Sunscreen Advised: A Lemony Reintroduction to the Life of Danger

You haven’t read a Lemon in what feels like forever, and it’s entirely my fault. It’s only been since November, but maybe you didn’t have a whole lot going on this winter and that seemed to magnify time the way minutes can feel like hours during a Friday afternoon in the office or when you’ve got a dentist’s drill grinding away at a molar.

I was in another world—the hyper-glamorous world of ski racing—that sucks you into its icy vortex for months on end before spitting you out into springtime with the distinct feeling that a mere two weeks has gone by.

What my friends think I do.

Sometime around the end of April, you suddenly realize that: 1) you haven’t had a meaningful conversation about anything other than ski racing since November, 2) there’s no more ski racing until the end of next October, and, 3) you’re not even sure where or how to find people with whom to have meaningful conversations about something other than ski racing. But that’s why we have spring, to rediscover our friends just in time for summer.

This winter was particularly challenging for me because I ran head first into too many opportunities I “couldn’t pass up.” I wanted to cut my teeth in ski racing journalism, and before I knew it I was managing a season’s worth of media while simultaneously freelancing for three different publications. There was quite a bit of travel involved. I turned into a photographer. And I still had three classes to teach at a school over an hour away from where I lived—or in more realistic terms—paid rent. When I was debating whether or not to pursue all of these gigs that landed in my lap, my friend Christin said with the kind of determination that only people like Christin have, “What’s the worst that could happen? You’ll just sleep less.”

My severely underutilized bed in my painfully underutilized apartment.

Public service announcement: if you spend the coldest months of the year exposed to the elements, stay up incredibly late facing the ever-present stress of multiple deadlines, rise with the sun to go to another ski race the next day, and forget to eat but somehow remember to drink coffee and alcohol nearly every day, you will get very sick. Sicker than Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me (2004) experiment. If you do all of the above in the presence of teenagers and college students and you’re one of the 5% of grown adults who has somehow managed to avoid past exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus, you’ll end up with Mono. Like I did.

This is what Mono looks like under a microscope.

And this is what Mono feels like… Bruegel the Elder’s ‘The Triumph of Death’

Don’t ask me how I managed to write and publish 52 articles on ski racing, travel all over New England, Montana, and Colorado, and teach three classes in Vermont while playing chess with the grim reaper. A lot of work was completed while flat on my back.

A promise I made to myself while contemplating if my spleen would ever resume a reasonable size again and if I would feel better (while perusing websites on adult Mono and learning that some people take years to fully recover) was that once I was healthy again, I wasn’t going to take it for granted. I was going to enjoy nice days in the sun and walk more.

By April, I’m usually entering my first bike races of the year. That wasn’t happening this time around. I’ll still need months of rebuilding my fitness before it’s financially reasonable to enter races. After all, why pay if you don’t have a legitimate shot at winning? So when the annual Dartmouth L’Enfer du Nord (yep, Hell of the North) ripped through my town, I agreed to do what all bike racers who can’t race do. I went and took pictures.

On a partly cloudy day in downtown Hanover at the end of April when the temperature peaked at 72 degrees, I strolled around outside in a v-neck t-shirt for a little over two hours. I got some pretty sweet shots.

This is Erin. She’s hella fast.

I started to get hungry before the big dogs took to the course, so I walked home to grab some grub. That was the extent of my whole day. No long ride, no race, just a relaxing Saturday in April. I took a late afternoon shower, and that’s when I realized something was very wrong. I’m of Irish descent, have pretty fair skin, and wear sunscreen on my face and neck every day of my life. I have several relatives who have had various parts of their bodies cut off and an aunt who died of cancer that began as melanoma. It’s a concern that’s on my radar daily. Except for two hours in April.

Whatever you do, don’t tell me to wear sunscreen. I already got the memo—loud and clear.

You can distinctly see where my neck sunscreen was no longer applicable. When I posted this photo to my Facebook page, you would have thought I had just shown my friends 30 days’ worth of pictures demonstrating intentional sunburning. Oh, the warnings! Haven’t I heard of skin cancer? Why didn’t I apply a higher SPF? I really should wear sunscreen. Yeah, no sh*t.

BeavSometimes when you spend all winter in bed sick as can be, remembering to apply sunscreen to random locations on your body before you go watch a bike race in the spring isn’t in the forefront of your mind. I wasn’t tanning on the beach. I was just thankful to be able to get out of bed to walk to the bike race in the first place.

All this so my male chauvinist cycling teammate Jason could send me a Beavis & Butt-head text, “Best part about that burn pic is we all know ur topless right then 🙂 haha.” Yeah, Jason, I couldn’t wear a shirt for the whole rest of the weekend. Real sexy.

The Spontaneously Exploding Rental Car

My job almost always sounds exponentially more glamorous than it tends to play out in reality. I don’t mean to voice a complaint, but when I’m sprinting through the airport à la Home Alone dragging an overweight duffel and ski bag behind me with heavy plastic boots swinging back and forth on my shoulders, I’m rarely as excited about the trip as I would be if I was traveling to Colorado sans work obligations.

This particular morning started earlier than most at 4:45am in Norwich, Vermont, where I had recently relocated but had yet to unpack my life before I had to pack for a ten-day recruiting trip to the USASA National Championships at Copper Mountain, Colorado. So I woke up in the dark, showered, threw together a carry-on, tossed some bags in the back of my Subaru, dialed in the GPS, turned on the radar detector, and headed down the interstate to Boston for a 9:20am flight.

Extra special terrorist pat-down, no delays, layover in Chicago, flight #2, and I landed in Denver in the early afternoon. I negotiated the aforementioned luggage onto the shuttle bus and was delivered to the counter of a nationally recognized rental car company. I had a reservation for a small SUV. After all, I was heading into the mountains, and people who live in the mountains leave their snow tires on until May for a reason.

The rental company had no remaining small SUVs in their fleet, so I was offered a free upgrade from the fuel-efficient and ideally sized Toyota Rav4 to an unnecessarily cumbersome Chevy Traverse. But it was shiny and new with only 16K miles on it, so I felt pretty baller in it at first.

In retrospect, friends would point out that the name of the vehicle alone should have raised my threat level from green to orange.

My trip was timed in precise conjunction with an emergency closure of Interstate 70, the primary route from Denver to Copper, due to rock blasting. While this may have thwarted the plans of less skilled travelers, I proceeded on an alternate route that should have added a scant hour and a half to my overall journey. As I cruised on I-70 through Denver and headed Southwest toward Fairplay, an adorably rugged fellow in a pick-up truck next to me offered a gratuitous head nod; I smiled back. He waved. I felt like a millions dollars. I was making decent time on HWY 9 North even up the switchbacks between Alma and Blue River as I traveled in a line of cars at a steady 40mph. (Note the severe squiggles in the map–that’s where we are in the story)

[Much like the nearby town on this map, we are approaching the Climax of this tale of woe]

As suddenly as the word ‘suddenly’ implies, this Chevy Traverse went from 40mph in drive to a blunt, jerking stop. The sound of grinding metal  permeated the air along with a cloud of thick, white smoke that funneled out from under the hood and the tailpipe simultaneously. A miracle alone enabled me to quickly redirect the majority of the vehicle to the road’s slim shoulder that was primarily occupied by a gargantuan snow bank.

My first thought was, “This car is on fire!” My second thought was, “And all these assholes behind me are driving right by.” The parable of The Good Samaritan notwithstanding, I had to wait for several cars to pass before it was even safe to open the driver’s side door. As I emerged from the vehicle, I realized that it was not on fire, but it might as well have been. Every fluid that enables a car to run was puddled behind the vehicle and various engine parts including connecting rods, bolts, and pieces of the block were scattered in the road.

A passing DOT worker stopped to offer assistance and nearly died of laughter surveying the engine’s debris. He phoned for backup, and twenty minutes later a deputy from the bustling metropolis of Alma, Colorado arrived, 30oz. coffee in-hand, to perform the civic duty of directing traffic around the metal heap in the road. Roadside Assistance followed one hour later, but by then I had already called for ride from a coworker who thankfully accepted the rescue mission as little more than an inconvenient distraction.

The next day, when I hitched a ride to the nearest facility to replace my rental car, the only 4WD vehicle available in their stock was, go figure, a Chevy Suburban. The discount applied for my aggravation made amends, but I still went over on my fuel budget. So much for free upgrades.