Sunday, April 15, 2018

Stop and Smell the Cherry Blossoms

It was a sunny, 70-degree day. The cherry blossoms had peaked. But I was hard at work, unpaid: worked up two contracts, took a call about equipment needed by a nonprofit, rushed to a meeting. By bike.

If you ride bikes often enough, you're bound to have accidents. Ironically, none of my smash-ups occurred during my daily commute to the Department of Energy and later the National Science Foundation.

And only one involved a motor vehicle. The others were...clumsiness.

Three accidents occurred during long-distance rides as a young adult. I rode in a lot of fundraising "marathons" and toured Michigan, Ontario, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia by bike. I was in my prime. I healed quickly.
My touring bike, however, was old and frail. It snapped in half during the third incident. Boo hoo. I loved that orange bike.
Three years ago, I was run over by a Spanish-speaking macho man in a sports car with darkened windows. This was at the corner of NE Bayshore and 79th, Miami, in the middle of our sail to the Bahamas. The body healed. The bike survived, and I was riding it again this weekend.
I was six blocks from home, rushing from one volunteer responsibility to another. Too fast. Too many responsibilities. I went down.
The bike is intact. But times have changed. Body changed. Diagnosis: "Bruises and contusions." Lots of blood. Smashed knee, still blown up like a balloon. Shock, which led to a fainting spell.
I must be getting old and frail, despite the vitamins, bike, and gym workouts. Is that my thin, wrinkly skin?
Time to slow down, before I snap in half. Take some leisure breaks. Smell the cherry blossoms.

Time to retire.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Fleeing South, in the Nick of Time

Here I am at the southernmost point in the continental United States. It is windy and cool, and I only packed shorts in my suitcase. This is Key West!  It's supposed to be toasty. I am contemplating the additional 90 miles to Cuba and the Caribbean Sea... a long way to swim.
Fortunately, when I was leaving for the airport at 5 am yesterday, it was freezing and snowing on Capitol Hill, so I threw on tights under my khakis, a fleece vest, and a scarf--just for the trip to the airport, in case I got stranded on the street with nary a taxi in sight, or diverted to a cold snowy airport. Who knows what can happen with air travel these days.

Now I'm wearing all those extra clothes down here in Key West! The wind is whipping up those palms.
However, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and I have a comfortable rental bike--an upright beach cruiser with coaster brakes (the kind that require backpedaling). 
Last night, I pedaled to a vegetarian-friendly cafe for a kale smoothie and curried butternut squash.  After all, this is liberal, bohemian, yoga-friendly Key West--a place where drinking establishments abound, biking is promoted, and pets have priority over wives to ride in the sidecar.
I got out of DC just in time yesterday on a 7 am JetBlue flight; flights from DCA after 10 am were cancelled due to snow. According to friends back home, the government closures due to the dire forecast were at least somewhat justified. (Photo from yesterday by David Kosar, from Facebook; I hear through the coconut grapevine that the snow is now deeper...)
Pope made an 8 am appointment today for a kiteboarding lesson, which is the only reason I'm awake and writing this at 7:30 am. After we got up and got ready, though, the company postponed the lesson until noon to see if the weather improves. I am not going to do the lesson today, too cold for me at 66 degrees. This is Key West!

But the sun is shining, etc. Hemingway and key lime pie are waiting. We are enjoying the hospitality of a long-time friend, Bill B., who has a brand new big house, which he says was much cheaper than the old, run-down, tiny, historic "conch" houses.
Bill has graciously opened his door to us, and is introducing us to palm trees, rum cocktails, and gracious southern ways. This is Key West!



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Who Cares About a Few Teensy Drops of Water?

I've been known to whine now and then about the vagaries of sailing--as I see them from my point of view.
Pope always claimed I was lying--or at last exaggerating--when I shrieked about "salt water streaming down the walls" from the hull/deck seam of our O'Day 30 while crossing the Gulf Stream. The ongoing leaks has been one of my biggest complaints about cruising, and a source of tension in our household. Pope thinks I'm imagining things. And maligning his boat.

Of course, he's a former whitewater kayaker, so a little water never bothers him. How can he possibly understand my complaints--or even notice when the waterfall commences?

Recently, he found this comment in a sailing forum:

"I bought a 1982 O'Day 30, and while investigating evidence of hull/deck joint leaks, found that my boat was assembled with essentially NO sealant in the joint. Evidently some genius assembler wanted to keep hands clean. The 'shoebox' type hull/deck connection can be quite waterproof in rain or washing, but obviously with no sealant, open to seas coming up on the hull."

To his credit, Pope pointed out the comment to me instead of hiding it under the tablecloth. I was relieved to learn that I'm not the only one observing unusual amounts of moisture in an O'Day; I was beginning to wonder if the salt spray was causing premature senility.

After all, the salt spray has certainly caused its share of other damage: rusted-out water pump bearings, failed electrical connections every few days, sticky bedding (yuck), and...did I mention that because of the salt spray I developed an eye disease?

You may remember that I got run over by a car while pedaling my folding bike down a Miami street, during a stopover en route to the Bahamas. I can't blame the accident directly on cruising; it was a secondary by-product. In passing, I mentioned in that blog that I also consulted an ophthalmologist in Miami about swollen, irritated eyes. He diagnosed dry eye from being bombarded daily by strong salt-laced wind. He instructed me to never, ever go sailing without big sunglasses or, better yet, goggles.
Fast forward to February 2018: four more major cruises in our logbook (Georgia on the ICW, Guadeloupe, New England, and Windwards). Nine or 10 overnights on the Bay. Did I always wear eye protection? Um, maybe not. The dry eye has deteriorated to a more serious condition, a form of blepharitis, that requires wearing glasses in all types of breezes, not just strong salt spray. The diagnosis: a lifetime of eye drops, heating pads, and other maintenance.
In researching the condition, I learned something that my eye doctor carefully avoided sayng to me directly, probably fearing that I would immediately go home and commit suicide. In addition to dry eye and a buildup of normal bacteria, blepharitis is often the result of an infestation of mites! Yikes! Yuck! I'll spare you the photos.

Now I am really freaked out. How could cruising on a sailboat lead to such soul-wrenching depths of despair and disease? A little "salt water streaming down the walls" of the boat seems minor and irrelevant compared with mites feasting on your eyelids!

Ah, but this is the sailor's fate, apparently. Shipwrecks, close calls, rusty engine parts, tows off sandbars, conchs hijacking the anchor, leaky ceiling, leaky walls, twisted ankles, extensive bruising of the arms and legs...and mites feasting on your eyelids.
Now I am truly singing the Sailor's Lament.







Stop the Roller Coaster; I'm Dizzy!

Emotional roller coaster: a situation or experience that alternates between making you feel excited, exhilarated, or happy and making you feel sad, disappointed, or desperate.

Yep. That was February. In like a lion is supposed to refer to the month of March; but February bared its claws, pounced, and chewed me up--physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Physically: Back in 2014, I broke a bone -- Metatarsal #4 -- near my left ankle. My foot swelled up like a balloon -- at the base of my toes. It took 9 months, 3 podiatrists, 2 orthopedic surgeons, and 1 chiropractor to get the swelling down. (In the end, the chiropractor was the miracle worker.)
The size of things from October 4, 2014 until July 29, 2015--size 11 and size 9 shoes!

Last November, and again in February, I was briefly back on crutches. Some swelling returned, and the pain of putting weight on the foot climbed the scale; jamming steel rods into my armpits for a few days seemed easier to tolerate.

The primary break was near the ankle. A recent x-ray revealed an undated second fracture, near the base of my toes. Maybe the explanation for the initial swelling in a seemingly weird location; the swelling may have been too thick for the earlier x-rays to reveal that second break. However, two breaks don't explain the continued pain and suffering. Anyone know of yet another foot specialist I could try?

Mentally: In February, my spiritual guru visited my ashram in Alexandria. A swami from India now also serving the West, he has hundreds of ashrams and thousands of followers practicing yoga and mediation. He organizes international peace conferences, including an upcoming one at the United Nations. He leads humanitarian projects in India and in disaster zones. He oversaw the planting of 15 million trees in a reforestation project. In short, he's an important dude.
Paramhans Swami Maheshwarananda planting a peace tree in Alexandria, Virginia; the trees are mentioned in the video of my introduction, at the link below

His visits are a challenge because 1) the stress of a too-small group organizing hundreds of details for the visit exacerbates underlying tensions, sometimes leading to harsh words and tears; and 2) I am reminded of my shortcomings in the arena of human relations and my lack of discipline in practicing yoga and meditation.

I introduced his public program Saturday night, on an international webcast viewed by only 600 or so. (The Europeans were asleep.) I was nervous. And then....as I stood up to speak, he whispered to me what subjects he wanted me to address.

So...I threw away my prepared remarks (on other subjects) and started from scratch.

Thank goodness for Table Topics!! That's a session in our weekly Toastmasters meeting in which we practice impromptu speaking. Because you never know when you might be asked on the spur of the moment to introduce a prime minister, CEO, or other important dude.

Emotionally: Friends are dying. One committed suicide. Others are in chemotherapy or rehabilitation. I'm feeling helpless, sad, and a little lonely.
Not a single tree in sight!

It sucks reaching a stage of life when visits to medical establishments outnumber visits to pubs, or plays, or pretty parks. Hiking means hot-footing it to Urgent Care. Backpacking means hauling your stack of medical records.

Count me among those who grouse about the blepharitis, the dermatograpia, and the twinge in the SI joint, not to mention that darn foot. When health problems pile on top of each other, I curl up and cry.

Anyone else glad to see this month end?










Thursday, February 8, 2018

Here and There: Scenes from the Windward Islands

 
 Day 1: Hotel Bambou, Trois-Ilets (across the bay from Fort de France), Martinique; quite a contrast from buildings we would encounter in more economically disadvantaged islands
Day 2: Affordable waterborne accommodations in Le Marin harbor, southern Martinique
 Day 3: Pope was easily distracted by the tourist attractions in Sainte Anne, Martinique
Day 3: The crew fell for it instantly: 2-for-1 happy hour for visiting yachters, Marigot Bay, St. Lucia; I resisted getting ice in my drinks, due to lack of sanitation
 Day 4: Fellow passenger Mark took the helm for the passage to St. Vincent
Day 5: Primitive coffin factory at the foot of lush volcanic peaks at Wallilobou Bay, St. Vincent; mold is rampant in the rain-forest humidity
Day 6: Shelter from the daily drizzle under plants of the tropical rain forest, during a hike to a waterfall and garden, Wallilobou Bay, St. Vincent
 
Day 7: Prowling the coastal path between Princess Margaret Beach and Lower Bay outside of Port Charlotte, Bequia; we stopped for a very pleasant swim in clear, warm water
 Day 8: Homes on the hillside and stripped cars, Port Charlotte, Bequia; we saw quite a few abandoned cars and houses, on several islands
 Day 9: Each day we sailed from one island to the next: mini ocean passages, or short hops; here, en route to our snorkeling expedition at Tobago Cays Marine Reserve, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Day 10: Modest home on an island you probably never heard of: Union Island, St. Vinvent and the Grenadines; this was our turnaround point, where we headed back toward Martinique
Day10: Liquor sales are a lucrative business in the Eastern Caribbean; on Union Island, we felt compelled to sample the local "intoxicated liquor;" it tasted normal to us
Day 11: On Mustique, the island of the very rich, the beaches are clean and private, and the workers' boats are clean and brightly painted, in contrast to other islands of the Grenadines
Day 12: 255 steps up a steep rock cliff to Fort Duvernette, a British stronghold that protected the harbor and sugar cane shipments from uprisings of the local Garifuna, who opposed the British colonial occupation; Blue Lagoon, St. Vincent
Day 13: Lush, tropical rain forest and blown-out streets coexist on St. Vincent; here, a stroll around Chateaubelair, St. Vincent
Day 14: We conquered Gros Piton, a volcanic peak near Soufriere, St. Lucia: a very tough five-hour hike and climb, nearly straight up and down with few switchbacks; admission to the trail and a guide:  US$50 each

 
Day 14: Back to reality after the beautiful and invigorating mountain hike: typical urban street and fruit stand, Soufriere, St. Lucia
 
Day 15: A shipment of life jackets for our boat, White Cliffs, caught up with us at an upscale marina in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia--on the last day of our cruise! Now I felt safe!


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I Went To the Caribbean, and All I Got Was This T-Shirt

I went to the Caribbean, and all I got was a suntan, and this t-shirt. But it's a pretty blue shirt with colorful sailboats, from an exotic-sounding place--Tobago Cays. It's a place I had never heard of until a few months ago, when my partner Pope and I signed up for a sailboat cruise in the Eastern Caribbean.
It says Tobago Cays on the front
Geography lesson: The islands we explored are at the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. They are known as the Windward Islands because sailing ships following the prevailing trade winds--which blow east to west--to the New World encountered these islands first. Windward means toward the source of the wind; leeward means the opposite direction. Thus, the Windwards are east (actually southeast) of the better-known Leeward Islands, which include the U.S. Virgins (St. John, St. Thomas, etc.). They are largely volcanic.
The Windward Islands
We began our journey in Martinique, where we met our Dutch captain and three other passengers aboard a 45-foot sailboat. (See previous post.) Our first stop was St. Lucia, which has its fair share of fine villas, mega-yachts, and luxury resorts (renting for a few hundred to a few thousand per night).
65-foot yacht and 5-star hotel at Marigot Bay, St. Lucia
We spent the bulk of our time in the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a long history of colonization and collapse, not to mention volcanic eruptions. In 1979, St. Vincent became the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence, though it still recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. Although it's a beautiful place to swim, snorkel, and enjoy sunsets, the country is struggling with an uncertain future. Governing and keeping the economy afloat is a challenge in a water-bound country consisting of 32 islands and cays (pronounced keys, they are small, low islands or even sandbars and reefs). Poverty is widespread; health care is out of reach for many residents. 
Home in Wallilabou Bay, island of St. Vincent
 
 
Fence and home near Clifton Harbor, Union Island, Grenadines
One of the islands, Bequia, has intrigued me for years because we were once offered an opportunity to boat-sit there for six months. Bequia boasts a smattering of leftover colonial elegance amid run-down houses, farmers' stands, and struggling 10'x10' stores. The glorious sunsets are free.
Plantation Hotel, Admiralty Bay, Bequia, Grenadines
 
Typical ventilated (not air-conditioned) home in Admiralty Bay
 
Shops in Admiralty Bay
Model-boat building is a traditional Bequia industry
 
Sunsets and bathing in the sea are free for everyone
Only one island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has emerged strong from the realm of dilapidated homesteads, polluted streams, bad roads, and downtrodden residents: Mustique, purchased by a Scottish brewery heir, cleaned up, and minimally developed for the very, very rich (think David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Princess Margaret, Kate Middletons' parents).
Prince William vacationed with in-laws at this hilltop mansion on Mustique
 
At the prettiest shops in the Windwards, you can buy lace camisoles and boutique flip-flops
Mustique is an anomaly in this Small Island Developing State (United Nations designation) reporting a 30% poverty rate and nearly 20% unemployment. Despite its woes, however, many of the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are rich with natural wonders that beckon to visitors. My t-shirt came from Tobago Cays, five tiny islands--some no larger than a sandbar, surrounded by reefs, accessible only by boat.
One of the five Tobago Cays--a sandbar with a few palm trees
 Visiting sailors flock to Tobago Cays' turtle reserve and remote beaches
 At many of the economically challenged islands, enterprising citizens have found ways to make a buck. At each harbor, our "yacht"--not really, but to the locals it spelled money--was immediately surrounded by entrepreneurs in vessels ranging from beat-up kayaks to fast motorboats, hawking mooring balls, boating supplies, fruit, and fresh fish--ranging in size from the 15-inch tuna our captain bought (below) to a 3-foot barracuda.
If they don't already have the fish you want, they will catch it, pronto!
In the Tobago Cays, a remote marine reserve with no infrastructure or factories, this fellow who tied his boat up to our stern pulled out stack after stack of t-shirts! In many colors and sizes! (The one he is wearing has the same design as mine.) Probably made in China; but how were they shipped (no post office or ferries)...? Where are they stored...?
Let's tie up your boat while we try on your t-shirts
The marine reserve is a popular snorkeling spot and a primary draw; indeed, we saw a few sea turtles, though very few fish. 
You pay the man before you swim with the turtles
The water is warm, idyllic for swimming, and very, very blue. I could gaze at it for hours, and did. Dressed in my matching blue shirt. 
Yes, the water really is a translucent aquamarine color!