A teeny tiny vacation

26 08 2011

Today is the second anniversary of my skating accident. August 26th, 2009 is a day that will live on in infamy – read all about it here, if you wish.

Physically, I’ve pretty much recovered. I do still have some pain when doing a handstand or a cartwheel, and the flexibility in my left wrist is probably about 95 percent of what it used to be. But I can live with that. Psychologically, however, I still have trouble when I am traveling at speed and faced with a situation where I have to trust others to react correctly. I have a split-second to chart and signal my path, and I just never know what that other nutcase coming towards me – be it on a bicycle, attached via leash to a dog or with composite rubber wheels strapped to his/her feet – is going to do.

In celebration of two more or less accident-free years on skates (not counting my two splashes during last year’s Berlin Marathon), I decided to go for a mini-hike this morning, close to home. I had always wanted to walk up the hill that rises up high above the town I live in, near Zurich – to diversify my training and take a break from my rollerblades for a day. At the top there is a cafe with a terrace that features a panorama view: the city is to the left, its eponymous lake front and center, and the Alps rise off in the distance to the right. It’s simply spectacular.

...isn't it?

A cable car links the town in the valley with the recreation area on the crest of the range… the altitude difference is probably only about 400 meters but looks like significantly more. This is my preferred method of getting to the top, usually in anticipation of that wonderful, frothy latte macchiato that’s waiting for me there. But today’s mission was to propel myself up the trail as long as the weather held and it wasn’t too hot.

Cable cars are for wimps, anyway.

After about 15 minutes along, I decided that the next time I see the words “very steep ascent” on a hiking trail sign, I will believe them.

But the quiet (except for my heavy breathing) and the solitude of the forest (except for the baby snake lying across the trail that jumped about a foot as I approached, scaring the bejeeses out of me) felt like a little tiny vacation from real life.

Once up top, I decided that it was too soon to go back and continued on along the ridge for a few miles. Somewhere, I took another path back down I had never gone before, passing idyllic meadows with cows grazing peacefully in the sunshine. Arrived home after about 2 hours, soaked in sweat, knowing I had done my duty for the day.

What a great morning. What a great workout. Sometimes the world really is alright.

Advertisements




Waiting for the sky to fall

23 08 2011

About two years ago a friend told me her husband was suffering from anxiety attacks. I had no idea why. He has a great personality, a fantastic super-dynamo of a wife, a beautiful home and two very cool kids. What on earth, I thought, is he anxious about? There was no logical reason… at least none that I could see.

Now I know what it feels like. And am hoping no one else notices the state I’m in.

It's like waiting for the sky to fall.

I had made an appointment to see my doctor 2 weeks ago, on the recommendation of a friend. She was concerned about my chronic insomnia and the way it was affecting my personality: I snapped at my colleagues without thinking, my boss’s phone calls sent me into a cold sweat, and my impatience with my own feelings was growing.

Sleep has never been my forte. If I wake in the middle of the night, my sleep cycle is over… it’s like I lose my way to unconsciousness, and I don’t know why. Only in the grey of morning do I sometimes find the key to slumber on my own, just minutes before my alarm clock screams at me to get going – another day has dawned, and I have to darn well make the best of it. And the moments between sleep and awake are tortuous. How will I get through it? I don’t know. I just can’t. But I must. I must get up now. No excuses.

My mother’s voice echoes in the recesses of my brain. No excuses. No excuses. Get up.

I went, thinking my doctor could maybe just prescribe me something to relax.

By asking me a few pointed, probing questions, he touched an exposed nerve that sent me into a physical panic. Suddenly, I saw no way out. It would never get better. I was hyperventilating and blocked. As if a dark wooden plank had been shoved in front of my forehead. I had no words, I saw nothing but black.

I. Cant. Take. It. Anymore.

I can’t do it. I can’t. I can’t.

He diagnosed an acute burnout, with depressive tendencies and the aforementioned anxiety attacks.

And I was like, “Huh? Me? Can’t be. I never get sick. Everything functions. It works. I make it work. And if it doesn’t then I’m a failure. I’ll make it work again. I can. I must.”

And he told me, “Stop. That. Right. Now.”

Pull the rip cord.

Grab the emergency brake.

Get some air.

Stop your world.

Now.

Once I stopped wailing, he asked me the usual questions about suicidal tendencies and thoughts of harming others. He gave me a sick note for two weeks and told me to do things that make me happy: meet friends for coffee, get out into nature, go skate, go fly. He himself is a private pilot and I hadn’t even known it. He said I must take advantage of the healing effects of escaping the burdens of earth for a little while. And gravity.

I don’t know why this is happening to me. I don’t understand the forces that have taken me here. But I accept that going into the cockpit might just help me find a way back.





26 hours in Paris

11 08 2011

OMG. They let me out of the institution. Unchained me from my desk. Uncaged me from my glass cubicle. Released me into the great wide world. I finally got to go on a “business trip,” my first official mission out of the office in more than three years.

To Paris.

Snapshot from a taxi. (August 8, 2011)

Of course, it’s not that I haven’t been out of Switzerland in the last three years (I have, quite a bit actually, on vacation, personal leave or a long weekend). But travel just has a whole different quality about it when you know you are not footing the bill. Even the complimentary croissant in Economy Class tastes better when someone else is paying.

First of all, you are wearing different clothes. See you later, fleece and jeans and sneakers; make way for … a blazer and jeans and pumps.

Second, you get to finger your Blackberry with impunity, as if you have some absolutely lifesaving, crucial, time-sensitive nugget of information to deliver before take-off. Other people think you are on some kind of important and top-secret operation, even if you’re really just playing “Word Mole” to pass the time.

Third, upon arrival at your destination airport, you have no qualms whatsoever about grabbing a taxi into town, and paying 60 euros ($100) for the privilege. Even though public transportation probably would have been faster, cheaper and more environmentally-friendly.

And of course, at the end of the day, you have even less of a moral conflict when paying the restaurant bill after that fabulous dinner with friends you haven’t seen for at least five years. (After all, you had to check to see if your expense account was still active, and if they still accept your corporate American Express card.)

Remember, it was your idea to order that second carafe of wine.

And of course, don’t forget that you do sleep much better in the hotel’s 1500-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets than you would if you are paying for that overpriced hotel room yourself, or sleeping in your own bed, at home. Just sayin’.

Though Paris is at the lower end of my personal worldwide “Top-10” list (another topic for another blog), a lot of great memories came back to me as I sat in the back of a taxi, speeding through the arondissements. Like the time a friend and I blew kisses from the Eiffel Tower (her idea – God, we were young then), or when I attended a week of lectures at an elite French university, or when I watched World Cup soccer matches on the big-screen at the Trocadéro public viewing area, or when I saw the Mona Lisa for the first time.

My business trip to Paris was a short but sweet affair, exactly 26 hours on the ground, from touchdown to take-off. It was all very pleasant, with the most pleasant bit being the change of scenery.

I returned to my office as scheduled and am starting to wonder if there will be a next time, and when. Maybe next time I can stretch it to 48 hours or, goodness me, perhaps even 72 hours. Or maybe I will go and just not come back. (I wonder if my officemates would notice I’ve escaped…?)





Autumn in August

7 08 2011

First came the rain.

For what seems like weeks, the heavens have opened up and drenched us here in central Europe. It seems 2011 went straight from Spring to Autumn, skipping what we usually call “Summer.” We have had the choice of either temperatures far below normal, or torrential downpours, or both. Last night another thunderstorm passed overhead.

The view from here.

The weather had put a severe cramp in my flying schedule, making me wonder when (or even ..if?) I would be able to start in on those hours that I need as pilot-in-command to keep current. The fun flying window in these latitudes lasts about four months in total, unless you are lucky and get a oh-so-rare clear, crisp day sometime in January.

So I planned a weekend flight. An early Saturday morning check of the aviation weather forecast had me in a good mood for the first time in days. Blue sky and sunshine as far as the eye could see. Summer! And I’m going flying! Yay! The webcam at my home airfield, located atop a high plateau in north-central Switzerland, showed it bathed in warm morning light – it would be a beautiful day for my checkride. And maybe I’d even have some time to play.

On the 45-minute drive to the airfield across the rolling hills of the Swiss midlands, I passed through fog banks, thick and juicy as the pea soup we usually deal with from October to March. At times I could barely see a few hundred feet ahead of me.

But there was none of that at the field, the rolling clouds below seemed to be on their way to other climes, or dissipating, just like the forecast said.

Paperwork, briefings, a last look at the METARs and TAFs before heading out for the pre-flight check. The fickle weather had forced me to minimally re-think our route, but it looked like we were all set for a glorious morning airborne. Just a quick fuel top-up and we’d be off.

We pulled up to the gas station, the first customers of the day. And a glance around to our six-o’clock told the story.

The light easterly breeze pulled in – you guessed it – the fog that had followed me all the way from Zurich. Within minutes the field was shrouded in a milky grey mist, the grass strip completely invisible from my vantage point atop a stepladder near the right wing, stinky fuel pump in hand.

So I filled ‘er up and waited.

And then I waited some more.

After about an hour of waiting, the sun pushed through a hole in the misty veil for a brief moment – too little time to get sorted and get out. And there was a second question that would remain unanswered this morning – even if we did get out… how would we get back in? It’s tough looking for a grass strip hiding beneath a thick, tenacious layer of fog. Not to mention more or less illegal with my rating.

And then… it started raining again.