Convalescence in Ballard. May 30 – June 28, 2017.
Home was always a conundrum for me. Is it the place you’re born, or the place where most of your stuff is kept? Is it a feeling, a state of mind, or certain people?
Where does someone without a physical home go, when they need to recover from more than just travel fatigue?
Between the cloudiness of painkillers, I made the verdict for where I wanted to spend a month recuperating. Not San Francisco or Providence or Boston, though I’d find my way back there eventually. The summer wasn’t over for me. My boxes from Fairbanks were shipped to Boston, but I knew where I wanted to make my memories of healing: Seattle, near Gwynne and Tom.
On the flight, I saw my first sunset in weeks, and the first nighttime I’d seen since Dease Lake. Many people might see this as returning to ‘normal’, but I didn’t feel it. What is normal, and what use is it anyhow?
As the plane began its descent, clusters of warm, fiery lights outlined Vancouver Island. Cities. Real cities. That’s when I finally felt anticipation. I may not be normal, but I’m an urbanite at heart after all.
It felt fitting to fall into a Siak and Eykemans home again, and I was so grateful they would have me. Gwynne usually worked from home, and in a way the days felt like we were just hanging out like we did as kids.
Even the doctor’s visits were reminiscent of childhood – after my family moved to Beijing, each summer we would return to Atlanta and my sister and I would endure an onslaught of visits with our pediatrician, optometrist, dentist… interspersed with sunny, summertime sleepovers with our Chinese community extended family. This time, in Seattle, I only had appointments with one specialist: an orthopedic surgeon.
By the end of the week, I was in for surgery (yup, apparently I don’t do anything in half measures, including fractures), and the rest of the month would be dedicated to sleeping on my back and learning how to navigate basic tasks with my non-dominant arm.
I’m immeasurably grateful Tom and Gwynne took me in. Gwynne picked my drugged-up ass out of surgery, and supplied me with the only things I could stomach with my regime of antibiotics and Oxycodone: applesauce squeeze packs, miso soup, chicken broth, and prunes (another fun side effect of Oxy: constipation). It was the saddest diet, and for the first couple days I still vomited up most of it.
I slept upright in their couch for a couple nights, before I could move onto the futon in their library. Fracture aside, it was a treat to be among their books, a fantastic, eclectic collection of prose, graphic novels, and art books. Once I was strong enough to keep food inside me, I pored into many of them. I felt right at home, with Tom’s kungfu weapons at the head of the futon.
Since I was increasingly mobile, I found that supporting my arm with a small pillow was a comfortable way to move about. Specifically, the wedge shape of this bear-printed pillow, who usually sat on the couch, seemed to fit perfectly. So I adopted a new friend, and he joined Gwynne, Tom, Megan and I to watch Wonder Woman.
After a visit to The Cederberg Tea House, a South African cafe with rooibos tea espresso and Bunny chow, Gwynne and I decided to try making our own. However, the soft, Japanese milk bread we had in mind was out of stock at H Mart, so we worked with what we could get: Banh mi loaves, Korean curry paste, and some kale in a nod to our Pacific Northwest locale. I’d heard that Singaporeans were already in on curry in a loaf, but I can’t believe more people haven’t discovered this winning combination!
We’ve dubbed our creation the Curry Canoe.
The eating is so good in Seattle.
In case you were wondering what became of Fred, I asked if he would visit for a week in Seattle!
Gwynne loaned us her 1986 Volvo DL 240, and between her car and my old favorites from summers spent with Grace, all sorts of happy nostalgia buttons were pushed.
After months apart, Fred and I toured Seattle on our own a bit, making new memories.
This is slightly embarrassing, but I previously didn’t know Chinatowns exist due to enforced racial segregation, much like other ethnic settlements of European immigrants. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese from living and working outside a small designated area, and prohibited them from owning property. Back in the day, Chinatown Seattle consisting largely of overcrowded boarding houses, with many bunks per room, rented by the week or month. Workers from the mid-1800s gold rush couldn’t bring their families over, so the boarding houses became long-term settlements for primarily men. They soon gained a reputation for poor living conditions and violence. For protection and sanctuary, Chinese immigrants often signed up with a local ‘house’ family name (there’s one for the character ‘Yue’ though it was anglicized to ‘Yee’). We had a chance to tour one, with the Wing Luke museum.
Some of the largest family houses still stand in historic Chinatown Seattle. They’re in extraordinary disrepair. With hundreds of descendants claiming right to some piece of the property, it’s impossible to move forward with either restoration or demolition.
The restored upstairs portion of the Wing Luke Museum walked you through three different waves of Asian Pacific immigration, with a room for each. It’s a very cool museum off the beaten path.
It’s not all dimsum and noodles, but still fascinating.
They also had a Bruce Lee exhibit!
Across from Wing Luke it smelled like ice cream cones, from a 100 year old noodle and fortune cookie factory.
Remember Dionne and Ruth from earlier in the month? Since I was back in town, we met up again at Backfire motorcycle night. Over dinner, we shared excitement and apprehension for our September Pakistan trip. None of us knew Liza, the organizer, well at the time. Ruth had ridden with an all-women group before, and Dionne had plenty of ADV miles in a handful of nations. I, on the other hand, boasted the title of… resident scooterist.
In lieu of expectations (useless in travel), my biggest concerns were over road conditions. Both Dionne and Ruth had some off-road background, but I wouldn’t be recovered enough to participate in anything off-road until I arrived on Pakistani soil. Fred, with his XY chromosomes, was off the hook for this one too.
There were many questions marks, but for our dinner group the real risk seemed to be busting a gut laughing and sending food flying out of a nose. I had the feeling that those two could handle whatever was thrown their way, and I just hoped I could land on my feet as well.
Liza Miller and Moin Khan‘s all-women Pakistan trip would be many new things for me. It was certainly something to look forward to and concentrate on while healing.
Normally, you have to hike a couple miles to the lighthouse from the Discovery Park parking lot. However, because I showed up at the visitor center in a sling, the receptionist handed Fred and I the coveted handicap plate that would grant us access to parking by the trail head!
Gwynne refers to June and July as ‘recruitment months’ in Seattle.
Pulling a regular shirt over my head was still extremely painful, but I was beginning to exhaust Gwynne and Tom’s supply of loaner button downs. So I adopted the local uniform and picked up a cheap flannel or two at a second hand store.
An unintended perk of recovering in Washington was the legal status of marijuana. Oxycodone was prescribed to me during recovery, but it gave me terrible nausea. I stopped taking the pills as soon as the doctor allowed. Instead, many lovely afternoons were passed in a hammock in the backyard, reading and vaping from a high CBD cartridge.
Accidents and injuries are an unavoidable topic among motorists, and perhaps some people find themselves thinking, “Damn, that sucks,” or even, “Glad that wasn’t me.” I suspect every rider needs to believe some version of, “That sucks, but it isn’t going to be me,” or they would never get on a bike again. Until it is you. Then you must handle it accordingly.
I literally rode my home into the ground, yet I didn’t feel like I failed. I saw a lot, and succeeded well beyond anything I’d imagined. Now I was spending a month making warm memories in the company of some of my dearest friends, during the most glorious months in Seattle.
Many people share ride reports but not enough talk about recovery. Who can blame them, the refractory period sounds far less exciting, and is often quite private (in all senses). Increasingly, I’m realizing time spent focused inward is just as important as time spent in the world beyond.
When I gave up my apartment in Providence three years ago, I truly gave up a place of recovery. For me, it was a non-negotiable price of entry. As much as I wished for boundless endurance I had to concede, my current model of overlanding may be unsustainable. My model needs adjustment.
Boston loomed in my future, and although it wasn’t my favorite city, it had the distinction of containing one particular Fred. My flights were already booked.
Before I resigned myself to Boston for an indefinite amount of time, there was one more destination this summer I did not want to miss. It was the family trip I was rushing through Alaska to make.
By the end of June, I could comfortably keep my arm out of the sling most of the time. It was time for a true vacation – two weeks, no blogging, no doctors visits, no pushing my endurance. Just me, my family, and closest family friends… in PERU!
You are are amazing and this account of your recovery is a compelling mix of pain, vulnerability, candor, strength and resilience. I know this is now long past and you’re now in tip top shape, but I am very touched. Thank you for sharing the story in this powerful way.
Thank you for reading along, and for your patience. I can't believe this was almost a year ago, but it was difficult to write this part!
Thanks for sharing your insights into recovery, change and ponderings on the road ahead. A year doesn't seem all that long when you're speaking of such a dramatic change in your life. And pain to the mix and things can get crazy. Even though the body might be healed, it takes time for the mind to rebuild dreams and make sense of a new world.
Best wishes for the journey ahead.