Life as an Extreme Sport


I raise my head wearily from the table, hung over and hurting in several senses. Looking onto the tarmac, I see they’re still working on the front of the plane. Always nice to know there’s an issue with the landing gear before you get on the plane. I lower my head…

…and raise it again, looking out over the silver-y glinting wing, down at the ground, and blink in confusion. Are those clouds, or is it a snow field? Disoriented for a moment, until perspective shifts and I see that they are clouds. Still, my mind prefers to think of the vast sheets of snow in Alaska, and I close my eyes again…

Open. Sunlight. Bright. Sunglasses, look down, and there they are. Those brown, craiggy, rocked and scrubby mountains laced with rivers and the occasional smattering of tree. The sense of familiar is overpowering, and I look away – up, over, to the rows upon rows of lights, extending until a sudden break, a curve. It takes a minute: that’s the Pacific.

We land.

The airport is small, almost quaint. It reminds me of San Jose International Airport, back when you could go out onto observation decks to see planes take off and land. An aeon ago, when my tiny chubby arms would furiously wave goodbye to Dad as he took off for another exotic place (because even Chicago is exotic when you’re five), and I dreamed of being up there on that plane with him. I make it outside quickly, and stop. It’s 6pm, and nearly 80 degrees. The wool coat comes off, and I bask, turning into a lizard for a few minutes.

The freeways here are large. California freeways. Six lanes in a single direction, sometimes eight. The streets echo this largeness; four and five lane monsters stretching ten wide, divided by landscaped rocks and palm trees. Nothing is done small here. Nobody walks.

From my hotel window, I see nothing but lights, far into the night.

Morning comes, and I look to UC Riverside, and just stop. Those familiarly panged mountains loom overhead, imposing and spectacular, evoking memory upon memory of similarly coloured and shaped (though not nearly so looking) mountains of my childhood. The memory progresses forward to Nevada; the colour, the texture. The feel. They are so different from the Pacific Northwest mountains, which I love for their mystery and wonder and beauty. But these mountains, these mountains strike a deep chord in me. They’re surviving mountains, staying in place through fire and snow and drought and flood. They endure.

There is email this morning from Phillip, confirming why I’d walk to the ends of the earth for him, if he only asked. A simple note, just a well-wishing and thinking-of, but it’s the kind of personal touch I value more than anything. Especially when compared to the experiences of most of the people I talked to, of advisers who don’t even know their name, or that they’re there at the conference.

The conference ends, and I walk back to the hotel. The weather is lovely, gorgeous, high 70s and a perfect breeze. My iPod and I make good time, and I alternate between amusement at the number of men outright staring at me, and horror at the idea of living down here. Not because of the men, but the women. Having issues with food seems to run in my family, and the women here are so thin; I think I would quickly find myself on the other side of eating issues, just in an effort to feel better about myself.

Perhaps in response to this, I find a very cute steakhouse and indulge in a prime rib dinner, complete with an excellent glass of wine (Hahn Syrah).

Looking around, window to my back, feet stretched out, I realize that my hotel room is almost as large as my apartment.

I turn out the lights.