South Lake Tahoe, California / Nevada, USA
27.11.2002 - 30.11.2002
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.