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Monday, June 4, 2012

Have You Ever Swam Through the Trees?

Okay, so here's the thing. I'm not athletic. Not at all. Usually, my attempts at sportiness end in some sort of injury and/or humiliation.

And yet that doesn't stop me from trying. My complete and utter lack of coordination and skill usually doesn't stop me from doing ridiculous things. Case in point? Yesterday I participated in the inaugural Dynamic Dirt Challenge held at Pineland Farms here in Maine.

The Dynamic Dirt Challenge is exactly what it sounds like -- a race/obstacle course that involves getting dirty. Very dirty. (Those of you who follow the Real Housewives of Orange County may recognize this type of event, as Gretchen, Tamara and Heather participated in one earlier this season.) I figured if the Botox crew could do it, so could I.

My friend Betsy talked a few of us into joining and we formed a team -- The Filthy Pink Pumas. We aren't old enough to be Cougars, you know. I started running, and was actually making progress until my already dysfunctional treadmill broke.

Training Tip #1: When training for a 4 mile race ON HILLS, be sure to add some incline to your treadmill. Otherwise, on the first hill, YOU WILL DIE.

As race day approached, I became more apprehensive. Most of the obstacles didn't look all that daunting -- except for the swamp and the culverts. I figured I could talk my way out of the culverts, and the swamp? It's Maine. How bad could it be?

Training Tip #2: Read the obstacle descriptions carefully BEFORE you sign up. The night before the race is not the time to discover that you have to face your most major fears.

Anyway, a few days before the race, the weather report did not look promising. The day of the race, the weather forecast turned to monsoon. In the 24 hour period leading up to the starting time, it rained something like 679 inches. We had buckets set up all over our dining room to catch the water, and roads were closed all over due to washouts. I figured the event would be cancelled.

I figured wrong.

At 9:40 am, our team took off to tackle the obstacle course. First obstacle? A waterslide down a large hill. With freezing water. 

Soaked, and shaken from the pileup at the bottom of the hill, we took off. Obstacle #2? The swamp. What would normally be about 6 inches of icky gunk was a thigh-high pool full of bullfrogs. I was doing fine until someone behind me mentioned leeches, and I took off like a shot. Probably the fastest I've ever run in my life.

The next few obstacles were fairly benign -- hay bales, a muddy trail through the forest, a steep drop to a stream. The organizers helpfully changed that obstacle, allowing us to go  over the bridge instead of through the river, since the rain had turned a normally placid stream into Niagara Falls. I figured I was in the clear. I figured wrong.

Training Tip #3: If doing an obstacle course, bring a life jacket. Or paddles.

Not far from the bridge cross, we encountered a lake. Now, there is not normally a lake in this part of the forest. There is normally a nice, groomed trail with some pine needles and maybe a happy little squirrel scampering about. On this day, though, there was a lake. A lake that, in some parts, was up to my neck. It was over some of my teammate's heads. As I backstroked through the trees in icy cold water, I reflected on the absurdity of it. It was 50 degrees out. I was wearing cat ears and leopard print socks. I was swimming in flood waters, and I still had about 2 miles to go to the finish line and the free beer and pizza that would be the reward for completing the challenge.

After the swimming, the remaining challenges felt as if they were harder. I almost skipped the climb over the stacked hay bales, but forced myself up and over. I did skip the culverts, since I decided that having a psychotic break in the middle of tube was not a good look for me. I managed the spiderwebs, the rope climb, and the random staircase in the middle of the field.

The last mile was the longest mile of my life. With every step I was convinced I couldn't go further. At one point in the forest, I had slipped and when I tried to right myself, I overcorrected and pulled a muscle in my lower back that sent stabbing pains up to my shoulder with every movement. My team pulled away, and I figured that I would just cross the finish line on my own, sometime around Tuesday evening.

But then I rounded the last corner and saw them all standing there. We were going to cross the finish line as a team. Exhausted, winded and in pain, I thought I was going to throw up, but Kimberly, one of my teammates, grabbed my hand and talked me through the last few yards of the course.

And then it was done.

And here's the point in these kind of stories where it gets inspiring, and you get the whole "I learned so much about myself spiel." If you don't want that, then stop reading, because it's coming.

The whole Dirt Challenge was part of my self-prescribed mission to get out of my comfort zone, to try new things and experiences. It was about as far out of my comfort zone as you could get. Did I enjoy the experience? Parts of it, yes. The camaraderie of the team was great. I loved proving to myself that I could do things I never thought possible (swamps? um, no) and going further than I ever had before.

And parts of it I didn't like so much. I hated the feeling of being SO out of shape in spite of all of the work I've done in the past few months. I hated being injured, and being the one to bring up the rear. I'm not exceptionally competitive by nature, but that felt pretty crappy. 

My team is already talking about doing it again next year, and I'm not convinced I'll be on the team roster. Part of me wants to spend time getting into better shape, to go back and prove that I can do it. The other part of me wants to let a sleeping dog lie, to just accept that I did it, treasure the memory and move on to something else. We'll see. Maybe when my back isn't throbbing and I've gotten all of the mud out of my ears, I'll feel differently.

If I do join up next year, though, I'm bringing my life jacket.

Photos courtesy of David Damon, Matt Tardiff and Monique Hebert.

Friday, June 1, 2012

50 Shades of Apparently I'm a Literary Snob

Hey there, been ahwile. Lots of reasons why, so let's just go ahead and say I'm back now and leave it at that. :-)

Anyway, so yeah.. This "50 Shades of Grey" thing. Like pretty much everyone, I'd heard about the book, and decided to check it out. After reading the description, reviews, rants, etc., on Amazon, I decided it's not for me.

But then my book club picked it for June, and well, I kind of had to read it. And my initial reaction? Yeah, spot on. I HATED it. It's not that I'm a prude (although after reading the book I realize I might be more than I thought).

The number one reason was that, well, the writing? Not so good. On Facebook the other day, I posted a mini rant in which I basically said that the fact that this book is SO popular and making SO much money is insulting to all of the writers out there who have spent years honing their craft, writing draft after draft only to get piles of rejection notices. And yeah, I fall into that categoriy, so it's easy to chalk my irritation up to sour grapes, which admittedly might be some of the story.

But honestly, even if I hadn't just spent four years and many thousands of dollars on a writing program, I would still feel this way. It just wasn't good.

Well, apparently my opinion raised some hackles, because someone indirectly (because it is Facebook, after all) called me a literary snob. Really? Huh? Hardly. I decided to prove my point by devoting today's post to some of my favorite books. Some literary, some not so much. But these are books inspired and entertained . . . and not one of them had an "inner goddess" or a "Red Room of Pain."

So here it is -- "Kristen's List of Favorite Books that Quite Possibly Make Her a Literary Snob"

1. The All Time Favorite - Gone With the Wind

The first time I read this, I was 15, and enthralled to the oint where I literally walked around the house reading it. I've re-read it about 15 times since then. I just love it. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor.

2. The Book that Made Me Want to Be a Writer - Little House in the Big Woods

When I was about 6 or 7, one of my relatives gave me a boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilders' classic books. I loved that set, and re-read all of the books over and over. But my favorite was the first, "Little House in the Big Woods." It made me want to be a writer when I grew up, and I can't wait to share it with my daughter.

3. The Book that Changed Everything - Bridget Jones' Diary

It's no secret that I love me some chick-lit -- and this is the original, the gold standard. I read it on a plane to Denver when I was 22, just starting out my "adult life" and I laughed out loud so much people thought I was nuts. I read each age thinking "finally, somebody GETS IT." Still a favorite today.

4. The Book that Made Me Glad to be an American- A Thousand Splendid Suns

Just yesterday I shared this book with a friend who has not read it yet, and challenged her not to be moved. This was a "read in one sitting" book, that made me cry and want to do something to help these women. I was never more glad to be an American, and a woman in America, than I was after reading this book, and appreciate that every day.

5. Books that Made Me Want to Write Better- The Cider House Rules, Poisonwood Bible, The Help

I put the three together because they all did the same thing: kept me up at night, turning the pages, wondering how the heck these people could write so well. Literally from the first page of "The Help" I was in awe -- I actually said to my husband "THIS is how you write." The others had the same effect. Good stories, amazing writing, and, in the case of two of them, pretty decent movies too.

So there you have it, the first installment of my Literary Snobbery list. Stay tuned next week for part 2 of the list . . .  a riding crop may appear, but only to be used in the traditional way.

In the meantime, what do you think? Literary snob? What's your opinion on "50 Shades of Grey"? What's your favorite book? I'm always looking for recommendations!

Until later . . .