Naked and Absolutely F*cking Terrified

Last week I turned 36. I honestly hadn’t thought about it much, except for the fact that I was planning a fabulous brunch with my Portland community. (FYI, I cannot imagine a world where I will ever tire of celebrating my birthday.) Then my friend Maggie texted me with this question: So, you’re turning 36. How does it feel?
The sound of thirty-six, in theory, seems like a war cry announcing the foray into my late 30s. And yet I don’t feel like my late 30s are anything negative. I joke about being like a fine wine—better with age—but truly, growing and learning more each year makes my journey all the more fascinating.
That said, it doesn’t come without bumps and bruises of any typical adventure. There are times I feel like a 14-year old, staring at my locker at my new high school, completely unsure of who to talk to, where to look, and how to get to my next class. I push my glasses further up my nose and lift my head up so I can see where I’m going, but it doesn’t necessarily help me get there any easier.
One of these times was last Monday. It was Labor Day. My boyfriend decided to take me to Rooster Rock, part of which is sectioned off as a nude beach…which was the part he wanted to visit. For me it was the last place I would elect to lay on a beach. I don’t mind nudity, not one bit. I don’t care if you’re flopping down on your towel, swimming the river, or playing naked beach volleyball. I just personally don’t have an attraction to being the one in the nude.
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So here’s what happened. We arrived, put our picnic basket down, and stripped. Well,he did. I put on my bravest face and took everything off except my underwear. I just couldn’t go all the way. We spent the better part of three hours there, making food, dipping in the water (Okay, he did. I was too much of a sissy.), playing games, and lazing in the sun. It wasn’t busy that day, which surprised me, but there were groups on both sides of us and across the river. In the last 20 minutes or so, Nathan decided to get in the water for the final time. I stood up and was looking out at him as he swam in the river when I heard a voice.
“Looking good!!” A man in his fifties was suddenly in front of me with what looked like a benign smile…? Now, I don’t know a lot about nude beaches, but I assume that one does not comment on the physical appearance of another nude(ish) beach-goer. And you certainly don’t stare! Right?
He was so intent on looking at me, in fact, that he tripped on a scrubby bush, and sheepishly said, “I guess I better keep on walking.” I nodded with what I assumed was a shocked look on my face, unsure whether I should give him a lecture or just be relieved that he had kept on going.
Nathan saw all of this go down from the water and was at my side before the man was out of sight. I stood there, naked(ish) and self-conscious, and told him what had happened. He agreed that it was quite rude to say something of that nature on a nude beach.
Completely outside of our conversation, but deep inside my head, I felt a swirl of emotions. I was ashamed to admit to myself what had actually been my first thought: Are you talking to me? Looking good, naked? Really!? This instinctual chant played over and over. It made me feel incredibly sad, and I felt my face flush with red with embarrassment—and a little bit of anger—for thinking this way. Was I still the 14–year-old, affected by society and still unaware that people come in all shapes and sizes? That everyone deserves love and is worthy? That I should love myself most, unconditionally, and abundantly? Why should my knee-jerk reaction be that he misspoke somehow, or, worse yet, was mocking me?
Yes, as an adolescent I had more than my fair share of middle-school torture about my shape, but I’ve done a lot of self-work since then. I also know that unfortunately, it’s an ongoing battle, and that overcoming feelings of shame and imperfection is something I will always need to be aware of. I know I’m not alone. I know each and every one of us has something they are self-conscious about. I find it so comforting to have my friends and family to talk to, and a community of support that is just a click away. I love that as an adult we can own up to our weaknesses, and, though we might still feel them, have the opportunity to seek out ways to understand the human spirit, and in turn, understand ourselves.
Maybe someday I’ll believe it when a stranger tells me I’m looking good…naked.
Or maybe someday I’ll have finally learned that I don’t need to clog my mind with those little judgments I hold within me.

When I Get That Feeling, I Want Nature to Heal Me

The lick of wind on my ear whispers to me, keeps me mesmerized, and I can’t go inside just yet. I need these trees, the moss, and the giant clovers of the shady forest hiking trails. I need to scramble over rocky hillsides, sometimes in the snow. This woman yearns to taste the outside as long as she can stand it, because it is magical. So I wait another few minutes in order to keep the feeling from leaving too quickly.
I am so grateful to live in the Pacific Northwest. I moved here eight years ago not particularly caring about the wilderness. I didn’t want to harm it, but I didn’t want to be out in it, either. I didn’t like walking through spider webs (To be fair, I am still terrified of spiders!), was not a fan of mud-encrusted shoes, and never had the urge to hug a tree. I liked all sorts of other things about Portland, but the outdoors was not of much importance. I was not really aware of the big “green” movement and what it meant to the environment the way I am now, although I do remember being stunned at the amount of trees below the plane when I flew in to visit before my big move. That completed my impression of Oregon’s wilderness until about three years ago. My love of the outdoors started because my friend and I wanted to do something that didn’t cost much money. I wanted to go to a Lumberjax game. He was in grad school at the time, and was low on cash. I asked him, “Well then, Ben, what do people do around here on the cheap?” He asked me if I liked to hike. I wanted to impress my new friend so I told him I did. In truth, I had never done anything other than Multnomah Falls, an easy and short but steep hike in the Columbia River Gorge. It is the most popular hike for tourists, it is never quiet, and would not be considered wilderness under any circumstances, although it is extremely beautiful. We ended up doing a five-mile loop that involved crossing a couple small creeks, walking over more than a few patches of snow, and viewing two gorgeous waterfalls. I fell in love. At the end we felt amazing. Only later did I tell him that I hadn’t ever really hiked before and that after that hike I saw myself as a total bad ass. Since then we’ve upped our mileage and elevation. Last time I checked we are still total bad asses.
For me, there is no hiking season; there are only more layers of synthetic clothing. My weekend uniform is generally cargo hiking pants, a sweat-wicking shirt, SmartWool socks, and a bandana. I don’t care if I look pretty or not. I just want to be at a comfortable temperature and be able to move easily. I now love spring hiking in the Gorge with the wildflowers and the mucky muddy hikes. I can’t wait until the deepest snow finally melts so I can get to the Mt. Hood hikes. Summer hikes are sweaty but fun.
One of my favorite things about hiking is that it’s a time to let go of any unnecessary emotion. I feel awe at the enormity of the trees and the sky; I almost always feel uncertain when the trail splits and I don’t know which way to go. These feelings are part of the experience. The emotions I want to let go of are the ones that make me feel less than whole:  guilt, fear, anger. Emotions like these have a tendency to creep into the day and overshadow the positive. They shouldn’t, but they do. These emotions disappear when I am out there; it’s an amazing salve for any pain I have in my life. They literally flow out of me like the rivers I so adore for their propensity to make waterfalls, which are my absolute favorite thing about hiking. Rivers can be turbulent and dangerous things, but out of them come remarkable beauty. On the trail I can just Be, shedding the societal baggage of ego and all that comes with it.
I wasn’t going to write a post this week. I was going to let this week slide, let myself recover from a long holiday weekend and the remnants of my birthday celebration. Instead I felt compelled to write this particular post, just in time for my last birthday hurrah—a nine mile hike tomorrow at a new trail. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate me.

BIRTHDAY POST!

It’s my birthday, so go ahead and take this opportunity to celebrate the day of my birth in any way you wish! And don’t forget my twin; it’s Sarah’s birthday too!
I want to give you a recap of my Portland to Coast experience, but I also want to share the more intimate inner workings of my mind when it comes to my philosophy on running/walking.
The 2011 Portland to Coast Relay Walk was exhilarating and terrifying! (I have not built up the nerve to the full Hood to Coast Run yet, but I’m working on it.) This year was my sophomore year as a part of a speed-walking team. I was a little apprehensive before the event began. There were a lot of unknowns on my team—I had never met three of my new teammates, who would be squished in a Suburban with me for 30 hours. As Captain, I had made every effort to communicate with them, to make everyone feel at ease with the journey to come, and to let them know I had everything covered. Only I didn’t feel like my efforts were much appreciated. Most of my brain knows that just because some of my team members didn’t respond to my (well-written and thoughtfully-crafted) emails, it doesn’t mean they weren’t read. Being a Virgo, I wanted immediate responses from each recipient upon receipt of every email. Ok…I’m being a little facetious here…but I wanted to be assured that my efforts were being acknowledged, and also that I wouldn’t have to read all the rules and regulations to the team once we’d all gotten together. There are a lot of things to remember in this event, and I knew we’d be busy enough with the task at hand.  
Can you tell I put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to things like this? Have you ever been in charge of something and be absolutely terrified that things will fall apart, and everyone will turn and blame you because you stupidly volunteered to be Captain and Team Scapegoat? I have those fears. I bet a lot of us do. My chest tightens just thinking about it. I must remember to breathe.
In the end things went pretty well. They definitely weren’t perfect, but we didn’t forget any supplies, we never missed the baton handoff, and no one injured themselves, aside from the usual muscle aches. While observing hilarious costumes and team names, I also noticed was that there was so much love and support coming from everyone in the event. Yes, my teammates cheered me on when I killed that 8 mile leg in record time, but in addition to that, many strangers rooted for me as I passed their vans, stood beside them in the 2:00 AM chill, and moaned about the lack of sleep with them. I felt such a kinship with the thousands of people walking and running beside me, all of us reaching for our best selves.
That feeling is like a song that makes me fill up with joy every time I hear it. The one that comes into my head right now is “Iwoya” by Angelique Kidjo and Dave Matthews. Whether or not you like or understand the music, you can’t not be happy when you hear it. I feel this song gives the listener a gift of love with every play. And that is exactly how I feel about running and walking. It’s a gift I’m giving my body, and it always makes me happy. I have never said to myself after a run, “I wish I hadn’t done that!” I love running…and I hate it too. It makes my chest burn, my legs ache, and my everything sweat. But the most commanding feeling I have about it is that it makes me feel like a total rock star. I have never been so proud of myself as a physical being. Besides bellydance, no other activity has ever made me feel so alive. I also recognize that it’s starting to make a serious impact on my body. I’ve gone from hating my body to embracing it, thanking the Universe every day that I am able to do these things, and do them well. I wish that everyone will find their love of life the way I have. It’s a beautiful thing.

She's a Walkstar!