I’m Not as Young as I Used to Feel

After motoring through half of America in our Airstream for the past 1 ½ months and reporting travel highlights along the way (http://streamingthruamerica.com),

I’m temporarily suspending the chronological order of my posts to confess that I’m not as young as I used to feel. I’m usually up for a reasonable physical challenge, but I have to admit that today’s climb did not go as easily as I wanted it to.

Yesterday, Leah and I crossed from Taos, New Mexico to Alamosa, Colorado, and settled in at Base Camp Family Campground by midday. After hiking in Taos the past 2 days, we thought we had acclimated nicely to the thinner air (more to be said on that later), but we were feeling our age after our arrival. We took an early siesta in air-conditioned comfort, followed by a 27-mile sprint to the Great Sand Dunes National Park Visitor Center just before it closed.

The park ranger suggested a climb to the top of High Dune (699 feet), but to keep in mind that tomorrow’s high will reach 92o F. He recommended a 9:00 am start time in order to reach the top of the dune by noon, and before the surface temperature exceeds 150o F. The ranger predicted the 2 ½-mile trek should average 2 hours, round trip.

Since we were already at the park, we decided to have a look around. We found it very refreshing to glide through three inches of snow melt, ebbing and flowing from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Considering it was a Sunday afternoon, and peak traffic was winding down,

there was still plenty of activity around us;

far too many interesting vistas to ignore;

and surprising driftwood sculpture to admire.

We arrived at the Dunes parking lot by 8:45 am the next day, and we were not alone. Many other families were already parked and trekking across the sand flats with sandboards in hand. Canopies and shelters were already sprouting up throughout and within Medano Creek, and kids were romping in the water and shaping wet sand castles.

We surveyed the 10,000 acres of dunes and plotted our course as there are no marked trails, but we followed along the ridgeline like most others.

Looking back gave us some satisfaction, because it reminded us of how far we trudged,

but looking ahead reminded us how much more we had to cover. The closer we crept to the top, the deeper our feet sunk into hot sand, slowing our progress.

We took a lot of breathers along the way,

and rated the sand boarders as they attempted to carve out a run…

but mostly, it was uphill twenty steps, pausing to catch our breath, having a look around, sipping some water, and repeating the process. Slow and steady wins the race. Right?

Many hikers passed us on the way down offering words of encouragement, but Leah–realizing her feet were about to catch fire–decided to mush down the sand slopes and soak her feet in the creek while I continued to the top.

And so I pushed myself, and willed myself up the final ascent, foot by foot, grabbing air along the way, until I finally reached the summit with barely enough energy to greet the younger people who passed me on the way up, and wave my arms for Leah’s snap.

Perhaps it was self-gratification…

realizing that I can still push myself,

or maybe I needed to see the other side of the mountain.

Either way, it’s all good. Ironically, as I admit to myself that I’ve lost a step or two, to my surprise, I often find myself taking a victory lap. As I get older, I’ll eventually have to make do with being young at heart.

But until then…

Regular programming resumes…

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

With our travels slowing while we hunker down in Florida during the impending winter months, Leah has redirected her focus and efforts inward. She has contemplated doing something with her hair after growing it out for the nine months we’ve been on the road–originally citing the ease of pulling it back or putting it up when we were spending a fair amount of time enjoying the great outdoors–but recently she’s grown tired of her look, thinking that a change might boost her self-image.

I have learned long ago to always offer a compliment when asked to comment on how something looks. For example, on the occasion when Leah would buy a new article of clothing that I know she likes, it’s always easier to agree with her purchase.

“What do you think of this?” Leah might ask.

The safest response is usually: “I like it if you like it.”

…although, sometimes a question could provoke unwanted friction, and would demand tightrope accuity: “So what do you think about this dress on me? Do you think it makes me look fat?” she’ll ask, primping in front of the mirror while admiring the line or the color.

This is a quicksand question for which there is never a delicate answer. And the trap couldn’t be more obvious. Answering “No dear, of course not. The dress is very slimming!” can only complicate things, and warrants a surefire response: “Great! But you think I’m fat!”

However, by stating the obvious and acknowledging the pitfall, it’s possible to defuse the situation, and escape unscathed: “Only a fat suit could make you look fat, dear.”

Yet when it comes to offering “solicited” advice, I’m usually on terra firma, and free to speak my mind.

“I’m thinking about changing my hair,” began Leah, “and I’ve been thinking about getting lilac highlights. Whaddaya think?”

Of course, she’s asking the right person, because lilac highlights is something I happen to know a lot about. In fact, not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about lilac highlights.

I considered my words. “I think that if you do it, and like it, it’s a great look for you. But if don’t, you’ll be miserable until the color fades away,” I replied cautiously and conclusively.

“Well, I have to do something,” Leah continued, “so why not risk it? I’m making a hair appointment at the next place we visit!”

The day of reckoning arrived the other day.

“You need to drive me to the salon for my 9:30 appointment,” informed Leah.

“Okay,” I relented. “Have you figured out what you have in mind yet?”

“I’m not too sure,” Leah confessed, “I have a few ideas, but nothing certain. We’ll see. Come and get me in a couple of hours.”

I went out for breakfast, and reflected on the direction that Leah might go. I didn’t expect anything radical, because Leah’s not that kind of person. She seldom wears makeup and eschews the glitz and glamour in favor of the practical and casual. Besides, as I often remind her, she’s beautiful and doesn’t need it. Once in a while, a touch of color on her lips tells me that we’re dressing up for a night on the town.

Still, when we met nearly 13 years ago,

Leah and me 2.jpg

Leah was periodically dying her hair to chase away gray tones in a Sisyphean effort to postpone the inevitable.

She continued to be a honey blonde until she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and made a conscious decision to go gray after chemotherapy. While Leah fortunately kept her hair during treatment, the fear of losing it by introducing harsh chemicals soon after was considered too risky.

Leah’s hair remained short, and the temptation to go back to blonde eventually faded to resignation…that maybe going gray didn’t suck so bad after all. Friends and family offered encouragement and compliments on the amazing color long-hidden by the hair dye. Over time, Leah embraced the color and the look.

Meanwhile, Leah’s hairdresser was documenting the makeover…

preparation

back of head1

I could have stayed at the diner, and waited for the phone call, but I drove back to the salon and waited inside the F-150 in eager anticipation.

When the phone finally rang–more than two hours since dropping Leah at the door–I played coy.

“I’m just finishing up, here. You can come and get me any time.” she propositioned.

There was an inviting lilt in her voice.

“Are you pleased with the result?” I asked, not wanting to appear too anxious.

“You’ll see,” she teased, “I just can’t believe that it’s me.”

3-4 view

“Well, in that case, I’m already parked outside, and it’s time for the big reveal,” I declared.

new do

She exited the salon, and stepped inside the truck cab. “How do you like it?” Leah asked hesitantly.

portrait (2)

I immediately forgot all the sage advice I’d ever followed to hedge against potential fall-out.

“I love it!” I blurted out.

“You do?” she second-guessed, looking for confirmation.

“Absolutely! It’s stunning,” I gushed. “But where’s the lilac highlights?”

“Good. The hairdresser said that it would get all over my pillow, and it would fade after only a couple of weeks. Besides, she said it’s what all the teens are doing these days. Anyway, we decided it would be better if I worked with what I had. So, all the highlights are my natural color, and she worked her magic to match the rest underneath the gray. Nothing too extravagant, just enough, don’t ya think?” Leah explained.

That’s when I realized that there was nothing wrong with a little glitz and glamour in our lives, and I was somewhat hopeful that some of it would rub off on me.