the invisible hand of first descents

Some things are so obvious, we risk taking them for granted.  Some things underpin so much of who we are, what we do, that it seems unnecessary, or redundant, to spend time reflecting on their significance.  At the end of a weekend when I feel so acutely the challenges I routinely put before myself, how I conquer them, and when I am looking ahead to some terrifying and exhilarating unknowns, I need to stop and state the obvious.

First Descents has become like oxygen, this completely essential part of my existence. Every day, regardless of what else is going on in my life, there is at least a moment or two where I am communicating with my family from camps in Jackson and Moab; working on the FD blog that I am so honored to have been asked to maintain; or just mulling over memories or images or dreams of future encounters with other FD’ers.  (Today, on a long run, I was gripped by a powerful image of me, Stiletto and Caesar rocking the house at an FD fundraiser, belting out wicked three part harmony on Fleetwood Mac and Journey covers.)

It dawned on me on my run this morning that I am now training for two major athletic events over the next two months.  After a two year hiatus (f!@$ you very much, cancer), I am finally saddling up again for a two-day, 150 mile bike ride for the National MS Society.  And a few weeks ago, after learning about the First Descents 10th Anniversary festivities happening in Denver in October, I decided, somewhat hastily, that I would attempt to run on a relay team in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon there.  Never mind that running at that altitude is an utterly foreign challenge for me.  (I recall gasping painfully on my short runs in Jackson last summer.)  It’s First Descents.  I need to be there.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from FD, it’s that I can do anything that I set my mind (and body) to.

At our favorite resting point - the Atco Post Office, August 2010

Yesterday, I rode 40 miles.  Running has greatly improved my endurance and over-all physical conditioning, but it’s still kind of a bitch to get up and run the morning after a decent-sized training ride.  But today, as I woke up, I decided that not only was I going to run, but that I was going to push myself a good bit beyond my average weekly morning distance.  I have set a goal for myself, a distance I will achieve before heading to Denver to run my leg of the marathon, and I just decided – BAM, like that – that I would start today. Why not?

This might not sound like much.  But every single time I saddle up, or lace up, and feel the wind and the sun on me, the sweat running into my eyes (as it did today, on the simmering first morning of what’s expected to be another week-long heatwave), I think of climbing the stairs in our old house during chemo, the way my heart would race, leaving me as short of breath as if I’d just run a marathon.  Two years ago, the challenge of getting my dog around the block, or carrying laundry up from the basement, was as profound as anything I am doing now.  There was so little of me left then, that the smallest task seemed as comparatively monumental as any training ride or run seems to me today.

This afternoon, Mike and I took my mother-in-law out for a belated birthday lunch, and we spent a good bit of time talking about where we are in the adoption process.  We told her that tomorrow we are going for a one-on-one meeting with the director of the agency we are likely going to use.  At one point, I reminded her that the process is destined to be long, and fraught with all kinds of emotional peril.  There is no saying how or when we will be parents.  She responded by saying, “I know that. I am just so happy that you’re ready to do this now, because it means that you are well enough, that you’re OK. ”

The process of getting to the place of being ready to actively pursue adoption – to get on this new roller-coaster and start dealing with paperwork and aggravation and uncertainty – has been long, and incremental.  There has been no over-night transformation from the devastated, heartbroken survivor I was in the immediate aftermath of treatment to the person I am now – calm, realistic, content, blessed with a strength and resilience that I believe can only be gained from enduring a struggle like facing and overcoming cancer.

The fact is, every rock climbed, every stride along the pavement, every push up an incline in the saddle, has been an essential part of getting me to the place where I am ready to move into the next phase of my life – one where I am not defined solely by my survivorship.  But where my survivorship informs the countless other dimensions of my identity – those already known, and those yet to be.

On the rock in Jackson, WY - September, 2009

I trace so much of this evolution back to First Descents.  I can look back to Jackson, exactly a year ago this week, and see the bend in the road, the place where my journey back to life was forever and irrevocably transformed.  It’s a miraculous thing to have this kind of invisible hand operating on me, on my soul.  It’s something that I think all of us who have been fortunate enough to be a part of this magical community understand. Tonight, I just want to make sure I don’t take it for granted.

Scaling the Devil's Butt Crack; Moab, UT, April 2010

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