Travel and too much time to think

I’ve been away from home just two weeks today, but in all honesty, it feels like an eternity. Up until today, I’ve been on vacation with my wife in Spain and France; right now I am on a train to Zurich for work (traveling at 315kph!). I’ll return home to California via London later this week after enjoying my niece’s wedding with family.

IMG_20140522_172132 (1)Spain was spent at our new family vacation home in Nueva Andelucia, just north of Puerto Banus in Marbella, Costa Del Sol, and with the exception of just one cloudy day, the weather was beautiful and very much lived up expectations with long, sunny days and warm winds. The apartment, a three-bedroom duplex, is quite lovely and although I won’t get to spend much time there given the distance from California, it is always wonderful to see my parents enjoying themselves in their second home. Despite a rather steep walk down to Puerto Banus, the location of the apartment is quite idyllic and the views from the balcony of Conch mountain, simply stunning.

In stark contrast to our week in the sun in Spain, our arrival in France was greeted with torrential rain! I guess that’s what proximity to England buys you! Still, with just four days to tour Paris, we absolutely made the best of it, traipsing around the entire city in shorts, t-shirts and occasionally, flip-flops.

IMG_20140710_112512Working from our base at the Hotel Agora in St. Germain, we enjoyed everything that Paris had to offer during our short stay. We walked the Louvre from end-to-end, climbed to the top of the Eiffel tower, took a boat ride along the Seine, visited Notre Dame, strolled through Luxembourg palace gardens and even stood in line for three hours to visit the Catacombs… and all on foot, not once taking the metro to get around.

With a little help from Google Maps, my best guess is that we walked more than 25 miles during the three days; not bad at all.

Given I was already in Europe, I had planned to work from the Paris office on the Monday after my wife returned home to California. Unfortunately, I failed to notice when booking my extended travel that Monday, July 14th was in fact Bastille day, leaving me alone in Paris on a holiday weekend with no access to work.

Sure, not the worst hand to be dealt, but I certainly could (and should) have been working and absolutely would have arranged my travel to Zurich on the Sunday night if I had known. C’est la vie.

With little else to do, I decided I’d try to get into the spirit of things, and that meant setting my alarm for 7am and getting up to join in the Bastille day parade along the Champs De Lissy. This of course meant more hiking, and by this point, given a complete lack of structured footwear, my achilles and feet were absolutely spent. Still, will little else to do, there really was only walking, and so despite being in excruciating pain, I hiked, in flip-flops, all the way from the Sacre Coeur to beyond the Louvre, and back to the hotel! Again, with a little help from Google Maps, I’d estimate my walking to be in the region of another 25km or 15 miles!

Too much time to think

Here’s the rub. With a couple of days to myself in a city like Paris, I ended-up with far too much time to think. Sure, a little time to oneself is definitely a good thing, but with too much thinking time, my inner monologue runs overtime covering every possible avenue of thought; the noise can be deafening. During my adventures on Bastille day, I paid attention to my thoughts and captured a few notes for the record. They are set out below, along with a little structure to help organize things.

Throughout the three days, one recurring thought was that of my achilles. At more than a few points during the two weeks of walking, it (my right achilles) literally felt it was going to detach itself from the heel. It was throbbing for hours on end and was so sore that just touching the tendon made me feel quite sick. It’s been like this for a decade or more, with excessive (or explosive) exercise causing the achilles to become aggravated and sore for seemingly weeks on end. I’ve strapped it, iced it, taken anti-inflammatories, and even rested it for months at a time… it’s always the same. Hence, over the last few years, I’ve taken the view that it will either get stronger or simply give-up and let go completely. Probably not the best approach, but I’ve never been one to take the easy path…

Being out alone on Bastille day reminded me acutely that much like food, travel and sightseeing are best enjoyed with loved-ones. The second my wife left, Paris lost its lustre; without her there to share in the experience, my own indifference to the occasion was palpable. Wine was just wine, food didn’t taste as good, the grandeur of the buildings simply didn’t matter and walking become trudging:

To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on. — A Knights Tale

The morning my wife left, my cell phone decided to give-up the ghost, no longer taking a charge and eventually going flat. At first, I was annoyed. What if someone wanted to contact me? How would I “share” my experiences? How was I going to get around? But within just minutes of setting out on exploring the day, I found the process to be eye-opening:

    • My pockets were lighter.
    • I no longer fretted about where I was or where I was going, resorting to a paper map in my pocket for directions.
    • There was no more concern about “battery life”, “signal” nor proximity to a wireless network.
    • Views were enjoyed “in person”, and while everyone else walked around with a camera or phone stuck in front of their face, my hands were free and my views unsullied.

Put simply, the experience was liberating.

The Bastille day parade was fun, despite not being able to get “front-line” along the Champs De Lissy. Apparently, that privilege is reserved for invitees only, requiring un billet rouge to gain access inside the barriers. None the less, I found a decent spot at a side-road, which afforded me largely unobstructed views of the parade. Watching the splendor of the various armed forces march past once again left me with pangs of something close to regret. Regret is not quite it, that would be far too strong a term; I certainly don’t “regret” many of the choices I’ve made in my life. However, The structure and discipline of military life has certainly always appealed to me and in particular, the overwhelming sense of camaraderie; of unity, and brotherhood. I’ve often felt that I would have made a good soldier; after all, my favorite quote is that made famous by general Patton:

Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way. — General George S. Patton

If there is someone to follow, I’ll follow; if there’s no one to follow, I will lead. Alas, my aches and pains this week have reminded me that while I undoubtedly have the heart and the discipline to serve for Queen and country, I likely don’t have the machinery needed to back it up!

Paris is truly a beautiful city, with stunning architecture and cobbled streets seemingly around every corner. However, it is also an expensive city, especially with the Euro so strong against the dollar. Coffee in particular is extortionate. Yes, I recognize that the average brasserie has overheads and needs to cover costs, but at an average of five Euro for a double espresso, wine is considerably cheaper than coffee!

More than a few times on our vacation, my wife asked me why on Earth someone would go to Starbucks for their coffee when the coffee in Paris was so good. Well, after a couple of days alone in Paris over a holiday weekend, here’s why:

    • There is usually a Starbucks around the very corner you wish there to be one.
    • They are always open, even on a holiday weekend.
    • Even if you don’t love the coffee, it is globally consistent.
    • It’s very affordable compared to local coffee (~3,50€ for a venti)
    • It’s pretty much the only place you can get a Cafe American in Paris!

Without doubt, the best part about Paris is the food, and especially the pastries! I don’t eat much in the way of bread or cakes at home, but here, in Paris, I’ve eaten nothing but bread and pastries every day! My weakness is raisins, and that means that I instantly gravitate toward the classic pain aux raisin. Yes, it’s simple and yes, it’s globally available… but it never tasted so delectable as when eaten in Paris. Another bread I’ve enjoyed is le pain flamand aux deux raisin, a Flemish bread with both red and yellow raisins. Essentially it’s just a whole-wheat, savory baguette that’s packed with fruit. Delicious!

Of course, despite at least attempting to give myself a free pass to enjoy everything Parisian cuisine had to offer, eating wouldn’t be eating with the constant and recurring thought of calories, carbs, cholesterol etc. and the erosion of those hard-earned abs. Yes, I know I should not be so vain as to worry about such things, but health and fitness is a big part of my life and probably my primary past time. It’s also especially difficult when I think back to how hard I worked to reach 8% body fat a couple of months ago. Right now, I am trying to gain a little muscle back, and that inevitably means carrying some extra fat. And unfortunately, until the muscle comes in, you need to traverse through that extended period where you are neither lean nor big, just ordinary; average.

Since my last visit to the doctor a month ago, eating has become a real chore. I continue to battle high cholesterol, despite a low-fat, lo-carb diet and copious amounts of exercise, and worse still, my LDL-P (particle count) is also sky-high at 2024! And unfortunately, these are not the nice big fluffy kind of particles — they are the nasty, dense, artery clogging type. Lovely. The blood work also confirmed that my testosterone was on the floor in the low 300s.

I personally think that some or even much of this can be explained by the cut to 8% body fat where I was exercising hard and in an extended calorie deficit. However, my thyroid levels were also low (at least outside the doctors preferred therapeutic range), and that could also explain the low T and non-respondent (to diet) high LDL levels. As a result, I’ve been on some Thyroid meds and they seemed to have helped a little:

    • Not so cold all the time, and the bowels are functional again!
    • Not falling asleep at 8pm
    • I’ve even shown a very casual interest in sex again!

I’ve got more blood work coming up next Wednesday, so we’ll see what that shows. Unfortunately, I’ve eaten crap this last three weeks, so can’t imagine I’ll fair to well. At least we’ll get a read on the Thyroid and T levels and see what’s happening there.

I don’t think I mentioned this before, but I have the APOE 3/4 genotype, which adds horribly to the complexity around diet and cholesterol levels. For example, an eating regimen that would help someone in the 3/3 group has quite detrimental effects for someone carrying one of the 4 genes. This is perhaps the most frustrating part as I eat extremely clean foods yet still have high LDL and high numbers of the small dense particles. It’s hard to say how good I can get things, irrespective of high attention to exercise and diet. I can easily see why my dad says “fuck it” and just lives how he wants to live; there’s something to be said to living life fully without the constant infatuation with increasing length of life. I often feel a “fuck it” moment looming…

At this point, I am just looking forward to being home and having some structure again for a while. This round of travel has really taxed me. In fact, the last ten years have been hard in more ways than I could imagine.

Since my separation and divorce nearly 10 years ago, I’ve completed over sixty transatlantic crossings; that’s more than one hundred and twenty flights. Without doubt, I am not complaining. I would walk the 6500 miles to see my kids and would fly more regularly if I had the time and resources; but the travel is tiring. And it’s not just the physical cost, the emotional burden is sometimes more than I can bear. I always seem to be leaving someone I love; I leave my wife to see my kids, and my kids to return to my wife. It’s constant turmoil. I am just exhausted; mentally, physically, emotionally.

Happiness seems to elude me. For sure, there are many happy moments, but they are … “fleeting”. True happiness requires focus on the moment, the now, the present. But I am seldom “here”, my thoughts and emotions ping-ponging between the past and the future. I’ve always had a tendency to look forward, but I am particularly focused on the future right now. At 44, I feel the years are catching up on me. Time seems to pass so quickly, yet there is much I still want to do.

I don’t regret any of my decisions or how I have spent my time, yet still, I feel my choices have been limited. The constant responsibility for family and finances have largely dictated the pace and shape of my life. Working is still very much a “requirement”, and it will be hard to get off the treadmill at this point if I am to have any sort of lifestyle in retirement. I want to move back to London in a few years, spend time with my family and travel Europe with my wife. I am going to need a lot of money to make that plan stick. I’d go right now, if only for the fear that I’d never come back!

I also can’t help but feel that I am not yet doing what I am supposed to. I can’t claim some sort of higher calling, but I don’t believe it was “this”. It’s always nagged at me, it’s a fundamental part of the reason for my constant push; the belief that there must be more… more to do, more to achieve…

The inner monologue is running overtime this week; part of what happens when I am alone. Too much thinking time is a dangerous thing; my emotions and machinations run wild.

There you have it; just a handful of the thoughts running through my mind during the period of a single day.

It’s now a couple of days later, I’m back at work and my mind is again full of structured thought. And yet, as I read back through this post, I am once again filled with chagrin and loathing at my self-pity. I don’t have problems. I am not in a wheelchair. I’m not sick. My family and loved-ones are healthy and happy. I have work, an income, investments, security… I even have a few friends. I’m just not satisfied. Is that a sickness? It should be, right? Why can’t we be satisfied; content; fulfilled?

Time to close this out. This is what happens when you don’t tell me what you want me to write about.

Lesson learned?


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