Are You a Mystery Tripper? Or Could You Be?

Next week is NOT The Mate’s birthday. It’s the following week, on November 25th. Which, this year, falls on Thanksgiving. Which is why I’m taking The Mate on a Birthday Mystery Trip one week early.

What, you ask, is a Birthday Mystery Trip?

Well, for me & The Mate, and our kids till they grew up, it’s a family tradition. And for you–perhaps a transformative new idea for the coming year! (Or perhaps a big fat “No thank you.”)

Our Mystery Trip tradition began back in 1994, I think, or ’95. (Since I didn’t own a digital camera then–did anyone?–all of those photos are in albums, and I’m too lazy to go check right now.) My birthday’s in October, conveniently close to a Friday “Teacher Workday” which was, back then–believe it or not–optional. The Wings opted to use that time as a 3-day weekend, and The Mate asked if I were interested in a surprise trip.

Yes, I was.

I was instructed to pack gear for walking in the rain because, duh–Washington State! On the morning of the trip, with gleeful help from our little boys, he blindfolded me in the passenger seat. After a couple of circles around the neighborhood to get me thoroughly disoriented, we were off, for a drive of a couple of hours.

We ended up staying at a little motel near the Makah Reservation, and hiking to Cape Flattery. (Once again: yes, I could pull photos out of albums, scan them & upload them. But that sounds like too much work. So you just have to imagine small Wing boys and their extremely anxious parents here, because, back then–there was no railing!)

Also imagine stormy October weather (photo by Flickr.com)

The pattern was set. Turns out I absolutely adored being abducted by my family, and they absolutely adored hearing me declare, as we drove, the landmarks I was sure we were passing. I was ALWAYS wrong, ALWAYS completely turned around. But that weird mental re-orientation as my brain came to grips with where it actually was? It’s the best! Maybe the closest I’ll ever come to feeling like I’m on catnip.

For the next 13 years, every October, our family Mystery Tripped for my birthday. With one exception, trips stayed within the 2-3 hour driving limit, and in those pre-Air B & B days, we always stayed at modest motels or “resorts” with off-season pricing. We visited the coast…

…paddling a wee kayak up the tea-colored Moclips River (photo Tripadvisor.com)

…the foot of the Cascades, where we stayed in what is now owned by the Glacier Peak Winery, but STILL features bunnies all over the place that you can feed!

I actually took this photo myself last month, when my sons treated me to a revisit of the place for my 60th!

We attended a bluegrass festival near the birding sanctuary in Ridgefield…

More kayaking here! (courtesy FriendsOfRidgefieldNWR.org)

…and another part of the coast, the Long Beach Peninsula, featuring oysters and cranberry bogs…

(Very artsy photo by OrdinaryAdventures.com)

Oh, and that one further-than-three-hours-away exception? The Mate took us all the way to Chelan, where we boarded a float plane (!!!!) and zipped up the lake to the hideaway community of Stehekin. There on the east side of the mountains, we found red leaves, just like the autumns of my east coast childhood! That’s still our BEST TRIP EVER.

(Photo by Angie Q, Stehekin Conservation Fund)

Once our boys turned into young men and moved away, and we followed by giving up our teaching careers and moving to a beautiful island, we gave up the Mystery Trip tradition. I guess our lives were full enough of beauty and empty enough of stress not to require any additional thrills.

Until now.

I’m not going to blindfold The Mate next week. In these iffy times, tooling down the highway with a blindfolded passenger just seems like a bad idea. And I’ve even had to divulge roughly where we’re headed because, ahem, it involves a COVID test. What should The Mate pack? Whatever he always packs: gear to get damp in. Because–duh, Pacific Northwest (no matter which side of the border)!

Somewhere we might go. Or not. I’m not saying.

So. Now that you know what Mystery Trips are, it’s time to take a little quiz to determine if you might be a Mystery Tripper yourself.

Do you live in a place which is an hour or two away from somewhere interesting, peaceful, beautiful, action-filled, or quiet? Trick question–of course you do!

Do you sometimes enjoy ceding control to a loved one whom you trust? (If not–stop there. Mystery Trips are not for you.)

Do you like a little surprise in your life, as long as you’ve been prepared for it?

Are you OK with packing generic clothing–nothing highly specialized, i.e. cocktail attire?

Are you cheap? (Actually, I guess Mystery Trips could be high-end as well. I’m just not as attracted to those, myself.)

So, what do you say? Are you a Mystery Tripper? Or might you have some of your own Best Mystery Trips Ever to share about?

Catch-22 or the Starfish Story? A Trashy Tale

First of all, my northwestern friends–yes, I KNOW “seastars are not fish.” But most folks know that sweet story of the guy saving stranded seastars by tossing them back into the ocean, and in that story they’re “starfish.”

That story’s moral: in the face of huge, inexorable challeng, making tiny, individual change is still worthwhile.

I THINK this is that kind of story. Although for a while there, it felt more like the penultimate chapter of Catch-22. (Spoiler alert: if you’re intending to read Catch-22 and just haven’t gotten around to it yet, you should stop reading my blog right now.)

The whole thing started a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed a large mass of debris floating near the rocky edges of Iceberg Point, part of the San Juan National Monument which I’m grateful to call my big backyard. I contacted our wonderful Monument and BLM people and hoped for the best.

Days passed, and still the debris floated. But you could see it was degrading into bits.

After a week, the large chunks disappeared. “Oh well,” I thought, “they’re someone else’s problem now. But somebody oughta get that small stuff.” Then…”Hey! Great excuse for a paddle excursion!”

I had it all planned: net, garbage bags, wetsuit, gloves, tide chart. Then the smoke from the west coast wildfires sent our air quality numbers up near 200 and our ocean under a thick blanket of scary-looking, cold smog. (Think “The Nothing” from Neverending Story.)

By the time the skies and my calendar cleared, another week had passed. But finally, FINALLY, I was on my way. Oh, that felt good.

Here I come to save the day!

Up close, I found that the barbage gyre was–of course–styrofoam, and most of it had–of course–already crumbled into those tiny, hellish bits. Actually, MOST of it was probably already in the bellies of marine life testing the flavor of those white things. That thought spurred me through the messy task of circling and scooping the gyre.

Yesss!!!

After about 25 minutes, I had all I could gather (not to mention fit into the trash bag stuffed between my knees). MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Then I looked toward the shore.

Uh-oh.

Here’s where Catch-22 came in. See, through 30 chapters, we have Yossarian wrestling with flashbacks, hinting at the scene behind his PTSD. Not till the second-to-last chapter do we see the scene in full: Yossarian in mid-flight, trying to save the life of his bombardier Snowden, binding Snowden’s leg wound and comforting him as he whimpers. Only when Yossarian’s first-aid task is complete does he discover…he’s treating the wrong wound. The real injury, the one that’s killing Snowden, is deep, internal, and entirely beyond Yossarian’s ability to cure.

Those big chunks of marine garbage? They weren’t gone. They were just lodged in a cove, slowly breaking into more and more horrible bits for idiots like me to scoop.

Shit.

There was nothing I could do in my weenie little boat. To salvage some sense of accomplishment, I balanced one floating chunk on my prow and paddled home, deflated.

You’re not the boss of me, garbage.

But! Let’s get back to the starfishy side of things, shall we? I happen to live on an island whose unofficial motto is, “Come For the Scenery, Stay For the Community.” (OK, that’s my PERSONAL motto; I don’t think anyone else says that. But they could.)

I got back on the email. Two days later, I and my BLM friend had organized a small crew to go after that cove-garbage from the land. Our most intrepid member, Mike, donned a drysuit and went after the junk from the water.

Waiting for Mike to get his drysuit on, and feeling grateful not to be Mike.

Most chunks had to be hauled with ropes. I got the smaller bits, like this sail.

I can’t even tell you how satisfying that work was. Well–maybe I just did.

Hey, anyone missing a large sailboat?

Next day, true autumn weather moved in and the sea turned nasty (but beautiful–like a Nasty Woman). We knew we’d acted just in time to prevent the total disintegration of that garbage pile.

We also knew, in the grand scheme of our poor ocean, what a minescule gesture our work had been. You don’t need me to tell you that either. The wound is deep, internal, and possibly even beyond our ability to cure.

But, like the rescued seastar–our work made a difference to that place. And to us. Nothing like a tiny dose of action, in the face of global pandemic and potlitical instability, to make you breathe a little deeper.

Ironman, Shmironman: New Zealand’s Coast to Coast World Multisport Championship

This is THE weekend. As I’m writing this, the countdown clock for the start of the Coast to Coast is down to 2 hours something. It starts on Friday, Feb. 7. Today is Thursday, Feb. 6. So it starts in two hours–how??? Oh yeah–New Zealand time. Already tomorrow there. No wonder those buggers are so quick.

Photo by Diversions.nz

Actually, the race that starts Friday is the “easy” race: competitors take TWO days to race across the skinny part of NZ’s South Island, from Coast to Coast, on foot, bicycle, and kayak. And by “easy” I mean “less insane.” Here’s the C2C’s own description of the race course:

Competitors leave on foot from the black sands and lush windswept landscapes on the West Coast, running 2.2km inland to their waiting bikes. They then follow the Taramakau River 50km to the foothills of the Southern Alps where they switch their bikes for runners and the first true test of the course.

Photo by Eventfinda.nz

The 30.5km run is mainly off trail with the rocky riverbed often the only direct line up the valley. Competitors encounter multiple river crossings with frigid crystal clear water and an elevation gain of nearly 800m on their way to Goat Pass and the start of the descent.

Photo by NZ Herald

With the very fastest athletes taking nearly 3 hours the run is as much a test of co-ordination and strength as it is outright speed.
A short 15km ride follows before the second jewel in the course. The mighty Waimakariri River. 70kms of braids and a stunning gorge, the river section is for many both the highlight and the crux of the race. The water flows swiftly in places and mixes long calm sections with rapids up to grade 2 in size.

The racer I followed in 2017, Josie, finishing the 70k kayak portion (my photo)

It takes competitors from the heart of the Southern Alps out on to the Canterbury Plains where just one final 70km ride stands between competitors and the finish on the East Coast at the New Brighton Pier amongst a vibrant beachside festival.

Map by NZTourismGuide.nz

Got that? Run to ride to run to ride to paddle to ride. For a total of 238 kilometers. That’s over 147 miles. The actual World Multisport Championship part of the C2C doesn’t start till Saturday–at 0:dark-thirty. That’s the race they call The Longest Day. And you can guess why.

I first learned about this race when my family and I spent a year in New Zealand, back in the 1990s. I came to see multisport racing in general, and the Coast to Coast in particular, as emblematic of the Kiwi approach both to sport and to life. (Notice how much those two are entwined? Yeah, all those cliche-spouting coaches are pretty much right.)

Which is why the novel I’m writing is set in NZ, and features a race much like the C2C. And why my heart is now with the athlete who let me “ride along” with her crew, back in 2017, so I could see and feel the race up close. You can read that story here.

What, you thought I was going to DO the Longest Day? Do I seem that crazy tough athletic to you? (If yes, ummm…thanks? But no thanks!)

In 2017, Josie, the athlete I followed–a mum with two daughters–finished the Longest Day in just over 15 hours, fourth woman! This year, Josie’s going for it again! Over the course of her Saturday, our Friday, I’ll be checking in with the course-tracker app to follow her progress up and over the mountains, through dark of night, fording crystalline streams…

…Sorry. Easy to get carried away. I’ll just stop here with: Go, you crazy racers! GO JOSIE!

Now back to my nice, comfy laptop…

Josie’s finish in 2017. Have a beer! (Photo by C2C.nz)

The Longest Day: New Zealand’s Coast to Coast World Multisport Championship, Up Close & Personal

First thing I learned: don’t call it a triathlon. It’s multisport. And no offense, all you Ironmen out there–the Coast to Coast makes your race look pretty cushy.

Quick rehash: I went to New Zealand in part to witness this race up close by joining the crew of one of the competitors. I’m hatching a novel, set in New Zealand, in which this race plays an important role, and I needed to know what my characters are in for.

What I found out: I’m glad they’re the ones who have to do it, not me.

Here’s the race overview: a 2.2 kilometer run from the beach at Kumara Junction on the South Island’s west coast to the bikes. Then a 50k (31 mile) ride up into the mountains. Next, a 30k (20 mile) run through said mountains. A quick 15k (10 mile) bike ride down to the river is followed by a 70k (45 mile) kayak paddle. Finally, a 70k ride takes the athletes into Christchurch on the east coast.

Oh, is that all?

Most Coast-to-Coasters do the race in two days, or as part of a team, or both. The Longest Day competitors do it in…you guessed it: one LONG day. That’s what the athlete who invited me along was doing–Josie, 42, mum of two. 

Josie & support team at 4:45 am, ready for check-in

Josie & support team at 4:45 am, ready for check-in

Josie and I had only communicated via email when I met her the night before the race at a BnB in Hokitika, along with her support crew: Pete, her dad, an orchardist, and Sarah, another multisport athlete from Queenstown. Josie was going over her gear, incredibly organized into separate bins labeled “Bike 1 to Run,” “Bike 2 to Paddle,” etc), and boiling potatoes. These she buttered, salted, and put into baggies for the different bins. Apparently potatoes were her carb of choice (even the other Kiwis thought this was odd), along with bananas and energy bars. (For the kayak portion, she mashed the bars into lumps and stuck them onto her boat like putty. Kiwi ingenuity.)

Sarah prepping Josie's paddling food

Sarah prepping Josie’s paddling food

Over pizza, we got to know each other a bit, and I learned my assigned role–NOT, thank goodness, to be an assistant . Each athlete is only allowed two; these folks wore wristbands and carried very detailed instructions. Pete and Sarah played those roles, of course; my job was to take pictures with Josie’s phone. Great! (Except for the fact that I’m not familiar with smartphones and found myself tapping the wrong icon sometimes just at the wrong moment–no! No! I don’t want a selfie, damnit!)

Pete & I at the second Transition Area

Pete & I at the second Transition Area

Josie didn’t seem fussed about going to bed early, though she planned to be up at 3:45. I guess she didn’t sleep much anyway; too wired. We all shared one room with 4 separate beds, and all three of them seemed perfectly at ease with me and my odd reason for joining them. From what I’ve learned of New Zealanders, even if they thought it was strange, they wouldn’t have said so, even to each other. They are the least snarky, least judgmental nationality I’ve ever met.

At 4:45 next morning we left Josie to rack her bike up the road at Kumara Junction. She then walked the 2k back down to the start at the beach, while we drove ahead to the first Transition Area (TA) in the mountains. I commented on the relative calm of kayak-bedecked cars lined up along the road, and was told, “oh, this is nothing. You should have been here yesterday for the start of the 2-day and team events.” Apparently the Longest Day (which is the “Multisport World Championship”) only takes 150 competitors, but the 2-day takes 500. That must have been a zoo! But in the entire day I never saw a single race organizer missing from a spot where you’d want to see one, and I only saw one competitor lose his cool–and he was French. Even a guy who couldn’t find his support crew after his 70k paddle stint was just walking around, enquiring politely. I can’t see American athletes behaving so calmly.

Up in the mountains we assembled in a dark cow pasture, everyone headlamped. A local school was selling breakfast, and Pete shouted me to a whitebait patty sandwich (“sammie”; whitebait is a kind of tiny fish fried up whole). The wait was a bit chilly, but no one bitched. We were treated to the sight of sunshine working its way down the mountain peaks, but it still hadn’t reached us by the time Josie arrived, around 8, after a nice little 50k ride up the dark mountain road we’d just climbed. She was pumped; apparently on her first go 7 years ago (as part of a 2-day team) she’d taken a bike spill, so she was already enjoying herself “heaps” more.

The lead guy transitioned from bike to run in 3 seconds–I am not exaggerating. Still not sure how they managed that. Josie took a couple of minutes. From the start she’d made it clear she was not competing with the other 19 women in the field, but only hoping to come in as close to 15 hours as possible.

Off Josie ran, wearing her heavy pack (athletes are required to carry their own first aid kits, and then there was their nourishment for the 30k run.**) Water, at least, wasn’t an issue; everything there is drinkable so all they needed was a wee cup. One more reason multisport would be harder to pull off in the US.

**”run” in this case = scrambling over huge boulders, fording rivers, and finding one’s way through mostly un-tracked meadow and bush. I was told that about 10k of the way was simply “running” down river beds. Which is the #1 reason I would never be tempted by this race. What a risk to put your body in! How easy to screw up your whole career with one fall! But the athletes just shrug. No worries.

The next TA was in a sunny field next to one of the rivers they had to run. Lovely sun, pretty, dark beech trees.

2nd Transition Area--nice and warm, finally!

2nd Transition Area–nice and warm, finally!

We waited there around 5 hours, including an interval in which we drove the kayak down to the river TA, staged it there, then drove back to help Josie transition back to bike.

Kayak gear prep

Kayak gear prep

Watching the runners appear, it was obvious several had fallen. One woman had blood all over her face; with her pack and grim expression, she looked like a soldier. But, to quote Senator Mitchell, “nevertheless she persisted.”

Many rivers to cross...

Many rivers to cross…

But Josie? All smiles.

Here she comes!

Here she comes! (photo courtesy KathmanduCoasttoCoast)

Oh, to smile like that after 20 miles running over boulders!

Oh, to smile like that after 20 miles running over boulders!

Why not just have them run straight to the kayaks? I guess maybe even the crazy Kiwis think 45k of boulder-running is a bit much. So we had the excitement of getting Josie on her bike, and then racing the 15k to reach the river before she did. Since this was a fairly level ride, high up in the mountain valley with snowy peaks around, we didn’t beat her by much.

Not quite halfway through the race at this point...a mere 7 hours!

Not quite halfway through the race at this point…a mere 7 hours!

Did I mention the day was perfect? Blue sky, even brighter blue braided river. NZ on its best behavior.

Still smiling! (photo by Sarah Lyttle)

Still smiling! (photo by Sarah Lyttle)

 

“I’m having such a great day!” Josie enthused as she ran down the gravel road from bike rack to river, Sarah feeding her potatoes and bananas as they ran.

Sarah escorting (and feeding) Josie in transition from bike to kayak

Sarah escorting (and feeding) Josie in transition from bike to kayak

Gearheads, take note of Josie’s ingenious “drink-tube pack” constructed of bite-tubes and duct tape. One tube attached to a container of electrolytes, one to some other energy-drink, and the third went directly into the river. (Sorry, US. No rivers that pure in the Lower 48.)

Kiwi ingenuity again.

Kiwi ingenuity again.

Despite the sunshine, we could feel a wind developing as the day progressed, and sure enough, those kayakers got it full in the face as they travelled out of sight down their secluded valley.

Did I mention the white water? For 45 miles?

Did I mention the white water? For 45 miles?

In all the sweat and excitement, easy to forget the gorgeous scenery...

In all the sweat and excitement, easy to forget the gorgeous scenery…

Major “Aha” from this experience: the river makes all the difference. That is, one’s ability to read the river. All the former athletes I talked to said so. The lead guy had 13 minutes on racer #2 at the end of the run; after 70k of kayaking it was down to 3, and then the second guy caught him on the last bike leg and won by 8 minutes. Totally counter-intuitive; I would have thought the run made the difference. Also very useful info, thematically, for the book I’m contemplating. The river, not the runner. Or river-running, not running. I’m mulling the implications.

The wait by the river was long, as I’ve mentioned, but here at last it felt a bit more like an Event, due to the presence of a PA system, complete with cheery announcer and rock n roll. The other TAs had had only the volunteers and the food concessions. I had another sammie and tried to stay out of the ozone-holey sun, and cheered on the 2-day kayakers, then the elite 1-dayers, as they appeared. Lots of little kids, lots of dogs, all loving that swimming-pool-blue water.

When they helped Josie out of her boat 5 hours later, she admitted to being “knackered.”

I'd be more than a bit "knackered" at this point.

I’d be more than a bit “knackered” at this point.

And then she jogged back up the bank, got on her bike, and rode the last 70k to Christchurch, into a headwind.

Did I mention this race is not for me?

Once game ol’ Jos was safely back on the bike for the final stage, we had no more jobs to do, and headed for Josie’s sister’s house for beers and an enormous pile of fish & chips (“fushenchups”). Between the 7 of us (Josie’s dad, sis, stepmum, half brother, brother in law, Sarah, and me), the heap of chips that was unwrapped from newsprint was roughly 20″ by 10″, and 4″ high.

THIS.

THIS.

Proud to say we didn’t finish them; we told ourselves the rest were for Josie, though I’m sure that’s the last thing she’d have wanted after finishing.

The finish line scene was what you’d expect: big video screen, more rock n roll and enthusiastic announcer calling out folks’ names as they sprinted or staggered to the finish arch. A giant full moon rose, orange, over the beach. Josie finished at 9:02, almost cracking the 15-hour mark! And totally stoked to discover she was 7th woman.

Now THAT's a hard-earned beer. (courtesy KathmanduCoasttoCoast)

Now THAT’s a hard-earned beer. (courtesy KathmanduCoasttoCoast)

But that’s the thing this country’s culture–its understatedness. Of course there are fierce competitors; both the top two men and women battled it out to the finish. But nobody bragged or ragged. And  the fact is, I got to sit in on the Coast to Coast, not the “Extreme Coast to Coast”–which you KNOW is what American race producers would call it.

The book I aim to write next is premised on that cultural difference, on the notion that you can have premier sport without premier ego. How un-American can you get?

Thanks to Josie, Sarah, Pete, and all those Coast to Coast athletes, supporters and organizers, when I’m ready to start writing, I’ll know a bit more whereof I write.

[And then there’s the GODZone…but even my fictional athlete isn’t that crazy.]

Return to Kiwiland, Final Installment: Why New Zealand? The Coast to Coast Triathlon

And finally…Reason #2 why I’m headed back to New Zealand after 20 years: for a triathlon.

Not to run. To observe. To take notes. The next novel I’m planning is set in New Zealand, and this triathlon plays a major role. Because this is no ordinary triathlon. This is the Coast to Coast.

This. (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

This. (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Kiwis take the phrase "cross-country" literally. (courtesy coasttocoast.com)

Kiwis take the phrase “cross-country” literally. (courtesy coasttocoast.com)

This race spans the skinniest part of the South Island, Kumara to Christchurch–243 kilometers (about 180 miles) of running, biking, and–no, not swimming–whitewater kayaking. Here’s the course:

Logistics might be complex. Ya think? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Logistics might be complex. Ya think? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Oh, did I forget to mention it crosses a mountain pass?

Thanks to Kiwi friends, I’ve been invited to “pit crew” for a woman who’s doing the triathlon. I’m going to grab her bike or hold her wetsuit or whatever she needs, all while soaking up the sights and sounds and scents and trying not to make a pest of myself.

For years, the race was sponsored by a beer company. Now its sponsor is Kathmandu, an outdoor gear company that seems much better suited. But notice how little else I know about the Coast to Coast! I’m excited to learn how much more I have to learn.

Like...how do they keep from breaking their ankles in the first kilometer? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Like…how do they keep from breaking their ankles in the first kilometer? (courtesy coasttocoast.co.nz)

Also thrilled that I don’t have to run/ride/paddle the damn thing myself. The elites take about 13 hours to finish. The woman whose crew I’m joining expects to take 15-16 hours.

Funny story:  when I first chatted with “my” triathlete, she asked, “So, this American athlete and her coach…will they be joining you as well?”

It took me a moment to process this. Then: “Oh, no! They’re fictional. I mean, they’re what the book’s going to be about. So, no, they won’t be coming with me.”

Except they will, of course. In my head. Assessing their fictional future.

So if you’re reading this–cheers! The next time you’ll hear from me will be in mid-February, when our Great Kiwi Re-adventure is behind us. Till then, keep reading and writing and running or whatever it is you do. Hug your family. Talk with a stranger. Be well.

 

 

“And One More Thing…” Are You a Photo-voltaic Cell or a Rechargeable Battery?

OK, first I have to admit I know nothing about photovoltaic cells. But I think I am one. The more sunshine they soak up, the more power they have to give, right? That’s me.

(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia)

(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia)

The Mate, on the other hand, is a rechargeable battery. He can give and give, go and go, work and work, but when he runs down? Boom–that’s it. No more. Time to turn on ESPN. Or better yet, go to bed early with a good mystery.

The other night, after a four a.m. to noon shift at the bakery, followed by a trip to the dump, followed by a two and a half-hour rehearsal, followed by a run (which, admittedly, turned into a partial walk, but still, I kept moving!), followed by dinner, I started making a birthday cake for a friend, and announced that, as soon as it was dark enough, I intended to take our kayak out for a brief paddle in what I hoped was enough bioluminescence to make the experience even cooler than just a normal nighttime excursion.

“Aren’t you TIRED?” The Mate asked me. “I’m exhausted just watching you.”

Thing is–yes, of course I was tired! That’s why I kept doing stuff. Sitting down to rest in the middle of all that activity? Yeah, THAT’s deadly. No way would I have had the energy to go back out if I’d let myself sit down.

Instead of the sun, I think what powers my go-go-go-go-ness is fear. Really and truly. I fear regret. Specifically, I fear regretting having missed out on anything I might have done, any person I might have talked to, trip I might have gone on, gathering I might have attended. (Except staff meetings. DON’T miss those at ALL.)

So I try to fit it all in. 

This habit of “just one more thing” extends to all car trips. The Mate has learned to ask, “Any swing-bys?” before we get in the car, knowing my habit of asking, “Oh yeah, can we just swing by ____ on the way to take care of ____?”

It also extends to time. Appointment at noon, at a place 30 minutes away? I will leave at 11:31, carefully using every minute up till that time to put dishes away, check email, make a birthday cake…whatever. I won’t be LATE late, but I sure won’t be early. Of course The Mate finds this habit absolutely infuriating a little trying.

(Orig. image courtesy Flikr Creative Commons)

(Orig. image courtesy Flikr Creative Commons)

How about you? Are you a do-too-mucher like me, or a take-time-to-breather like my Mate? What charges YOU?

Girls Gone Wild-ly Paddling

I’m not here. I wrote this several days ago. I’m with my Girliepeeps.

How many of you over-20 folks get together with old friends on a regular basis? If you don’t, I’m here to tell you: it’s never too late to start.

My three best friends and I graduated from high school in 1979, ’80, and ’81. We went to college–off and on, some of us–staying in vague touch here and here. We went to a couple of each other’s weddings (only 2 of us 4 had them).

Then we lost touch, pretty much. For 15 years.

In 2002, I commented to my Mate that a friend of mine had annual get-togethers with her childhood friends. Another did the same with friends from college.

“You could do that,” he said.

“Yeah, right. We’re way too scattered. North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Washington–where would we all meet? It’d be way too expensive.”

“But worth it,” he said.

I love my husband. He values family and friendship above anything. Is it expensive for us to fly once a year for “nothing more” than 3-4 days catching up with each other? Yes. It’s also priceless.

Reunion #1, Michigan, 2002: we spent 48 solid hours talking, with short breaks for sleep. We all got sore throats.

Massachusetts, 2003 (where one of us has a sister with a home we could borrow): We kayaked on the Deer River, establishing a  tradition of paddling which we’ve stuck with every year since. (OK, that one river in Georgia was too low for paddling, so we tubed…but close enough.)

Rivers, oceans, we're not picky--just give us paddles. And picnic lunch.

Rivers, oceans, we’re not picky–just give us paddles. And picnic lunch.

Washington, 2007: one of us brought recipes she wanted to share, establishing another tradition: cooking for each other. Champagne peach soup, anyone? Sweet  potato gnocchi?

Georgia, 2009: the host gave everyone little tea infusers, establishing the custom of host-gifting. (I already have my idea for next year, but it’s a secret.)

We’ve developed a few other traditions along the way. We try to have one evening with the spouse/partner/family of the host. We try to do something cultural: poetry reading, kangaroo rescue center (no, I am not making that up).

Seriously--a kangaroo sanctuary in north Georgia!

Seriously–a kangaroo sanctuary in north Georgia!

Who knows what new tradition is developing RIGHT NOW, as you are reading this and I am with my girliepeeps on the North Carolina coast?

I’ll get back to you on that.

So, reunions, anybody? Do you have them? With family, or with friends? How often? What are your traditions?