A Travellerspoint blog

November 2002

Heavenly Thanksgiving And Noticing I Am Fat

South Lake Tahoe, California / Nevada, USA

View Work Trips 1997 - 2004 on GregW's travel map.

For the U.S. Thanksgiving in 2002, I booked a long weekend in Lake Tahoe. Two nights, three days and a three-day ski pass to ski Heavenly ski resort. I knew the skiing wouldn’t be great, but I also knew that I would be moving from California back to Toronto in a few weeks, and then off to South America for 8 weeks, so I wouldn’t have much chance for skiing otherwise that winter.

South Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place, situated on Lake Tahoe and surrounded by mountains. From the top of the Heavenly ski resort, you can see both Lake Tahoe’s forested shores as well as the desert plains of Nevada. South Lake Tahoe is split down the middle by the California-Nevada border. The California side is typical ski town, lots of little hotels, restaurants and ski rental shops. Once you cross the border into Nevada, suddenly massive casino-hotels rise into the air, all the flash and neon expected of Nevada.

It was in one of those casino towers that I decided to have Thanksgiving dinner. I figured that I should be able to get a seat at the top of the hotel buffet on Thanksgiving Thursday. After all, wouldn’t everyone be at home enjoying a family dinner?

No, in fact, they wouldn’t be. It was going to be a two or more hour wait to get up to the buffet. So instead, I walked back over to the California side and popped into a little bar. The bartender served me beer and gave me a free plate of turkey and mashed potatoes. I chatted with a couple of cougars at the bar about South Lake Tahoe and what appropriate hot tub wear was. (It’s nothing, for those who are interested). After a few hours and a few beers, I wandered back to my hotel.

The next day I headed up to the hills. The skiing wasn’t great, but it was nice to be out, and the scenery was fantastic. But by the end of the day my knees were killing me and my legs were very wobbly. I headed back to the hotel and crashed on my bed. As I was watching a U2 concert on TV, I looked over at myself in the full-length closet mirror and noticed that I had a huge gut sticking out. “Oh my God,” I thought, “I am really fat.”

It’s not that I didn’t know, realistically, that I was overweight. I weighed 235 pounds, I knew, because there was a doctor’s scale in the cafeteria at work and I had recently weighed myself. At 5 foot 9, 235 pounds was pretty big. And every time I looked in the mirror, I saw the fat man looking back at me.

Inside me, though, I never really saw myself as fat. When I imagined myself, I imagined myself with the same thin body I had in high school. As much as I knew I was heavy, I never really believed it, until that moment in Lake Tahoe.

I don’t know what it was about that specific time and place that triggered the understanding. Maybe it was just the right time. Maybe it was all the bad things that had happened to me in the past few years – my mother’s death, my bad jobs, my unsuccessful relationships. Maybe it was my aching knees after skiing. Maybe there was something special about the mirrors. I don’t know what triggered it. All I know is that it was triggered, and I needed to do something.

In the event that I was going to back away from doing something about my weight, the next day Karma hammered the point home to me. On my second day of skiing, I could only manage a half-day until my knees were aching so much from carrying my obese frame that I had to give up. I didn’t even ski the third day.

That was November of 2002. On Monday I went and bought Dr. Atkin’s Diet Revolution. By the end of December I was down to 215 pounds. On February 1st, I was 200 pounds. March 1st and I was 180 pounds. Since that time, I have fluctuated between 180 and 190 pounds. I’ve gone from a 42 inch waist to a 36 inch waist, and my knees don’t ache anymore.

This isn’t a diet recommendation, necessarily. Low carb eating worked for me, but then again I never really like potatoes and bread all that much. So it’s pretty easy for me to have an extra helping of meat and skip the fries. The point of the story isn’t about diets, though. The thing that I find interesting about this story is that I was somewhere else, somewhere away from home when I finally understood I was fat.

It is often the secret goal of travelers to have some sort of understanding about themselves and the world, to have revealed to them some secret of the universe, and to have that revelation change them. This was my grand revelation, and it came in the most unexpected place and time. The trip that I really expected to learn a lot about the world and myself was my 8-week backpacking adventure around South America. While I did learn on the South America trip, the lessons were nothing to compare against that one moment, listening to U2 in the background and looking in a full-length closet mirror. I was fat, and I needed to do something about.

Posted by GregW 17:20 Archived in USA Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (0)

Becoming Californian

San Ramon and Pleasanton, California (just outside of San Francisco)

View Work Trips 1997 - 2004 on GregW's travel map.

Golden Gate Bridge.JPG

Becoming Californian

I had been in California for about a month, and loved it. I had been set up in a one-bedroom furnished apartment in Pleasanton, just south of Oakland and across the bay from San Francisco. It was May, 2002 and while the weather was still shaky back in Toronto, it was sunny and in the 70s every day in Pleasanton. On weekends I would take the BART into the city or drive up into Marin County to do some hiking. And to put the cherry on the icing of the cake, my San Jose Sharks were playing in the NHL playoffs.

Marin Headlands.JPG

But even though I was cheering for the Sharks, eating Dim Sum in China Town or hiking in the hills of Marin County, I still wasn’t a Californian. Because if there is one thing that binds all Californians, it is the knowledge that their precious piece of earth is only hanging onto the continent of North America by the most tenuous of connections. Any day – the big one could come along and make California the next Madagascar. Every true California can talk casually about Earthquakes, and being through them.

After a month in California – I still couldn’t talk about being through an earthquake.

San Fran Skyline.JPG

It was a typically sunny Monday in Pleasanton. I microwaved some quesadillas and took up a position on my couch to watch San Jose face off against Colorado in game 6 of the NHL’s Western Conference Semifinals.

Heading into the third period the score was tied at 1. I sat intently staring at the screen as the clock ticked away the minutes in the third period. 9:44… 9:43… 9:42… “Score, Damnit!” I screamed at the screen! 9:41… 9:40…

Around this time, far below the ground of Gilroy, California, tension that had been building up on the San Andreas Fault suddenly let lose. Gilroy, about 1 hour south of Pleasanton, shook with an earthquake measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale. The waves flowed through the rock and up to Pleasanton, where it was soon shaking my apartment.

Sitting on my couch, I could feel the foundation of the building start to hum. There was a slight vibration moving through the walls and floor of the apartment. It was very reminiscent of when the bus drives by my apartment in Toronto, so my immediate thought was that there was a large truck driving by the building.

Soon though, the vibration changed to a swaying. The entire building starting moving back and forth, and finally my brain recognized that I was in an earthquake. “Hey, this isn’t so bad,” I thought to myself, “kind of like a ride at Disney World.

Just, however, as I was finishing my thought did the heaviest shaking start to occur. And no longer did I consider this fun. The building was shaking badly. My thoughts raced. Should I leave the building? No, you don’t leave the building in an earthquake, you might get hit by something falling. Should I stand in a doorway? Yes, that’s what they suggest. Standing in a doorway!

Before I stood up, though, I looked at the TV set. The Sharks and Avs were still playing. The announcer said to his color commentator, “did you feel that? I think that is an earthquake. And now the Avs move down the ice. Forsberg passes to Sakic.” Despite the shaking, the game continued. If they weren’t going to stop the hockey game, then surely things must be fine. I remained sitting on the couch.

The earthquake quickly passed. There was no damage in my apartment, and no injuries or significant damage reported anywhere, even in Gilroy, where the most devastating loss was a china cabinet with collection of Elvis plates. I watched the end of the game (Sharks lost in OT), and enjoyed it even more, because now I was a Californian.

Swarming In San Ramon

Sea Lions.JPG

Later in 2002, I had moved from Pleasanton to San Ramon, two towns to the North. The Sunday before the U.S. Thanksgiving, I was in bed sleeping when I was jerked awake. I shot upright, sure that someone had jumped on my bed. Looking around the room, I didn’t see anyone. But something had landed on my bed, I was sure. My heart still racing, nearly hyperventilating, I walked around my apartment, looking for the robber I was sure was in my apartment.

I didn’t find anyone. After a half an hour of calming myself down, I finally went back to bed and fell back asleep. But falling back to sleep, I couldn’t figure out what had woken me. Was the feeling of someone jumping on my bed just a dream?

It wasn’t, I would learn later. It was a 3.9 magnitude earthquake that would be the first of over 150 earthquakes within 7 days to hit the Sam Ramon area. This series of earthquakes is known as an earthquake swarm. Usually earthquakes occur in a series – small foreshocks followed by the main event, and then smaller aftershocks. In a swarm, there is a series of earthquakes of a small size without a main event.

In the San Ramon swarm of 2002, there were 7 earthquakes of greater than 3 magnitude. That’s about the magnitude where you can start to feel them, but they aren’t usually enough to cause any damage. A 3.9 magnitude earthquake is large enough, however, to make a sleeping Canadian think someone is jumping on his bed.

No one is quite sure what causes swarms. They usually occur in high volcanic areas like Hawaii, indicating subterranean magna movements. San Ramon is not exactly known for volcanoes. The rest of the week the ground continued to shake, but for most the time so slightly that I didn’t even feel it, or if I did I mistook it for a large truck passing.

The earthquake swarm would be the last of my shaking experiences in California. Within a month I had moved from California back to Toronto, but I had sat in the traffic, cheered for the Sharks and climbed Mount Diablo, and most importantly, I have lived through the earthquakes. I was then, and always will be, Californian.

Thats a big tree.JPG

Posted by GregW 17:05 Archived in USA Comments (0)