Turning The Corner

You have no idea how good it is to be able to eat again.

We often talk about being really hungry but after nearly five days of not eating, trust me the sheer pleasure of actually feeling hungry and being able to satisfy that need to eat is the best thing to have happened to me in days.

My first cycle of chemo has now been undertaken, not quite ‘through it’ yet as my white blood cells will drop in number in the next week as a response but hopefully they will recover well so that I can be subjected to this fun all over again.

The scariest part of chemo is not knowing how your body is going to respond to the drugs – so I sat there on Thursday in an anxious state as the lovely nurse injected two large syringes of pink stuff (the one that causes your hair to fall out) and one large syringe of clear stuff (that gives you an itchy nose). An hour later it was time to go home and I slept for 10 hours, simply from the relief of having got through the day.

Friday was OK – some nausea but manageable with the four sets of drugs I had been sent home with. In the afternoon Jeremy had the pleasure of giving me an injection in my thigh, which would help stimulate my bone marrow over the following week to counteract the immunity drop caused by the chemo. Afterwards I slept for another six hours but woke feeling really poorly – my temperature had dropped and clearly all was not as it should be. A midnight trip to the Christie and overnight stay with antibiotics meant that Saturday was a little better, but I was still feeling very sick and unable to eat.

Sunday and Monday came around with not much improvement in the sickness but a huge invite for one to The Pity Party that comes after the steroids finish. All I can say is that they were dark days and challenged me more than I had ever thought I would – as someone who thinks that she has enough mental strength to get through almost anything, those days have made me realise that it’s not about being strong enough or being determined enough, it’s just about being.

Monday afternoon my rescue came in the form of another anti-sickness medicine (my others had all run out) and it was wonderful – a strange tripping experience as I was definitely not functioning normally and do have recollections of wonderful feelings of calmness and contentment – but I had cheese and biscuits for tea and they were the most delicious foods ever! Followed by a decent night’s sleep and woke in the morning to actually feeling hungry and being able to eat some toast, which was heaven.

A trip to the supermarket to stock the fridge again (not driving yet, still feel a bit spaced out) and catching up on e-mails, messages etc. I doubt I’ll be out for a run again soon but I’m certainly starting to feel a bit more like me again.

This is going to be one hell of a ride but it’s about taking the help you need – whether that’s a super-strong anti-sickness tablet or simply saying to a friend “I can’t do this” – I need to remember that this is the journey, not the destination.

 

 

Time To Rock and Roll

Right, so today is D-Day – or C-Day to be more precise. It’s the first of my six chemo sessions (there’s a 3 week break between each one) and I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. The last couple of weeks have been rather surreal and I’ve been kept very busy putting Team Suzanne together.

I’ve devised a list of rules that we all have to abide by over the next 18 weeks…

  • There will be times when I need to have a good cry and you have to let me. Don’t tell me to be strong or to be positive, just supply me with tissues.
  • There will be times when I try to act tougher than I really am – play the game and keep up the pretence, it’s how I’m coping.
  • There will be times when I’m actually rocking this shit, tell me how great I am!
  • Please keep in touch with me – a text, a FB message, a phone call, an e-mail. You’re not mithering me and it’s good to know that even though I might be off the social radar for a short while, you include me.
  • Inappropriate jokes are essential, the more outrageous the better. Make me cry with laughter – like the friend last week when I was moaning about how old I’m going to look with no hair, no eyebrows, no eye lashes – until she pointed out that at least my ‘foof’ will only look 6 years old! Priceless.
  • Please don’t get offended that I can’t hug you – my immunity will be shot to pieces and I need to keep myself well. If you have a sniffle or a cough then please meet up with me another time – I won’t be upset and I won’t get poorly.
  • Chocolate makes everything better.
  • As do diamonds (only joking – apart from Jeremy!)
  • I need suggestions for Netflix – already lined up ‘Orange is the new black’ and ‘House of Cards’ – so all ideas welcome.

Time to get my Big Girl Knickers on.

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The Good Side Of Bad

I hadn’t realised how much I use words – and writing – as an outlet for thoughts and feelings until 5 weeks ago when my children asked me not to blog about what was happening regarding my cancer diagnosis. The shock, numbness and denial we were all experiencing in those early days may have provided a rich source of content but it was right that they weren’t made public then. Despite what some people think, I don’t live my life via Facebook and other social media and therefore have been rather selective about what I share and how I do so.

As I move into the next stage of this unenviable journey, I’ve been forced to think about how I’m going to stay focused. For me, words have always been how I’ve expressed myself. I’ve often joked that I don’t fight with my fists but with my mouth! You never need worry that in an angry moment I’ll give you a nasty thump, but you may find yourself wounded with a very unkind (but probably spot-on!) observation of your worth to me.

So to balance the need for me to express my thoughts with the sensible approach to not always sharing everything right here, right now I’m doubling up! I’m keeping a private journal of this journey where I can safely offload all my thoughts – both happy and scared – without fear of upsetting anyone I love, yet some of the words may well find their way into this blog if they serve a purpose. I’m still finding humour in the most challenging of situations and sometimes those stories need to be shared with friends!

Cancer and chemo humour is all about perspective – how things that might be important to one person have little relevance to another. Such as the day before I was due for my surgery and the technician taking my blood shouted at me for moving my arm just as she inserted the needle, which she told me would result in me getting a bruise inside my elbow. She couldn’t understand why I found that funny until I explained that the following day I was due to have a chunk of my breast and armpit removed so a small bruise wasn’t too much of a problem. She thought quietly for a moment and then simply said “Fair enough!”

Or the amazing anaesthetist who recognised just how my mind works when I apologised for using the ‘F’ word when she inserted the canula in my hand before sending me off to sleep. Her response was she loved to use that word herself and so I drifted off to her asking the team for all the f***ing drips and drugs!

At the moment I’m in a bit of a lull – recovering well from the surgery and relieved to be cancer-free but at the same time busy planning for the chemo, which will hopefully start in less than two weeks. And whilst needles and nausea are my two biggest fears when it comes to medical problems my focus at the moment is getting through the next few months when I won’t be full of energy and being the strong person that everyone thinks I am.

I have genuinely been overwhelmed with the love and support shown over these last few weeks, the belief that other people have that I’m made of strong enough stuff to get through the treatment and then get on with my life. I’ve also been moved to tears by the kindness of strangers – when cancelling holidays and events that I’d signed up for I’ve received really personal e-mails back, sharing their own experiences of loved ones with breast cancer. I’m a new member of the teaching team at MMU and yet there has been nothing but encouragement and happy rescheduling.

I’ve been busy putting Team Suzanne together – the family and friends who will share the days when I’m feeling steroid-induced euphoria as well as the times when I just want to crawl under my duvet and cry. Trust me, you will all be called upon at some point!

Being positive will not cure me – that will be down to the scary combination of lethal drugs that will be pumping through my blood later this month. Being strong won’t happen all the time – I’m human, I’m scared. But writing it all down will be how I manage to get through it and so I want to thank you for being by my side. Whether you’re simply offering love, prayers and thoughts or being my provider of food, endless medical advice or psychological help (also known – by one of my friends – as ‘just telling you to stop thinking too much and get on with it’) then please know that my gratitude goes beyond words.

And that doesn’t happen too often!

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A Letter To My Mum

Dear mum,

Tonight I’ll be lighting a yartzeit candle – a memorial candle that burns for 24 hours and lit on the anniversary of the death of a close relative. I’m writing this letter because it just feels too long since we last spoke, since we last had a chat about ordinary stuff, about the every day things.

Everyone told me that the first year would be the worst – the first time we did things without you there. And although it was hard, I find that as each year passes the need to see you or speak with you actually gets stronger. I’ve learnt to live without you but not with losing you.

I still have your number in my phone, you’re still my friend on Facebook. When is the right time to change these?

Strangely, it’s not the big times when I miss you most, but the little, almost inconsequential things that still bring tears to my eyes and a great big lump to my throat.

Like spending the day shopping with Amy in London and having a fabulous time, culminating in both of us splurging a rather indecent amount of money on a fabulous pair of high heels. And as we queued up to pay we laughed at how you would always insist on trying on our new shoes and then acting surprised that they wouldn’t fit, even though you were at least a size bigger than us. And in that moment of remembering, my heart broke all over again.

Or when we go on holiday and after landing and waiting for our luggage, I don’t need to text to tell you that we’ve landed safely. Given the recent news coverage when a plane goes missing, it did seem a little strange to think that without that text you might never had known we had arrived safely, but I still miss sending it to you.

Josh got engaged last month, which is wonderful. But it was so hard because what I really wanted to do was call and tell you the lovely news and then have to ask you to not tell anyone for the next few hours whilst he told their friends, knowing that the moment I hung up you would ignore my request and proudly call everyone and anyone in true Sybil fashion!

Mother’s Day has come and gone three times and that always makes me feel lost. If you’re a single person on Valentine’s Day you can rebel against the hype and declare yourself proud to be independent. Doesn’t quite work the same way when there’s no need to queue in Clintons or make merry in the M&S Flower Shop.

I want Jess to make me laugh when she complains that you still grab her arm very tight when crossing a road, even though she’s now 18 years old. I want Laura to know about your childhood years, stories that are now lost.

234_14407407810_9844_nI miss trying to make arrangements to spend time with you, but getting frustrated that your social life was far better than mine. I miss the way you could just make a comment that would make me feel 14 years old again – and I’d then behave like a sulky teenager too.

I miss taking your presence for granted, for believing that we would have many more years together and thinking that there was always another day to make plans with you. I miss the endless jokey e-mails you forwarded to me on a daily basis, none of which were that funny!

In the last year I’ve had quite a career change and for the first time you would probably appreciate the job that I do. Seven years ago when I decided to freelance you never quite got how I could work for myself but that meant working for other people too. I miss my mum proudly telling everyone her daughter is now a teacher – even though you still probably wouldn’t understand what marketing communications is!

I get jealous of friends who have lost parents but had time to say goodbye first. I get anxious around friends who lost a parent as suddenly as I lost you – I can see in their eyes the shock and disbelief of what’s happened. And in some strange way, you’re the person I really want to talk to about it.

I miss you sitting in my kitchen, trying to complete a Sudoku puzzle over endless cups of tea. I miss you keeping me up to date with all the Nottingham family news, making up the bits that you’re not sure of so that it just sounds more interesting.

I want to tell you that my brother and I are close again, for you to see us all together as a family. I want you to meet our dogs and spoil them, as I know you would. I want to have a conversation with you where you ask what’s new, and I just say “nothing much.”

So I’ll light my candle tonight and remember you with love as I have done every day for the last three years. You did a good job mum – I turned out OK!

Suzanne

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An (Almost) Perfect 10!

The best way to start your day? When you get on the scales to weigh yourself and the first number is lower than it’s been for the past four years!

OK, this only works if you still use old-fashioned stones and pounds but for me, having the number 10 at the beginning is brilliant news! It means that the last six weeks of changing my diet and exercise routine has really paid off and that motivates me to keep going in the months ahead.

To update you on the sugar-free approach – not going to lie, the first three weeks were hell! I’ve never really smoked but I now understand just how overwhelming cravings can be and trying to get by with just will-power alone is very, very difficult. But although I now still look at chocolate or sweet puddings and think “Ooooh, that looks rather tasty!” I wait for the moment to pass and focus on how good my clothes are feeling at the moment! I’ll admit that Kate Moss wasn’t thinking about impressionable young girls and the horror of eating disorders when she said it, but her comment of “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is something that definitely resonates and focuses me these days. Although I still have a long way to go before I would consider me skinny!

What’s really worked for me has been a fabulous App, recommended by a friend and has been amazing! It’s made me record absolutely every time I eat, drink and exercise – and being someone with strong obsessive compulsive traits updating via the App  has been central to my life this year! In all honesty, I hadn’t realised just how many calories I had been consuming each day – when you’re a constant grazer like I was, then it’s easy for them to add up. So I started on 1600 calories a day and now that I’m heading towards my target weight (which needs to be another number lower!) it’s reduced to 1500 a day, which is all achievable if you keep in control.

I’ve also increased my exercise to three or four times a week – either military fitness classes or swimming (the open water swimming season starts in a couple of months!) so that’s also helped to gain better muscle tone.

And of course, we now have an extra mouth begging for my food at meal times! Jack the Yapper – as our new puppy has been named – has quickly learnt that if I’m going to the fridge or doing something at the oven, it means food so he follows me around the kitchen and yaps constantly until he gets a treat. Interestingly, his weight has doubled since we got him last month and we all laugh at how heavy he’s become, but I know that since January I’ve lost more weight than he currently is!

Time to dust off the skinny jeans…..!

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Turning Negatives Into Positives

They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your five-year plan.

Because you can set all the goals you like and make as many new year resolutions as you can think of, but it doesn’t mean they’ll happen. When I look back at my blog entry from a year ago I can’t help but smile because 2013 didn’t exactly work out as planned.

Triathlon entries were cancelled because of my knee surgery.

The skinny jeans remained gathering dust because I couldn’t train (and comforted myself with eating instead).

Plans for returning to University to study for a PhD were halted.

My book never got written.

But it was a much better year than I’d hoped for because the injury made me review my training and now I’m back feeling fitter and stronger than before, I bought some much nicer jeans than fit really well, my work has taken a completely new and exciting direction and my book is still evolving and developing in my quieter moments.

So this year I thought that instead of making New Year resolutions full of what I’m going to do, I thought I’d create a list of all the things I’m not going to do in 2014. In no particular order, these are:

1. I’m not eating sugar for the whole of January. Many of my friends are doing a ‘dryathlon’ this month and giving up alcohol; my addiction has always been to the sweet stuff and I reckon it’s about time I knocked this on the head!

2. I’m not apologising for my use of social media. Over the years ‘friends’ have felt it perfectly acceptable to greet me with the words “I don’t need to ask what you’ve been up to because you write everything you do on Facebook!” No I don’t. I write what I want to share with others on social media, but trust me there is an awful lot of stuff that I do, feel, think and worry about that never makes it into the digital world. I’m fed up with trying to justify it with explanations of how I work in marketing communications and therefore need to epitomise good practice to my clients. It’s quite simple really, if you don’t want to know then turn me off from your news feed. I use social media to have conversations with people, share ideas, give opinions, support through tricky times, share happy times. Nope, from now on if you moan about what I write I’ll just unfriend you.

3. I’m not going to ignore MOTs. Now this has nothing to do with car maintenance, but a brilliant phrase used by a very good friend of mine, Chris Barrow. The acronym stands for Moment Of Truth – when something happens, someone says something or treats you in a certain way, when there is a blinding moment of clarity and you realise that maybe the relationship you have with that person, shop, company, supplier, or friend really isn’t what you have been thinking it is. And that’s the time to act – either by explaining how you feel or simply realising that the best thing you can do is move on without them.

4. I’m not going to keep apologising for my age. So what if I can’t run as fast as those who are 20 years younger, I’m still doing more than many others in their sixth decade (yikes!). And yes, as a trainee teacher I’m the only one on my course who remembers 11+ exams, O’levels and corporal punishment but I can call on a wealth of life experiences that make my lessons rich and interesting, I’m not phased by having to stand up in front of large numbers of students in a lecture hall and having four children has given me all the training I need to perfect my ‘classroom stare.’

And I’m not throwing out my skinny jeans just yet, either!

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I’m sat at Washington Airport, waiting for our final flight of the holiday to be called. It’s hard to believe we’ve been away for only just over two weeks as it seems that we’ve done so much and travelled so far during our 16 days here.

Many thanks to all of you who have commented about how you’ve enjoyed these holiday blogs; I’ve enjoyed writing them and it helps us remember all the little stories and experiences too.

California really is a huge but fabulous state to visit, we’ve been really lucky to have been able to cover so much here and yet we feel we’re leaving only having seen a fraction of what it offers. So I thought this blog could focus on a few things that I’ve noticed but not mentioned before:

1. Dogs – they love them here! Restaurants advertise that they welcome them and everywhere we went, people were walking their pooches. Summed up at San Diego airport earlier today when we were heading towards the departure gate and passed a Dog Relief station – yep, right there between the Ladies and Gents toilets was a room that was furnished with artificial grass so that they could – errr – ‘go’ before they boarded the plane!

2. Baby George – the Americans are totally obsessed with our Royal Family and the latest heir to the throne. As soon as they realised we were British, it was the first question they asked – “What do you think about the gorgeous new baby?”. And seemed offended that we didn’t have photos to show them on our phones.

3. The price of petrol – we got very excited when we first filled up Sally as it was $4.95 a gallon. Until we then headed out of Death Valley and into civilisation and realised that it’s only $3.95 everywhere else!

4. Cash dispensers – OK, over here there is a little plastic cover over the slot that dispenses the money and it seems that you are supposed to make sure it’s closed before you begin. Otherwise it spews out $20 dollar bills all over the pavement and you have a frantic few moments torn between chasing after them or staying with the machine till it finishes.

5. Their obsession with the elevation and population of every town you pass through. How often do they update the figures? And to be honest, the fact that the town of Harmony only has a population of 18 should really trigger an investigation by Social Services.

6. They can turn a simple structure into a fairground ride. Where we stayed in San Diego was on an island, with a two mile, 250ft high bridge connecting it to the mainland. And only two lanes per side. The fact that the tour trolley driver drove across it at high speed whilst blasting out music from ‘Top Gun’ was not quite the experience I had been expecting!

7. Music – this was going to be a difficult one for us to agree on, two weeks in a car together and with very different tastes in bands. But the best thing ever was the Eddie Stobart Trucking Songs triple disc set that our son bought Jeremy for his birthday – absolutely brilliant and assured several hours of roof down, sunshine basking car time.

Tomorrow it’s back to family, friends and work.

And deciding where we go next year!

Californication

I guess it’s a sign of a good holiday when you don’t have time to write a blog post, so sorry if this one is a little longer than usual but we have quite a lot to catch up on!

After breakfast and a few hours of sight-seeing in San Francisco we began our journey south down the Californian coastline, except that the sat nav clearly wanted us to take a quicker route which didn’t hug the sea-shore. Which meant a rather frantic first hour trying to cross the city centre, avoiding numerous road closures, other drivers and me having to say out loud “Drive on the right, drive on the right” at every junction.

Finally made it to Carmel after just another two hours, hotel set high up on a cliff top over-looking the ocean below. However the journey up there had been rather fraught with endless “is this where we go?” conversations between me, Jeremy and the sat nav to the point where we decided not to venture back out that evening but order room service, watch a DVD and put the complimentary bottle of champagne and box of chocolates to good use!

The next day we went into Carmel – after discovering a very simple and easy route back down off the cliff top. I have to say that Carmel is absolutely beautiful and it would be my dream place to retire – gorgeous little shops and cafes, a beautiful beach and a really lovely, relaxed atmosphere to the town.

Now I think at this point I should mention the driving issue of this holiday. Before we left the UK we agreed to split the driving – we both enjoy it, although I’ve driven several times before in the States and Jeremy has never driven here. So on our first full day, when we drove from Death Valley to Yosemite, I did the first two hours and then he took over for the next two. Now I’m not going to disclose private conversations that happen within a marriage but the outcome was that afterwards he was promoted to the much more important role of Chief Navigator, whilst I would remain the driver for the rest of the holiday.

And he’s been very good at it, even though the sat nav worked brilliantly. He has been really great – often identifying a different route than that shown on the display screen, suggesting it to me and then helpfully pointing out the road that I should have gone down – as we pass it. Or telling me that I should turn before the display tells me to. Or shouting at me to stop when actually we’re still several yards from the actual stop sign.

Over the days I began to notice that a particular phrase was being used between us on a regular basis whenever we were discussing travelling directions. For the sake of decency I’ll abbreviate it here to “FFS” but it would either prefix or suffix a communication between us , such as “FFS you need to be in the left hand lane!” or “Can you please tell me which exit I’m supposed to take, FFS!”. So for the last two days we’ve tried to introduce another word at the end – ‘darling’. Somehow, screaming “FFS the sat nav is telling me to turn right NOW! – darling” seems a little kinder on the ears and it has certainly helped defuse a few tense moments. Not quite sure it’ll last once we get home though :)

Anyway, back to the holiday itself! After a second night in Carmel we headed off the next morning down to the beautiful coast of Big Sur and then on to Hearst Castle, which unfortunately had a two and  a half hour wait for the next tour so we pressed on, past Cambria where we had planned to stop and had lunch at Morro Bay. One of those times when we were grateful for the internet as we could then book a hotel 40 miles further south at Pismo Beach and spend the night there.

On Friday we began the long journey to LA, which I was dreading. Mainly because I had worked myself up into a state of anxiety about the huge freeways that cross the city. We arrived in Santa Monica area first, on the advice of our youngest daughter who said we had to go to Venice Beach. Never take holiday advice from a 17-year-old. The beach is stunning but full of  young, tanned, tattooed and trendy people. Enough to make you feel very old and past it!

We tried to find somewhere to park and were directed to a small parking lot being run by a couple of young guys who were charging $15 a day as it was right next to the beach. Shattered from quite a few hours of driving already and not wanting to try to find somewhere a few dollars cheaper, we agreed. Now valet parking is very common here and it’s quite the done thing to hand your car keys over to someone, but it was only after we’d paid, got a receipt and started walking to the beach that we realised we had left them not only with our car and keys but also all our luggage too! So a quick sprint back to say sorry, being very British but we want to lock the car and take the keys with us. They were actually fine with it and we had a lovely lunch catching up with a couple we became friends with whilst in Yosemite.

Then it was time to face my fear and drive into LA, thankfully Beverley Hills is in the north side of the city so it was quite easy to get to the hotel. Not quite sure what to make of the comment from one of the hotel guys though – he quite happily offered to help bring our suitcases up to the room and we did give him what we thought was a suitable tip, but as he left he gave me his brightest Hollywood smile and most sincere Californian tone of voice and said “Hey, congratulations on the baby – great news!”. Not sure if he got me confused with another guest or is implying that I seriously need to lose some weight – in which case, b*stard!

The hotel was in a great location, just a 10 minute walk to Rodeo Drive and some good restaurants. The next day (Saturday) we took a tour bus to see all the sights, the city is so big you really can’t walk it so it was good to be transported around and benefit from the knowledge of the guide, who could point out all the interesting places that we might have missed if we’d gone ourselves.

So today was my last day of driving and I’d asked Jeremy to take us out of LA along the coastal road to avoid the large freeways. About a mile into the journey the sat nav was giving a different route than the one Jeremy was following on his map, but I decided to take the computer generated one. Which led me directly onto an eight lane freeway. For over 50 miles. And here, there is no slow lane or fast lane – you can overtake on either side, so for most of that stretch of the journey I was in the middle of the road from hell with cars, lorries and motorbikes whizzing past in either side whilst I just gripped the steering wheel and prayed for a different route to appear!

Finally we took a toll road, which was much quieter and after another couple of hours we arrived in sunny San Diego. Dropped the suitcases off at the hotel, took Mustang Sally to the car rental returns depot near the airport, taxi back to the hotel and we were by the pool within an hour.

Here now until Thursday morning, 1504 driving miles under our belt and nearly two weeks of great holiday in our memories. It’s been wonderful to see  so much of this gorgeous state and enjoy the scenery as well as the local cultures.

But I’ll finish with a brief story from yesterday’s tour of LA. We’re on the bus and we collect some young girls photo-1from another hotel. Apparently they were from Dallas – not sure if this explains the conversation but anyway. The driver was pointing out various sights and we go past a large building with Ceders-Sinai Medical Centre written very largely on the side. And the conversation goes like this:

Driver:    Hey ladies, see that building? In there, went Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Sammy Davies Junior and Frank Sinatra.

Girl behind me: OMG no way! Are they still in there? (Frantically gets camera out of her bag)

Silence on the bus.

Driver:   No, they all died there. But it’s actually a great hospital and some of the people do live after being treated there.

God Bless America.

 

 

Big Mountains, Big Blisters

Never ask a climber for an easy route.

Big mistake!

After our first full day in Yosemite, our limbs were aching and our feet were sore, so the decision was made that the second day exploring the National Park would be a little easier on our ageing bodies and we plotted out a lovely walk through the Yosemite Valley. Over breakfast the owner of the B&B suggested that we try a different route that would be far more scenic. It involved a drive of just over an hour up to 8000ft in the high Sierra, but we were assured that the trail was an easy one – three and a half miles to Cathedral Lake, a perfect spot to have a long, lazy picnic lunch and then take our time coming back to the car. Sounded perfect.

Off we set, with Sally doing a grand job of the climb upwards. A gloriously hot day again – temperature was still over 100 degrees even at that height – so plenty of water in our bags and off we set on what we were promised was a very enjoyable bimble (that’s if the Americans used that word, maybe this blog will be about our words for a change).

Within five minutes it was pretty clear that this wasn’t going to be an easy day. We climbed up – and up – and up. After nearly two hours – and many stops to catch our breath – we reached about 10,000ft in altitude before finally dropping down slightly till we got to the Lake.

Yes, it was beautiful but by then the sun had disappeared and as we began our lunch we noticed the storm clouds gathering above. Followed by a few spots of rain. Not good when you’re high up, exposed and without any wet weather gear. So we hastily packed up and started the journey back down.

By now not only were our limbs aching but also my feet were blistered and sore, every step causing even more agony. Trying to ignore the pain we trundled on until about an hour into the descent we both stopped in our tracks as we heard the most enormous roar of rain approaching. It was actually quite incredible, as if someone had just turned on a gigantic power shower. Frantically I grabbed cameras and car keys into a plastic bag, as it was clear we were in for one hell of a drenching. But there were only a little rain, and Jeremy started laughing at my over reaction.

Until we then heard the clap of thunder. Now he admits that his ignorance of why you shouldn’t be at 9000ft, exposed to the sky and surrounded by tall trees is what stopped him from being as scared as I was, but in that one moment my feet didn’t hurt because I knew that we had to get down – and quickly. So the next hour was a bit of a very fast walk/run down to the car. Relieved to get back to a safer place, I took my trail shoes off and discovered that the skin on both my heels had gone beyond blistered and was completely raw. It also looks like I’ll be losing three toenails over the coming months. Not nice.

After that little adventure we headed back to the B&B and over some iced tea discussed what was meant by “an easy walk” to a guy who has climbed El Capitan several times.

Although covered in dust and dirt, the shower that night did reduce me to tears and clearly I’ll be wearing flip-flops for the next week as my feet try to heal.

That night, dinner was a take-away pizza and beer from the restaurant next door.

Yesterday we decided to have a drive up to Glacier Point, about an hour into Yosemite again but well worth it as the views were quite simply the best we’ve ever seen. In the far distance you could see the two waterfalls we’d climbed up on our first day here and it was remarkable to see how small they seemed in comparison to the enormity of the area.

Afterwards was the drive over to San Francisco, which made for a long day behind the wheel but we got here early evening, just to see the fog rolling in from the sea and wrapping itself around the buildings along the coast. A stroll through Fisherman’s Wharf, dinner near the hotel and more healing gel applied to my feet and I slept really well!

This morning we’ve had breakfast (blueberry pancakes of course!) at our favourite place in the Bay, and we’re now just setting for the drive to Carmel, our next stop for two nights. The sun is shining and California looks great – just thankful that going without shoes is part of the look here!

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Park Life

They say that the Americans and British are a people divided by a common language. It’s interesting how many words we use which are clearly rooted in one of these cultures and yet not the other. The first few days of this holiday can be summed up using a word that really only has its place over here – AWESOME!

So going back just three days, we went to pick up our hire car at Vegas Airport, which of course was an experience in itself. We arrive at the Dollar car hire desk, sign all the paperwork (Jeremy not happy to discover that despite booking a specific type of convertible four months ago because of the good boot space, they don’t carry that model in stock) and then we’re told to go down to the parking lot below and collect the car. The dispatcher has a look at our paperwork and says “Ah, a convertible – you’ll find those right at the back” so we trundle over to the other side of the car park where they are all kept. And we wait. And we wait a bit longer. And a bit longer still. No help from anyone at all. But we’re being very British and wait patiently. Until about 15 minutes later another couple come over, have a look at all the cars and then get in one to drive away….so I run over and ask how  they knew which one was theirs. Seems that the system is this – you have a look at which one you like – the colour, the model, whatever, and then drive it to the exit (they’re all left with the keys in!) and as you leave the car park the dispatcher takes your paperwork, makes a note of the car you’ve taken and off you go!

So we chose a silver Mustang – which quite quickly got named Sally for obvious reasons – and we hit the road. Well, after we spent a further 20 minutes figuring out the sat nav and then another 15 minutes working out how to get the roof down!

Two hours later we’re in Death Valley, pulling up at our ranch for the night. I have to admit that I did have visions of a repeat of our trip to Australia’s outback last year and had already warned Jeremy that if there was one single spider in the room I was sleeping in the car. But my worries were unfounded – the place was immaculate and given that the temperature was still over 120 degrees mid afternoon, there was only one thing to do – pool time!

Dinner and an early night, then it was full steam ahead for a day of driving up to Yosemite. We stopped off at various points along the way just to take in the most amazing views, and we marvelled at how the temperature changed from 110 degrees whilst at sea level to a fabulously bearable 78 degrees at 10,000 feet when we entered the National Park. The scenery along the way was jaw-droppingly beautiful and the Sierra Nevada mountain range was as incredible as any Alpine peaks I’ve seen.

The journey through Yosemite in the afternoon was again a real experience – climbing mountain roads to great heights only to discover a beautiful blue lake at the top that you could stop by and have a splash in. Around every hairpin bend was another view that made you get the camera out yet again. As we finally dropped down back into Yosemite Valley late afternoon the temperature began to climb again, so by the time we arrived at the little B&B we’re booked into we were sweating away at over 100 degrees again.

The place is a real find – imagine if Travelodge did holiday villages, then this is where the location is but it’s nestled away at the back. The owners are a lovely couple and for me, the real bonus is that he is an avid climber and so has spent most of the meal times keeping me enthralled with stories of his climbing mishaps and adventures. The room is beautiful too – decorated with original Art Deco furniture and with a balcony that is just feet away from the Merced River that flows down the back of the valley. Bliss!

Today we decided to do a good hike, so after driving into the park past El Capitan (which is quite simply HUGE – you have no idea of how awesome that wall is!) we parked up and set off. Now the valley is actually at 2000ft above sea level anyway and the drive in takes you up to 4000ft, but the hike we wanted to do took in a couple of waterfalls (which I love) but it meant a 2000ft elevation gain in just three miles. Which, for those of you who don’t understand, basically means climbing endless steep steps that never stop.

It took us just over an hour to gain the first 1000ft, a break for a picnic lunch at the top of Vernal Falls and then another hour to get to the top of Nevada Falls at 6000ft. For those of you who have done the Grand Canyon trek – remember the switchbacks? Well they were 1000ft high and this was just like that but twice as far. The views as we climbed higher and higher were breathtaking. Actually, at that height the whole thing was literally breathtaking and I have to admit that there were times when I did struggle to deal with the fact that in 24 hours I’d gone from sea level to this altitude. But when you get to the top it’s all worth it because the whole of California lies before you. Well actually it doesn’t, it’s just a little part of a National Park but it feels pretty awesome to me. And even better, we spent time lying in the sun and dangling our feet in the ice-cold waters just before they tumbled over the Falls.

We took a different route down, which is supposed to be less steep but given I still had to drop 2000ft it wasn’t the kindest thing I’ve done to my knees recently.

Finally back down, we headed back to Sally before going back to the B&B – I was in the shower and Jeremy went for a swim in the river. Tonight we’re both feeling absolutely shattered, sore and aching. But we have big smiles on our faces because we had an awesome time. And there really is no other word for it!

Kepe going, keep going, keep going....!
Keep going, keep going, keep going….!