On Challenges

My sweaty triangle, as of May 12th, when the instructor asked if she could photograph me after class so I could see how my form has improved….

Folks who have been around here very long know I started practicing Bikram Yoga a couple years ago. That practice is still stuttering along, though lately it’s been going stronger than ever. I felt I was slipping earlier this spring, falling back to only a class or two a week, so I decided that, in order to kick my ass back into line, I’d try, again, to commit to a practice-every-day, 30-day challenge. I’d made the attempt in the past, but never managed to go thirty days in a row. This time I pulled it off; from April 27th to May 26th, I muscled through a class in the hot room — mostly 60-minute classes, a few 90-minuters, and even two or three hot Pilates classes — every day. It was exhausting; not so much the classes themselves, but I fell behind on getting enough sleep, so my ass was dragging by the end. It was worth every sweaty minute. It was also nice to sleep in a little that Saturday the 27th. I didn’t get up until almost 8:00 AM!

I was out of town for a few days after it wrapped up, but now I’m back at it. The new challenge on the yoga front is something that happens every summer in the studio where I practice. Everyone who wants to participate signs up and must attend at least three classes per week (we get one throwaway week). At the end — the first of October — anybody left standing gets entered into a drawing for a free year of yoga. So I signed up; in the first week I went four times. So far, so good.

I also agreed to do a food challenge with my mom. She’s doing a paleo thing, I’m doing Whole30. That started on June 3rd, so we’re a little over a week in. I’ve tried this sort of thing in the past as well, but so far it’s going better than it typically has. I’m eating quite a bit of bison, potatoes, lots of spinach, peppers, tuna, cashews, a little chicken, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, etc. Hell, I even ate eggs and avocados this morning, unprecedented in my history. And no soda so far! At least once a day I’m taking a picture of a meal — usually dinner — and sending it to my mom. I think the accountability helps. It’s even kind of fun.

Why am I doing all this? Just to clean up my act, people. Everything I love to do most requires a certain level of health and fitness. I need to regain some ground, and I’m not getting any younger.

Update From the Front Lines

IMG_9583A couple weeks ago I mentioned this big health and fitness program I was poised to undertake, and I’m here to report I’m still going strong. I haven’t stuck to the food plan as well as I would have liked, but have done okay considering the circumstances of everything else that has gone on. I’ve been good at getting my walking and hiking miles in, at least until this week when the freezing cold wave set in, but I’ll be braving that yet this week regardless. I did get out on one final epic hike on Saturday before winter arrived: 17 miles up into the Rattlesnake and back, the last few of which I did by headlamp. That was great, and the only thing it cost me was one Bikram Yoga class. With the rough emotional trip hopefully behind me, or at least manageable, renewed focus on my training table between now and the holiday should get me where I was hoping to be when this first phase is complete.

That Bikram stuff is the revelation here, though. I’d heard from so many people how life changing it is, and there really is something to that. I’ve gone 12 times in the last 14 days, with 13 more planned over the next 16. Then I think we (Julia and I) are going to take Thanksgiving off and start another 30 day challenge right after that, making it 60 days in all. It might be the hardest day in, day out physical thing I’ve ever done. I’ve done a lot of weight training and things like that before, but just the environment in that room (it’s 103° and humid), and how every posture is working so many parts of the body at once (if you are doing them right, that is, which in most cases for me I’m still NOT), it’s really staggering. Everything is soaked with sweat afterwards.

I like the instructors, I like the camaraderie of the people involved (something I didn’t expect to like and feared I’d struggle with), and I like how I feel afterward. I don’t know that I like it while I’m doing it yet, but I do like the times when I have a breakthrough, or “get” something I wasn’t previously doing correctly. And the emotional part of it really helped get me through what has been a very difficult couple of weeks. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve done for myself in years.

So far, so good. I’ll report again here in a couple weeks.


On Your Marks

go_wildTomorrow is a big kickoff day for a challenge that Julia and I have decided to take on that will last 30 days. We were originally going to start November 1st, but then decided to bump it up a few days in order to have it wrapped up in time for Thanksgiving. It’s not the kind of thing I usually talk about here, but given that my other post idea involves editing photos, and I don’t feel like doing that right now, I’m going with Plan B.

Last week I mentioned that, according to experts, I could die at any moment. I can make jokes about that, but the reality is it’s true, and it’s something I’m keenly aware of, especially when I’m huffing up a trail in 25 minutes that three years ago I could do in 14. At that time I was in pretty good shape but I still ate like shit. As I slacked off on getting out and being active, it caught up in a hurry, and now I’m trying to win back that lost ground. I dedicated much of the last few months with trying to get healthier again, mostly for myself and how I like to live and the things I like to do, but also for the people around me. Last summer, somewhere in late July, Julia and I did 30 days where we (mostly) didn’t eat sugar, wheat, legumes, or dairy. Sort of a paleo diet thing, in a way, but based mostly on this book I picked up called Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization. Here’s what it’s about from the press copy:

The scientific evidence behind why maintaining a lifestyle more like that of our ancestors will restore our health and well-being.

In GO WILD, Harvard Medical School Professor John Ratey, MD, and journalist Richard Manning reveal that although civilization has rapidly evolved, our bodies have not kept pace. This mismatch affects every area of our lives, from our general physical health to our emotional wellbeing. Investigating the power of living according to our genes in the areas of diet, exercise, sleep, nature, mindfulness and more, GO WILD examines how tapping into our core DNA combats modern disease and psychological afflictions, from Autism and Depression to Diabetes and Heart Disease. By focusing on the ways of the past, it is possible to secure a healthier and happier future, and GO WILD will show you how.

It isn’t really some crazy diet so much as it is a lifestyle change. We still ate a lot of what we like, just not the shitty stuff. And I’ll tell you what, get away from the shitty stuff — fast food, convenience store food, middle-aisle grocery store food, etc. — and if you have it again, you really notice it. We followed that plan right up until our little vacation to Polebridge, MT, where like bears fattening up for winter we gorged on huckleberries. To be exact, huckleberry bear claws, a kind of decadent pastry that is half the reason we like to visit that friggin’ place.

Anyway, we’ve tried to maintain that method of eating with up and down levels of success. So we are going to do it again. Only this time we are also going to do 30 days of Bikram Yoga. We’ll go every day . . . mostly. Their class schedule on Sunday isn’t workable for us, so we will actually go 26 times in 30 days. That’s the plan anyway. Julia has done it before, and while it kicked her ass she loved it. I’ve only ever done yoga at all a handful of times, and never this variety. I expect to long for death, but I’ve been saying for over a year that I would do it with her, so I’m doing it. As well as hoping to maintain the amount of hiking I’ve been doing. There are a few other aspects to this that maybe I’ll mention along the way, I don’t know. I’m feeling a little intimidated by the yoga part, but what the hell. Yoga is a huge part of more and more healthy lives these days, so I’m all in for giving it a try. I’ll be in touch. . . .



At Any Given Moment

They look like they're joining the Marines tomorrow, but they'll melt your face tonight
They look like they’re joining the Marines tomorrow, but they’ll melt your face tonight

Last Friday night my band, AMERICAN FALCON, was set to rock The Palace in downtown Missoula. It was a warm night, and there was a ton of activity downtown. We arrived around 9:00 PM or so, loaded in, then were just kind of hanging around outside. In an oddly surreal setting, what with all the young people running up and down the street hooting and hollering, and the thudding, muffled grumble of a metal band starting up inside, there was a large group of religious folks across the street singing spiritual songs. Based on their garb I’m guessing they were from one of the various Hutterite groups in the area (or are they Mennonite? Hell, I don’t know….). After a while they broke up, but then a woman, with two young girls in tow, started making her way up the sidewalk with a handful of pamphlets and plenty to say to anyone who would listen.

She ended up beside me, telling her story about how she’d given up drugs and alcohol and sex with her boyfriend and all that awful stuff, then she asked me if I was ready to face death, ready to face Jesus. I just shrugged and said that when the time came I really didn’t have much of a choice but to face whatever comes next, and who really knows what that is, right? She looked at me, and she said, “You know, a lot of people your age and your size die suddenly. You need to be ready, you need to get straight with Jesus.”

I just kind of laughed and looked at Travis and Jimmy. “Did you hear that? She just called me old and fat.”

“You’re gonna die at any moment,” Jimmy said.

It’s an interesting thing, playing these shows. It’s something that, when it’s happening, I still love. I wish we could do it more. The other day I was flipping through this part-memoir, part-photo book by Nikki Sixx from Mötley Crüe. I’m not really a fan of the band but I’ve seen the guy’s street photography and it’s pretty damn good. This particular book didn’t have much subject matter that I was that interested in, but I did read a passage where he was talking about his band members. That he doesn’t feel like he’s aged at all, but when he looks at the other guys in the band he sees how they have aged, and knows that they see the same thing in him.

I certainly relate to that. Looking in the room around me, I see other rock people, whether band members or just people out for the evening, and it’s the same crowd I’ve been seeing for decades now. They look the same as they ever did, and I don’t feel much different. But I know I’ve changed, and with the miles and the gray hair and all that I know I look like that old burnout that doesn’t belong there. Until we start to play anyway.

Being gigantic is my own stupid fault, and I also know it ain’t as bad as it looks. But earlier this summer, when my son was having some difficulties, I realized that I would be a hypocrite to lecture him about taking better care of himself if I didn’t do the same. It isn’t always easy to make the right decisions — to eat right, to keep our minds right, to exercise — especially when it seems the American marketing machine is trying to lure us down paths we shouldn’t take. There’s a quote I’ve seen attributed various ways to various people that goes something like this: self discipline is the highest form of self respect. I like that.

Still. I’m not that old, especially coming from a long line of people too stubborn and ornery to yield to an early death, and fuck you if you think I should be spending my time on things more “age appropriate.” I’m not as fat as I was even just a couple weeks ago, and I’m almost forty pounds less than I was when we did our residency in February. The band can still rock with any pack of young punks that square off with us, and I can still beat my big, strong kid arm wrestling. So don’t count me out just yet. . . .


Keep Chugging, You’ll Get There

I like to get out of the house every day and at least go for some kind of walk. At the old place it was a track behind the YMCA about 1/2 a mile away. It looped around some ball fields, and one figure-eight circuit was about a mile-and-a-half. Out where we live now, this summer I was walking around the track behind the Frenchtown Elementary school fairly regularly. I’d do two or three miles, then go jump in Frenchtown Pond. It wasn’t a particularly strenuous workout, but it was over an hour outdoors and it was exercise that I desperately needed.

The other night I didn’t have time to go anywhere, so I walked near the house. There is a road that connects us to the main road to our place that runs about 1/2 a mile. So down it and back is a mile. Depending on the time I have, I’ll do two or three. As I was finishing my last stretch, there was an old lady out on her porch. When I looked in her direction, she raised her fist in the air and shouted, “Way to go!” I smiled back at her, but was cringing on the inside.

Three cheers for the fat guy out trying to get in shape.

I’ve come to realize that my self image is tied very closely to my ability to do the things I most love to do: hiking, being active, doing stuff that has me on feet, usually huffing and puffing. But I kinda fell off the wagon at some point last year, I really can’t say when, it just happened. Not the alcohol wagon, as I’ve never been much of a drinker, but just anything resembling any kind of “healthy” lifestyle. It wasn’t a complete collapse, but it was bad enough. I slipped into a habit of eating shitty on the road, traveled a TON last year, and carried too many of those habits home with me without the amount of exercise I need to engage in to keep it at bay. And man, does it sneak up on you. 2011 was a good year, I got out a lot, regularly went on long hikes, etc. But 2012 . . . let’s just not talk anymore about 2012.

Had a couple injuries earlier in the year that hobbled me a bit, but I’ve worked through them. I’ve taken some longer hikes; six, eight, even ten miles at a pop over moderately difficult terrain doesn’t bother me, though I still get post-activity flares of aches and pains 100% resulting from carrying the extra weight. I did the Mount Si trail outside Seattle a couple weeks ago — four miles from trailhead to the top, with something like 3500′ of elevation gain, and back (and when you’re a lardass, the downhill is where the real punishment is) — and didn’t cripple myself. Bottom line is I’m getting there.

I’ve been going up the M here in Missoula whenever I get the chance, and man, does it challenge my ego. It’s only 600-odd feet of elevation gain over about a 3/4 mile or so of switchbacks, but it can be a haul. I’ve always felt it’s a pretty good barometer of fitness. At my best, I’ve done it in just under 15 minutes, bottom to top, but I’m not close to that at the moment. In fact lately, every time out there the friendly people of Missoula hit me where it hurts. Yesterday, a woman who had hiked up behind me, then ran back down past me on the descent was in the parking lot when I finished. As I passed her on my way to the car, she said, “Good job! Keep doing it!” As ridiculous as it is, I felt kind of insulted. Or at least my significant ego did. But I smiled and said, “I’ll do my best.”

Tonight I went again. About halfway up, a guy on the way down said, “Keep chugging, you’ll get there!” I wanted to snap, “Do you know how many fucking times I’ve been up here?!” but I didn’t. I smiled. Two switchbacks from the top, a young woman said, “You’re almost there!” I Smiled. At the top, some people sitting on the concrete surface of the M said, “Good job, you made it!” Smile.

I know there is absolutely no malice in these people. They are being encouraging, and their friendliness is one of the things I love about this town. But the guy I see in my head isn’t the one they see. They don’t see the guy who would not only buzz right up it at a quick pace, but would also do sprints training on the paths, which was the guy I was not so long ago. They just see some fat dude slowly putting one foot in front of the other, willing himself not to stop and rest. They aren’t seeing what I was, they are seeing what I’ve become, what I’ve done to myself.

I’m usually a little ashamed at my competitiveness, but not this time. I’m not competing with those people, or anyone else . . . I’m competing with myself. And I won’t be happy until I can get where I was, and beyond. I’ve always wanted to get to a point where I could run right up that fucker. And I’m going to get there.

View from the top via iPhone on a blustery day
View from the top via iPhone on a blustery day