’s because she was there during my surgery and had to drive me home. A year after my surgery, I moved to Austin, so even fewer people knew. I liked it that way. I liked that I got a chance to be anonymous in a way and start over. It’s not like I was suddenly walking around in low-cut tops with my cleavage on full display. I was just rejoicing that I could finally get rid of all my Wonderbras (what ever happened to that brand?) and wear the types of clothing that only people with breasts larger than a 32A can wear.

One may wonder why I would go from the extreme of total secrecy to total transparency, but the fact is, we live in a society that puts a lot of pressure on women to look perfect and amazing at all times, and I am sharing my experience because I want other women to know that it’s ok to want these things, to think about these things and to do these things. I’m not planning all of this plastic surgery to catch a guy or become a strip club dancer. I just want to feel comfortable in my body. When I gave birth to my son 21 years ago, my body was irrevocably changed, and no amount of weight loss or exercise will ever change that. Stretched skin is stretched skin, period. I am forever grateful that my body was able to create a human being and I wouldn’t change that for anything, but since it is within my power to improve my body after the fact, then why the hell not?!

I love my body for its strength and for its ability to carry me through my life, but I am also curious what it would feel like to slip on a dress without a Spanx holding things in and up. I am curious what it feels like to be in my body and not be so self-conscious. Is that so wrong? I’m not asking for anyone’s permission, just talking out loud.

No matter what, within the next year, I will have my implants removed and my breasts surgically lifted so they are not hanging down to my belly button as I continue to age. It has been 13 years since I had this augmentation, and I do not want to have these saline-filled bags of silicone hanging around (literally!) in my body for the rest of my life. It’s kinda like when you know it’s time to leave a relationship that you’ve outgrown. There’s no denying when it’s time, and the fact is, the time is here. It’s time to say goodbye to a lot of things – fear, doubt, worry, insecurity. While not all of these can be achieved with surgery, some of them can, and I’ll take care of the rest of it.

I am the light of the soul

The landscape of yoga has changed a lot lately, by no fault of its own. By the time these changes began to manifest, I had already been on track to become a “retired” yoga teacher. After a solid 12 years of teaching yoga non-stop, I was so burnt out that I just stopped cold turkey. That was almost three years ago.

A lot of yoga teachers focus their classes around calling their poses by their official Sanskrit names and some weave Patanjali’s teachings into their flows. I know a handful of Sanskrit words and I don’t do yoga because of the eight limbs of yoga. I do yoga because it makes me smile. It makes me feel confident. It challenges me and humbles me and keeps me grounded and centered. For me, there is nothing better than the feeling I get when a sequence of poses emerge to sync perfectly with the music, as if they were made for one another. I know that this is not the “right” reason to like yoga or even to teach it, but it is my why.

When I was in teacher training with Shiva Rea in Venice Beach, CA, I was introduced to this image of a wave-like flow that builds as the heat builds and as the body wakes. Classes don’t start with a backbend. They build to a backbend. Everything about the time on the mat is about peeling away the layers of stuck energy, of emotions held in muscles, of stagnation. It’s about choosing a peak pose and wrapping the class around it.

There’s just one problem with being a yoga teacher “full time” and giving everything to our students. It takes a herculean effort to include yourself in that healing practice. At the end of a full day of classes, there is rarely anything left for ourselves. Our needs get shoved to the back burner until they are totally forgotten. The sheer physical and mental drain of holding space for everyone but yourself is a sacrifice that gets more and more difficult to maintain.

Tonight I came home from work, and before I had a chance to put it off, I rolled out my yoga mat, and turned on one of my old playlists, the ones that I created when I was still buying each song and painstakingly placing them together. That’s my secret actually. I create the playlist first and then I add the poses. That way, the flow is never the same. It is always dancing with the music.

It should come as no surprise that I love to dance. Growing up, I went out dancing to all the alternative music of the 80’s that is just as timeless today, 40 years later, as it was when it first appeared. Is it possible to do yoga to Depeche Mode, Erasure, New Order and OMD? Roger that. As the opportunities to go clubbing evaporated with my youth, yoga stepped in and showed me a new way to move my body. My memories of sweaty nights spent dancing with strangers on Austin’s 6th street or Houston’s Richmond Avenue, were replaced with sweaty yoga classes to music that awakened something inside of me that I didn’t know was there.

Yoga by itself doesn’t do it for me. Yoga + music is the muse that ignites my personal creativity. Yoga is so much more than warrior one sweeping into humble warrior or triangle pose lifting off into half moon. The breath, the movement and the music all work together to tear down the walls that we build around our hearts and minds. Yoga is the great equalizer. When you walk into a room full of students, everyone is equal. There are no obvious lawyers or doctors or high powered executives. It’s a rubber mat, a physical body and a willingness to be vulnerable among strangers. Tears often flow as the walls come down and it is fucking beautiful.

I feel like all my repressed anger and resentment toward yoga got expressed through a silent fight that we never actually had. I let myself forget how much we loved each other, and we just stopped communicating; but tonight, something happened. As my body started to move, it remembered that love. The music awakened my body’s muscle memory of affection for this practice. The poses are the same no matter what name they are called. They are ancient, they are powerful and they are forgiving.

I may not ever teach again, or I might; who knows. As long as I get to keep teaching myself, me and yoga will be okay. We may argue, we may disagree, but we will always be there for each other. My relationship with yoga is strong, and it is the only one that I know will never leave me. Yoga isn’t going to cheat on me or break my heart. It isn’t going to lie to me or deceive me in any way. Yoga is the most honest and loving partner I could ever desire. It may break my heart wide open, but it won’t ever hurt me.

I am the light of the soul I am bountiful. I am beautiful. I am bliss, I am I am. * I am that I am. (This post inspired by the music of Sarab Deva singing this song.)

The 52 hikes that changed me

Fifty-two hikes; one for every week of the year. Something about keeping track of them appealed to me. I had moved to Colorado two years earlier and had slowly been learning how to navigate the trails, the elevation and the beauty of my new home. I had joined several hiking groups and had been hiking as often as possible, but I wasn’t keeping track of them. This challenge had a sense of purpose to it, so I plunked down my $12, downloaded their spreadsheet and looked forward to January 1st, when I would be allowed to begin.

As it turned out, Colorado was experiencing a true Indian summer for the month of January and I completed a whooping 12 hikes before the “real” winter weather arrived. My birthday was in February and I received the best gift a girl on a hiking mission could ask for, an America the Beautiful Annual Parks Pass. I am very lucky to live a mere 45 miles away from the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park and I could not wait to start exploring it. Between the 355 miles of trails at RMNP and the 155 miles of trails that make up the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP), I had plenty to keep me busy.

By the middle of March, I had already put a sizable dent in my hiking goal, 24 to be exact, but on the morning of March 21, that was all about to change. It started out as any other post-snowstorm day with bluebird skies and over two feet of fresh snow. My friend Maria and I got up early to re-visit a favorite trail called Green Mountain West. One of the little known facts about hiking in Colorado is that the best hiking happens in the winter. There are less people on the trials and the mountains look even more beautiful when they are covered in snow.

I had my spikes on, but accidentally left my poles in the car. We made it to the top quickly and could not stop marveling at the beauty of the snow-covered tree branches and hoarfrost. Growing up in Texas, snow was an infrequent occurrence, so the beauty of a snowy mountain still makes me feel like an excited kid. We stayed up at the top longer than usual, soaking up the sun, enjoying a little picnic and taking happy photos. As we headed down, I began to wish I had gone back to the car to retrieve my trekking poles. The sun was starting to melt the snow and other hikers were packing it down creating slick spots of ice. I am usually the biggest advocate for wearing spikes, and yet I had taken mine off early in the hike and had forgotten to put them back on.

I was only a few steps down when I let a guy pass me. He was fearless and basically skied down the slippery spots. Maybe I was overly worried about the snowy rocks or maybe there was some death ice hiding under the snow. All I know is that one minute I was slowly stepping down and the next moment, I was on my back, sliding down the mountain. The moment I slipped, I felt my leg turn in an unnatural direction and heard my left knee pop. I hugged my knee to my chest and for a few seconds, I just laid there, unsure what to do.

We were over two miles away from the trailhead and the narrow trail was still stacked with fresh snow, making it impossible to slide or crawl down. With no cell service, and no way to get down on my own, I started to panic. Maria was doing her best to help, but neither of us had a cell signal and the short winter day was getting colder. I started shivering uncontrollably, one of the first signs of hypothermia. Thankfully, another group of hikers came along, and they did have service so they let us call 911 with their phone.

Before that day, I had never heard of the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group. Today, I will never forget them. In less than an hour, they hiked the two miles up the mountain to reach me, created a pulley system and slowly rolled me down the hill on a makeshift one-wheeled stretcher. I was embarrassed to be such a burden, especially to these complete strangers, whom I later discovered were all volunteers. I don’t remember any of their names, but I remember the kindness in their eyes as they patiently plowed through the snow to take me to safety. I am in awe of them and forever grateful for their service.

Needless to say, the next six weeks, I did zero hikes. An MRI showed three partial tears in the acl, mcl and medial meniscus. The next few months were a blur. I saw a total of three different orthopedic doctors and started physical therapy, but I was still in pain. In spite of this, I kept hiking. My hikes became significantly shorter and easier, but I discovered that if I kept my knee brace on tight, used my poles and chose low elevation trails, I could still hike. It was the only thing that kept me going.

By this point, I had completed 41 hikes, but I knew that if I wanted to be able to get back to hiking 14ers and long distance backpacking trips, surgery was my only option. I needed a meniscectomy to trim the torn portion of my medial meniscus. Recovery time for this type of surgery is typically six weeks, but my doctor told me I would be able to start hiking sooner if I was willing to let my knee heal. Sitting on the couch for two weeks watching the walrus face on my knee shrink was excruciating, but it was worth it.

My walrus knee!

Those first few hikes after my surgery were scary. I wasn’t sure if I should be doing any of it, but I simply could not stay away. My inner need to explore was stronger than my fear. One of my favorite hikes during this recovery time was at The Great Sand Dunes. Armed with my trekking poles and an unstoppable determination, I arrived early, intent on watching the sun rise from the highest dune I could reach.

Hiking on sand is challenging regardless when both knees are healthy, so I went extra slow in order to be safe. Every time I looked up at the mountain of sand in front of me, I would begin doubt myself. That’s when I decided to keep my gaze low and directly in front of me, taking one small step at a time. Before I knew it, I was looking out over a vast sea of sand, and when I looked down, I could hardly believe how far I had come. It was higher than I ever expected I could go and it felt amazing. It was the first of many small victories.

Each day that followed, resulted in a little more healing and a little more hiking. Fall was in full bloom and I was able to witness it with longer and more difficult hikes. Some hikes began in the darkness before dawn and some were guided by the light of a full moon. Six months after my injury, I completed my 52nd hike, and it was a giant load off of my shoulders.

I arrived early at RMNP in order to beat the timed-entry reservations in place because of Covid. It was still pitch dark and I had chosen to hike alone for my final hike of the challenge. I kept waiting for daylight, but it was slow to come so I finally just put on my headlamp and started toward Bierdstat Lake. It was cold, but the aspen were waving their golden leaves in support and I was rewarded with an extraordinary sunrise rising over the clouds. When I made it to the lake, there was no one else in sight. It was one of those rare moments that I had come to cherish on this journey. I sat down on a rock to rest and watch the sun shine touch the mountain tops. A very tame duck came up to welcome me and look for handouts. We sat there together in the cold and the quiet, enjoying the brief silence.

I’ve been looking through all the hundreds of photos that I took during my hikes and I love how they take me back there in an instant. I got to hike to so many beautiful places, and with all the bizarre things that have already happened this year, I feel lucky that I got to see them at all. Between this injury, Covid and the massive fires that damaged trails I only recently discovered, the world is nothing like it was when I began this journey. I had no idea so much would or could change in such a short amount of time.

The people I have met along the way have been an extra added bonus. I’ve made new friends, I’ve reconnected with old ones and I’ve met strangers who share this deep love for nature. I know this experience, this injury and healing from it has changed me. When I began, I knew I could do it, I just didn’t expect so many obstacles to appear on my path.

My challenge to anyone reading these words is this. If you can walk among the pine trees and smell the clean cool air of the mountains, then do it. Take the photos, all 4,000 of them if need be. You can always delete them, but you can’t re-capture a missed moment in time. Hike the hikes, lose the sleep and watch the sun rise and set. Hike a 14er, backpack alone, hike in the dark or just challenge yourself to do the things that scare you.. You never know who will be inspired by your strength and your example. By following your own passions, you give others permission to follow theirs.

Hikes 1 – 8
Hikes 9 – 17
Hikes 18 – 26
Hikes 27 – 35
Hikes 36 – 44
Hikes 45 – 52

The Ironic Vegan

It seems like I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about vegans for way too long.  All it took was one militant vegan I met at a party years ago to make me defensive every time the topic came up, and from that point forward, I judged all vegans for being vegans as much as they judged me for not being one.  I say this even though I once spent 7 years as a vegetarian, and then just as gleefully, embraced the polar opposite. The truth is, I have always had a conflict around food.  I grew up in a typical American household where meat was served regularly, so I didn’t really appreciate it.  When I was a senior in high school, I decided that eating red meat was the devil, but I never stopped to consider the deeper implications of this lifestyle on our planet.

Until recently, my biggest complaint about vegans was their complete and total intolerance of anyone who wasn’t a vegan.  That all changed when I read a post on Instagram by a famous climber named Alex Honnold, who it turns out is also a vegan.  He basically asked his fellow vegans to lay off of their intolerant judgement of non-vegans, and give them credit for the times when they are able to cut back on their meat consumption.  His words had a huge impact on me, and they helped me open my mind to eating this way.

“. . .  My last mini rant is reserved for vegans who are all up on their high horse and poo poo other folks’ good efforts – it’s better for someone to eat meat once a week than to eat it every day.  It shouldn’t be a test of ideological purity.  Diet is a spectrum and it’s better to do less harm than more.” – Alex Honnold

About this same time, my brother made some major life changes and one of them was a new found love for all things vegan.  I rolled my eyes through the phone as he went on and on about all the benefits and how his aches and pains had faded with this new way of eating.  I was loathe to admit that my own body was constantly in pain, though I could never discover the source.  Even after a 12-year career teaching yoga my muscles and joints always ached.

I became curious about this way of eating, while simultaneously being alarmed by the thought of giving up cheese and my beloved coffee creamer.  During the previous year, I had given up gluten so I was basically eating a mostly keto diet and I easily lost 35 lbs.  I managed to maintain this for awhile, but it became more and more difficult for me to justify all the bacon and cheese that I was eating daily.  It wasn’t until Covid-19 hit that I started to seriously reconsider my eating habits.  When I heard the President promoting the meat industry while ignoring all the workers who were testing positive for Covid because they were required to work side by side without enough protective gear, that was it for me.  I went vegan, cold turkey (pun intended).

I’m not going to say I’ve been perfect at eating this way.  I am still struggling to find a good vegan coffee creamer while slowly using up all the other products I have on hand that were sourced by animals.  The surprising thing is that there are so many alternatives, and now I have a reason to explore them.  I started this journey on June 2, and since then, I’ve lost 9 lbs. without even trying, and the pervasive brain fog that I didn’t even know I had until it was gone, has totally disappeared.  Suddenly, I’m eating more fruits and vegetables that ever before and I feel like this toxic spell that food had on me has finally lost its power.

I will say that being a gluten free vegan is a little more challenging than anticipated, especially when so many of the vegan “meats” are made with wheat gluten, but living in a progressive place like Boulder definitely helps.  If you want to start eating an alternative diet, Boulder is THE place to do it.  It is so refreshing to have so many options, and to be surrounded by people that speak my new food language.

Aside from the health benefits, I am learning more and more about how much better this way of eating is for our planet, and the animals.  The amount of deceit and corruption that keeps major corporations and non-profits quiet is enough for me.  In a country where we still have our freedom, it is abundantly clear to me that the only way to truly defy authority, and maintain our hard won freedom, is to be willing to step away from the status quo and do the thing that they never anticipated.  I’ve always felt a little bit rebellious, but I never realized that choosing to eat a plant-based diet was the way to do it, until it was.

 

Learning To Walk Myself

Yesterday was a bad day.  My 10 1/2 year old Golden Retriever went into respiratory distress caused by an advanced heart murmur that was progressing toward congestive heart failure.  Watching him struggle to breathe while eating his breakfast, I went into panic mode.  I had known this was a looming possibility when I got his diagnosis a few months earlier, but I did not expect it to happen so soon.

Over the past few months, Aslan had started to look different.  His belly swelled up and his backbone began protruding in spite of the fact that he was eating 4-5 cups of dog food a day.  He stopped being able to jump onto my bed, but I thought it was his joints, so I got him some glucosamine.  It wasn’t until I took him into a new vet to remove a growth on his foot, that I discovered the heart murmur. The vet strongly advised against removing the growth out of fear that he wouldn’t survive the surgery.

This new diagnosis finally explained the distended belly, the persistent heavy breathing and the muscular decline in his hips.  Aside from these symptoms, he seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was aging or in any way lacking in health.  In fact, the only clue that he was an old dude was his endearing white muzzle.  While he wasn’t a huge fan of other dogs, he loved people and continued to greet them like long lost friends.

Over the next few weeks, it seemed like he was getting stronger, but then he would falter.  One morning before work, we had a gorgeous snow storm that touched the Flatirons with fresh whiteness, so we headed over to Chautauqua to see it.  We got out of the car, and after a few steps, his back legs collapsed and he couldn’t walk.  He looked at me as if he didn’t understand what was happening, and I burst into tears.  A man who was parked nearby with his two dogs, got out and offered to help me put Aslan into my car.

Once I got to work, he was back to normal and was as friendly and happy as ever. As the days went by, he stopped being able to jump into the backseat of my Nissan Rogue, but could still manage the front passenger’s seat.  He became more and more anxious when I left the room for anything, and would start panting as if he had just run down the block.

Since he couldn’t jump onto my bed or the couch to sleep anymore, I got him a new bed that would hold both of us.  Each night, I would snuggle with him in his bed and fall asleep with my arm around him, feeling his heart’s heavy beats and listening to his labored breathing.  After awhile, I would quietly get up and tip toe back to my own bed. In the morning he would be sleeping on the floor in my room.

Yesterday, we got up and took care of his morning business without incident. I was preparing the coffee maker to brew my morning addiction when he started coughing and choking.  In reality, he wasn’t choking, he was struggling to breathe.  His sides were heaving from the effort of trying to get enough oxygen, and it was terrifying.

A few weeks earlier, I had taken the precaution of researching the speciality vets that offer at-home euthanasia.  As I searched for the number, I hoped I was over-reacting.  I could barely speak through my panicked tears and sobs, but after explaining the situation and his condition, I knew that I had to make a choice.  I could go broke trying to extend his life with an advanced veterinary cardiologist, ultrasounds, EKG, and expensive heart meds, or I could give him permission to leave me by doing what needed to be done.  I knew in my heart that if he had another breathing attack, it would only be worse.  I knew the choice I had to make.

I wasn’t ready though.  I needed time to say goodbye.  I cancelled my work plans and scheduled the vet to come later in the day.  I called my son in Texas, and we had a video call so that he could say goodbye to his childhood “brother”. Afterwards, I curled up on Aslan’s bed and we slept until the vet arrived.

She gave him a sedative, and within minutes, he was asleep in my arms.  She slowly administered the shot that would stop his heart, and even though I knew it was coming, I just I couldn’t stop crying when he stopped breathing. She gave us some time together to finish our goodbyes, his body still warm as I wept into his golden fur.  After she took him away, I staggered to my bed and fell asleep, the exhaustion of emotions finally taking its toll.

I got Aslan when my son was 10 and begging for a brother.  I knew I wasn’t going to have any more children, so we compromised and got Aslan.  From the beginning, he looked like a tiny lion, with paws that he never quite grew into, but it was his face that made people pause.  He had the kind of face that made you want to say hello and scratch his nose and behind his ears.  He literally loved everyone, even when they didn’t love him back.

After my son grew up and moved away from home, he truly became my emotional support pup.  We went through so much together over the years, and he took it all in stride. We moved 7 times while he was alive, but he didn’t mind.  As long as he had his people and his kitties, he was content.  Our former cat, Raven, taught him to love cats, and he taught the new kittens to love dogs when Raven crossed over. He was patient and tolerant, and pure love, and he tried to teach me some of these traits.

When we moved to Colorado, he became my steady hiking companion.  He protected me with fierce love and adoration, and he loved the snow.  If he barked, I knew it was because he sensed danger, and he wasn’t messing around.  Whether it was a mountain lion crouching in the shadows or coyotes howling in the dark, he let them know it was not okay to approach.   We camped out in Aspen and we watched the sun rise together from the back of my car at Palo Duro Canyon.  We crammed as much living as possible into the moments we had together, but it wasn’t enough.

As I look through all the videos and photos that I could not resist taking of him on the daily, it’s like I get to relive some of these moments and he’s right here with me.  These photos also show me how much he had changed in the last six months.  “I did the right thing,” I whisper to myself.  I say it over and over, hoping I did. He would have stayed with me and suffered silently just to be by my side, but I loved him too much to let him.  I gave him the permission he would never seek, to leave the damaged body that was trapping his soul.

After almost 11 years of walking him, now I have to learn to walk myself.  I need to remember to  stop and honor the sun, to walk barefoot on fresh warm grass, to pause in the middle of my never-ending to-do lists and watch the sunrise or catch the twilight blue of the ending day.  He was my bodyguard, my living teddy bear and my best friend, and I can’t believe he is gone.  Goodbye my sweet boy.  Please come visit, and take me for a walk.  I’ll bring your leash.

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When friendships end . . .

I seem to have more than my fair share of ailing and failing friendships, and it has me a little bit concerned.  In the course of my life, I have let some friendships wane out of a too-busy life and I have allowed some to fade because of disagreements and hurts.  The worst of these happened a few years ago between me and a dear friend of more than a decade.  The worst part about it was that during the year that we stopped speaking, she developed cancer and died before I could apologize or mend fences.  I refuse to ever let that happen again.

Some friendships can take a heavy blow and bounce back because both parties are willing to be vulnerable and communicate their hurts.  Others, get stuck and never recover.  I think that when friends fall out of our lives, it is ultimately because a shift occurs and the friendship is no longer serving both parties.  It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it is just a thing that happens and it hurts.  That person often becomes the “someone I used to know” that Gotye sings about.  Of course, he is singing about a lover, but the message is basically the same.

I recently fell out with two different friends, one male and one female, for vastly different reasons.  Maybe I am just too hard on the people I call my friends.  I insist that they have integrity, are truthful and that they walk their talk. In my opinion, a true friend is one that will call you out on your shit and wants you to do the same for them. That, to me, is the greatest gift we can give our friends.

There’s only one problem with this scenario; the truth looks different depending on one’s perspective.   Sometimes we just have to decide if we are willing to take all the blame for something or if we are going to stand up for our beliefs and toe the line.  I am a big fan of standing up for my beliefs and for my worth, though it’s a belated gift that I am finally giving myself.

For the longest time, I had a hard time finding my voice. It was like my throat chakra was in a knot.  I would let people take me for granted.  I would allow them to treat me with disrespect, and I would keep my mouth shut out of fear of losing them.  Then one day, I woke up and realized the disservice I was doing to my Self.  That pesky fear of abandonment finally lost its grip and I am forever changed because of it.

Friendships end.  That is life and it is an inevitable part of being human.  There doesn’t have to be any judgement about it.  There doesn’t have to be any blame.  For all the friends I have lost during my life, I have also managed to save a few.  I have made amends and been willing to communicate and heal the hurts and miscommunications, but only because the other person was also willing.  For those friendships, I am even more grateful because they are a mirror of hope and self-worth, and that seems to be the bigger theme that is occurring in my life these days.

For my birthday, a friend did a spiritual reading on me and said that I needed to journal daily that “I am worthy.”  She also suggested that I say it while I stare at myself in the mirror.   I thought it was strange at first, but I did it anyway.  After a few tries, I was able to add a little more to the sentence.  “I am worthy of love.” “I am worthy of success.”  “I am worthy of a faithful partner.” “I am worthy of abundance.”  I am worthy of being seen, of being heard, of happiness, peace, wholeness, stability, great friends . . . . well, you get the idea.

The words “I am” create a complete sentence, and they are the most powerful words we can say.  They are magic and anything that we add to them becomes a mantra that anchors and creates the life that we want and deserve.   If you don’t believe me, try it. Just remember, using “I am” to judge and knock yourself down is just as powerful so it’s important to be mindful.  You can just as easily create a life that you don’t want if you use this phrase without proper intention.

When my son was little, we had a favorite book called Unloveable by Dan Yaccarino.  It was about this little dog who thought he was unloveable because the cat,  the fish and the bird told him so.  Then one day, he met a new friend who reminded him that he was absolutely lovable.  Find those friends.  They are the ones worth fighting for, and they will be the ones who remind you that you are absolutely lovable and worthy no matter what.

Can We Just Be Friends?

I’ve been struggling with this question for awhile now, but it really hit home this week.  Probably one of the most influential movies that has impacted my understanding of this question came when I first watched the now classic, “When Harry Met Sally” and heard Billy Crystal’s character state in a matter of fact voice that men and women can never REALLY be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.  That gave and still gives me pause.  Over the years, I have tested this hypothesis and I have come to conclude that there is  A LOT of truth to it.  Notice that I didn’t say that it is 100% accurate, however; in my experience, it is mostly true.

Can men and women be friends?  Yes.  Does the sex part get in the way?  Yes.  Can they be friends in spite of this? Yes? Probably?  Maybe?  Actually, I have no valid data to confirm this.  I do believe it is possible, just like I believe that faeries and unicorns exist somewhere, even though I can’t see them in this dimension.

For starters, it might be good to define what we mean when we say “friends” and to qualify it a little. Let’s check in with Oxford just to be on the safe side.  A friend is:

A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations.

A person who is not an enemy or opponent; an ally.

A contact on a social networking website.

To be (or become) on good or affectionate terms with someone.

After looking at all of these definitions, I am partial to the word and definition of friendship instead.  It seems like a more accurate description of what I consider important.  I can be “friends” with hundreds of people, but far fewer of those friends involve true friendship.  This is particularly true of my friendships with men.  Oxford defines friendship as:

 . . . a close association between two people marked by feelings of care, respect, admiration, concern, or even love.

So why am I picking on men today?  There is a reason of course, and it is fueled by a man I recently met and have been getting to know for a few months.  He showed up at a time when I wasn’t looking and when I think I needed to believe that people like him exist.  He was my unicorn.

I met him while I was sitting on a log, enjoying the scenery of the aspen along Kenosha Pass.  Even though I enjoy group hikes, I also love being in nature alone, and such was the case on this day.  I had stopped to rest and have a snack before heading back the three miles or so to my car when a single man (with no ring on his wedding finger), stopped to ask for directions.  I gave them and as he continued on his way, I thought to myself, “now, that is the kind of guy I need to be with.” I thought this because he was out adventuring alone, enjoying nature in a similar way and he appeared to be single.

I was already in the process of gathering my things and continuing on my way when he paused as if he had heard my inward thoughts, turned around and headed back toward me.  I looked at him and asked, “change your mind?” We started up a conversation as we walked back through the wonderland of golden leaves and mystic trees. As we neared our vehicles, he asked if I’d like to exchange numbers and go on some hikes together in the future.  For the record, I have never done that.  I’ve never just handed out my number to a man I just met in the woods, but the connection I felt in that moment was undeniable and friendly, so I did.

Less than a week later, he proved to be someone I could count on in a way I had never imagined.  He inspired and encouraged me to fulfill my personal goal of hiking up to Gray’s Peak for my very first 14er.  For a hike that started at 6 a.m. and ended almost 10 hours later, we got to know each other more quickly than usual.  You don’t truly know someone until you’ve had to hide behind a rock and pee when they are nearby!

It was a few days afterward that I stumbled upon his Facebook page (Ok, fine, I searched for him). What I found was not what I expected; a recent profile photo of him posing with his adult children, and a very obvious wedding ring on his finger.  I thought it strange (and alarming) that he had left out this very important detail about himself.

To be honest, I was more than alarmed, I was downright pissed.  It felt like an intentional omission, and one that hit a nerve because of my own personal history.  When I asked about it, he didn’t deny it and confessed that he didn’t mean to hide it from me. There was already a feeling of connection and chemistry brewing between us so it felt like this changed everything about our friendship and what seemed to be evolving between us.  While it’s not like he lied, he also didn’t present the truth that a wedding ring implies.  We talked about his situation, and based on what he shared, it seemed like it would be safe to continue our friendship without stepping on his vows, which he assured me were over.

Every couple of weeks, we would meet at the crack of dawn and go on an epic hike somewhere.  It was nice to finally meet a man organically, without the taxing effort of online dating.  We  laughed so much on these excursions and realized our mutual love for nature.  He was always very respectful and conscientious of honoring my boundaries, and it felt safe and solid to be around him.  This was entirely new to me and I got swept up in it.

During the moments in between our hikes, there was much flirting and communicating via text messages, and a few phone calls.  It was about this time that it occurred to me that I needed to clarify a few things about the status of his divorce proceedings.  Being ready to sign on the dotted line is much different than just living under different roofs.  It turns out that he didn’t even have a lawyer yet.

As the truth of the situation came to light, he began to pull away.  Suddenly, the closeness that had been so easy and tangible at the beginning, was replaced with mild indifference and a formality that felt foreign.  I started to question whether I had imagined the connection entirely. The energy between us started to yo-yo between two extremes and it left me feeling much less safe and grounded.

In an effort to be a grown-up and not make assumptions, I asked what was going on.  His response was the type of bullshit answer that I have heard in various forms from a long line of men throughout my life, and it was not well-received.  It sounded like a cop-out and in one swift moment, two months of budding friendship became tenuous.

In a recent blog, I shared about how I had finally managed to let go of 18 years of anger, blame and hurt from my own divorce.  I know that my friend is at the beginning of this process, and that he has a long road ahead of him.  How can I be friends with someone without giving in to my curiosity and attraction to him?  The answer is simple.

I have come to the conclusion that this chance meeting and the challenging emotions that have surfaced within me because of it, are here for a reason.  I just don’t truly know the reason right now, but I think it involves learning to allow my friends to be where they are without needing them to be where I want them to be.  In other words, to accept them without condition, and focus on my feelings of care, respect and kindness.

I’ve had to ask myself some tough questions.  Am I the kind of person who only wants to be friends with those who have successfully walked through the fire of change? Or do I want to be the kind of friend that walks beside them, giving encouragement and acceptance along the way?  It is the latter of course, and I finally realize that in order to do this, I must stop projecting my expectations onto them, and just sit back and be grateful that they showed up at all.  On this day of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all the perfectly imperfect people who show up for me, and give me the support I need, when I least expect it.  I hope that I can return the favor, and give back all that I have received with unconditional love and acceptance.