Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My life is like the North-and-South Gate Junction of Mt. Diablo

Mt. Diablo-- the tallest one in the picture. This mountain represents so much to me since moving to the bay area. It represents adversity; it represents challenge and choice. But most importantly, it represents possibility.

If you've never been to the Bay Area, I'm not sure this post will mean much. Or, it might. I'm not an expert in these things. 

Roughly two years ago, I left the Reno/Tahoe area where I'd grown up and lived most of my life for a Master of Fine Arts program at Saint Mary's College, which is located in Moraga, California-- in the East Bay of the San Francisco area. When I arrived two years ago, I was an accomplished-- but not-quite-elite-- long distance runner with aspirations of going to the 2012 Olympic Trials in the Marathon Event. I was close in getting there. If it hadn't been for a series of injuries that made even walking impossible... who knows. But that's another blog and the subject of my forthcoming book-- not this post. 

But since I first became injured in 2011, I began to notice the tallest mountain in the silhouette of heights around me: Mt. Diablo. At its summit, Mt. Diablo is 3,848 feet above sea level which is considerable since its base is more or less at sea level. 

I first saw it from the pool, located in a park called Heather Farms not too far from the gates to the mountain (which is also a state park) itself. I had joined a swim team to keep myself from going insane while injured and also to learn how to swim, something I'd always sort of wanted to do anyway but never had, thinking the task impossible (for me.) 

Each day I drove to swim practice, I could see the ghost of its outline against the morning-dark sky. 

And then, its form lighted by dawn in hues of gentle yellow to rose as the sun crested its distant peak while I swam laps with the team. For each breath among the strokes from wall to wall, the image inspired me. What great heights there are in the world; perhaps it's only natural that some of us wonder if we can climb them. 

That would also be the year I'd jump into random cycling groups-- one that met at Sports Basement Thursday nights. It was a group of triathletes, mainly, and their routine workout was a tempo ride from Mt. Diablo's base to what's called the "junction." I was told by the man who organized the ride that a sub-40 minute time to this point (about halfway up the mountain) was pretty good for a recreational rider. 

And since then, sub-40 minutes has been my goal; mimicking the 5-6 mile running tempos I'd do every 14 days or so in my training cycle when my body could take the pounding of running. 

Again, if you've never been near or seen Mt. Diablo it might be useful for me to note that there are two ways to reach the summit. You can start in Walnut Creek and go up what is known as "North Gate" or you can start in Danville and go up "South Gate." These two roads diverge-- and merge-- into one at the junction. There's only one way to go up to the top after that.  

My usual weekly fitness test is to tempo to the junction to see where I am. If I'm flat or tired; if I'm improving. Since I've been on the bike following my sprained Lisfranc joint, I've gotten my time down to 34:05 (though tonight I did a 35:30. But I'll take whatever my body gives me. Last week, it was worse, but also hotter out. I hate the heat.)

And so, tonight I realized that my life is like this junction that is roughly 2,000 feet above sea level. 

"There's two paths that diverge in a wood and I must choose the less traveled by." 

Or, should I? 

I started the ride late and missed the team by about fifteen minutes, having been held up at work. I met them at the junction and chatted. They opted to go down South Gate; another group of women began to climb to the summit. Three options opened before me and I wasn't sure which one to choose. The riders I love to ride with wanted to descend via South Gate and travel back to Walnut Creek via Danville. And maybe I should have taken that route. 

Just like maybe I should have chosen to people my life long ago. It's not the most fun thing in the world to watch all your friends get married and start families while you remain alone. Once upon a time when I was a lot younger, I might have said this was because I was not a great athlete or it's because I'm not thin or beautiful. But really, like all reasons for one's path in life, it's more complicated than that. 

In my twenties, I decided to be a writer; I rented a remote cabin in the Sierra Nevada, living in a space with no telephone or internet or TV to write my first novel. And after I lost the job to sustain that life, I returned to graduate school and have so far earned 3 Master's degrees while also trying to be an elite long distance runner and a freelance writer. 

That's not exactly the kind of life that breeds human connection. 

And yet, I long for it ... now that the running is done. Now that I'm more or less sure that I'm not elite, even if I will never give up athletic pursuits because I love them so much. Just as much as I love the writing.

So, today, when I stood at the junction while flies buzzed around my sweaty head and was offered a choice: 2 routes were peopled. One was not.

I am astonished I still chose the solitary route, going back the way I came. 

Maybe solitude is safe. Maybe, alone, I can pretend to be someone I'm not. Someone greater. Someone more profound. Or, someone secluded.

Or maybe I can be who I actually am without the worry of pissing someone else off. I can close my eyes and feel the wind on my face and it's my wind, my face and just me and the slow summer twilight around me. 

But I feel this tug in my other life-- my professional life-- too. In the Bay, I am a writer. I create promotional material for other writers. I am a freelance reporter for a local paper. I train with two teams that I absolutely love. And yet--- the tug of home remains. 

If I were to return to Tahoe, I would not have the same writing opportunities there. I would work in a clothing store. But I would have people around me who loved me. 

I'm not sure which route to choose. 

In lieu of a decision, I stare at Mt. Diablo. Perhaps that is my flaw. And yet, who knows what can happen when one decides to climb a mountain? You might do it faster than you thought you would. Or, you might find a team to carry you along. Or, once you get to the top, you might see something you'd never spot from your usual perspective at the bottom. 

And so, I keep climbing.

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