Wednesday, August 7, 2013

San Francisco Diary: Pulling, Dying and Lying Down

I thought I was going to die, but at the same time I knew that was unlikely.

All Saturday morning, I had been breezing up hills (some of which were pretty darn steep), had felt strong, had felt healthy. Then, on the first steep hill right after our lunch rest stop break (a mile down the road from the blowout stretch I wrote about yesterday), I knew by the time I had reached the top of it that I was not in a particularly good place.

Fortunately, I had experienced something like this before - last December when Mark took me back-country skiing for the first time. I had suffered a panic attack which caused me to hyperventilate. I had severe tightness/pain in the middle of my chest. I wondered if I was having a heart attack. Mark took me down the canyon and offered to take me to the ER. We ended up going home. I lied down, and within ten minutes, I felt fine.

When I reached the crest of that steep hill last Saturday afternoon, I felt the same way - only this time, it wasn't caused by a panic attack but by exertion. My heart felt like it was going to explode, and I felt a tightness in my chest that wasn't abating, even though we took it easy for the next mile or two. I felt like I couldn't breathe because of the constriction and pain. Mark, ever concerned, said I was most likely suffering from costochondritis, which causes soreness and pain to the joint between the ribs and the sternum as a result of breathing rapidly.

At that point, I again wondered whether I was going to be able to complete the course. I had 40 miles left to go, and the pain just didn't go away. Then, to make things worse, we entered a narrow valley, almost a gorge (see lead photo), and a very strong headwind was barreling down on us. That's when Mark got in front of me and pulled taking the full brunt of the wind and allowing me to draft behind him for several miles.

As Mark did this, as he has countless times before, I couldn't help but think of how many times and ways that Mark has "pulled" for me in life: during the divorce, during employment challenges and financial challenges. He has willingly staved off the headwinds, protecting me.

Now, the time is coming - is here - when I will need to pull for him. Because of his cancer. 

Two days before, I had written in my journal:
"Cancer has cheated Mark and me. It has consumed a relationship that should have been about so many things having to do with LIFE, not cancer, death and worry. Young love (as much as that term could be applied to two men in their 50's; I of course maintain that it is perfectly appropriate) is ... in our rear-view mirror. Cancer and death call for a mature love. I have skipped from gay adolescence to nurturing the love of my life as he approaches the gates of "Ultimate-ness." What started as a picnic in a summer's meadow has turned into a solemn walk through an autumn park. The love that was once so passionate, so young, so carefree, so beautiful ... has been required to be ... aged. Matured. 
"And I wonder ... Am I up to the task? And of course I will be, because I must be. But, ... somehow, it seems unfair that we should be required to walk from a June meadow into ... a November walk down a leafless road. But ... my Love did not ask to be transported from that beautiful meadow. How can I complain or bemoan ..."
Well, I was a bit into the gin by that point.

But I don't regret what I wrote. I just shared it with Mark. I didn't want to publish it without having first told him. He said it must be published. And so it is.

I have digressed, but what a beautiful (for me) digression it has been.

View from the spot where I lied down. The Pacific Ocean is visible in the distance.

Returning to the Marin County Century and my costrochodritis, I finally got to the point, probably about the 65-mile mark, when I knew I had to get off my bike and lay down. Again, I was remembering my experience from last winter and recalling that after we got home and I was able to lie down for 10 minutes, I felt fine. I knew I would not be able to finish the next 35 miles unless I rested. So that's what we did, and it worked.

Sometimes in life, you just have to lie down so that you can then get up, finish the course and cross the finish line. (No comments about how exhausted I look in the picture below. I HATE my helmet. Sigh.)


  1. Wow! You and Mark have sucked the marrow out of each second that you have had. Your passion is there: it has and does carry you to a deeper love that can conquer. You will be able to be strong and shelter Mark. He has taught you by example and love will guide you. I have no doubt. In the meantime, savor the present for what it is. Somehow I always come to the realization that what I believe to be ungly, difficult or unpleasant at a certain time is only beautiful with hindsight. Love you!

  2. Movingly tender . . . and beautiful!