The Sprained Foot

Here’s how it happened and how it is three weeks later.

I didn’t blog about this when it happened. It may have been embarrassment. Or it may have been because my life got very busy for a while with house guests and day trips and life in general.

It was on Monday, August 5. I’d spent much of the day — the third or fourth day in a row — out at my future homesite in Malaga, clearing out invasive weeds along the driveway and the road in front of my house. It was hot, exhausting work, but I felt good at the end of each day. Like I was working toward a goal. (Am I the only person who feels that way while making progress on a project?)

That particular day, I’d been using a gas-powered hedge trimmer to cut weeds. I’d rented it from Home Depot. The tool did the job, but not as easily as I’d hoped. And it was a bitch to get started. I returned it that afternoon, contemplating the purchase of a chainsaw again.

On the way home — it was probably about 5 PM at the time — I stopped at the supermarket to buy groceries. Because I had so much junk in the truck I did something I very rarely do: I put the 5 or 6 grocery bags in the truck’s bed.

That was my mistake.

When I got home, I discovered that the grocery bags had shifted around in the back of the truck. So I lowered the tailgate and climbed up to gather them together. They were the usual plastic shopping bags and I grasped them by their handles with four in one hand and two in the other. I walked to the back of the truck, stood on the edge of the tailgate and crouched down with my butt about four inches off the tailgate. I put my right hand down on the tailgate and launched my feet off the back of the truck.

Keep in mind that this little jumping maneuver is something I do regularly. The distance to the ground is only about 3 feet. By crouching and launching like that, I minimize the impact of the landing. I do it all the time. I’ve never had a problem.

Except that Monday. As I launched my feet off, one of my feet — maybe my right? — got hung up on the rough surface of the spray-in bed liner. It could have been because I was tired from a full day at work, but it was more likely complacency — not thinking about what I was doing because I had done it so many times before. I didn’t make a clean jump. I realized this as I was falling and tried to recover.

I don’t know exactly how I landed, but I suspect my left foot took most of the impact on an angle. My left knee and the palms of both hands hit the gravel next. The grocery bags crashed all around me.

I immediately thought of the Tito’s vodka and Maker’s Mark bourbon what were in the bags. It would be a real shame to break the bottles of $50 worth of liquor.

But pain interrupted those thoughts. Lots of pain. I was hurting badly. I rolled over on my back and began taking inventory on body parts. One by one they checked in OK. Except my left foot. That was just registering pain.

I sat up and gathered the bags together. Neither bottle had broken. Whew!

I sat for a moment more. My left knee was bleeding but the palms of my hands were fine. That could have been worse, I thought to myself.

It was. When I tried to stand up, I realized I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot.

Oddly enough, I didn’t think much of the problem at first. After all, we’ve all gotten hurt in silly little accidents and after the initial shock wears off, everything works fine. I figured that my foot or ankle — whatever was sending those pain messages to my brain — was just whining a bit longer than usual.

In the meantime, it was hot and I was thirsty. I managed to get to my feet and sort of hop over to my RV. My porch was a bit of a challenge and I honestly don’t remember how I got up the stairs. I put down the bags of groceries and poured myself a glass of lemonade with lots of ice. I drank it all and refilled it.

My ankle was still sending those pain messages. What was up with that?

I sat down on the steps that lead up to my bedroom and pulled off my shoe. My foot seemed to explode into a swollen mass. I couldn’t move my toes.

This was not good. There was a chance, I realized, that I may have actually broken something.

I pulled out my phone and called my friend Kathryn, who lives in the orchard.

“What are you doing?” I asked once the greetings were over.

“Nothing much,” she replied. “Just hanging around, enjoying the weather.”

“Could you do me a favor?” I asked.

“Sure. What do you need?”

“Could you drive me to the hospital? I think I might have broken my ankle.”

The tone of the conversation changed immediately to once of concern and urgency. A few minutes later, Kathryn and her husband Donn were out in front of my trailer with their truck. I used a stepladder as a cane to meet them on the driveway and managed to climb aboard.

They took me to a local clinic, which they thought would be faster than a hospital. Donn fetched a wheelchair and wheeled me in. I did the paperwork at the desk. And then they waited 90 minutes with me. (I have such great friends.) Kathryn came into the examining room with me to keep me company. I was x-rayed, poked, and prodded. It was pretty obvious that the problem was in my foot — not my ankle. The verdict came from the nurse practitioner who’d been assigned to me.

“It’s not broken. It’s a sprain.”

“That’s good,” I said, relieved.

“No, it’s not,” she corrected me. “For people over 40, sprains are usually worse than breaks. They take longer to heal.”

She wrapped me up with an ace bandage, gave me a prescription for pain meds, and told me where to find crutches at 7:30 on a Monday evening. She also gave me a sheet with the standard RICE advice.

My friends took me to Fred Meyer. Kathryn went in and returned with a set of crutches. Then we went to Olive Garden for dinner (their choice). I had a terrible drink and an excellent meal, which I only ate half of. By the time I got home, it was after 9 PM. I was glad I’d remembered to put away the yogurt before leaving.

Sore Foot
The day after my mishap was spent in bed with my foot elevated. But it swelled up anyway.

In the morning, I was amazed by how bad my foot looked. I took a picture and put it on Facebook. I spent much of the day in bed, trying hard to keep my foot elevated above the level of my heart.

Do you know how hard it is for me to sit still when I have things to do? It was a miserable day.

The next day, I had things to do and I wasn’t going to let my swollen foot stop me. So I wrapped it up grabbed the crutches, and got on with my life.

Of course, during this time I was still on contract for cherry drying. I had some concern over whether I’d be physically able to fly. After all, flying a helicopter requires four limbs, preferably healthy ones. But I put those concerns to rest on Wednesday when I fired up my helicopter and flew it down to Wenatchee for some scheduled maintenance. Fortunately, my helicopter doesn’t require much pressure on the pedals.

I admit I didn’t follow the RICE advice to the letter. Although I slept — or tried to sleep — with my foot elevated on two pillows, I didn’t ice it as often as I was supposed to and I certainly didn’t rest it very much. I was on two crutches for just two days and then just one crutch for a week. After the first week or so, I realized that it looked almost normal when I got out of bed but swelled up to epic proportions within a hour of being up and around. The swelling included my foot and ankle — indeed, I had a chankle. I ditched the crutches entirely about 10 days after my mishap. That’s when I flew my helicopter to Seattle to pick up a friend and did the tourist thing around Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. It was pretty swollen that night.

I’ve turned down five invitations from friends to go hiking. You have no idea how frustrating that is.

But I’ve also been out on my boat three times. Not much walking involved there. Once, while fishing, I sat on the swimming platform and dangled my feet into the Wenatchee River. The nice, cool water was soothing.

I’m now starting week 4 of healing. I’ve found a good compromise. When I prepare to go out for the day, I wrap my foot firmly in the ace bandage, put a sock over it, and put on my good walking shoes — ironically, the same ones I was wearing when the mishap occurred. The shoe gives my foot the support it needs; it only hurts when I step on uneven surfaces. Because the flexing motion of walking also causes pain, I have a pronounced limp when I try to walk quickly. But around my home, it’s not that bad. Yesterday, when I unwrapped it, it didn’t even look very swollen.

If I behave myself and stay off the hiking trails, I’m pretty sure I’ll be 100% healed by the end of September. That’s a long time, but I just have to deal with it.

As for jumping off the back of my truck — well, I think this little incident has reminded me that I’m not 22 anymore. We’ll see if I remember this lesson in the months and years to come.

Why I Made My Tweets Private

The short explanation: I was tired of being stalked by a paranoid, neurotic, and vindictive old woman.

How To Make Your Tweets Private

Shame on you! You obviously didn’t take my Lynda.com course about Twitter where I explain how to do this. But since you were nice enough to come visit me at my blog, I’ll give you the simple steps here:

  1. Log into Twitter.com.
  2. Go to https://twitter.com/settings/account. This is the Account Settings page for your account.
  3. Turn on the Protect my Tweets check box.
  4. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click Save Changes.
  5. Enter your password if prompted and click OK.

That’s all there is to it. From that point on, the only way someone can see your tweets is if they follow you — and they’ll have to get your approval to do so. While I don’t normally recommend doing this, it’s a good solution if you’d prefer to control who can see your tweets.

I just made my tweets private. It was the only thing I could think of to get my husband’s girlfriend — if you can use that word to refer to a 65-year-old woman — to stop stalking me on Twitter.

How It All Began

It’s been going on since at least November 2012.

Flushing Fish
I think the tweet text makes it pretty clear that the fish was already dead when I tried to flush it.

Back then, while I was cleaning my fish tank’s glass cover, I managed to get a cleaning solution in the water that killed four of the five fish in there. I removed the fish and attempted to flush them down the toilet. Unfortunately, the fish were large and they wouldn’t flush. For some reason, I thought that was funny and took a photo of it, which I shared on Twitter.

Well, my husband’s girlfriend decided that my flushing of a dead fish was evidence that I was destroying my husband’s property — namely, his “exotic” fish. (Nevermind that the fish tank was mine, purchased before marriage, and the dead fish were just tropical fresh-water fish costing about $5 each — if that.) She apparently convinced my husband and his lawyer that they needed an expedited hearing in front of the divorce judge to stop me from doing whatever it is they thought I was doing. They demanded an opportunity to inspect the house and remove his personal possessions so I would stop destroying them. She printed out 25 pages of my tweets — the vast majority of which had absolutely nothing to do with my divorce — and submitted them as “evidence” of my wrongdoing.

This is when I realized a few things:

  • My husband’s girlfriend was in charge of my husband’s side of the divorce. It all came from her; I had confirmation of that later by means I’ve promised not to disclose. My husband certainly didn’t read my tweets (or my blog) and he knew the fish were mine.
  • My husband’s girlfriend was paranoid, neurotic, and likely as delusional as my husband had become. What else could I think? She read a tweet about a fish being flushed and decided it was evidence that I was destroying my husband’s property. Seriously: WTF?
  • My husband’s lawyer was not giving them sound advice — or, if he was, they weren’t taking it. After all, if he’d read the 25 pages of tweets, he’d clearly see that there was nothing in there to indicate that I was destroying anything belonging to my husband. They’d simply look like idiots in front of the judge.

This kind of backfired on them — as so many of their court actions did. My husband was given a date and time to come to our house and retrieve any of his possessions that he was worried about. That meant moving a lot of crap out of the house that he would probably have preferred leaving right there. It also prevented him from accessing the house later, as he tried in May, because he’d already used up his only court-approved opportunity to remove possessions. Oops.

You think she’d learn her lesson. A smart person would. But no: she continued to watch my tweets and attempt to use them to harass me throughout the months the divorce process dragged on.

Show Me Your Weakness and I’ll Exploit It

I have to admit that once I knew she was reading my tweets, it was difficult not to taunt her. She had no life — that was clear — why else would she be so obsessed with what I was tweeting about? Despite my heartbreak over losing the man I’d loved for more than half my life, I had a great life and I tweeted every detail.

I didn’t work much throughout the winter and spring and I traveled a lot, making multiple trips to California, Florida, Las Vegas, and Washington. I shopped for a whole new wardrobe after losing 45 pounds the previous summer. I met new people home and away and did all kinds of things with them. When I was home, I had a steady stream of house guests in the house they supposedly couldn’t wait to get back into. They’d insisted on dragging the divorce on past the original January trial date by asking for a continuance — I made the best of the situation by having a great time while I was stuck there. I tweeted all winter and spring about my activities, making sure I mentioned every fun thing I was doing, knowing just how much it would get under her skin.

A normal person would have stopped reading the tweets. But she’s not normal. She’s obsessed. I accused her in January of living vicariously through my tweets. She read that one, too — I saw it later as “evidence” in court.

She was stuck with my sad sack husband, directing his divorce because he lacked the balls — or moral integrity — to do it himself. I was enjoying real freedom for the first time in nearly 30 years, doing whatever I wanted without having to look at his sour, disapproving face.

And, of course, I packed.

More Tweets in January

The tweets came up again in January when she attempted to get an Injunction Against Harassment on me. I fought it in court. More tweets submitted as “evidence.” I don’t even think the judge looked at them. Why should he? Pages and pages of my usual blather — those who follow me on Twitter know what I tweet about — all copied in triplicate as “exhibits” for the court. I could only imagine what those photocopies cost — law firms charge through the nose for everything!

They showed up with their lawyer. Three of them against me. I won. They had no case.

Another court action backfires on them. Another few thousand dollars wasted fighting the phantoms of her delusions.

The Ceiling Fans

Ceiling Fan Tweet
I really couldn’t resist. Note that I didn’t say here that I removed the ceiling fans; I just insinuated that I did.

When the divorce trial was finally over the other day, I admit I did send one last tweet intended for her consumption, one last thing to really piss her off. The ceiling fan tweet.

During personal property negotiations, she’d listed the ceiling fans as something I must leave behind. I still remember the discussion my lawyer’s assistant and I had about this demand. It went something like this:

Me: She thinks I’m going to take down the ceiling fans?

Her: Apparently so.

Me: Why the hell would I do that? They came with the house. What the hell am I going to do with six southwest style ceiling fans in Washington state?

Her: She’s just trying to get under your skin.

Me: All she’s doing is showing how stupid and petty she is. I don’t want the damn fans.

Of course, she also demanded the curtain rods. But in the final agreement, the curtain rods went to me. I took them, with the curtains — admittedly, mostly for spite, although the ones in the living room and guest room (which were the only ones I really wanted) will look nice in my new home. And although the ceiling fans were not on the list of the items they could keep — after all, I considered them part of the house — I didn’t take them. I just tweeted as if I might have. The ceiling fans had become a running joke with my Twitter and Facebook friends and I knew they’d enjoy the tweet.

Because my husband had refused to inspect the house with me present, it would be at least 36 hours before they could get in to see what I’d left behind. I’m sure her blood pressure was red-lining the whole time, thinking about those ceiling fans.

Sadly, she didn’t stroke out.

It’s Over. Really.

In my mind, the divorce was over. Everything was in the hands of the judge. We’d settled the personal property and I had come away with everything that was mine and the joint property that I wanted, leaving behind far more for them than I’d taken for myself. (My lawyer’s assistant thinks I gave too much away.) I had finally moved out of my house. I was back in Washington, living where I’d spent the previous five summers, working, playing, having a life.

My husband’s girlfriend, however, wasn’t finished with me yet. She just couldn’t let go. She just couldn’t stop harassing me. I guess that when you spend so many months catering to an obsession, it’s hard to call it quits.

I blogged about the latest hilarity here. No need to repeat the details in this post.

It does, however, all come down to tweets. She built her delusion about my ownership of property in Washington on her interpretation of my tweets. Apparently, plain English isn’t good enough for her. In her paranoid mind, she believes everything I’ve written contains a coded message. She reads my tweets and interprets the code she believes they contain. The result: “facts” to feed her delusions.

(A mutual friend of mine and my husband’s can’t wait to meet her. She’s an amateur psychologist and thinks she’ll have a lot of fun trying to figure her out. I’m looking forward to her report.)

Although I made it clear in a recent email to a bunch of people that I think her obsession with my tweets is evidence that she’s sick, I seriously doubt whether that’s enough to stop her from obsessing. And frankly, I don’t want every little thing I tweet about to feed her delusions and get her running to her lawyer to bother mine.

It’s over. I’m free. I shouldn’t have to deal with her crap anymore. Hell, I shouldn’t have had to deal with it in the first place — and I wouldn’t have if my husband was smart enough (or man enough) to rein her in. The only way to break her of the obsession is to take the object of her obsession away from her.

So my tweets have become private, at least for now.

Suicide, Revisited

I get it now.

Back in August, 2010, I wrote a blog post about Suicide. I had just learned that a friend of mine from years before had taken his own life at work, leaving behind a wife and four daughters. At the same time, I was struggling to write a passage in a personal memoir about another suicide that had touched my life. I was trying hard to understand it all, trying to figure out why someone would take that drastic step and end his life.

I concluded then that people who commit suicide are selfish and cowardly. I concluded that the real “victims” of suicide are the people they leave behind.

I didn’t get it then.

I get now.

It’s all about relief — getting relief from feeling so miserable that you simply can’t go on.

I’ve glimpsed this feeling a few times over the past eight months. The first time was in August, when I first realized that the man I loved and trusted for more than half my life — my best friend, in many respects — had betrayed me by cheating on me and lying to me and planning to keep me out of my only home. I had no idea what was going on at home and my imagination took off with a wide range of worst-case scenarios. I had no way to find out what the truth was. The shock and grief I was suffering made it impossible to carry on my day-to-day living without breaking down into sobs at seemingly random times. My mind was caught up in the tragedy of the situation; it wouldn’t settle down. I was absolutely miserable — I cannot imagine being more miserable than I was.

My only relief was sleep, but because my mind couldn’t rest, I could only doze fitfully, never quite getting the relief I needed. This went on for days.

When I went to see a counselor for help, at the end of our first session, she gave me the phone number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline. She really thought that I might be at risk.

And that made me feel even worse.

Later, when my mind cleared a bit and I was able to look back objectively at that week in my life, I understood why some people turn to the final solution for all their problems. They just want relief.

I should mention here that this is probably also why so many people turn to drugs or alcohol. I’m a pilot and I can’t take drugs and I was on standby duty at the time so I couldn’t even drink. But if I could, I probably would have turned to either one for the relief I so desperately needed. I think a lot of people do. It’s sad; this is clearly the way so many addictions get started. The substance offers the relief a person so desperately needs. But the substance is not a permanent solution, and repetitively taking drugs or alcohol for relief will likely do more harm than good. It certainly won’t make the cause of the problem go away.

Why a person feels so miserable that they turn to suicide for relief depends on that person and what’s going on in his life. There might be psychological factors; the man who killed himself by jumping out of the tour helicopter I was flying back in 2004 had a history of problems, was on medication, and had even tried to kill himself with a knife five months before. I don’t know the details of my old friend’s situation, but I have to assume he was under a lot of stress at home — or more likely at work, where he did the deed — and perhaps had other psychological issues that came into play. For these people, suicide was the relief they so desperately needed.

In my original blog post on this topic, I said that people who committed suicide were selfish. I now don’t think that’s entirely true. I think that they’re so overwhelmed with their own misery that they simply can’t think about others. I think that when a person takes his own life, he’s only thinking about one thing: how he’ll finally make his suffering end. At that point, nothing else matters.

Suicide is a horrible thing — and it’s not the answer. Getting to the root cause of your misery and finding solutions to make things better might be more difficult than simply giving up, but it’s ultimately more worthwhile. Not just for you, but for the people who care about you.

If you’re reading this because you’ve considered suicide, do yourself a favor and get the help you need. Life is worth living; you can get past your problems and see that for yourself again.

On Weight Loss and Metabolism

It may not be scientific, but it’s what I’m seeing here.

As regular blog readers know, last summer I went on a diet and lost 45 pounds. That translated into four pants sizes (14 down to 6) and more than 20 inches (total) off my bust, waist, and hips.

I did all this in about four months — I started on June 15 and was pretty much off the diet food by October 15.

45 pounds was about 23% of my body weight. A friend, on seeing me in January for the first time in more than two years, said I was 2/3 the person I was. Not exactly accurate; I was closer to 3/4 the person I was.

My point: I lost a ton of weight in a very short time.

The Real Benefit

The benefit — other than looking great — was feeling great. I had (and still have) a ton of energy. I can walk faster, hike longer, and even climb hills without getting winded. And I have a theory about that.

When I was fat — there, I said it! — I was carrying around a lot of extra weight. My body had to adapt to carry that weight — it had to get stronger just to lift that extra weight off the ground and walk with it. When the extra weight disappeared, I still had the strength to carry it, but had nothing to carry.

Imagine being forced, every day of your life, to walk around with a backpack that gets heavier over time. After nine years, it’s 45 pounds. Because the weight was added slowly over time, your body has become accustomed to it and, although it’s not easy to carry, you can carry it because you’re used to carrying it.

Now imagine someone taking weight out of that backpack at the rate of 10+ pounds a month for four months. Your body still has the strength it needs to carry all that extra weight, but now it’s gone! How do you think you’re body’s going to react? It’s going to have all kinds of extra energy that it doesn’t need.

I’ve been putting that energy to good use since this summer by going on long hikes, getting out and about with friends, maintaining an aggressive travel schedule, and keeping active around the house, packing and moving my belongings into storage.

How Metabolism Fits In

Here’s where my theory gets a bit sketchy — mostly because I have no scientific evidence to back it up.

As we age, our metabolism slows down. I think that’s pretty much accepted as fact. Because most of us don’t reduce the amount of food we eat or eat smarter or better as we age, we gain weight. I’m pretty sure that — and normal female hormonal changes — are what caused me to pork up over the years.

After losing all that weight, I worried a lot about gaining it all back when I got off the diet — which required me to eat special food. But I certainly didn’t want to stay on the diet forever. So I weaned myself off the food and tried to eat sensibly.

Then the holidays came and I ate whatever I wanted to. And then I did some more traveling and I ate out a lot. And I spent a lot of time with friends, eating and drinking and having a grand old time.

At this point, I eat almost exactly as I did before I went on the diet. I should be gaining weight, right?

But I’m not. The weight is keeping off me.

And that’s where I think the metabolism is coming into play. I suspect that my weight loss and increased activity levels — because I now have more energy to keep active — has raised my metabolism. My body needs those calories and it burns them off.

What do you think? Does this make sense to anyone who knows about this kind of stuff?

Hiking with Strangers

Again.

Now that I’m back in shape, I’m very interested in staying in shape. That means exercise.

I tried the gym in Wickenburg, but soon got tired of waiting for the seniors using the equipment to stop resting on the equipment when I was trying to go through my workout routine. I’ve got some weights at the house and I use them pretty regularly now to build back muscle tone, especially in my upper arms.

For other exercise, however, I’ll stick to the thing I like best: hiking.

Recent Hikes

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve gone out of my way to find people to hike with. These folks start out as perfect strangers, but if I hike with them repeatedly, they become friends. So I basically kill two birds with one stone: I get exercise doing something I like to do and I make new friends.

(I should mention here that losing my husband has made all this possible. With him around, I didn’t do much of anything outdoors — and I certainly didn’t have any opportunities to meet new people. He’s not interested in expanding his horizons. He’s just interested in staying in his cocoon with the people he’s comfortable with. That means about six friends for dining out and going to the occasional ball game. That “social life” was the absolute pits for me. I’m so glad I’m able to do so much better without him.)

At West Fork Hike
Two of my friends from the Phoenix Atheist Meetup Group on the West Fork hike. The primary focus of the hike was to enjoy the fall colors.

The first group I started hiking with was the Phoenix Atheist Meetup Group. This is a huge group of people with many activities every week. But a subset of the group does weekly hikes — usually on Sunday mornings when other folks are at church. I’ve been on three hikes with them so far: Grapevine Canyon (Mayer), Soldier Pass (Sedona), and West Fork (Sedona). They are a great group of people and I really enjoy their company. I’ll be doing another hike with them in a week or so out in the Superstition Mountains.

I also hiked with another Meetup group, the Arizona Sierra Club Singles. Their hike was close to home for me: Vulture Peak. I didn’t blog about it, mostly because I didn’t have much to say that was positive. The group was small, they started the hike too late in the day — after 9 AM — so it was brutally hot on the return trip, and they weren’t very friendly. Indeed, each person seemed interested in hiking alone or with just one other person. No one waited for anyone else, no one seemed to care whether the last person was having trouble keeping up. I made the hike to the saddle quicker than I had ever done before, then made the tedious climb to the top of the peak to join the four or five other people up there. No one seemed to care whether I fell to my death in the hand-over-hand climbing part that really is dangerous. And when I got up there, triumphant, exhausted, and sweating like a pig, they were all ready to come back down. Not wanting to be left up there alone, I hurried after them, spending less than five minutes on the peak. Needless to say, I probably won’t be hiking with them again. I just wasn’t impressed.

It’s interesting to me how two groups of people can be so different. The Sierra Club members, who supposedly care about the environment, etc, were all caught up in their own little worlds, completely unfriendly and mostly uncaring about newcomers. The Atheists, who are frowned upon by god-fearing Christians who consider them immoral and perhaps evil, were friendly and caring, eager to make me feel welcome, even on my first hike with them. Whodathunkit? So much for stereotypes.

Hiking with the Around the Bend Friends

When I mentioned on Facebook that I’d be spending a few days in Las Vegas for business and was interested in doing a hike while I was there, one of my Facebook friends suggested the Around the Bend Friends hiking group. I followed the link and found a simple Website that showed pictures from recent hikes and a calendar of upcoming hikes. I was amazed to see that these people had a hike schedule almost every single day. When I got to Las Vegas and realized my Saturday morning was wide open, I checked the site again, found two hikes scheduled for that morning, and joined the group for the shorter of the two: Pine Creek in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. From the hike description:

The leisurely Saturday hike leading off the month will involve another partial loop route, but it will be somewhat shorter at 3 miles. After passing the Wilson homestead foundation, the trail crosses the creek just after the start of the Arnight Trail, then branches off heading upstream along the creek toward the base of Mescalito Peak. One more crossing of the creek to the north bank involves some very minor scrambling. Overall, the hike is rated easy to moderate and gains between 100 and 200 feet of elevation. The group will meet at Best Buy for an 8:30 AM departure.

I met the group as scheduled in the Best Buy parking lot on the west end of Charleston Boulevard. I was among the first to arrive. I signed in as a guest and chatted with the hike leader, Rick, before dashing across the street to get a cup of coffee at Burger King. (Don’t ask.) At 8:30 sharp, Rick did a brief introduction to the hike and the 16 people who had gathered climbed into cars and headed out to Red Rock Canyon park.

Pine Creek Trailhead View
A waning gibbous moon is setting behind the mountains in this view from the Pine Creek trailhead.

I drove alone, top down, enjoying the cool morning air. It was less than 10 miles to the park entrance and then another 10 miles to the trailhead. The road wound through the desert, past amazing red rock formations and parking areas for overlooks and trailheads. At the Pine Creek parking areas, I took the first parking spot I could find and climbed out to join the group at the trailhead.

The Around the Bend Friends bill themselves as “a group of young-at-heart people age 50 and over who participate in outdoor activities in the areas and states surrounding Las Vegas.” That’s a good description. At 51, I was one of the youngest in attendance. But these weren’t old folk like those catching their breath on the exercise equipment at Wickenburg’s gym. These people were active and physically fit. And, as we headed down the trail, it was clear that they were light on their feet and well able to scramble around and over the rocks in our path. Yes, they were older folks. But I know plenty of young people that wouldn’t be able to keep up with them.

The terrain was rugged, with more rock formations and lots of almost salmon colored sand under foot. The trail wound through the desert, passing the ruins of an old homestead before descending down to a spring-fed creek. There were plenty of photo opportunities that included not only trees turning yellow for autumn, but views of the distinctive Mescalito Peak.

Autumn Colors Along Pine Creek
Autumn colors along the Pine Creek Trail.

Mescalito PeakMescalito Peak from the Wilson homestead ruins.

We crossed the creek by hopping from rock to rock, then followed the narrow trail that snaked along the other side in the shade. I was surprised at the vegetation: a mix of manzanita and the biggest holly bushes I’d ever seen, along with cacti and other native plants. Because of the relative moisture in the area, the plants grew large and close to the trail. There was a lot of scrambling around rocks and bushes along the way.

The pace was moderate — not too slow to be boring, but not too fast to leave people behind. Rick was in charge of making sure we all stayed together and he led the group accordingly. Although we did stretch out several times, he paused to make sure we’d all gathered together before going on again. It was nice to see someone taking responsibility for the hike. (The Atheist group uses handheld radios for the same purpose, mostly because of the wide range of hiking skills among members of the group.)

My Fellow Hikers
My fellow hikers.

Rock wall with climbers

Climbers

Climbers

The rock wall where we saw the climbers. The insets are blown up from the original image; not clear but clear enough to see the climbers.

Back on the creek bed, where the trail began its return loop, we stopped for a rest in the shade. We’d been hiking about an hour. We chatted among ourselves while munching energy bars and pieces of fruit and sipping water. It was about 10 AM and it was cool in the shade. One of the members looked up at the rock wall we could see between the trees and spotted climbers. We counted four of them; we met others on their way to the rock wall on our return hike.

Once we’d rested for a while, we continued the hike’s loop trail, returning along the base of the rock wall in the sun. Although I’d started the hike with a sweatshirt on, I soon stripped it off. The sun was strong, but not yet overpowering. I really felt its heat on my black jeans. If the hike had been later in the day, I probably would have roasted. (But then again, I probably would have worn shorts.)

I handled the climb back up to the trailhead admirably. In my fat days, I would have needed at least three rest stops along the way. But with 45 pounds less weight to lug around, I didn’t even get winded on the way up. I was left again to wonder why the hell it took me so long to get that extra weight off — and why other people don’t do the same.

Rick passed around the sign in sheet for each of us to sign out. It was after 11 AM; I had four hours to kill before my afternoon meeting. I climbed back into the car, put the top down, and headed back to the city.

Hiking with Strangers

Would I hike with the Around the Bend Friends again? You bet!

With resources like Meetup to find hiking groups and other groups like the Around the Bend Friends out there, it’s easy to get out for a hike with others. Even if they start out as strangers, they can soon be friends.

32 Pounds is a Lot to Carry Around

And I got proof of that today.

I like to hike. I like taking long walks on trails — especially cool, wooded trails winding alongside canyons or rivers. I love to be out in nature, to breathe the fresh air, to smell the plants around me. I really like hiking in solitary places, where I’m not likely to run into another group of hikers with their annoying children or loud chatter, so I can let my dog hike off-leash with me, running ahead, sniffing around, and then darting after me to catch up when she falls behind.

Unfortunately, I was never able to handle uphill climbs. I always got short of breath on any hike that required me to do any climbing at all. I took frequent rest breaks, often holding back some of my companions. It was as if my lungs just weren’t up to the task. This goes way back — I recall doing a hike at Lake George not long after meeting my soon-to-be ex-husband back when I was only 22 and being the second to last person to reach the mountaintop fire tower that was our destination.

Downhill was not an issue. I can hike downhill all day long. Doesn’t matter how steep or how far. Gravity apparently helps out enough that my lungs can deal with it.

Of course, the situation didn’t get any better as I aged or gained weight. Last year I went for a hike in Wenatchee to Saddle Rock with my neighbor and wound up sending him on ahead because I felt bad about him waiting for me. It was a fact of my life, something I dealt with. But not something I wanted friends to have to deal with, too.

So imagine my surprise when I took a short hike this afternoon up a mountain road with an elevation gain of 350 feet in less than half a mile — and didn’t need to stop once for a rest.

View During My HikeI’d tried the same hike back in the end of July — just over a month ago! — and got less than 1/4 mile with four rest breaks. But today, I “motored” up the hill like it was a walk in the park, passed the gate that was my original destination, and walked another 1/2 mile beyond it. I was rewarded with a stroll through tall pine trees and an incredible view of the valley beyond.

I did work up a tiny bit of a sweat on the walk, but I think that’s because it was still pretty warm out — maybe even in the low 80s. Never really got my pulse going, though. And on the way back (when I used GPSTrack to measure the elevation change and distance of the hike), I averaged 3.3 MPH.

I can only assume my newfound energy — or excess lung capacity — is due to the 32 pounds of extra weight I’ve dropped in the past 11 weeks. What else could explain my sudden ability to climb hills?

A gateI do know for certain that the weight loss made it possible for me to slip between the bars of this gate instead of trying to open or climb it. I don’t know the bar spacing, but I know damn well I would not have been able to pass through three months ago.

Regular readers of this blog might be wondering why I keep blogging about my weight. Simply put: I’m amazed by the change. If I knew that I’d look this good and feel this good with 30 pounds off my body, I would have done this years ago. Or never have gotten so overweight.

And I’m also writing this to encourage other people who are overweight to do something about it. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, there are sacrifices. But the way you’ll feel when that weight is off is worth all the effort and sacrifice you made.

Like me, you’ll feel like a new person. I promise.

As for me, my new goal is only 10 pounds away. I should be there before I go back to Arizona in October. Can’t wait to get into those old jeans stored away in the closet!

My Experience with Aging, Weight, and Medifast

What I can tell you from my experience — and how you can avoid having to eat out of a box.

I was a skinny kid, all skin and bones. I was active — all kids who lived in the suburbs were back then — and I had good genes. My dad, after all, was 6’4″ tall and skinny as a pole.

It wasn’t until I got into junior high school that I started filling out. In eighth grade, I was probably close to my full height of 5’8″ and I was wearing jeans with a 31″ waist. I probably weighed about 130 pounds.

My Metabolism and Weight

In 1978, I started college. At the time, I still lived at home in Kings Park, NY on Long Island. I commuted to school in Hempstead, NY, a distance of about 35 miles. I also had a part time job in a clothing store near home and worked about 20 hours a week. Without any effort on my part, all that teen fat fell off me. Indeed, I couldn’t put weight on if I tried. By the spring of 1980, when I finally moved on campus, I weighed 105 pounds. I looked skeletal, like the poster girl for an eating disorder clinic.

The school meal plan cured me. Those warm, soft dinner rolls! The weight came back on slowly. When I graduated in May 1982, I weighted about 130 pounds again. I looked good — even in a bikini, which is hard to imagine now.

Fortunately, my metabolism stayed high throughout my 20s. Unfortunately, I went on the pill, which changes a woman’s normal hormonal balance. I blame that hormone change for the 10 or so pounds I gained in my 20s.

After that, as I aged, my weight rose slowly but steadily, year after year. As many of us age, we become less active. I spent a lot of time sitting in my car commuting or sitting at my desk writing books to earn a living. I wasn’t running around, eating snacks on the run instead of full meals. I had money and could afford to eat well. And I did. Very well.

Hints of a Weight Problem

My husband and I went on a Caribbean cruise back in 2002. It was the same year my brother got married. I was one of the bridesmaids and I had a typically silly dress I had to wear. I took the dress along on the cruise as my “formal wear.” The dress was a size 14 and it was snug. When I got back from the cruise, I tipped the scales at 180 pounds.

Ouch.

I started watching what I ate. I got my weight down to the 170-175 pound range. If you looked at me, you wouldn’t say, “She’s fat.” You’d say, “She’s a big girl.” I was.

My husband, in the meantime, had also porked up a bit. He was weighing in a little over 200 pounds. He’s 5’10” tall and was always very athletic. But by that time, we’d moved to Arizona where he couldn’t participate in the men’s sports he’d enjoyed back in New Jersey. He was losing muscle tone. Nothing serious, but we both noticed it.

We got on Atkins. Atkins is basically a zero-carb diet. And you can say what you like about its nutritional value or faults, but if you stick to it, it works. In a very short period of time, he got down to about 180 pounds and I got down to 160.

Captain MariaThat’s where I was when I worked as a pilot at the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2004. 160 pounds is a perfect weight for a helicopter pilot. It’s light so you can take on more passengers, cargo, or fuel. But it’s not too light to fly solo in most helicopters without adding ballast.

As for Atkins, it might work, but it’s a horrible diet for life. I simply couldn’t stick with it.

Body, Mind, and Weight Changes

In 2006, I was diagnosed with a tumor in my uterus. The “cure” was a radical hysterectomy — they basically cut me open and took out all my internal reproductive organs. (I have a cesarean scar without ever having had a baby!) Losing these parts wasn’t a huge deal for me, since I didn’t plan to have children. But it did push me through menopause at age 44.

Fortunately, the tumor was not malignant and I didn’t need any further treatment for it.

Unfortunately, menopause is a huge change in a woman’s body chemistry. Without certain hormones being produced, metabolism changes. Or at least that’s what seems to happen. I certainly porked up afterward, shooting back up to 180 pounds in no time.

Time marched on. My life changed. My relationship changed. I worked hard to keep my weight from rising. But this past winter, when I was back in Arizona, away from my friends, in a dying marriage, I ate for comfort. I ate too much. I ate the wrong things.

And I gained weight. When I left Arizona in May, I was 195 pounds.

And I could see it. Not only were all my clothes tight — some too tight to wear! — but when I looked in the mirror, I looked like an overweight, middle-aged woman. This only fed my overall feelings of depression from loneliness and my dismal marital situation.

Knowing How Much is too Much

There are lots of resources on the web to help you understand what you should weigh and why. Many of those resources go into topics like Body Mass Index and take age and other factors into consideration. I’ll keep things simple here and concentrate mainly on weight.

Healthy Weight for WomenThe Rush University Medical Center publishes a simple table of healthy weights. I took the numbers on the Female side of the table, fed them into Excel, and got the following simple chart. A healthy weight is between the two colored lines for your height.

According to this data, I should weigh 126 to 154 pounds. I was 41 pounds overweight. Ouch!

BMI CalculatorThe U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has a bunch of information about healthy weight. Its Healthy Weight Tools page includes a link to a BMI Calculator. Using this calculator for my maximum healthy weight (per Rush University’s table), my BMI would be 23.4, which is considered within “Normal” range. So is 160 pounds, which is what I wanted to be.

I should mention here that the added weight was also causing health problems. Although high blood pressure and stroke run in my family, it wasn’t until I gained all that weight that my blood pressure rose beyond what’s healthy. My fear of stroke — and my desire to keep working as a pilot — forced me to get it under control with medication. I’m not a big believer in taking pills and it bothered me that I had to rely on them to keep healthy.

My Solution: Medifast

With the blood pressure situation on my mind and a divorce looming, I realized that I had to take action. I needed to take control, lose weight, and get healthy again.

Around this time, I ran into my friend Mike T. Mike’s a pilot with US Air. He’s in his late 50s and was always a big guy. I hadn’t seen him for at least two years, although we were sometimes in touch via email. When I ran into him at an FAA meeting at PHX tower, he looked remarkably different. Turns out, he’d lost 80 pounds.

Mike wound up working with me in Washington on my cherry drying contracts. When he brought his helicopter up in May with his wife and a friend, we all got together with another pilot friend, Jim, for dinner in Mattawa, WA. That’s when I discovered that his wife had lost 70 pounds. That’s right: between the two of them, they’d lost what I should weigh.

How did they do it? Medifast.

They told us a little about it at dinner. Cheryl (Mike’s wife) is a “health coach.” You can read her story on her “Take Shape for Life” website. You can also see before and after photos of her and Mike. She didn’t try to sell it to either me or Jim (who is also overweight). But by the time dinner was over, Jim was thinking hard about it. A few days later, he’d signed up. A week later, I signed up.

Medifast is a combination of specially formulated, packaged foods with a meal plan. You eat six (yes, six) meals a day. Five of those meals come out of boxes. The sixth meal is a “lean and green” that consists of lean protein (meat, chicken, or fish) plus a low carb green vegetables.

As I mentioned elsewhere, most of the box items are powder or powder plus other ingredients. You add water, then either shake, cook, or microwave. Some of the items are prepared, like snack bars or crackers. There’s a decent variety of items, so you don’t have to eat the same thing all the time.

The important part of the plan — which I didn’t understand at first — is not how much you eat but how you spread those meals out throughout the day. Generally speaking, you need 2 to 3 hours between meals. I try to eat at 6 AM, 9 AM, noon, 3 PM, 6 PM, and 9 PM.

At first, the plan was very difficult for me. I’m a foodie and love to eat good food. Although many of the Medifast options are palatable, I could never call any of them good. (Well, maybe the chocolate pudding.) I’m also a big eater and when you put a big plate of tasty food in front of me, I’m more likely to clean that plate than leave anything on it. And the Medifast meal portions are small.

The meals are formulated to be low in calories, fat, and carbs. For example, I had chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. (Well, technically it’s pancake because I make one big one.) 90 calories, 1/2 gram fat, and 11 grams net carbs. The shake I just had for meal #2 is 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 9 grams net carbs. The chocolate pudding I like so much is 110 calories, 1 gram fat, and 11 grams net carbs. At the same time, the meals are fortified with vitamins and minerals so you’re sure to get required nutrients.

So what the plan does is spread a small amount of nutritionally balanced caloric intake throughout the day. Your body is eating less, but it never tells itself to go into “starvation mode” and burn muscle instead of fat. And the nutrients are there, so you really never feel like you’re dieting. With normal activity (or a little extra exercise) and a lot of water to stay hydrated and flush your system out, the fat falls off.

Really.

And the good part about all this is that over time, you get used to the box food and eating less. So while the first month was miserable for me, the second was easier. I’m halfway into month 3 now and I’m not suffering at all.

I should mention here that I don’t stick to the plan like glue. Occasionally, I’ll go out to eat with friends and eat a salad that isn’t exactly a “lean and green” meal. In every single case, I’ll only eat half of the restaurant portion and bring the other half home for the next day’s lean and green meal. Amazingly, half a restaurant salad satisfies me now. I’ve cut back on my wine consumption — I probably drink just one glass a week now. And although fruit is verboten, you can’t stop me from eating fresh cherries and blueberries that I pick myself every evening.

My results? Well, I weigh myself daily and write down the results on a chart I keep on the back of the medicine cabinet door. The results either motivate or scold me. Over time, they’ve motivated me to stick with it. I also measure my bust/waist/hips once a month.

I fed the weight numbers into an Excel spreadsheet and charted them. I also did some math on the measurements.

Drum roll, please….

My Weight, ChartedIn 2-1/2 months, I’ve lost 28 pounds and a total of 11 inches, 7 of which are from my waist. I am less than 8 pounds from my goal weight of 160 pounds and am considering taking it all the way down to 150 — a new goal I’m confident I can reach.

I feel great! I have lots of energy and (other than bouts of depression caused by my divorce woes) feel really upbeat and happy. I feel positive about my health and my future. I’ve even gotten off one of my blood pressure meds.

My clothes are no longer tight. In fact, some have become so loose that they look silly on me. My big reward when I reach my goal weight is the new wardrobe I’ll be buying. That and the ability to get into a few pairs of old jeans in my closet back home.

I can honestly say that losing weight was one of the best decisions I made in my life. I only regret that I let my body get to the point where it was necessary.

And yes, you can expect some “after” photos when I reach my goal. There are no “before” photos since I really didn’t want my photo taken when I was at my heaviest. In a way, I wish I had a fatty picture to share. It would remind me of the place I never want to be again.

I’ll also fill you in on my transition off the box food to regular food. Although I had my doubts in the beginning, I now think can do it. We’ll see.

Jim’s Results

Oddly, as I was writing this post, Jim called. I’d forwarded him a link to the weight table I mentioned earlier, along with my current status. He wanted to congratulate me.

We both had the same goal: to be 160-pound pilots. He’s now below that goal and shooting for 150. His wife just got on the program and has begun to lose weight, too. They’re supporting each other for better health.

Don’t Let It Happen to You!

Of course, I got fat by letting the weight creep up slowly throughout years and years of my life. I think this is what happens to many people — especially those who don’t have weight problems when they’re young and more active. A pound here, three pounds there, five pounds over the holidays that don’t all come off in the spring. It all adds up. You can accept these small weight changes because they’re small. But they’re also insidious. And if you let them, they’ll destroy your health and well-being.

My advice? Consult a reputable healthy weight chart to see what you should weigh. If you’re just a little bit more than that, begin changing your eating habits to eat less and to eat smarter. Just avoiding high carb foods like bread, potatoes, and pasta should be a big help. You might also consult a blog post I wrote a few years ago when it was easier for me to control my weight: “8 Ways to Lose Weight without Dieting or Exercise.”

But if you’re quite a bit beyond what you should be, maybe its time for drastic measures. Medifast is drastic, but it’s healthy and it does work. You can visit Cheryl’s website to learn more. Don’t let the cost of the food scare you off — remember, you won’t be buying much else in the way of groceries, so you really won’t be spending much more than you usually do on food. Or find some other plan that works for you.

But do it now. Don’t wait until it gets so out of control that you can’t help yourself.

Postscript:

I wrote this blog post on Tuesday morning. I didn’t post it right away because I’d already published two other posts. Instead, I scheduled it for Wednesday.

On Tuesday afternoon, I went into East Wenatchee to get a haircut. Afterwards, I hit the mall where I stopped into Macy’s to see about buying a new pair of jeans. All of my jeans, which were tight when I arrived here in May, are now very loose. My kinda sexy tight black jeans, which I like to wear with my cowboy boots when I go out with friends, were no longer either tight or remotely sexy. I wanted to replace them.

I was a size 14. I grabbed a bunch of pants in size 12, thinking to myself: “Wouldn’t it be great if I were a whole size smaller?” When I tried them on, I was shocked. They were loose on me, too.

I went back out onto the sales floor and grabbed the same collection of jeans in size 10. And guess what? They fit!

I’m now two sizes smaller than I was 10 weeks ago.

I have not been a size 10 since I was in my 30s. I’m thinking that if I stick to this and get down to 150, I might be back to a size 8. I haven’t been there since I was in my 20s.

To celebrate, I bought a pair of jeans, a denim skirt, four shirts (size medium!), three pairs of socks, four pairs of lace panties (why the hell not?), and three pairs of shoes, including black faux alligator heels.

I would have bought a pair of earrings to replace the ones my husband gave me that I always wore, but I couldn’t find anything I liked. I’ll keep looking.

In the meantime, I really like the new me.