20 Jul

The Tour de Cure

Posted by on July 20, 2017 at 8:30 pm

Jason and I decided to bike the Tour de Cure in Brigham City this June, a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association, with Jason’s brother and dad. Although this event had special meaning for us, heart-twisting meaning, even without that it was a beautiful and worthwhile ride.

Four members of Jason's family participated in the Tour de Cure.

Four members of Jason’s family participated in the Tour de Cure.

The American Diabetes Association organizes Tour de Cure rides in the country’s most picturesque places to raise research money and awareness for a disease that kills 3.4 million people, 70,000 of which are Americans, every year.

The Bear River is the most significant tributary of the Great Salt Lake.

The Bear River is the most significant tributary of the Great Salt Lake.

The Tour de Cure caters to every type of participant from the infrequent rider to the extreme cyclist. Different routes were available for us that ranged from 12 to 100 miles in length. We wisely decided to do the 33.7-mile course. Our route went through the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge all the way to the Great Salt Lake and back. We were surrounded by vocal wetland birds and unusually-saline scenery almost the entire time. The temperatures were absolutely perfect, in the mid-sixties. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to ride.

Jason took lots of pictures while biking. I'm not sure how he didn't eat asphalt.

Jason took lots of pictures while biking. I’m not sure how he didn’t eat asphalt.

Our course started around 8:40 AM and we finished at 11:49 AM, putting us in at about 3H:10M total. Frankly, that was a better time than I expected. After all, this was a ride not a race; no gleaming trophy awaited those that ignored the fine distractions of the setting and pushed themselves to the finish line. So, I braked to smell the salt bogs. Our average speed was right around 12 MPH but we hit rates up to nearly 20 MPH. That tempo would be super impressive if we were no-legged donuts but, since we are people, it’s not so much.

Slow and steady may not win the race but it will get you to the finish line.

Slow and steady may not win the race but it will get you to the finish line.

Although this ride was its own reward, the cause was the chief reason for our participation. Our team raised $2,215 for the American Diabetes Association, an amount we were pleased with. I want to thank all those that supported us. Your generosity meant a lot to a family that will forever be feeling the aftershocks of diabetes’ fury.

5 Jul

Running on Steam

Posted by on July 5, 2017 at 11:08 pm

Months ago, my sister asked if I wanted to run a half marathon with her in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Being me, a planner of incurable magnitude, I not only said yes to this race but organized much more than just a 13.2-mile jaunt down a stunning canyon. I soon had a large group of family, runners and rather-not-runners, onboard for a Steamboat weekend.

The five-story townhouse we rented was roomy and comfy.

The five-story townhouse we rented was roomy and comfy.

Our prodding was the friendly sort.

Our prodding was the friendly sort.

Thanks to Jason, our gang found a five-story townhouse to rent for a good price. It had plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms for the group, two patios, and a private hot tub. It was perfect for hanging together but not too snugly.

See those purple lips? Yeah, I was cold.

See those purple lips? Yeah, I was cold.

I don't get to see my sister too often but I always enjoy her company when I get a chance.

I don’t get to see my sister too often but I always enjoy her company when I get a chance.

We couldn’t go to Steamboat without visiting Strawberry Park Hot Springs, one of our favorite spots from last year’s excursion. This time, the water channeled in from the stream to cool the spring flow was particularly frigid because it had recently been snow. So, of course, daring ensued. Who could endure that chilled water the longest or plunge beyond its numbing surface the deepest became the subjects of much persuasion and taunting. John was the winner; he didn’t even need goading to dive in. But, with a few exceptions, most of our swimmers eventually gave in to at least a short dunk in the icy sections.

Everyone enjoyed Strawberry Park's warm pools but some of us appreciated its cold currents as well.

Everyone enjoyed Strawberry Park’s warm pools but some of us appreciated its cold currents as well.

The half marathon itself was beautiful. The route went along the Yampa River for mile after gorgeous mile. The downside? The downhills. The steep slopes made my right knee and Jason’s everything rather sore. Whole information on this half will be given in a later race post, not to fret.

The race's scenery was peaceful yet energizing.

The race’s scenery was peaceful yet energizing.

Hiking isn't usually on the agenda after a half marathon but my family is a little crazy.

Hiking isn’t usually on the agenda after a half marathon but my family is a little crazy.

After the half marathon, we still had enough energy to do the short hike to Fish Creek Falls. We walked to Fish Creek Falls during our last visit to Steamboat so we were surprised to find the river much changed. Spring runoff had transformed the creek into a noisy gush of churning whitewater. It was the kind of river that only provides one-way dips.

Fish Creek was a dangerous mass of rushing whitewater.

Fish Creek was a dangerous mass of rushing whitewater.

Kissing frogs can be fun.

Kissing frogs can be fun.

It was a fantastic trip. I have to say, I kind of love my family. They’re the type of people you can spend a long weekend amid without wanting to throttle someone. We played poker around the kitchen table, chatted at restaurants over dinner, and wandered the streets of Steamboat’s downtown. I will fondly recall this voyage in the boat.

25 Jun

My Man, Some Fields, and a Park

Posted by on June 25, 2017 at 11:09 pm

What could be better than spreading blankets near a chattering brook and genteelly consuming refined fare with distinguished friends? Why yes, wearing fashionable waistcoats and taking pony rides through tree-lined lanes would make such an occasion even finer.

The company was most agreeable at our moveable feast.

The company was most agreeable at our moveable feast.

Pedestrianism, or competitive walking, was a sport in Regency times. We held a manly walking contest at the picnic. Jason's snobby strides won.

Pedestrianism, or competitive walking, was a sport in Regency times. We held a manly walking contest at the picnic. Jason’s snobby strides won.

Last month, we attended Visions of History’s Regency Picnic at Memory Grove in Salt Lake City. This affair gave us a chance to daintily partake of charcuterie, cheese, and fruit with some of our historic companions while the hum of harp and stream gently aided our digestion. It also afforded opportunities to amuse ourselves with the prettiest equipage.

This pony deserves his nickname, "The Red Rocket." He never seemed to tire no matter how many of us he lugged around.

This pony deserves his nickname, “The Red Rocket.” He never seemed to tire no matter how many of us he lugged around.

The distant skyscrapers belied the historical fiction fashioned by our frocks and cravats.

The distant skyscrapers belied the historical fiction fashioned by our frocks and cravats.

A miniature carriage and steed lend great distinction to an occasion.

A miniature carriage and steed lend great distinction to an occasion.

It was an elegant and pleasing event. Thank you, Visions of History, for planning such a pleasant outing.

18 Jun

Escalante Escapades

Posted by on June 18, 2017 at 9:44 am

It was my turn to plan our anniversary outings this year. Finals week and anniversary fun don’t play well together but after the presentations and term papers were all done, Jason and I skipped town for some celebratory recreation.

Our yurt was unexpectedly spacious and swanky!

Our yurt was unexpectedly spacious and swanky!

Jason has been wistfully contemplating the merits of glamping for years. So, I decided to organize our anniversary trip around those whims. I found the perfect glamping spot and planned our excursion accordingly. We stayed at Escalante Yurts and absolutely loved it! Experiencing the best parts of camping with the ease of modern comforts was delightful. It poured the first night we were in Escalante and falling asleep to the rain hitting the canvas was as relaxing as waking the next morning to a chorus of birds. I guess Jason’s glamping fancies were not entirely groundless.

Graceful cascades aren't exactly common in the desert. That makes Lower Calf Creek Falls all the lovelier.

Graceful cascades aren’t exactly common in the desert. That makes Lower Calf Creek Falls all the lovelier.

We spent the majority of our first day in Escalante hiking to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Lower Calf Creek Falls is probably the most popular destination in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s a 124-foot desert waterfall that gracefully spills across colorful slickrock into a cool (cold, really) emerald pool. The six-mile out-and-back journey was easy but it still took most of our afternoon. Luckily, since we went on a weekday, this trail and its spectacular endpoint weren’t too crowded.

If only every desert had such an oasis.

If only every desert had such an oasis.

Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument hosts not just nature's creations but ancient man's as well.

Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument hosts not just nature’s creations but ancient man’s as well.

We ended the day with a stroll through the Devil’s Garden. Sandstone hoodoos and permission to climb anywhere make this the perfect playground for the curious and snap happy. We didn’t stay nearly long enough thanks to our bellyaching stomachs.

At the Devil's Garden, you can climb and explore freely.

At the Devil’s Garden, you can climb and explore freely.

The next day we passed on slotting it due to flashing dangers. The area around Escalante contains many famous slot canyons but, thanks to forecasted rain and flashflood dangers, we opted for less-flashy expeditions. Consequently, we spent the morning wandering among sleeping rainbows in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. We hiked the Petrified Forest Trail and Trail of Sleeping Rainbows, about two miles in total. The Trail of Sleeping Rainbows is littered with petrified trees roughly 135 to 155 million years old. The motley colors of that frozen timber were unexpectedly bright and capricious.

The Devil's Garden is a rock and shot wonderland.

The Devil’s Garden is a rock and shot wonderland.

The Devil's Garden is wicked awesome!

The Devil’s Garden is wicked awesome!

After treading through stony trunks, we gambled on the weather staying good as long as it was predicted to and set out for Upper Calf Creek Falls. Calf Creek’s higher but stubbier falls don’t get the same attention or traffic as its lower cascades. The trail to its 88-foot plummet is much shorter but a lot trickier. It descends 600 feet on exposed slickrock before wandering through rocky washes. In essence, it’s not the kind of terrain a non-Neanderthal would attempt when a thunderstorm was imminent (i.e.- flashfloods, lightning) but we did. Yes, trusting the weathermen’s timing clearly does not bode well for our IQ scores. Although the path to Upper Calf Creek Falls is only about one mile each way, due to the rough topography it takes most hikers 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. We did it in one hour and 15 minutes, 45 minutes downwards and 30 minutes back up. How was our uphill faster than our downhill? Incoming lightning and showers, that’s how. The storm arrived two hours earlier than expected. As soon as we saw the first flash in the distance, we picked up our pace to an enervating scramble. Well, I set a hasty tempo and Jason had no choice but to keep up. The meteorological racket followed us as we drove home; it was 31 degrees and snowy at the top of Boulder Mountain.

The Petrified Forest is an astonishing rainbow of rock.

The Petrified Forest is an astonishing rainbow of rock.

Who knew that hundreds of millions of years could turn dead wood into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors?

Who knew that hundreds of millions of years could turn dead wood into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors?

We made one last stop on our return journey at Anasazi State Park Museum. There, we checked out the 900-year-old artifacts of the Coombs Site. Excavations at the Coombs Site have uncovered 97 rooms, 10 pits, and thousands of items. We enjoyed the unearthed bits and the dwelling replica visitors can walk in. That model made us feel all prehistoric and ginormous.

Upper Calf Creek Falls doesn't get the love Lower does, probably because its path requires more exertion.

Upper Calf Creek Falls doesn’t get the love Lower does, probably because its path requires more exertion.

It was a superb trip filled with all the elements of awesomeness: elegant water, scrambling stones, vivid wood, and heavenly fire. Plus, as all anniversary outings should, it came with a large helping of extraordinary husband. Camping doesn’t get any more glamorous than that.

6 Jun

What a Pain in the Neck!

Posted by on June 6, 2017 at 5:52 pm

On a day hike in November, when I was carrying less than 10 pounds on my back, I hurt my neck somehow. What a wimp, right? There was no blinding flash of pain but the next day I couldn’t move my neck from side to side and attempting to do so hurt a lot. Trying to turn my head back when changing lanes while driving was particularly excruciating but I thought it would pass. I even went to the chiropractor to get things popped back into place, a fix that usually works for me. Six weeks later, nothing had improved so I finally went to the doctor on Jason’s urging.

Although what transpired in the months following that visit will no doubt bore many of you, for some, my experience might explain all the mysteries of life… or some of its agonies at the very least. I am an inquisitive person and I gathered a lot of information on the topic of neck pain by constantly asking questions of any medical professional I came in contact with. You might as well benefit from that tiresome habit.

Part 1: Pill Cocktails

As I already mentioned, after about six weeks of experiencing severe neck pain with no improvement, Jason convinced me to go to the doctor. My doctor x-rayed my neck to make sure I didn’t have any fractures or compressed vertebrae. The x-ray showed nothing amiss so he concluded that my injury was limited to my muscles. He believed that I had hurt a muscle just enough that the surrounding muscles had spasmed, i.e. contracted, to protect the damaged area. This sounds nice and helpful in theory but it doesn’t feel good, especially when it becomes everlasting. My doc prescribed three days of muscle relaxants to ease my neck’s grasp and 10 days of a strong anti-inflammatory to bring down the swelling. He also recommended I heat the area in the morning and ice it at night. Additionally, physical therapy was suggested as a possible aid. My pill cocktail definitely made a big difference but I was still hurting after 10 days, so I willingly signed up for the awkward discomfort of physical therapy.

Inquisitor’s Wisdom:

  1. Many new muscle relaxants on the market now are not habit forming. They aren’t the Somas you remember your wild friends enjoying as a teenager.
  2. Even if you have stomach issues like gastritis, novel anti-inflammatories exist that won’t irritate your delicate linings.
  3. When your back pops while you are being squished together during chiropractic adjustments, the pops are air escaping from facet joints.

Part 2: My PT Prognosis

My physical therapist had a slightly different opinion of my situation than my doctor. He said that women between the ages of 35 and 50 commonly suffer from neck injuries caused by decades of bad posture and weak neck muscles. He thought my problems, which practically occurred spontaneously, were basically an overdue tantrum brought about by a long history of maltreatment. He agreed that muscle spasms (tightened muscles) were the main reason for my pain but believed joint damage, not just a muscle injury, was involved. In his opinion, my muscles were protecting my joints rather than each other… silly chivalrous muscles.

Inquisitor’s Wisdom:

  1. Most people have flimsy necks, especially women, unless they weightlift. However, lifting causes its own brand of neck injuries.
  2. Neck injuries like mine are quite common in women once they reach their mid-thirties.
  3. Posture-related issues happen with women in part because they don’t want to look like they are sticking out their chest; they hunch instead. If you’ve got it ladies, flaunt it or you will hurt it.
  4. Neck joints can be injured by something as simple as lifting a heavy object over your head or sleeping funny.
  5. Neck injuries don’t usually go away on their own. If they are not treated, they will typically become chronic and behave very unpredictably. If you’ve had one for a long time, it is much harder, almost impossible, to treat.
  6. This type of injury usually gets better in 2-4 weeks with aggressive treatment. If it doesn’t, it might be time to consider an epidural or cortisone injection. Injections won’t fix the issue but they will make it easier to move the joints, which is what they need.
  7. Correct neck posture is a straight back with shoulders back and down. Your head should be in line with your shoulders not hunched forward. Your chin should not be tilted up.
  8. Computer screens and books should be held at eye level. This keeps you neck in a satisfactory position.
  9. Pain at the base of the skull is muscle related typically while pain along the spine is usually caused by joints.
  10. Those popping noises, like Rice Krispies, your neck makes after visiting the physical therapist or chiropractor? They’re caused by a bit of inflammation created from overworking the area. When the tissues swell, there isn’t anywhere for the swelling to go because everything is so tight.

Part 3: Bandages and Blisters

After my first physical therapy visit, and all the manual side-to-side rotating my therapist did that hurt like hell, I felt wonderful the rest of the day. That wonderfulness wore off though and, a couple days later, I felt pretty sore.

I liked the slight tension this tape created until it evolved into severe irritation.

I liked the slight tension this tape created until it evolved into severe irritation.

Along with moving my neck around excruciatingly, on that first visit my PT put some kinesiology tape on my back and neck. This tape is used to train muscles to maintain correct posture and stretch them in helpful ways. As instructed, I left these bandages on until they started falling off, which took a few days, even though they were hurting me. When I did take them off, I discovered that I had some serious blistering going on, which explained the pain. My physical therapist thought this was caused by an allergic reaction to the adhesives used in the tape, which is not a common occurrence with kinesiology tape but an occasional one.

Part 4: Vices and Virtues

Have you ever had your head in a vice? I have, only a physical therapist calls it a cervical traction device. My neck was stretched a few times in such a contraption. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as it seems like a vice should be but it didn’t miraculously fix my problems either.

Part 5: Zapped

My therapy mishaps didn’t end with the bandage blisters. My PT used an electrode stimulator on numerous visits but on one occasion it really killed. The electricity didn’t feel constant but seemed to spike up and down. I can tolerate a surprising amount of pain, which isn’t always a good thing- just ask my ankle. So, I toughed out the jolts. When I got home, I was astonished to find that my neck had huge blistering burns on it.

My physical therapist had never seen anyone get burned by an electrical stimulator before. I guess I can add "weird skin" to my list of unique qualities.

My physical therapist had never seen anyone get burned by an electrical stimulator before. I guess I can add “weird skin” to my list of unique qualities.

My physical therapist had never had that happen with a patient before but thought the oils in the lotion he used on me before the stimulator probably changed the conductivity of my skin. Why do I always have to be the skin weirdo? Two layers of my skin were completely burned off and my neck is still red in the scalded spots. Hopefully, that redness goes away at some point.

Part 6: Gummed

During one of my visits, one of the physical therapists played with my joints and tried to get them to release. This was a test to see if any joints were out of place. Her conclusion? The joints weren’t out, the joint capsules were just gummed up. Nothing was blocking the movement of my neck except gunk. Yup, as expected, neck gunk is the root of all evil.

Part 7: Stabbed

After I’d been burned and blistered by different treatments gone awry, my physical therapist said he was almost afraid to touch my skin. But that didn’t stop him from having one of his associates stab me with needles. When a muscle has been constricted for an extended period of time, its chemistry changes and it can’t relax. Micro-thin needles, similar to acupuncture needles, can be driven into these muscles to change their contracted chemistry and loosen them. There is a connection between how much a needle makes a patient twitch and how much tension is in her muscles. When needles were plunged into my traps, I quaked like a fish in the Sahara. Particularly, my right side entertained everyone in the facility with its convulsing. Thrashing around uncontrollably is a strange sensation and it does make you a bit sore.

Part 8: Death

With a death in my family, my neck got much worse. My PT concluded that there is a stress component to my problems, supporting the “last straw” theory.

Inquisitor’s Wisdom:

  1. Sleep is a factor in chronic neck pain. Not getting enough sleep will make it worse.
  2. That lump you sleep on, AKA pillow, can add to chronic neck pain. A cervical pillow might help.

Part 9: Strength and Stretching

After months of therapy, my PT decided I was ready to be cut loose… and hopefully stay loose. My neck was still having good days and bad days but its needs were finally few: movement and muscle. My perpetual treatment plan involves performing daily exercises to strengthen my neck muscles and hourly stretching to keep my joints content. The thing about exercise is that it stops working when you stop doing it so I will have to do neck workouts from now until forever. Neck rotations every hour of every day, especially when I’m working at a desk or sitting in class, will also have to become a lasting habit.

Inquisitor’s Wisdom:

  1. Muscle strength is slow to build so months of daily training are needed before the impact on chronic pain can be assessed.
  2. When an area hurts, not moving it is a common defense mechanism. This actually makes joint issues worse. Joints want motion. When they hurt, we need to ignore our instincts and move them like crazy. This is especially important with persistent joint issues.
  3. There isn’t really a motion that’s bad for your neck to do. It’s designed to do everything.
  4. A kinked neck is a joint issue. What should you do for it? Move your neck like crazy. (Stop being such a baby and just do it!)
  5. A pinched neck is caused by a problem with the same joints that cause kinks, the facet joints.

Part 10: Post PT

I’m four months into my perpetual plan now and the strength and stretching exercises do seem to be helping. My head stem hasn’t seized up again. It’s whinier than a teenager in a dead zone sometimes but I’m tough enough to deal with that drama. Go forth neck and be tolerable!