Castor Oil, Running and Other Things

In a moment of weakness the husband and I signed up for a half marathon together. The fact that it was on my birthday was the clincher. Every time I participate in a running event, I love to see the placards that the folks use to encourage the runners. This time did not disappoint either. In fact, given that the course hugged the coastline for the most part, we had a fun run on the whole. There was music throughout the course. African drums, a senior citizen band, piano, bagpipes – you name it. Every mile there was something to look forward to. The Big Sur half marathon was truly a gift for the ears, eyes, heart and mind.

Picture from :
Picture from :

Image Courtesy:

The incident I am about to relate happened after the Mt. Whitney hike but before the half marathon. It is important to get the chronological order right for what I am about to relate stalled the half-marathon practice for a good three weeks. It was about the time that Indian families around the globe were navigating chaos in their kitchens while celebrating Diwali. But there was a chaos of another kind in our household. The little fellow had fallen ill and was kept home from school. As the fever subsided, he started complaining of stomach pains. He was ill and his pain induced sympathy in the onlooker (there was probably about 86% pain and 14% drama, but all the same).

One day after a stern morning at the Doctors and a particularly lethargic pharmacy visit, I walked into the house dazed and stopped in my tracks. I must also mention that I had not really slept well in days. At first, I thought it was a hallucination I was having. There, in front of me were two grown men (father and grandfather) and a lady (grandma) baring their stomachs and massaging castor oil into it. Not only that, they were smacking their lips like it was tasty business and rolling their heads like they were in a spa and getting a first rate massage from a fantastic masseuse. “Err..” I managed to say after a moment of stunned silence, when the tummy-rubbing adults turned to me, nodded and went about their belly business again. A moment later, I think the husband realized that the scene before me was not normal, and told me that they had decided to try the placebo effect with the toddler in pain. They told him that if he rubbed a little bit of castor oil on his stomach, he would feel much better, and the fellow was resisting – great big tears rolling down his cheeks, looking miserable. So, they decided to go in for a demonstration of sorts.

The daughter sometimes shows wisdom beyond her years and had refused flat. She was peeking at the scene from a safe distance, lest she be pulled in. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Our laughing was so infectious that the son forgot his misery for a shining few minutes and reluctantly smiled too. It was beautiful to see.

Let me yank you back to the half-marathon now. It was around the eighth mile that I began having misgivings about the race. Till then, it was music, running, and coastal views. But around 8th or maybe the 9th mile, the mind started playing its little tricks on me. What was I thinking?  Music? I could have listened to some of that at home. Running: wouldn’t a 3 mile run have done the trick? Coastal views? I could have driven here with a picnic basket and so on. The husband, who was running with me, was his usual effervescent self and I urged him to go ahead because I was developing a knee grind. I ran on a little slower than usual when I saw a person with a board that said,

What seemed like a good idea 4 months ago, doesn’t seem so brilliant now, does it?

That placard did for me what castor oil did to the tummy ache. I burst out laughing, and suddenly, there was a certain energy in my stride, a determination in my gaze. The husband slowed down to join me and we ran on together determined to make the best of it.

Happy Thanksgiving Folks and Laugh. Laugh as heartily as you can.

P.S: The son is fine now

Mt. Whitney Part 3: Adieu Fitbit

I have written about the enthusiasm with which I used my Fitbit. In case you missed it, here it is: The Headache Machine. I had it on my person at all times during the day, and even slept with the thing. Days I touched 25,000 steps, the relentless Fitbit would nudge me into trying out another 5000 steps to get to 30,000 and get myself a badge. All extremely annoying for a competitive hog like me. There have been days when the husband scooped me up from the street after I’d put in a hike, a run and a neighborhood stroll just to get to that magical N000 steps before the clock struck midnight and the counter for the next day began. The days I did not make my target number of steps, a certain despondency gnawed at the back of my brain and I muttered about the place trying to walk it off in the kitchen and bedroom. I lured my friends into it, I sneaked a peak at it once at mid-day, then at more frequent intervals as the day wore on. I, after all, had to ensure I met my step count. What I am trying to say is that the Fitbit possessed me like a spirit that was friendly at first and then, as time wore on, turned into a ruthless devil. A fortune-teller peeking into my crystal ball would have seen a tiny piece on my physical body giving me the vapors. “Exorcise it!” she could say in Sybil tones, and I would have clutched at it with my spirit.

Given this, of course, I wanted to see how the Fitbit would do on the Mt Whitney hike. It seemed well worth it, going through all that trouble if the Fitbit, at the end, would send me a wonderful note saying, “You over-achiever, you! Good job. At 83000 steps and 800 floors! Here you are, with a Diamond and Platinum badge that you can display proudly on your Fitbit login page, and brag to your friends about. I will still nag you about your 10000 steps for tomorrow’s goal, but for today, you are above reproach! Or maybe you can try to walk another 2000 steps while you out-run that bear eyeing your pizza and make it a round 85000 steps?”

Since I was not going, I handed the thing gingerly over to the husband, love dripping from my eyes and asked him to take it with him to see the impressive numbers it would come up with. I added with a laugh that it could remind him of me should he miss me while taking in the pure mountain air, and gasping at the views from up there. The day the h and friends drove to Lone Pine, CA, the heart wrenched a bit. Something felt amiss.  It only dawned on me later, that I did not have the fitbit on me. So the day of the hike, I woke the h and wished him luck and all that, and added (nonchalantly I thought) , “Remember to take the Fitbit! Make it proud of you and make you proud of it! Ha Ha!” Which just goes to prove that a device, no matter how well touted, can substitute your brain for wool and make you bleat.

All that day of the hike, my mind was in the mountains imagining the hike, and every now and then, wondering how the Fitbit was doing. But there was also a dawning realization on me. I had relaxed around myself in the day or two that I spent away from it. I was no longer frenzied, no longer walking like a purposeless maniac. I was okay with being in one spot without giving those around me a perpetual sense of motion sickness. What a nuisance I must have made of myself with the Fitbit?! Which only goes to prove that true love trumps everything else. The first thing that occurred to me was that I had been a pesky, fluttering pest the whole time. I had dragged family and friends off on walks so we could talk, when I could have sat with them sipping tea and had just as good a conversation. How wonderful people around me are that they accepted me even when I was behaving thus? I have much to be grateful for and the absence of the Fitbit was making me realize it starkly.

Fluttering Pest with the Fitbit
Fluttering Pest with the Fitbit

The day wore on for the hikers. I waited to hear from them and on their safe return to the hotel, let them sleep it off. It is a mark of my restraint that I only broached the topic the next day afternoon.

The husband sounded apologetic. He said that he had taken the Fitbit out at Mt Whitney and was checking the steps because he knew that would excite me, and then, on the way back, when they were negotiating some tricky switchbacks, things were crazy and it got lost. He doesn’t seem to be remember what constitutes crazy, but I saw some pictures of the switchbacks they were scaling and let it rest.

Switchbacks at Mt. Whitney
Switchbacks at Mt. Whitney

It sounded like a good spot to lay the thing to dust. Its entire lifetime pushing people to scale newer targets and higher heights, what better place for it to finally come to rest than at the highest peak in the contiguous USA?

“I’ll get you another one.” said the husband.

“NO!” I howled and the husband leapt away from the phone groaning like a buffalo torched at the ears.

“What are you doing that for? My ears are still weak from the high alt. Yesterday, it felt like there was a bee hive operating in there, today, only the Queen Bee seems to be holding fort, but still weak in the eardrums.” said the husband.

I muttered a ‘sorry’ and he said, “What? Speak up! I can’t hear you. “

“A bee in your bonnet eh?” I said cleverly. “The point is, please, I beg you. Don’t buy me another Fitbit. My life seems to have become much better without it. “

I still do my spot of exercise, but now, I am doing it listening to the birds, watching the leaves fall and taking in the beauty of the flitting clouds. I am truly enjoying exercise and experiencing the bounty of nature. Not working towards appeasing a cruel, and hard-to-please, cold mistress. What really cut me deep was the seemingly motivating messages that came in as I lowered the tired frame onto the welcoming mattress at 11 p.m., “You can do it! Just 700 steps short of your goal. “

No. I am happy where I am. I have since told friends who asked me to join their Fitbit journey, that mine was probably swallowed by the bear who was deprived of the pizza. (Mt. Whitney Part 2 : The Pizza And The Bear )

The Bear and the Fitbit
The Bear and the Fitbit

Anyone care to join me for a walk now?

P.S: Our friend has written about the journey here, and he is also the one who gave me the pictures for the Mt. Whitney posts:

Mt Whitney – Part 2: The Pizza and the Bear

It was the night before the hike up the Mountains to Mt Whitney. The husband and two friends had arrived at their hotel after an uneventful journey taken photographs of their backpacks.

All set to hike
All set to hike

“We will be back in 16 hours – max, 17 if we slow down due to fatigue!” said the husband. They were to leave at 3 a.m. so as to be able to make it back to the trail head before sunset. “Expect to hear from us well before 8 p.m.”  were the exact words if I remember correctly. I wished them all luck and went to bed. Usually, I only need to think of that beautiful, restorative nurturer of the soul (sleep) and off I go feeling sleepy. Within minutes, I can barely stifle my own yawns. (I just yawned as I typed this out, if you have trouble believing me) Yet, this time I tossed and turned. I was unable to sleep. Could it be the excitement of the upcoming hike for the trio, or worry or a mixture of both, I could not tell, but there I was messaging him at 2 a.m. and waking them all up.  When I finally flopped to sleep a little after 4 a.m. I had received a note from them saying they were about to lose connectivity and from now on, they were one with nature.

Mt. Whitney: May the adventures begin!
Mt. Whitney: May the adventures begin!

It was easy to imagine them sighing over the stark beauty, breathing in the fresh mountain air, singing as they walked up the trail and watching the sun rise over the mountains.

Sun rising over Mt. Whitney
Sun rising over Mt. Whitney

The husband, however, hotly denied this state of euphoria. “Did you know I threw up within an hour of starting to hike?” he said with an unpleasant look on his face. I tutted and said that a gulp of the fresh air might have been the key. To which, he eyed me like a lizard eyes a fly and said there wasn’t much air to gulp. The high altitude was affecting each of them differently and every time they attempted to walk slightly faster, they clutched their heads and sat down. To hear them talk of the Diomox (high altitude sickness pill), is like hearing a child talk about candy during Halloween. A warmth infused with definite longing, and gratitude at the bounty. The mountains were good enough to make each of them succumb to this high-alt-sickness at different points in time though and they could help each other out. The silver lining.

Now, I have worked long enough in the software industry to know what to expect when people tell me that they expect something to be done in a day. I mentally make a note that it could, possibly, be 3 days, or more. Yet, I did not apply this logic to the hiking estimate that the three software engineers came up with. When they said 16 hours, maybe 17, I was liberal enough to give them 18 hours. The clock was now ticking on to 10 p.m. and there hadn’t been a peep from them. It was already 19 hours and the first twinges of anxiety started to manifest themselves. I swiftly diagnosed it as hunger and ate a piece of cake, 2 biscuits and drank a cup of milk. It was, as I was polishing off the milk, that the husband called.  He said, they were 2 miles from the trail head and that they had grossly under-estimated how long it could take on the way down. He tried to sound upbeat, but there was no masking the fact that he was enervated. None of the waspishness in his comments, no smile lingering behind the words. Just a sober line saying he expects he is 2 miles from the trail head. Most uncharacteristic and caused me to furrow the brow.

One of his younger hiking pals had run down earlier and was, therefore, able to give us spotty information. But it had truly been hours since he had seen them too. I settled myself down to just wait for a few minutes, make sure they got themselves into the right car and headed back to the hotel. Another friend of ours was a tower of strength as he relayed information from the trail head to us. He even managed to find a GPS tracker on the phone the trio was using. Apparently, he had the same misgivings that I had when I heard their voices at 10:30 p.m. He said he would be much more peaceful if they just got back. Slowly, we watched the GPS tracker move away from the trail head going far away from the designated trail in what seemed to be a large circle. Could they have be delirious and therefore, not able to see where they going? We had no idea and worse, could do nothing. We were miles away watching a signal bobbing up and away from a path they were supposed to take.

The one who had run down all the way was back at the trail head with a welcoming pizza for sustenance. It was now 20 hours since they started and the parathas had long since disappeared.

For one moment now, I would like you to switch claws and start thinking like a bear. There you are, sitting by yourself, just waiting for Winter to come, so that you can start hibernating and be done with this gnawing feeling of near-constant hunger. Food gathering in these drought-hit times is challenging. You have had enough of bees and fast disappearing trout in the dry streams and rivers.  There you are minding your own business and pondering on Life and whether good food has its place in the Meaning of Life, when the most deliciously esculent smell wafts up your nostrils. Is that cheese? With a whiff of garlic, and oh…some mushrooms too? That tomato sizzling under the cheese, over the fresh pizza crust – heavenly, simple heavenly! How some smells can convey how hot the food is, one never knows, and this bear was not waiting to find out.  And so, it was with the friendly neighborhood bear.  He smelled the pizza miles away and made for the car in with his tongue hanging out. He probably was higher up the mountains than the h and f were when he picked up the smells, but he beat them to the car face down.

Bear wants pizza
Bear wants pizza

In between GPS signals and maybe, lost, hikers, there was a thrilling bear adventure tucked into the whole thing. The pizza had to be taken back to the hotel, the windows of the car opened and aired out before taking the car back to the trail head for the h and f. One will never know whether a bear would have reacted better to Indian foods or Pizza. It is an experiment for whoever tries Mt. Whitney next.

Finally, after 22 hours of hiking, we heard from the h. and f.  They had made it back. (Don’t ask anything more for now. Don’t dream of doing this pesky hike! )

Soon, all the right people were in the right cars, the bears were deprived of a most enticing pizza and the hotel room welcomed them.

Mt. Whitney was truly in the bag. The joy would come later – long after the intestines gorged out everything it had taken in over the past 96 hours in restrooms along the way. A short while after the Facebook post was out and had gathered an impressive number of likes. About the time, folks thumped them over the shoulder and hankered to hear their tale.

P.S: Our friend has written about the journey here, and he is also the one who gave me the pictures for the Mt. Whitney posts:

Parathas @ Mt. Whitney

The pace of life in the nourishncherish household has been peaking. The husband, in a dash of mid-life madness decided that what he wanted most was to add to his resume, the fact that he scaled the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. Hikers apparently prepare for a few months (with at least a few hikes in high altitudes), but the husband and his friends don’t set much store by what people usually do. So, in their typical fashion, they went ahead and attempted the peak after 5 weeks of ‘rigorous training’ on a hillock by our house.  It is a bit like jumping in the middle of the ocean and navigating through the rip tides on the firm knowledge that you can swim in the deep-end of the pool in your local pool, even when the lifeguard was not on duty. (I exaggerate as usual) But like our friend said wisely, you only get to be young and stupid for so many decades of your life and so, there they were.

Mt. Whitney from the Visitor Center
Mt. Whitney from the Visitor Center

I have observed this multiple times with the husband. When I ask him to take a packed lunch for example, he scoffs. He not only scoffs, but also shrugs his shoulders in a manner suggesting that it is only old maids, elderly aunts and mothers who think of food and packing and all that. Not cool guys like himself. He is a man who will hunt for food, rouse his primal instincts for food gathering or stop at a sandwich place. But to give the man his due, I have never seen this cool attitude towards the food linger once the Biriyani packets are opened at picnics. There are some egotists who would  turn away from the Biriyani thinking back and reflecting on the hurtful statements hurled at the Biriyani earlier in the morning. Not so with the husband. All trifling misunderstandings with Biriyanis are shelved and he is the true example of the bigger man. He shows that all biriyani-related ill-humour earlier that day is water under the bridge and tucks in with joy and enthusiasm. The biriyani is happily settled in the stomach and the smile of contentment is happily displayed on the man. All is well.

Characteristically, when I asked him what he planned to do for food during the hike, he scoffed. I suggested Idlis (steamed rice cakes) because I thought idlis were a good food to take on hikes (they are starchy enough, steamed and relatively dry). But more importantly, I thought ‘Idlis on Mt Whitney’ would make a good blog title. The husband snorted loudly at this. I then prudently suggested Bread and Jam. It is easy to handle, light,  and there is sugar in the jam which can be critical when they planned to hike for 16 hours non-stop. He poo-ed and pa-ed and that was brushed aside too. I told him to forage berries for himself on the barren mountainside and set about packing Biriyani packets for their drive a little haughtily. It was then, that his friends (3 of them planned to hike together) intervened and said it might not be a bad idea to take some parathas (Indian breads). I still think my bread and jam idea was better, but ‘Parathas on Mt. Whitney’ sounded like a pretty good blog title too, and I let it go.

So, off they went with the biriyani, parathas, an unhealthy dose of over-confidence, a seemly dose of comradeship and a good dose of adventure to conquer the King of Peaks, Mt. Whitney.


Our friend has written about the journey here, and he is also the one who gave me the pictures for the Mt. Whitney posts: (the link may only work for his friends)

Did they do it?

Read on in Part 2, for it is a thrilling tale: Do bears prefer Pizza to Parathas? We may never know.

Raining on the Parade

I bowled along as usual trying to catch my commuter train. My bag was flung behind me with a velocity that can knock rhinos off their feet, my car beeped hurriedly as I locked it and I charged as fast as the recently rain-soaked streets would allow me to. Why I don’t leave just 2 minutes earlier is a lingering soul-searching question. There are days when there is a game and the trains are crowded, but these are mostly during the evening commute, not mornings. But this morning was different. People were milling around the station first thing in the morning. All of them were dressed in Orange and Black, like they belonged to some sort of Halloween fraternity. Closer observation, however, revealed that they were devoted followers of the SF Giants team and that team, having won the game, was having a victory parade that day to which all the enthusiastic fans were going. I could have checked the news before leaving I suppose, but that would have made me charge for the next train not this one.

I squeezed myself onto the train, and hoped for the best. What I was not ready for, was for folks to glare at me just because I was not dressed in Orange & Black. I was wearing a pretty royal blue and black skirt and I admit I could have been more warmly dressed for it was a rainy sort of day. (I could also have checked the weather before starting. ) But I still did not think that people would be so worried about my feeling cold. I mean, their concern was touching and a trifle disconcerting. Freedom of dress and all that, what?  (I suppose that is not a fundamental freedom, but it felt like it was worth tacking one on, on that long train ride) There was a guy who looked at me and pointedly yelled, “Giants Rule!” to great back-thumping and cheer. I smiled ruefully and looked down avoiding all eye-contact. (Avoiding eye contact is another art you master over the years of traveling with a wide variety of co-passengers : some dotty, some dodgy, some rude, some out to make an ass of you, but mostly ordinary folk like myself that no one wants to bother with.)

I was glad to get off at my station, only to be met with more stares as I walked down the crowded streets towards my office. The rain was coming down pretty heavily and I was enjoying the raindrops and trying to navigate the crowds. The parade was to pass through the main street artery of the city and people were spilling out of liquor stores and doughnut shops. The combination of excess sugar and liquor on a rainy morning was a bit too much to contemplate. I was glad to enter my office and look down safely on the crowds from the window. That was atmosphere enough for me.  I checked the news on arrival and found that I had missed a triple hat draw: It was the SF giants parade, Halloween and Critical Mass (which means all cyclists take to the streets and blow traffic flows to the wind from their rooftops). Combine all three events together to imagine the traffic snarls and train crowds.

Various reports jostled at me : The local school authorities had requested folks to attend school that day instead of the Giants Parade. Another report said that it was to be an alcohol-free day. I grinned and sneaked a peek at the street below. It was 9:00 in the morning and the liquor store across the street looked like a very busy place! A number of children, evidently of school-age had not listened to the school authorities pleas and were looking happy and excited too. The sea of Orange & Black was like watching a large, mutating cloud. Strangely exciting and slightly unnerving.

Giants Rule

It was only when I touched upon the topic of dress with a colleague that he enlightened me on the stares. Apparently, I was dressed in the colors of the opposing team that the Giants had battled so valiantly to win against. As if the weather gods were not doing it enough, I had rained on their parade. The staunch supporters of the Orange & Black Giants team,  who braved the colds and rain, probably thought it was excessively rude of me to flaunt the opposing teams colors on their faces. Sigh. I can only thank my stars that people were nice enough to not do anything more than glare at me. Still, it seemed prudent to cover up with a jacket on the ride back home! One can never be sure of the effects of a day full of alcohol, rain and sugar, can we?

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