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.