Travis Macy, pro endurance athlete and author, on his new book, his father Mark Macy’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, love and grief, optimism and resilience
(Publication Date: 6.13..23)
In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with professional endurance athlete and author Travis Macy.
Travis has a new book out, “A Mile at a Time.” It’s a collaboration with his father, the legendary endurance athlete, Mark “Mace” Macy, and Patrick Regan.
Adam and Travis talk about the impact of Mace’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and the ambiguous sense of loss and grief along the way. They talk about the role of humor and choosing happiness, and facing life with courage. They also talk about Travis and Mark’s relationship, as father and son, and about love, optimism and resilience. Among other things that spark laughter and maybe a few tears, too.
SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org.
“A Mile at a Time” is available at salidabooks.com
We Are Chaffee
Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom
Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service. Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.
[Intro music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams: Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community and wellbeing based in Chaffee County in Colorado. I'm Adam Williams.
Today I'm talking with Travis Macy. Travis is a professional endurance athlete and an author, among other things. He has a new book out, A Mile at a Time. It's a collaboration with his father, the legendary endurance athlete, Mark Mace Macy, and Patrick Regan, another author who lives here in Chaffee County, Colorado.
At this point, I could spend the full hour of this show just listing and talking about Travis and Mace's extraordinary athletic resumes. Both of these men are incredibly rare athletes, and from everything I can tell, amazing humans as well. It's that last part, the humanness in their story, that we're especially going to focus on here today, because, well, that's what we do at Looking Upstream.
(01:04): You might have seen Travis and Mace on the Amazon Prime series that came out a few years ago called Eco-Challenge Fiji. That was my introduction to their story, to Mace's Alzheimer's diagnosis, to their history and capabilities as athletes and to their father-son relationship. Honestly, because of that story that was shared during their adventure in Fiji, they're the only ones I remembered from having watched the Eco-Challenge series, so I'm so grateful to have this opportunity to go deeper into that story with Travis.
We talk about the impact of Mace's Alzheimer's and the ambiguous sense of loss and grief along the way. We talk about the role of humor and choosing happiness and to facing life with courage. We talk about Travis and Mark's relationship as father and son and about love, optimism and resilience and other things that spark laughter, and maybe a few tears too.
(01:55): This feels like a fast conversation. Travis's dynamic energy is infectious. He's a high energy, get things done guy who's quick to smile and to offer a handshake. I got caught up in it and I really enjoyed getting to talk with him, and I think you'll enjoy getting to listen and to learn from him.
(02:14): We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment Office of Health Disparities.
Show notes, including the transcript of today's conversation and relevant links, like travismacy.com and salidabooks.com, where you can find and buy A Mile at a Time, they're all on this episode's webpage at wearechaffee.org.
(02:39): Now, here we are with Travis Macy.
[Transition music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams: Travis, thanks for coming in and talking with me. I appreciate your being here. I've been looking forward to it.
Travis Macy (02:53): Yeah. Me too, Adam. It truly is an honor to be here with you and with the audience and just to be part of the Chaffee County community. I love it here, and being part of this team is really important to me.
Adam Williams (03:09): I agree. I love it here too, and I just told you, but when I watched you a couple of years ago on Amazon Prime with the Eco-Challenge Fiji, I had no idea we would have this opportunity. So it's so cool that, well, not only you have moved to this area, but so have I, only a couple of years ago, and now here we are.
Travis Macy (03:25): Yeah, yeah. No, good deal. My wife, Amy, and I just constantly pinch ourselves of how lucky we are ..
Adam Williams (03:33): Absolutely.
Travis Macy (03:33): ... to be living here in Salida.
Adam Williams (03:34): I love it too. So I know you've been a busy man and, well, actually, I think it looks like you always are, but especially with this new book of yours. I've been paying attention on Instagram. I see that you're traveling, you're out there speaking, you're talking about the book. Some of it is with your dad, Mark. How's that been going?
Travis Macy (03:53): Good. Yeah, it's been busy, for sure. Our book, a Mile at a Time, hit shelves March 14th, and we've been thankful that it's been well received and generated a lot of opportunities to go here and there and sign books and speak and stuff. Like you said, mostly, I've been filled with gratitude that my dad's been able to do a lot of it with me.
(04:16): He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2018, and the disease has progressed and he needs a lot of support, and things look a lot different than they did when we did that Eco-Challenge race in Fiji in 2019, which went on Amazon Prime in 2020, but there's still ... he's doing an incredible job of finding happiness and he loves hanging out with people and BSing, and so any chance we get to do something together, it's a huge plus for all of us.
Adam Williams (04:51): It sounds like that's the same Mace it's always been, based on what I know through your book.
Travis Macy (04:55): Yeah, it is, and that's a fortunate blessing in itself. A lot of people who have neurodegenerative conditions, their personality is impacted, and it's not the person's fault. It's not that they're not resilient or whatever, it's just luck of the draw. Parts of the brain are impacted where a person's personality literally changes, and, fortunately, that hasn't happened to Dad.
He's still very much himself, even if there are very significant limitations with ... particularly in the visual spatial realms and memory realms, obviously, word finding, et cetera, but as his core, his personality's there, and that's great.
Adam Williams (05:44): That's remarkable. I had a little bit of this experience with a grandmother of mine, my mother's mother, and I would see the way she would act towards other women in the living place where she was. I would visit her on occasion.
We'd go to the cafeteria and I'd see the way she would literally get catty, hissing and jabbing at other women. I thought she was joking because she was playful and she was humorous to me, and I realized that she wasn't, and that was the moment for me when I realized this really does have an impact and it can change in that way.
(06:19): So it's great to hear that your dad is doing so well. We're going to talk quite a bit more about that. The book is an amazing framework for things that I really have an interest in talking with people about. It's really vulnerable and it's full of story and all kinds of big life things that matter to me.
I want to start, though, with something that you shared in a story about, I think it was your first time preparing the dark, early, middle of the night morning before the Leadville Trail 100. You were reading out loud to yourself a Dr. Seuss book, All the Places You'll Go, and I was just curious, and also as an athlete, though, certainly a recreational one and not on your world-class level, I'm just curious about that approach. Is it ... Well, first of all, why that book? Why out loud? Why to yourself, and is it a ritual you maintain?
Travis Macy (07:09): Yeah. That particular ... Yeah, so that was 2013, I was doing the Leadman, now called Lead Challenge Series that some of the listeners might be familiar with, part of the Leadville Race series. You do five of their races throughout the summer and add up the time, and the last one in the series is, of course, the 100-mile run, the Leadville Trail 100, the Race Across The Sky.
It's a legendary thing and it's something I'd been around for my entire life and it was my first time doing that race, and I just ... I've always liked the cheesy motivation. When I was in high school and college, it was always Eye of the Tiger, listening to that before my track races.
(07:55): I remember my favorite teacher's classroom, he had all those little posters around the wall. It'd have a picture of a rock climber and it would say, "Dream big," or something like that. I've liked tapping into inspiration, whether it's through music or quotes or thinking of people I care about or whatever, and so at that time, I was a high school English teacher for seven years in Denver and in Jeffco Public Schools, and I loved reading Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You Go to my high school seniors, like the last day of school, because it's such a ... it's an inspirational book and it also taps into you're going to have tough times. You'll find yourself stuck in a lurch, but that's okay. You'll rise again. You'll be high-flying.
(08:52): So I think it was fresh in my mind because of that and why ... It may have also, I remember that moment now. We were in our teeny little old janky, for lack of a better word, camping trailer in Leadville, parked in my buddy Cannon's driveway, and that book was probably there because we'd been reading it to our kids. They would've been two ... I guess in 2013, Wyatt was two and Lila was a baby. She was six months old. So the book was there and I realized like, "Oh, this is ... what a better ..." You want to start these races with some good momentum and positive enthusiasm. "I'll read this book to myself."
Adam Williams (09:37): I think that's ... Well, it's funny and amusing and awesome, and it's something that I'm going to guess you might be the only person who's ever done that, or at least until people have heard you say it and they might be like, "I'm going to check this out."
Travis Macy (09:49): Maybe, I don't know. Yeah. I don't know, but, I mean, people do all kinds of cheesy, funny things. I mean, there's an academic discipline called applied positive psychology, and I think there's truth and power in that, and I think it's not that we don't recognize our challenges, our lows, our weaknesses, but also trying to keep the eye on the good stuff, the optimism. I think that's powerful, and that's definitely something that I've gotten from my parents from the start.
Adam Williams (10:22): Absolutely. It's that positive self-talk and that optimism, especially in what you do with endurance sports, it's essential, is it not?
Travis Macy (10:31): Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, it's essential there, and also, I would say, even more importantly, life in general.
Adam Williams (10:38): Sure, sure.
Travis Macy (10:38): We all do hard things, and even the good things, marriage, parenting, coaching, these things, they're really good and they're hard. They're going to have low moments.
Adam Williams (10:51): You describe it as cheesy. Well, I had sort of one of those things myself that came to me when going through your book, and I'm like Forrest Gump, right?
He made the comparison that life is like a box of chocolates, but the only thing I can keep thinking and going through endurance sports and these stories and these experiences, life is a lot more, if you want a metaphor, I think endurance sports really has it because it's even more than a marathon and it has its ups and its downs, and you really find yourself sometimes in these incredible lows, and you need to have that optimism and that self-belief to rise back out of it.
Travis Macy (11:24): Yeah, yeah. That's a big reason to do these kinds of activities, and I think, a bigger picture, stepping back, in most human cultures and traditions over time, there's been these rites of passage where young men and women go out and do something.
It's usually something challenging, something with some uncertainty, something that's going to be seen as, again, this is a key moment to change, to grow, to unveil something, to discover something. We don't have as much of that in our current culture, but going out, we find those things, and for some of it, it is these endurance sports. There's lots of other ways to do it, but that might be one avenue to explore some of that type of growth.
Adam Williams (12:15): I've heard somebody describe these things before as we've made our lives so comfortable in general throughout this society that then we've started looking for where can I test myself and where can I find this challenge and actually get uncomfortable?
You mentioned rites of passage. I have a son, my older son, who is coming up on 13, and this is something my wife and I have started to talk with him about. It isn't anything I experienced personally with any sort of ceremony or intention by parents or anyone, but we've been thinking about that and, historically, the place of that.
(12:46): His question is, "Why? Why do we bother? Why do we want to do that?" So, okay, good place to start, and we're starting right at the basics as we also think through it, and I'm getting several months headstart on this with him, but trying to plant the seed and have him come around and realize there could be value in this. I'm going to have to trust this and go with you, but we need some of those things, I think, and not to just continue in the status quo and comfort.
Travis Macy (13:12): Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It turns out my son's 12 as well, and even before we had kids, Amy and I would talk about like, "Oh, how are we going to make these rites of passage?" and, of course, before you have kids, you have no idea what parenting is like or how hard it is.
Adam Williams (13:27): Not at all.
Travis Macy (13:28): How scrambled it's going to be, but I like that idea. I got into hunting as an adult, and my son has been interested in it. He's come with me a lot, and in Colorado at age 12 is the first year you can harvest big game. That's something we plan to explore together, and that, for me, is absolutely could serve as a rite of passage of sorts because it's a very challenging, mature, hard, heavy and potentially rewarding thing to do.
Adam Williams (14:07): I'm curious how you got started in hunting as an adult, because I grew up in a small rural town. All the kids around me were hunting. As it turned out, my dad had stopped long before I came along. That wasn't part of my life, and so, again, it was rural, kids would come in during deer season and be like, "Oh, I got a 6-point.
I got this," and teachers would keep track of it on the chalkboard, at the time there were chalk, and I felt excluded. I didn't understand what that experience might be like, and now as an adult, I guess I don't actually have interest in it at this point in my life, but I also am curious, again, how did you get started and learn how to do it as an adult?
Travis Macy (14:46): Yeah, yeah. That's a good question. I mean, I've always liked the outdoors. This may sound ironic. I've always loved animals. Animals have always been a huge part of my life, the natural world, ecology, pets. It's just always something I've been interested in, and as ... boy, I was mid-30s and some of my friends were doing it.
I had been racing, racing, racing these ultra runs, mountain bike races, adventure races. They'd been a huge part of my life, and I would say still are, but in some ways I was ready to maybe change it a little bit. It's not going to be all about the podium or the sponsorships or the prize money or whatever. Re-envisioning who am I going to be as a middle-aged adult.
(15:35): And this hunting thing came along. Really, it just started with a friend of mine who started as a running buddy, and he had an elk tag and he grew up doing it, and it was like, "Hey, let's ... I'll come out with you one day," and I ran out there into the woods to where he was camping and we tracked around all day and we had this ... as it turns out, it's really, really hard to find elk out in the mountains, but this day, man, they were there. They were bugling off, and I grew up in Evergreen where elk live year round, and especially in the rut, man, they're running right in town. So I've seen bugling bull elk every day in September my entire life.
I thought, "Oh, how hard can it be to go out and find an elk?" and it turns out it's really hard, but we had a good day. We didn't harvest one, but we had fun and it was a lot of action, and I just thought, "Oh, maybe this is something I'll explore." As I got further into it, I realized this is an activity that's pulling on a lot of the skills and interests I have as far as being outside, learning about ecology, navigating with map or compass or phone, playing the weather, the wind, getting up high, just hiking around high in the mountains in the cold. I like that.
(16:49): So it's doing that, but it's also teaching me something. It's teaching me to slow down and just really be present and dial in and connect with nature, whether or not a harvest occurs, which usually it doesn't. The harvest itself, people think of hunting, that's what they think of, but there's a whole lot. That's a small percentage of the time. So it's taught me to really slow down, which is great, and I've really come to appreciate ... it's teaching me patience and navigating uncertainty, which you don't necessarily get if you're just hammering your bike up a trail as hard as you can with sweat in your eyes.
Adam Williams (17:25): Right, and maybe hunting does appeal to me because it's all of those aspects. I actually did the same with fly-fishing several years ago.
Travis Macy (17:25): Exactly, yeah. Yep.
Adam Williams (17:35): I had gone with my dad many years ago. I was already an adult, in my 20s. He had taken me to some place in southern Missouri. I'd never been there, trout are all around us. I mean, they're banging into my legs. They didn't care about us, and I, at one point, had my rod down my waders while I was getting something out and a fish jumped on my fly.
(17:56): I mean, it was that sort of easy, and it gave me this impression, "Oh, how amazing, and fish are everywhere," and then I move out to Colorado many years later and it's not like that at all, but what I became was, I figure, maybe that one fly fisherman who says, "Well, I'm out there just for the scenery anyway."
Well, that's a joke when ... Well, I don't catch anything because I'm not good at it, but I actually mean it. I'll go out there in waders and stand in the river just because I want to be immersed in that environment, and don't care if I catch.
Travis Macy (18:26): Yeah.
Adam Williams (18:27): So maybe hunting is for me. If I just go out and I hike around and enjoy in that experience in itself.
Travis Macy (18:33): Yeah, absolutely. A lot of these activities, it really is, it's being in nature, it's having that connection, slowing down by slowing down, or sometimes slowing down by going fast. When I think of riding a mountain bike fast down a hill or shredding some powder up at Monarch, you're going fast, but in some ways you're also slowing down and having this connection.
Adam Williams (18:53): Going inward, having the experience.
Travis Macy (18:55): Yeah.
Adam Williams (18:55): Yeah. So I want to come back to your dad and the diagnosis with Alzheimer's. This is a key piece of this book, and I'm curious, you've been very vulnerable and have shared emotions and shared uncertainties in this process. Do you remember that impact when they ... I assume your parents were who first told you about this diagnosis, and how that felt? What that impact was? Did it even register?
Travis Macy (19:25): Oh, yeah, it registered, and it wasn't a surprise. I think probably for most families, when a diagnosis of a neurodegenerative condition is given, it's probably not a surprise to those who are around that person a lot, but it still ... yeah, it hit me like a ton of bricks and it shook me to the foundation in ways that impacted all areas of my life and, basically, felt ... and sent me scrambling, and feelings of panic and anxiety and depression.
(20:02): Looking back, there's a period of time of this crazy scramble where I was trying to control things that I later realized were largely out of my control, whether that's a cure or treatments to slow things down, or even the logistical side, creating a trust and planning for care and where do we live? In the first two days I was, "We must build a house on my parents' property and live next to them." These kind of, again, just crazy jumps to try to control something that I have realized is largely uncertain.
(20:40): And it's this balancing act, because I think you can and should do many small things that add up to make a difference. Just like if you were training for a running race, you're going to do a whole lot of things and they're going to add up to make you go faster or have more fun or whatever you're trying to do.
You can do that with managing a disease as well. The diet, the lifestyle, the supplements, medications, relationships, engagement, all of these things, they make a difference, and most of it is largely uncertain and out of our control, and we don't know what's going to happen and when, and how it's going to look.
Adam Williams (21:18): When I ask you about it registering, I realize what I mean is, because a lot of times, I certainly don't know what different medical things mean until we're confronted with it. It's an experience you're having, and then, oh, this is now a crash course in learning about this thing, and to have an understanding of what Alzheimer's would mean.
We think of it as a cognitive thing, a brain thing, but how does it actually end up impacting this person's life and rippling out and impacting the lives of family members, loved ones, friends, social situations, whatever. So it sounds like, I'm assuming, it sounds like you had a good grip on it at the moment, but you also, I'm sure, have done a lot of learning since.
Travis Macy (21:59): No, absolutely. Yeah, and I'm definitely not a medical professional or an Alzheimer's expert or anything like that. I've learned a whole lot about it in the last five years and continue to learn and try to stay up to date on new drugs that might be coming down the pipeline and that kind of stuff.
I would say, overall, with Alzheimer's in particular, it's a much more varied and dynamic disease than we might think. The layman's knowledge might be, "Oh, you lose some of your memory," or whatever. Obviously, that's part of it, but like I said, the different ... there's subtypes of Alzheimer's, there's various phases. It progresses in different ways for different people.
(22:47): Someone, maybe it starts with word finding difficulties or navigational difficulties. For someone else, maybe it starts with something else and looks different ways. Like I said, for some people there's significant impacts on personality, and maybe not for others.
So with those subtypes, with the diagnosis and good medical care, the person and their family might be able to learn a little bit more about what may or may not be expected, but there's also a whole lot of variety and range, and even the time span, it's so uncertain.
(23:28): The Alzheimer's thing for us started, I guess, about a year and a half before the pandemic, and I, as the pandemic came about, I had some moments where I was like, "Oh, man, we've been in this mode of living with uncertainty here for a year and a half and gotten a little more used to it," and then all of a sudden the pandemic, it was like, "Wow, now everyone's forced into this."
Here's this thing that came about that's impacting everyone. We don't know where it's going to go or how it's going to feel, how long it's going to last. Welcome to life.
Adam Williams (23:57): Right. Again, that metaphor with all of this ultra and endurance, the sports of this, there's a lot of uncertainty. When you go into one of these things, a 100-mile race, just for example, let alone any of these multi-day things, like Eco-Challenge that you've done, you don't even know that you're going to be able to finish because of all those uncertainties between start line and whatever the day holds. Your dad started journaling after the diagnosis, correct?
Travis Macy (24:23): Mm-hmm, yep.
Adam Williams (24:24): And eventually you would end up reading that journal, or those journals. That was as part of the process for writing this book, is that right?
Travis Macy (24:34): The journaling itself started well before the book was an idea, and I think that was something ... it was probably originally my mom's idea of just something. It checks a lot of boxes. Here's an intellectual thing to do, and any time you're activating the brain and pushing that line, that's a good part of the treatment. It's a way for them to connect together, because even from the start, it was mostly my dad dictating to my mom.
His coordination to be able to write was already declining very quickly. So most of it was him speaking and she was writing it down, and it was also a way to maybe we can create this thing that is it for the grandkids or is it for ... who knows how do you use this? But it becomes part of the family photo album of sorts. So that's how it initially started.
(25:28): Then, as the book idea came about, as we realized we've got some momentum, a couple of years later, we have a publishing contract, where is this going to go? And all of that, this was giving my dad and I something to work on together. Obviously, he wasn't writing or doing emails or looking at contracts or anything, but it's still a shared purpose.
Then, eventually, Patrick Regan from here in Salida joined the team as ... first starting as a professional colleague, as a co-writer, and then truly becoming a friend and teammate in our journey, but as far as working through Dad's journaling content, most of that during the book writing process was Patrick's work.
(26:18): Honestly, there was two reasons. The first one is he could do a better job at looking at this from a more separate viewpoint of where is this going to fit, what's good, what are people going to connect with, et cetera, and honestly, also, I wasn't ready to read through it.
It was too hard even ... I don't know. This would've been what? Probably 2021, mostly. These pages and pages of journals and material, and a lot of it coming from Dad's low points and things that he was struggling with. It was too ... I wasn't ready to even read it.
Adam Williams (26:59): Sure.
Travis Macy (27:00): And thank goodness that Patrick was.
Adam Williams (27:03): Yeah. The emotions of living through that and then having to try to objectively figure out what to include. Yeah.
Travis Macy (27:12): Yep.
Adam Williams (27:12): Yet there's an intimacy to the way that came about between your parents. For your dad to dictate and then your mom to take that down and to help him write, and there are so many instances in the stories you share of the intimacy and the love and the care and the closeness of your family, which I'm also really intrigued by and appreciate.
But that was one especially poignant example to me of the intimacy between the two of them, to be able to share in that way, and for your dad to, of course, trust your mom, and that's what we would hope for in any marriage, I suppose, but we know that's not always the case, right?
Travis Macy (27:49): Yeah, yeah.
Adam Williams (27:50): So my question, I guess, in your reviewing of the journals, you've answered that in saying you didn't dive deep. Did you spend some time in there? Did you try, and have you gone into any of it at all, or did it really just all fall to Patrick and then you only know as much as really what he pulled out?
Travis Macy (28:09): Starting with, yeah, I've looked at what Patrick pulled out, and obviously that was a big piece of the book writing process, now a couple of years ago, and since then, at times I've been a little more ready to read some of it and interact with it and a little bit more knowledgeable and accepting of this idea of ambiguous loss, where we're on a journey and you've got these phases of grief, of anger, questioning, et cetera, and that these aren't fixed stages. It's not like, "Oh, I'm done with stage two and now I'm in stage three and so forth, and now I'm done with it."
(28:51): These are things that are going to cycle through, and that I've come to expect, and even looking ahead. I and we still don't know where this is going, and someone might be listening to this and thinking, "Oh, my parent or grandparent or spouse or whatever is in a much later stage of Alzheimer's dementia," and then that looks a lot different from where Dad's at right now.
Adam Williams (29:16): How is he doing now?
Travis Macy (29:16): Do I know how to navigate that? Do I know what to tell people? Not really. I haven't been there. I'm trying to prepare for it. Yeah, I mean, and thanks for asking, Adam. Overall, like I said, he's choosing to find happiness. For example, here's a guy who's traveled all over the world doing his races, working as an attorney, driving all over Colorado and Wyoming and wherever to meet people on his cases, and then he'd drive into the mountains and go for a run, just to explore. He always wanted to be a mountain man, and he did that. That was a big part of his life and what he did.
(29:56): 2018, he's 64 and, "Hey, Mace, you got Alzheimer's, and guess what? You can never drive again," and that was really hard for him to swallow, but he accepted it. His range of what he can do alone has constricted. Two years ago, he could ride his bike alone around my parents' neighborhood in Evergreen, these rural mountain roads, and a year ago he could run a loop around the neighborhood and know how to get back home.
Currently, the place he can go alone is a little dirt road right next to my parents' house, and Dad goes up there and he does his repeats. He power hikes up it and he goes down really slow and timidly because his balance is very challenged, and because of the visual spatial challenges, it looks like a really steep, dangerous hill. This is something, 15 years ago, he would've ridden his bike down it at 40 miles an hour and not thought twice.
(31:02): But that's where he is now, and the point is, although the range has constricted, I tell you what, man, he is pumped to get out there every single day. We try to talk every day, or maybe we record a podcast together or something, and the attitude could be, "Oh, I used to go everywhere and now this is all I can do," but it's more of like, "Man, bud, this place is awesome," and when I'm there, we go out and we do it together, and he'll say, "Man, bud, you got to tell your clients about this because this is the best spot to train for the Leadville 100."
(31:35): The point is, he's still pumped, and I think you also, if you were to talk with him or even meet him at a book thing or a podcast or whatever, you may not realize the discrepancy in ability areas. Here is one ability as far as holding a conversation or just shooting the shit, and, well, watch him try to get dressed on his own, totally impossible, right? Or dad's sitting on the couch and he'll go, "Pammy, where the hell's the front door? I know I just asked you," and then, "Oh, Mace, it's still over there," and then they laugh and a few minutes later he's trying to find the door again.
Adam Williams (32:17): Humor's part of it, isn't it?
Travis Macy (32:18): Humor's a huge part of it, yeah, and I also, I mean, shout out to my mom. She's the real hero of the story, and if anyone's listening to this and they're a caregiver for someone who has a neurodegenerative condition, or anything else, I mean, those people are the true heroes who dig deep, day after day, after day and really do the hard things and really exemplify what love means.
Adam Williams (32:46): Let's talk about your mom a little bit, because she also ... and the two of them together have had a number of significant health challenges. She's had three organ transplants over a period of many years, right?
Travis Macy (33:01): Yeah.
Adam Williams (33:01): But, I mean, one of those would be perhaps a life-changing, certainly a significant something in that person's life. They went through her health and needing three of those over time. The relationship back and forth, and the care. Again, the love, all of that, it's amazing to hear about from the outside. I'm curious, as the son of these two, and what you have witnessed and learned from them in that sense of love and care and resilience.
Travis Macy (33:34): Yeah. I mean, I've heard it said that for a couple navigating very significant adversity, it can pull people apart and/or push them together, and maybe even both, but I think for my parents, these challenges, she needed a liver transplant in 1990. My sister and I were young children, and then she got a kidney from her brother about 10 years later, and then that one petered out after 15 years, and she got another kidney from her other brother. This is Eric and Brian Pence, a shout-out to those guys.
(34:10): So she got that in 2017, but for my parents, these were adversities that brought them together and they really were a team, and they were also, I would say, unabashedly and unfailingly optimistic about it, that things will work out and we'll figure things out together as it may come, and they did, and they've continued to carry that on through the Alzheimer's process.
(34:39): They continue to teach me what it means to love deeply and to dig in to support your family. I mean, I was thinking that the other day when I was at my parents' house in Evergreen, and for a lot of people with, again, these neurodegenerative conditions, things like showering, it's like the nervous system changes, and there's just a lot of uncertainty and it's hard to tell what's where and how do you make it hot, cold, all this kind of stuff. Currently, the best fit is for my mom to wash my dad's hair in the sink, and I watch them do that, and I'm like, "This is love."
Adam Williams (35:21): Right. Yeah. It's, again, intimacy is the word that ... it just keeps coming to mind, but also with that resilience and optimism. You described your parents in the book as being very laid-back, being adventurers, not being planners, and I wonder if that was who they were inherently.
It came across that way, but now that we're talking about all these points of adversity in their lives together, I wonder if people who encounter that more tend to learn, "Okay, here's what really is serious, here's what's not. Here's what I know I can make it through. Here is ... I don't need to freak out about this. I can handle it. I'll be laid-back," because when we go through enough, we eventually learn, "You know what? I just don't know what's right around the next corner. Maybe I've finally learned the life lesson. Stop worrying about it. Stop trying to anticipate because life is what happens while you're making other plans."
Travis Macy (36:15): Yeah, yeah. That's what I think. I think it's probably a combination of both. I think, generally, they both probably are easygoing in many ways. I mean, I remember as a kid, me and my parents and my sister, Caitlyn, and later on, our foster brothers and sisters and my sister, Donna, I mean, we'd literally get in the car for a road trip and it'd be like, "All right, we're all in the car. We got all our shit. Where are we going?"
The plan literally was drive west and see what happens, and that was just ... whether that was our ... I don't know why that became our style, but we were all pretty comfortable with that.
(36:52): I do think, I think what you said, the second part, is also very true for me. I mean, seeing my dad's journey with Alzheimer's, I mean, for me, it's been the first time I've looked at my own mortality square in the face, and it makes you ask a lot of questions of how am I living? How am I spending my time?
What am I worrying about and/or valuing and not worrying about or valuing? At least for me, one of the conclusions is a lot of the things that people worry about and try to control really don't matter that much, and maybe some of the things that, again, whether it's a general culture or population, people don't emphasize, do matter.
(37:39): For me, getting outside every day and being active, connecting with nature, working, exercising, breathing, it's absolutely integral to my human experience and who I am. So I prioritize it. In my work list, one story could be like, "Oh, I'll go out and do something for myself or to exercise or whatever when the work list is done," and I've realized, "Well, the work list is going to be there.
If that's my attitude, I'm never going to do anything, so it's going to be there. Here I go," and I'll keep doing my best, and I'll be okay with not finishing everything and moving things around and having things feel like a shit show and going to, "Well, okay, now it's time to take the kids to soccer practice." So that's what I do.
Adam Williams (38:26): Right, yeah. That work list I've described here before as half of every day ends up getting kicked to some other time because I didn't get there, and just, say, preparing for a conversation on a podcast, I can worry about that for the week in advance and think, "I should get this done," every day, and then I finally have realized, "You know what? I'm going to get it done," because I'm not going to falter on that, but that doesn't mean I don't need and can't live my life along the way. I don't have to place it six days ahead in front of am I going to get my bike ride in, am I going to get a run in, whatever else is going on with the family.
Travis Macy (39:00): Yeah, yeah.
Adam Williams (39:01): You have described yourself, though, as being somebody who has, I don't know about now as much, but in the past, dealt with anxiety, and I wondered how, considering you're talking about your parents not exhibiting that, at least not living their life by it, I wondered if you can share what that experience was for you? If you have any sense of where it maybe came from. Did it, at some point, just become a compensation for, my parents, I never know where we're going because they just said west, right? And was that a matter of stability?
(39:32): I mean, I could speculate all day long, but I'm curious what ... because this is something, I mean, I have anxiety. You mentioned depression, you mentioned alcohol abuse. I have years with all of those things in my past, and so it's something that resonates and I'd love to learn what your experience with that has been and where you stand now.
Travis Macy (39:49): Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'm definitely not a mental health expert or professional or anything. I'm very interested in it, starting with like, "Oh, how do I keep myself in a good place so that I can enjoy life and support my family?" Where does it come from? Who knows? I think in the nature versus nurture, nature plays an enormous role, and I think a lot of people who are parents, maybe have a couple kids like, "Boy, ours have been very different from the start. They're both wonderful and they have their quirks and they are very different."
(40:28): You mentioned alcoholism. I mean, I talk about it in the book. Significant family history there on all sides, including anxiety, depression, those kind of things, and how do those relate to alcoholism? Well, there are probably a lot of connection there. I think most people who have an addiction, and at least in my opinion, a lot of it starts with trying to make something feel a little bit better. It's not people who are irresponsible or whatever. Something certain, they're trying to ease it a little bit.
Adam Williams (40:58): Right. It's some sort of escape or a coping something.
Travis Macy (41:03): Yeah, yeah. Exactly. So, I mean, all of that said, yes, we all have our natural brain chemistry and wiring, and probably a lot of what pushes us to have the feel good intensity of running 100 miles or jumping off the cornice up at Monarch. There's probably another side of that that may connect to becoming too reliant on alcohol or something else. Heading west without a plan, that's never made me feel anxious, for whatever reason, and again, humans are ... we all develop on a spectrum physically, psychologically, what we like, what we don't like.
(41:46): I've come to a point like, "It's not right or wrong. We're all different." For some people, it feels really good to go out and bike as hard as you can for three hours. Some people are like, "Exercise? I hate ... how do I get to exercise?" and I'm like, "How the hell does someone not exercise? If I didn't exercise, I'd be in a really bad place." So it just speaks to that range, and I think, if you think of humans as a species, it's better to have a range. Different likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, quirks. It's all part of who we are.
(42:19): So as far as the anxiety of the experience, one thing I'm happy about is I think kids growing up now, through their parents, through schools and just culture in general, there's more of an environment of kids learning to know their feelings and talk about their feelings and label, express, et cetera. When I was a kid, never would I have said, "I am feeling anxious."
I was well into my 30s when I realized ... I'd go, "Oh, here's this feeling I have a lot, and this is what it's called. It's called anxiety, and here's some tools and things you can do with it," and that's really good. It's really powerful. I'm glad that my kids are growing up in a world where that's more of a normal part of the human experience.
Adam Williams (43:12): To have the language to be able to talk about it, to have it for yourself, let alone be able to talk with the significant people in our lives, the partner, spouses, whoever we have close, later, with everybody, as parents with our kids.
(43:25): I'm thinking of the amount of exercise and activity you get, and of course, that is medicine, I think, in itself. I had a therapist many years ago tell me, "For somebody as intense as you, you need ... I mean, a minimum, 90 minutes a day of intense workout. You need to be getting physical," and I hadn't really thought maybe necessarily a lot about it, because I had always been active. I'd always played sports, I'd always been out there, but I, like you just said, I definitely know it when I'm not getting out there, and to deal with injury or something from running, which I have been in recent months.
(44:00): I finally just bought a gravel bike because I can't take not being able to run the way I want. I need to be getting out on a consistent basis, and mentally, I had to get past, "Okay, next week, I'm going to be back at it. Next week ..." Well, now my fitness is shot, emotions are rocked. I am not the best me at home, and that is definitely one form of medicine and being able to deal with these things that I think, for a lot of us, is important. I agree. I don't know how some people are able to go without it and say, "I don't want exercise. I don't want anything to do with it," but it, I guess, works for them.
Travis Macy (44:33): Yeah. Well, it does. Yeah, we're not all the same.
Adam Williams (44:34): Yeah. That diversity, there's definitely value.
Travis Macy (44:37): Yeah, yeah. I think it's a natural assumption to think like, "Oh, I like something, or something's easy for me. It's got to ... Why don't everyone else just do it?"
Adam Williams (44:44): Yeah. Well, I like it. This is the right way to see it.
Travis Macy: Yeah, exactly.
Adam Williams: This is the right thing. Why doesn't everybody agree? Sure. So the father-son relationship here especially is also of interest to me. I've mentioned the intimacy and care and closeness of your family, but the father-son thing in particular, I have said in a previous conversation on this podcast, that's not the relationship I have with my father. I've not had one that was very close at all throughout adulthood, but your dad, I think you even described as a hero at some point in the book. It sounds like he certainly was a mentor. You both have been engaged in and been elite in this endurance athletic realm.
(45:24): What does that .... I don't even know if you can put it in a nutshell, but what has that relationship, as you have viewed it, maybe as a kid, but now as a man who has his own kids, and then, of course, we have Alzheimer's, and that has shifted things as well.
Travis Macy (45:41): Yeah, yeah. Oh, man. That's an answer that could take hours, potentially, but in a nutshell, I got lucky. I think I got lucky to have parents who are both highly invested in parenting, and are there things that I will and do do differently than my parents should? Of course. I mean, that's natural, but, yeah, I just got lucky. I think, for my dad, maybe some of it stemmed from, I talk about it in the book, his mom had alcohol abuse disorder, and that was a significant factor in his household growing up, and he recognized when he became an adult, "I don't want there to be yelling and chaos."
(46:33): I mean, she was a loving person, a good mother, and that's really hard. If you go back to the '50s and '60s, man, they didn't have counseling. They didn't have ... you couldn't go talk to people and figure this out, and then it's like, "This is a weakness, or this is a character flaw," or something like that. It was a different world. Thank goodness there are options and a different type of understanding now.
(47:01): Anyway, yeah, I got lucky. I got lucky that it turned ... I think my dad and I are wired very similarly, and it turned out that some of the things that he started being interested in appealed to me as well. Then there were a number of years where the fact that we both liked going ... we lived in Leadville, or excuse me, we lived in Evergreen. We'd drive up to Leadville and do a snowshoe race on Saturdays.
We both really liked that, and probably the fact that we both liked it kept us both interested. I mean, I couldn't drive myself, but my dad wanted to go anyway. So it's a shared experiences, and I would say more than being deep, heartfelt conversations about feelings or emotions or whatever, it was more parallel play. We're spending time together doing these things we like outside and traveling to it, and that's how we connected.
(47:59): So, yeah, I got really lucky, and then to jump forward, here I was, mid-30s, going along. I feel like I'm an adult. I got a career, kids, house, all these things, and then this diagnosis came along, and part of the way I was able to stop the initial panic and spiraling that I talked about was accepting that now I need to grow up in a whole new way that I didn't expect, that I didn't expect to come this soon, but I need to grow up and figure out what that means.
Adam Williams (48:37): You said in the book that it shifted your place in the family, what that role was.
Travis Macy (48:41): Yeah, yeah. I think it's ... and that's a natural thing. Again, you look at ... step back, look at human history. That's how it works. Infants, little kids, they need a lot of help to survive and people help them, and then for some period of time, most humans go through a period where you can take care of yourself and take care of other people, and then probably you get to a point later in life where you need someone to take care of you a lot again. The fact that it was happening at that point when my dad was still super strong physically and excited about living and vivacious, energetic, et cetera, it came about a lot ...
(49:22): I had to accept that it was happening a lot sooner than I thought, and I also had to rewire my thinking to hear someone who, for me, has always been the leader, the person I'm going to ... literally to lead me physically or drive me somewhere, lead me through something hard or to ask for advice on whatever. All right, I'm going to have to take that on with that person and be okay with it, and I was. I was able to.
Back to the rite of passage, I mean, in some ways going to Fiji and doing this adventure race, whether or not we finish or win or whatever, toeing that line, getting there, that was a huge rite of passage for both of us, and it made me realize I can lead in a different way and feel okay about it.
(50:16): I think also, for Dad, that was a huge step, because accepting help is also a really hard thing to do. I think, again, people in general, maybe we're getting a little more used to that, but for a man of his generation, "Oh, I'm going to accept help with this or that," whether it's carrying my pack out on the course or something else around the house, that was a hard thing, and to see the way that he, even amidst cognitive decline, has continued to put trust in accepting help.
(50:51): It's been beautiful, and to accept that from me, mostly from my mom, but also from me and from his other kids, and even from his grandkids, to accept like, "It's okay for my grandkids to hold my hand crossing the street," so he can make it safely. It's making me tear up, but it's a beautiful thing to see, and I'm glad.
Do I wish that my kids' grandfather didn't have Alzheimer's? Of course I do, and am I glad that they get to help him cross the street or put his shoes on and learn to love him that way? I'm really glad.
Adam Williams (51:32): This speaks just further to that closeness, that love that is ... I know I keep coming back to this, the love and the intimacy and closeness, but I think it's because it stands out so much to me as ... I don't know if it's extraordinary, but I'm trying to place myself in that kind of family and see what that feels like, to be honest, and I think it's wonderful, and I'm happy for all of you and happy for your kids that they get this experience, and it seems like you described your parents coming closer through adversity in life.
(52:09): It sounds like this circles outward from the family. The kids, grandkids, everyone involved is also now coming together in this close way and they're learning how to do all of this walk together. Your family is extraordinary on these trails and all these races too. You have ... one of the uncles you mentioned who had donated a kidney, I believe, to your mother, has finished the Leadville Trail 100 nearly 30 times. He was going close to that.
Travis Macy (52:45): I think, yeah. 27 or something. Yeah, this is Uncle Lee, Eric Pence. He lives in Leadville. Yeah, I mean, he's started that thing every year since his, I don't know, early 20s. That's what he does.
Adam Williams (52:58): Right. Well, and for people who are not familiar with what this race is, it's an annual race. That's not just 27 times, it's 27 years.
Travis Macy (53:07): Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Adam Williams (53:07): There's a lot of aging, there's a lot of everything in that and life in that process, but your family has been so involved. I mean, seven family members have finished that particular race. It's an iconic, legendary race, and it's just one example. What you and your dad have done with all kinds of events, and we mentioned Eco-Challenge Fiji as an example.
Any one of your days out there like this, is the adventure, the trip, the experience of a lifetime for, statistically, I will say everyone on this planet, because the numbers, percentage wise, when there's billions of people on the planet, there's only 1000s of people who do what you do, and that's a small number in comparison.
(53:44): So it's so extraordinary. If we come back to the book and some of the messages in that. As fast as we can, as slow as we must, was one that you repeated a number of times. It stands out. I think we can apply that. Again, it's taking what happens on a trail or a course and applying to life, how we deal with life. We go as fast as we can, but we slow down, we rest, we deal with what we need to.
Travis Macy (54:12): Yeah, yeah. And it's meeting ourselves and the people around us where we are or where they are in a given area. I mean, I used to be a teacher and, obviously, I'm really interested in parenting and education. You look at here's a class of sixth graders.
Well, the fact that you're sixth grade doesn't mean you're all at the exact point in math or English or in social interactions or empathy or confidence or whatever. Let's see if we can hone in as teachers and adults and community members and just meet people where they are and help them move forward. Go as fast as you can, but also as slow as you must, simultaneously.
Adam Williams (54:53): I think another key one that I'm going to end here with is DNF, which, of course, we know is did not finish in a race, but the way you took that and applied that as do not forget, do not forget to show up in your lives with courage. Well, and another one, like your dad said, is that we beat all the people who were too afraid to show up.
They don't have that courage and even come to the start line. To have that courage to show up in the way that you do in life and the way that your family does with your dad is ... it's just inspiring, and I loved getting to hear this story from you.
Travis Macy (55:28): Yeah. Well, thanks, Adam. It's been a pleasure, and, I mean, I think to our community out there who's listening to this, I mean, there's a lot of heroes out there. People are digging deep all the time to support each other, and that could be your immediate family, it could be the greater community, but that's a feeling that I get living here in Chaffee County and it feels really good. So let's keep doing that. Life's a team sport.
Adam Williams (55:56): Absolutely. I'm going to include links that are relevant here for people in the show notes at wearechaffee.org, and people will be able to find their way to the book. I'm sure it's easy and it's out there, and I encourage people to dig in.
Travis Macy (56:10): Yeah. I tell them to go to Salida Books.
Adam Williams (56:13): Wonderful.
Travis Macy (56:14): Yeah, yeah. Support independent bookstores.
Adam Williams (56:16): Absolutely, absolutely.
Travis Macy (56:17): I think John should have some copies.
Adam Williams (56:17): Thank you, Travis.
Travis Macy (56:18): Yeah. Thanks, you guys.
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Adam Williams (56:27): All right. That was Travis Macy. If our conversation here today sparked curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode's show notes at wearechaffee.org.
If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado, who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at email@example.com. We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple, Spotify or whatever platform you use with that functionality. We also invite you to tell others about the Looking Upstream podcast so you can help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation.
(57:03): Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer and photographer. Jon Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM community radio, where we recorded today's conversation in Salida, Colorado. To Heather Gorby for graphic and web design. To Andrea Carlstrom, Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee storytelling initiative.
(57:26): The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment Office of Health Disparities. You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org, and on Instagram and Facebook @wearechaffee.
Lastly, thank you for listening, and remember, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, be human and share stories. Share stories and make a change.
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