Friday, July 29, 2011

Bravery and a bare, white belly

When it rains, it pours.

Not all welcome the flood. But for me, the deluge has brought a rich assemblage of great things.

First, I passed my follow-up glucose test, which means I bucked the odds and dodged gestational diabetes in this second pregnancy. This means I will sidestep a multitude of unpleasantries. Perhaps most importantly, it means my baby and I seem to be reaping the rewards of pregnancy exercise.

Second, my prenatal check-ups, which now happen every two weeks, are fantastic. So far, I’ve gained a total of 26 pounds and am still gaining roughly a pound per week. My blood tests are normal, as is my blood pressure, which registered most recently at 110/70. And, my fundal height, which is a measurement of the uterus used to assess fetal growth and development, is 34. Generally speaking, this number (measured in centimeters from the mother’s [filtered word] bone to the top of the uterus) corresponds with the number of weeks pregnant. In my case, I’m measuring one centimeter larger than “expected.” It could be baby’s on a growth spurt.

Third, I feel great. To me, this is wholeheartedly important and, frankly, isn’t something all women can boast at nearly 8 ½ months pregnant. I have no swelling to speak of, my energy levels are good and I’m sleeping, eating and exercising well.

Speaking of exercise, the recent bouts of sunshine have done amazing things for my motivation, while also teaching me a few lessons about gear.

In short, get the gear right. Especially when you’re toting around an internal space heater.

I’ll enlighten with a short story.

It was a hot (for Juneau) Tuesday around 3 p.m. Temperatures hovered around 75 degrees and a breeze drifted gently down Gastineau Channel from the north. I bustled quickly through the tourist gauntlet of downtown Juneau and headed down Thane Road toward the Sheep Creek trailhead. My goal? Get away from the crowds and get a tan.

Upon my arrival, the parking lot was nearly empty, aside from one car parked near the exit. I took note and headed up the trail, certain I had found solitude.

What I hadn’t banked on was the oppressive, moisture-laden heat that wrapped itself around every corner of the wooded trail. There was no breeze to push it aside or to cool my brow. My shorts clung, like damp rags, to my legs. A black Lycra tank-top with a tag that advertised its “moisture-wicking” ability, did nothing but make me feel like a sausage in a sweat lodge.

“This is temporary,” I thought. “As soon as I hit the valley, I’ll cool off.”

After ten minutes of hiking, I crested the ridge and dropped down the trail that winds along Sheep Creek.

There, however, was no breeze. And, no more shade — only sun— glorious, blinding sun.

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I loved it. But so did my black tank top.

Before long, all I could think about was how I wanted to rip the top off my body. How I wished I had the abs of eight months ago.

“If I wasn’t pregnant,” I thought, “I’d be running in a sports bra and shorts right now!”

Then I realized something freeing and absolutely true — who cares? There was no one but me on that valley trail, nothing surrounding me but the cottonwoods, the sun, the ferns and a babbling stream. So what if I bare my white belly to the sky?

Nothing there would care but me.

So, I did it. I peeled off the sweaty, Lycra confines of the black tank top and wadded it up in my fist, like I was crushing a bad piece of writing.

Ah! Relief!

My pace quickened and I smiled. The breeze across my body felt like I was floating through feathers.

That all faded moments later. A pair of women, walking the trail, appeared from around the bend. I thought of hiding, turning around or quickly trying to squeeze back into my shirt.

Too late — they were upon me.

“Hi, I just knew I’d see someone as soon as I took off my tank top,” I said.

“Oh honey, you look great!”

I laughed as I thought of how I must look: belly round as a pumpkin and as pale as the cottonwood puffs drifting across the trail. It was entirely possible the tour helicopters overhead could have spotted me.

But, that simple comment had entirely made my day. Whether or not I actually looked great is debatable, but at that moment, flying down the flat, grassy trail, edged with fireweed on one of Juneau’s most glorious days, I certainly felt great. And that is absolutely all that matters. Oh, and I got a tiny tan.

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I haven’t worn that tank top since the day along Sheep Creek. I found my body prefers anything flowing as opposed to form-fitting. Shorts are rotated with running skirts, which offer huge benefits in the breathability department. And, there’s nothing that quite beats a quick splash of cold creek water on the face, neck and arms. I’ve found that’s by far the quickest way to cool a too-warm-for-comfort body.

With the return of the rains, this week’s trail of choice is really anything that drains well. I would feature the Sheep Creek Trail, but the first 10 minutes of the trail is crowded with roots that become quite slippery when wet. Hence, I choose the Red Mill Trail. This single track loop spurs off of the Perseverance Trail at two locations: the first just after the first set of double bridges and the second just before the three mile mark. Both spurs are well marked. The trail itself climbs tightly along the edge of Silverbow Basin, crossing a few small creeks before wrapping back toward the main trail. It’s a nice break from the crowds found on Perseverance and a relaxing jaunt that provides a bit of new scenery for those who frequent the area. Roundtrip from the Perseverance trailhead is about 5.5 miles.

•••

Week-by-week:

This week’s mileage: 33.49 miles.
Runs: 4.
Bikes: 1.
Pregnancy stage: 33 weeks.
Trail of choice: Red Mill Trail (Length: 5.5 miles roundtrip from the Perseverance trailhead).

Monday, July 11, 2011

One, two, three!

Elias is all about counting down to things these days. Lately, it's been counting down to the start of his imaginary car races or the number of sleeps left until we do something spectacular — like ride in a float plane or go to the beach.

This week we counted down to a third birthday. Elias is now three and officially a "big boy" who sleeps in his own room, in his own bed and is 100 percent potty trained. Phew! I can't believe it — and yet — I can. These last three years have been packed with more tear-jerking and laughter-making memories than I've ever imagined.

This little — ahem! — big boy is one amazing human being. Yes, he drives me nuts. Yes, he has his moments. But, to take a few words from a beautiful childrens' book, when that boy is asleep, I mean really asleep ... I'll sneak into his room, lay next to him and breath in his sweet smell — like earth, the outdoors and most times I'll get a whiff of that baby scent on his skin ... the same smell I remember when his entire body fit in the crook of my arm. It's a smell I'll never forget.

Yesterday, we went to the beach near Sheep Creek. A cool breeze blew down the channel as salmon ran up the creek and eagles patrolled the banks. A beautiful day to be in Alaska.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

46 pounds faces off against 7 months of pregnant

The news wasn’t good. I’d failed the hour glucose test by two points —the upper limit was 139, and my level registered 141.

I took it hard. This meant I was one step closer to 332 finger pricks, 83 days of a restricted diet and a mandatory hospital birth.

It’s times like these that make me want to go for a run.

A trail run is where I do my best thinking. I’m able to clear my head, process thoughts that need processing, sort through feelings that need feeling. I’m always surprised that I think about nearly everything but the actual run.

But the outing would have to wait. Instead I turned my thoughts to memories of a recent trip to our family cabin, where worries were few and Alaskana in abundance. We flew out for an extended weekend to an isolated outpost amid the Southeast archipelago. For four days we fished, cooked, ate and shared laughs around a campfire.

With any remote dwelling, there are always things to be done: water lines to check, electricity to hook up, a skiff to tend, food to cook, and dishes to be done. I’d been out before and relished in partaking in everything and getting my hands dirty with the work.

This trip would be different.

Never had I taken on so much with so much belly in the way.

Simple things like hauling coolers packed with ice and dry bags from the floatplane were an absolute “no-no.” But things like fishing were still just as easy. The real challenge came one day into the trip, when I hooked into something big. Really big.

That day the group decided to divide and conquer. Half would take the skiff in search of shrimp and salmon, the other half would take the Yomi II, a 24-foot SeaSport Explorer, in search of halibut — at least that was the plan.

So we camped on a locale I’ve unoriginally dubbed “Spot X.” Here the ocean floor rose quickly from 100 to around 50 feet and the area, based on family lore, was known for being not only reliable, but also quite fishy.

We baited lines, dropped them and waited. Reeled up, checked lines, then dropped again. Reeled. Dropped. Reeled and dropped again.

I began to get antsy. There seemed to be no comfortable spot on the boat — nowhere that didn’t hurt my feet and hips or squish my belly. So I took a break, grabbed a Luna Bar and hunkered back down on the gunnel. I nestled the rod butt in my hip, flipped the drag and watched my red neon weight disappear to the ocean floor with my herring in tow. I took a bite of my bar, flipped the drag back and then stopped. I had hit bottom, but only moments ago. That tug I’d felt wasn’t a rock. I waited.

Suddenly, my rod tip bent hard and deep toward the reel seat.

“Fish!” I yelled.

I swallowed the chunk of bar still in my mouth and braced myself against the boat.

The rod bent deeper and the tip nearly touched the water as I struggled to find a comfortable spot to seat the end of the rod.

This soon became a big fish fight. I’d inch in line, only to have it stripped out for seconds on end. Ever so slowly I began to make headway, and before long the ghostlike underbelly of the halibut rose from the inky depths.

A scratchy voice came over the radio.

“Yomi II this is Hanz Off.” It was the party on the skiff.

“Uh, can’t talk. Kinda busy right now,” was the only response we could muster. Moments later my husband David muttered something about wishing he had a gun — for the halibut, of course.

A gaff would have to do.

Without incident he gaffed the fish, slipped a line under its jaw and slit the tail. We both rested for a moment. Neither of us was in a hurry to heave the halibut — which was not yet dead — into the boat. So, we tied it off on a cleat and sent our lines down again.

The day continued without much more excitement. Except, of course, when we saw the faces of those in the skiff who ended the day fishless.

My catch that day weighed in at an estimated 46 pounds, based on a tide book acquired from Western Auto and Marine. It measured a generous foot taller than my 3-year-old.

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I soon learned, however, that catching the fish was the easy part.

That lesson came a day later, after my husband had graciously filleted and packed my fish.

The young ladies of the party decided it was time for a women’s fishing outing, and I was to man and navigate the skiff. After a quick course in skiff operation from my father-in-law, we were off.

Running a skiff is harder than it looks. They’re a bit squirrely without much weight, the motor can be a little testy — especially one as old as ours — and with a 7-month belly constantly getting in the way, it’s not as easy to operate the controls while twisting forward to navigate. But I enjoyed every second and before long we were loaded up and running back toward Spot X.

The wind kicked up this day and we found ourselves drifting at a clip that seemed more like trolling than true halibut fishing. But, like the tenacious ladies we are, we repeatedly set our lines at the 100-foot mark, drifted over the nob, and motored back. We dropped lines, reeled up, dropped again.

Soon, the smiles outweighed any annoyances the wind my have conjured. In four hours we reeled up six halibut (one got away).

I gaffed, tied lines and slit tails. But it was a team effort, and we all took turns getting thoroughly dirty. The inside of the skiff looked like a small-scale blood bath. Five halibut hung heavy off the stern cleat.

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At the end of the day, it took two 20-something women to haul the catch into the skiff and we sat back to admire our work.

By the time the guys arrived from their outing to Elfin Cove, it was late in the day. Our catch outnumbered theirs, which consisted of a few chum salmon, and our smiles stretched from cheek to sunburned cheek.

Despite the late hour, the ladies decided to finish the job they had started. We took turns filleting, skinning, rinsing and packaging the halibut. I filleted two, which was plenty. My back ached as I bent down over the fish and the wide stance we were forced to take over the plywood platform made my thighs burn.

We finished by 9 p.m.

That weekend I learned being an Alaskan woman isn’t easy. It’s even harder to do while very pregnant. But I managed to do all the things I would have otherwise done — pull shrimp pots, catch and fillet fish, run a skiff, shoot a rifle, cook, clean and laugh.

Sometimes it’s the little things that add up in a big way to make you feel alive.

Back to reality: It was these memories that got me through a day of worry. They made me realize that whether or not I have to manage two months of pregnancy-induced diabetes is irrelevant. What really matters is whether or not I let it slow me down. If I can help it, my life — as an athlete, a wife and mother and as an Alaskan woman — won’t skip a beat.