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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Yet"

 Look, I’m no Olympian (though I’ve hilariously tried to be, but that’s a blog entry for another day.)
 I’m no Hope Solo, but I love being the girl who can dress up on a Friday night, and then hold her own on a soccer field with guys on Saturday morning.

There are always faster people, stronger people, better people. My friend Tiffanie Novakovich can kick my butt any day of the week in a Spartan Race (like serious leave-me-in-the-dust-ass-kicking), but still. I can pull off a 5:40 mile (as long as I don’t go out with Taylor Scarnato the night prior). I'm ok with that.

So when I forgot about climbing Mt. Whitney until a week ago, I thought, “No problem, sis. You’re an athlete.” 

Turns out there’s one small detail I didn’t take into account:

Altitude cares very little for athleticism.

I knew Mt. Whitney was high. Like nosebleed high. In fact, Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states, standing at a daunting 14, 505 feet. But still.

Hulda Crooks climbed Mt. Whitney when she was 91 years old! 
I could do this.
Tyra, Natalie, and I started our ascent late. We meant to start at 4 AM, but didn’t hit the trail until about 6 AM. So what did we do to counter that?
We booked it. I mean HAULED. We ate as we walked, powered up the 99 switchbacks, and only stopped for quick bathroom breaks and water purifying.
 
This might have been Mistake 1. One of the first causes of AMS is rapid ascent. To Natalie and Tyra’s credit, they had been at 6000 elevation for the past three days; hence, no big deal for them. We had climbed over 2000 feet by 7:36. Altimeter reading: 10,040.
We did the first 9 miles in less than 6 hours. I was drinking enough water (3 liters), eating enough food; I was golden. 
That's Tyra and Nat showing that they've hit 12,000 feet elevation.
Somewhere around the next picture, I became light headed. Like “ready to pass out” lightheaded. But that’s how I feel during every race. You learn to suck it up and keep going. No room for whining. It's only 11:01 AM. You can't complain when it's still Mimosa hours.

 And then, 1.9 miles from the top, something switched. Notice Tyra is still great. She's like, "Okay, I'll stop to give you the 13,000 sign, but seriously, let's keep this moving!"

Meanwhile, my simultaneous thought was, "Hey, 13,000 feet, what the hell did you do with all the air?"
I told Tyra and Nat to go on ahead. Hitting the summit is a freaking HUGE deal. Like HUGE huge. I wanted that for them, and I didn’t want to slow them down. I would have been annoyed had they stayed back with me. If you’re an athlete, you get this. 

Plus, there were myriads of hikers, and only one trail. NBD. I wouldn’t lose them. Besides, I would make it; my fierce competitive side would will me through this. I would just be slower.
Once again to their credit, when they left me, I was fine. Head space was good. I was just slower. But as I hiked, I became a lot slower. Suddenly, things felt… swimmy. Drunk. I was not just wobbly from fatigue. My brain was getting confused. I remember telling myself “up.” And taking a step, sitting, taking a step, sitting. I was aware I was confused. But I would coach myself, “Where ya going, Heather?” Then I’d answer me, “Up.” And I’d take another step. Then sit again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I remember three college guys on their way down stopping. One touched my shoulder. “Hey, do you have water?”

I nodded, and my head fell back. “Whoa, kid,” I heard one say as I stared at the sky. They filled my water, sat with me, talked with me.  My head cleared again. 

“I’m so close,” I told them.

“We get it,” the African American one said. “But breathe every time you take a step. Go stupid slow.”

“Stupid slow,” I repeated and gave the thumbs up.

I started walking again. “Slower!” one shouted from behind me. “Remember! Stupid slow! Step- Breathe! Step- Breathe!”

I trudged along. But it took too much coordination to breathe at every step. I’ve never been “wasted” drunk. Usually my 2-3 drinks puts me in a “dance-party-with-the-world” mood, but I don’t get kicked out of bars. And making out with you? You'd have a better chance at winning the lottery. But this was drunk. Way drunk. Enough-to-get-arrested-for-public-intoxication drunk. I crawled for a bit. Then sat again.

At some point, another guy sat down with me on his descent. I never got his name. “I’ll catch up,” he told his group. He pulled out a small can of oxygen. “Hey, you want a hit?” 

I nodded hungrily, pulled the trigger, took a hit, and the world was clear again.

“I don’t get it,” I said after a few minutes and five more hits of oxygen. “I’m breathing up here. But nothing’s happening. It’s like I’m not.”

“You should turn back. You know that, right?”

I nodded. “My brain feels fuzzy.”

“Too much nitrogen, not enough oxygen. There’s probably a little fluid getting in the way. Altitude sickness. It’s only getting worse from here on out.”

I looked at him. He looked at me. I bit my lip. “You wanna keep going,” he said, like we were old friends and he knew what biting my lip meant.

“A little bit further?”

He shrugged. Didn’t like the idea, but told me if I felt anything bad, to stop immediately. I sent him on his way to catch up with his group.

I tried again.

It’s all a little blurry from here, but I remember being ok. Making some good progress. Then turning a corner, and not being able to breathe again.

Only this time there was no one around. I willed myself not to panic because I knew I’d have even less air. With my head between my knees, I looked at my altimeter. 13,760. I was only 745 feet from the summit. This picture took me four attempts. I couldn't quite remember my passcode or where the camera button was.

And then it hit me. If I couldn’t breathe at this altitude, what made me think I could breathe where it was 745 feet higher? It had taken me five minutes to go about 25 feet. But I had ½ mile left.

I.
Was.
Done.

The realization was awful. I just wept. Big heaving little kid sobs. Alligator tears. Everything in me wanted this. The peak. I could see it. But I knew something was off, seriously off. Game over.

When you grow up in team sports, you learn how to lock it up quickly. There are no meltdowns on the field. No crying because you're losing, or because someone screwed up your play, or because a ball smacked you. Can you walk? Then walk it off. The word "yet" helped me to lock it up. No, I hadn't made it to the top.

Yet.

Mt. Whitney wasn't going anywhere. Of course I was going to come back. As soon as I relented and accepted a plan for "next time", for the three-letter-full-of-hope "yet", it no longer felt like defeat.

At that moment a hiker came by. I sent him up to tell my friends I’d wait for them at 12,000. I needed to get lower quickly. The drunk seasick confusion wasn’t going away.

I stood and started walking down. But remember, I was a little confused. Like had you asked me a question, I might have just taken my finger and played with your lower lip. 

Maybe ten minutes later, I looked up. 

I was on a giant boulder, surrounded by hundreds of other large rocks. I turned 360 degrees. I had. NO. Idea where I was. No sense of the trail. In my effort to get "down", I had forgotten to use the trail. That's how confused I was. And who knows when exactly I had left the trail?

Not a soul in the vast barren wilderness around me. And I was a tiny speck in comparison to the world of rocks on all sides of me. Had I been hiking for ten minutes? Or 20? I couldn’t remember.

“Hello?” I called out.

No answer.

"Oh fuck," I whispered.

Sure, I pray all the time. But the words that erupted were raw. Intimate. Oh, crap-ish desperate. “Hey, Jesus, so you made these rocks, and I’m in them. You've gotta help me, buddy.” My voice felt very tiny.

And then I had a Bear Grylls moment. His number 1 rule: Stay calm. When you let anxiety take over, that’s when you make dumb decisions and get hurt. 

Number 2 rule: Find a source of water. It's funny how quickly I switched from "get down to your car for a cheeseburger" mode to "survival" mode.

I saw a lake a couple miles below me. Who knows what lake? But there was a lake, and thanks to Ryan Wiley who packed my backpack, I had rain gear, and some really warm stuff that fit in these itty-bitty pouches. I’d be ok. All was well again. Should I hike down to that water and stay the night?

I had the thought, Stay where you are. So like a three-year-old lost in the mall, I did. I sat and called out. It was like performing CPR on a dead guy and getting no results, and all the time, your heart is beating like mad and you’re begging the air for some sign of life. I was sitting in silence surrounded by cliffs and rocks with no sight of anyone. Over and over I called. Nothing. Twenty minutes later, The CPR worked. The dead guy breathed.

“I hear you!” a guy’s voice echoed. “Keep talking!”

So I did, and way above me, a teeny face appeared.

“Where are you?” I asked him.

“On the TRAIL!” he yelled, like DUH! “Where are you?”

“Um, good question!” I climbed towards his voice, boulder by boulder. When I finally reached him, I wrapped my arms and legs around him like an octopus and sobbed into him like he was my best friend back from the war. “I’m totally buying you a beer,” I promised this stranger.

Turns out I had led myself about 200 yards in the opposite direction of the trail. But perfect timing. Right when I reappeared, Tyra and Nat came back into view.

“Hey, guys,” I said sheepishly. “I took a little detour.”

So new friend Chris hovered like a blue heeler, herding me in as I stumbled down with my friends. And literally a couple steps below 13,000 feet, my head cleared as if I had never tasted alcohol. All my faculties came back, and though my legs felt wobbly, my lungs felt brand new. I could've run the 10 miles back to the car.

We did enjoy a cheeseburger when we returned to the campsite six hours later. 

Looking back, I'm thankful for every minute of it. The joy, the fight, the struggle, the defeat, the confusion, the rescue. We need things to throw us on our asses from time to time. I was reminded of how paradoxical we all are. Fragile but fighting. Controlling yet helpless. So stupid. So lovely.

Somehow it blends to form something beautiful.

Hang in there, everyone. Nope, you may not have reached your "Whitney".

But don't forget the most important word.

"Yet."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A tribute to Periplaneta americana Linnaeus: THE COCKROACH

Moving to a new classroom this year.
Yesterday, I went in to organize.
Look at this lovely treat I found:

Yummy! Apparently cockroaches get stuck on duct tape (I tell you, duct tape can be used for ANYTHING!) I think one cockroach got stuck, and since cockroaches are attracted to dead cockroaches and excrement, the rest of them were like, "Yes! Lunch! Oh crap, I'm stuck."

Cockroaches are fascinating creatures. It is estimated that 2 cockroaches are enough to populate an average size home in one year with enough cockroaches to go one meter deep. Not even making this stuff up. There are at least 4000 species of cockroaches in the world. Only 70 in the United States. Most live in Florida, home of navel oranges, old people, crocs in swimming pools, and apparently 41 species of cockroaches.

They're resilient little creatures. Probably because all they need for food is their own excrement and each other. Yep, they're cannibals. And omnivores. They also love bread, stale beer, wine, alcohol, fatty acids, and peanut butter... can you blame them? They crave damp even temperatures (like my classroom) with great places to hide in the walls. They're survivors.

Because they survive and multiply like mad, they are the financial backbone of the pest control industry. Why do we want to exterminate them? Oh, I don't know. Maybe because they carry fungi, viruses, protozoa, and 40 kinds of bacteria (gross stuff) pathogenic (that can cause disease) to vertebrates (that's us). And they're middle-guy hosts to flatworms. Yippy.

And with their crazy diet and all the diseases they carry, they still scurry around like they go to the gym every day. As much as I cringe and have a quick body spasm every time I come across one, I equally salute the little vermin.

What America can learn from cockroaches:
They're resilient.
They're adaptable.
They provide jobs.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hi, Colorado

As you can tell, I tend to be a little inconsistent in life (AKA blogging every day and then stopping for no apparent reason). I have many days that I'M bored with myself, so I figure why make other people's lives more boring by making them read about it?

But a friend told me that I need to blog just to blog. So here I go. This one's for you, Sean. Blah.

Today, I'm in Colorado. I surprised my mom for her b-day by showing up to the parents' RV. It's one of the great things you can do when you're a non-breeder -- just pick up and go.

So I showed up at the doorstep of their camper, (Dad was still out fishing), and I said, "Hello? Anybody home?"

She responded, "Can I help you?"

Then she stared at me for a second as all the synapses were running amok in her, processing why her daughter was in the wrong geographic location... was she delusional, was I dead and swinging by on my way upwards, and then it hit her. I was here. For reals.

You'd think a bear was attacking her the way she screamed. Sadly, no one came to her rescue, which makes me think they need to revamp the Neighborhood Watch policy among retirees of Dolores River RV Campground.

She regrouped, cried, and then laughed, and then planned... the entire range of my mother in a 30 second interval.

Yesterday we drove to Telluride.

It's the weekend of the Jazz Festival, so the place is bumping. It's also home to the popular film festival most creatively named, "The Telluride Film Festival."


If you've never seen this cute little "tucked away like a tooth in your pillow" ski town, here are some pics.

Yep, that's a waterfall in the distance. Makes you catch your breath, doesn't it?

Telluride is one of those small towns who still have signs hanging from all the storefronts announcing what they are:

And houses with strict building codes to preserve that "historical look".

And in the backyard of the main street, you'll see the ski runs.


In the past 24 hours with the 'rents, I've noticed one of the quirky and beautiful things of a 40-year-old marriage. My parents have their own language.

Example:

MOM: (lying down for the night) Oh, I forgot to get a glass of water.
Translation: Husband, please get a glass of water for me.

And he does! Every time! He doesn't try to correct her the way our teachers did when we would ask, "Can I go to the restroom?"
TEACHER: I don't know, CAN you?
Didn't you always want to say back, "Seriously, you DON'T KNOW if I can go to the bathroom? Have they lowered the bar on what you have to know to become a teacher?"

Back to the parental units, Dad (on autopilot) translates in his head, gets up, and brings my mom a glass of water EVERY SINGLE TIME! Happily! It's crazy, I know. But love is a funny animal. And love each other, they do.


It happened all day:

I jotted this note on my iPhone --

-----------------------------------------------------------------

As we exit the campsite to head to Telluride, Dad is driving. Mom is talking on her cell phone. She actually says into her phone, "Oh, we never made my nail appointment. Oh well." She points to the left anyway.

My dad, fluent in the language of Mom, makes a left, (even though Telluride is to the RIGHT) because what she really means is, "Can we make the appointment before we head to Telluride?"
-----------------------------------------------------------------

I often stare wide-eyed and open-mouthed at their crazy non-communication communication, wondering how many sentences they have created that actually mean something else entirely. They have no problem with it. No one asks for clarification, or gets annoyed that they don't mean what they say. They know what they mean. And that is all that matters.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My thoughts on Obesity

There are many interesting things I could talk about on my blog today...

1) Why do they call it "walking pneumonia"? I don't feel like walking. I feel like "laying". Why don't they call it "Knock you on your ass pneumonia"? Much more accurate.
2) What do they put in that dog food? Seriously, my dog can evacuate a country with that flatulence. And why does she insist on laying down next to me before she starts evacuation procedures? I'm slowly being asphyxiated as I write this because of the "Knock you on your ass pneumonia" nailing me to the couch (see #1).
3) What's up with our fat country?

#3 wins.

Strangely, as I'm finally getting around to grading old essays, the topic most on my mind today is obesity. One of the units we discuss every year in English class has to do with the alarming increase in childhood obesity in our nation. Here are some crazy facts:

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control)

2-5 year olds (percentage who are obese)
1980 - 5%
2008 - 10.4%

6-11 year olds
1980 - 6.5%
2008 - 19.6%

12-18 year olds
1980 - 5%
2008 - 18.1%

Crazy, huh? So there are many articles written by extremely intelligent people who differ on their opinions of who is to blame. The parents? The lack of nutritional content offered to make an informed decision? The lack of alternatives to fast food for kids in low-income neighborhoods? (The obesity rate is higher for inner city kids. You can't exactly tell that kid to go outside and ride his bike.) Is it the marketing that combines cute cartoon characters with junk food? The lack of physical exercise in schools? Maybe it's the super-sizing and portion distortion that's making America's waistlines pop at the seams. It's a crazy debate, and not an easy solution.

Nor is this blog a platform for me to rant to you about my political position on this topic; I have none. I can only read the articles and help kids write organized essays about them!

But I find these facts fascinating so I'm going to share.


On the portion distortion topic:

Do you ever wonder why they call the small size at starbucks a "Tall" and why the medium is called "grande"? How annoyed do you get when you say on accident, "Can I have a medium?" only to have the Starbucks barista correct you and say, "A grande?" And you have to say yes, even though everything in your logical mind knows that grande means "large" in every freaking language.

It's because Starbucks hopped on the super-sizing band wagon when they realized it worked. The sizes used to be "Short", "Tall", and "Grande", which totally makes sense. But who wants an 8 ounce nowadays, really? They discontinued the "short" and introduced the "Venti" -- 20 ounces of your sipping pleasure.

They did this case study at Cornell University with some movie-goers watching Mel Gibson's movie "Payback". They gave half of the audience each a large bucket of popcorn, and the other half each received an extra-large bucket. Nobody finished off their bucket, but when the researchers weighed all the leftover popcorn, the group with the extra-large buckets ate 45% more. CRAZY! Therefore proving if you put more in front of us, we're gonna eat more.

And not that our country needs any more financial problems, but between 1987 and 2001, diseases associated with obesity accounted for 27 percent of the increases in medical costs. I won't bore you with all the statistics about how much diseases related to Type 2 Diabetes are currently costing our nation, but do a google search if you're curious.

I have no conclusion to this, no great finale to send you off to the gym, and I'm only writing about this because I went to the movies the other night (saw DATE NIGHT - totally recommend it). While I was there, I noticed they now post the calorie content of your "movie meal".
I love the range of soda calories: oh, between 2.8 and 444.

In case you wanted to add some cheese and bread accessories to your popcorn, coke, and twizzlers, here are some more fat-free numbers:


I guess there are people out there who need clarification that water does in fact contain zero calories. Did anybody else's jaw drop to the floor when you read that nachos are 1400 calories? Whaaa?

In case you're going into hibernation, here's your one stop shop for getting an entire season's worth of calories in one meal.

P.S. I totally almost got kicked out of the movie theater by a 16-year-old concession stand girl who was indignant at me taking pictures of the prices. She made me erase them from my camera... which of course I did, as you can tell.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In the Classroom: Lessons in Irony

Written on my board by my student My'Jina about another student, Scoey:

"Scoey is a dumby"

Shouted across the room by my student Traysha at another student, Ronald:

"What do you mean, 'can I spell grateful?' If you go to church, you know how to spell fuckin grateful!"

Yelled at no one in particular by my student Jilvonnie about CST's (California State Testing):

"Why do they give us these tests if we don't know the any of the answers?"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Africa: Snakes

Sorry, folks. Grades are due tomorrow, and so I've been a little bad about writing this week. And if you saw the sad sack of papers in front of me (still yet to be graded), you'd wonder why I even opened my blog today. Here's why:
You may be asking yourself, "What's so great about this kid, Heather?" Well, this kid happened to save my life last summer. It's true.

Meet Jimmy.

There we were, our group traipsing along in the darkness back to camp one night. It was dark. I mean, DARK dark. There was no street lamp saying, "Hey, Heather, look. There's the ground." There was no light from the city creating, oh, I don't know, silhouettes. There was just Brooke's hand holding mine, reminding me she was there, and a flashlight. Now Brooke had been screaming when a leaf would brush up against her, so maybe she wasn't the best choice for a companion through the dark, but she also happened to be a NINJA, which I discovered as she suddenly leapt onto me screaming, "Snake! Snake!"

I was like, "Really, Brooke?" expecting to see a twig on the ground. But as I shined my flashlight down where Brooke's foot SHOULD HAVE stepped, there was a little teeny snake wriggling across our dirt path. We recoiled, and out of the darkness, Jimmy appeared, asking, "Where?" Brooke screamed and pointed and screamed some more. Jimmy ran after it, I kid you not. He charged at it and started stomping madly, kicking up dust and jumping down on that thing like he wanted to create an African Grand Canyon.

He stopped, and then gave one more stomp for good measure. Then he took the flashlight out of Brooke's hand and shone it down on the limp snake. He said, calmly and quietly with his thick accent, "Ohh. Baby Cobra. Very deadly."

I was like, "OMG, Jimmy! You just killed a COBRAAAAAA! We need a pic!"
Brooke was giggling and screaming, "WHAT? What did you say, Jimmy? What do you MEAN, very deadly! What do you MEAN, cobra! You said that we didn't have to worry if we stayed on the dirt paths! You said the snakes don't like the dirt roads because it scrapes their bellies. What was it doing there? What was it DOING there?"

Jimmy shrugged his shoulders and responded, "It wanted to get to the other side."
Amazing that that little critter packs so much in his punch. They are dangerous as babies because they don't control their venom. Some of the venom attacks the nervous system, which causes paralysis. Then the other part of the venom, the cardiotoxins, shut down your heart. Awesome. And knowing all that, if we're bit, we're supposed to remain calm. Riiiiight.

There is a lot of debate about what is the deadliest snake in the world. Some people think the Cobra; others say The Black Mamba; and still others, "The Fierce Snake" of Australia. Okay, so The Fierce Snake wins when it comes to venom.
This little guy is 50 times as toxic as a cobra, and a cobra's pretty darn toxic! It's 400 times as toxic as a rattlesnake. But the good news about this one is he's shy. He says, "Hey guys, leave me alone and I won't kill you. In fact, if I see you, I will wriggle in the other direction. I can't help it if I'm deadly. It came with my teeth."

The cobra is also deadly, but we have plenty of antivenom out there for a person who is bit. Notice our little baby cobra above -- he wasn't out to get us. He was wriggling along. The Black Cobras aren't aggressive by nature. Tick them off, though, and they can stand up tall and get face-to-face before attacking you.

And then there is the Black Mamba. There is also the Green Mamba, which disappears into the trees, but the Black Mamba is much more aggressive. They've been known to chase their victims and bite them repeatedly.
Notice how he's gray, not black. He's named after his mouth. If you were to peer inside, you'd see it was black. And then you'd be dead. Don't peer into his mouth. That's dumb.

So to recap, here's what we've learned:

COBRA: longest
FIERCE SNAKE: most venomous
BLACK MAMBA: most aggressive
GREEN MAMBA: ha ha, you can't see me. I'm a tree, I'm a leaf.

I will never forget that night in Africa when Brooke actually wasn't crying wolf! It sounds dramatic. Maybe it is. But come on! The guy stomped a Cobra to death not five feet from me.

It IS dramatic!

I made Jimmy reenact it all the following morning.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In the Classroom: Free Time

If you are reading this from Facebook, you absolutely need to click on this: THAT RIDICULOUS GIRL.

Otherwise you will miss out on priceless footage in my classroom.

I went back to my desk for TWO minutes while I helped a student print an essay from my computer. In the meantime, another student pulled his camera out and video-taped what happens in my classroom when I turn my back for ONE SECOND...

And you thought this craziness only happened in the movies! Yes, they are free-styling (making it up as they go), and yes, it is a good thing you can't discern every word out of their mouths.

Ohhhh, fifth period...