Gout is the goddamned worst.
For those of you who neither have it nor know anyone who does:
Imagine the first knuckle of your big toe (the metatarsophalangeal joint) being drilled into by a squadron of particularly vindictive demon mites armed with augers, swiss army knives, and (for some reason) fondue forks. And they all seem to be rooting around in there for... I dunno... Oil? Diamonds? Whatever it is demon mites use as currency?
But whatever it is, it's obviously valuable for them to be causing as much painful damage as they are.
I have gout. It sucks. Used to get attacks with horrible, crippling frequency, but don't anymore (thanks, almost certainly, to a vegan diet). Only once in a great while I get a minor flare-up which can be quickly arrested by a battery of medication.
This one time, though, many years ago... was in the middle of a horrid attack. Could barely walk. Much less pedal.
Before I found diving I used to be really, really into cycling you see. Road racing, mountain biking, a short stint toying with trials until I realized I was terrible at it and likely to either injure or kill myself.
So I couldn't pedal during this attack and could barely walk. When I had some friends visiting... rock-star mountain bikers. They had organized a group ride and invited me along.
And I went.
And could not keep up for the life of me.
The pain was excruciating. What's more, to be honest, there was no way I would have kept up anyway. Everyone else on the ride was in way better shape than me even if I could have pedalled properly.
I fell behind. Over and over I fell behind. Me and another rider or two. We'd struggle along to catch up with these folks who were some of the best riders at the time. We'd find them straddling their bikes in some flat, shady glade, sipping from their water bottles and talking about how lovely the ride has been so far.
And as soon as we showed up they'd go, "Right, you're here, we can carry on!" And they'd immediately take off at a seemingly unbelievable pace.
It was, no mistake, bloody infuriating.
Here we were - I was - labouring up these hills and dales, trying just to get to where these motherfuckers were enjoying a nice, little rest for a snatch, waiting for us as we gasped our way to them, legs burning, metatarsophalangeal joint extruding poisonous pain across the entire nervous system, sweat pouring across our brows...
To hear, "Good for you, you made it... see you at the next rest stop!"
I think about that day quite a lot. I think about how the people with the least experience and the least practice have to work the hardest just to keep up. There is barely room to enjoy what's going on around you for all the exertion you're pushing yourself into as you keep hoping against hope for the best and are afforded no room for recovery as the people with so much more experience/ability/fitness/finesse/whatever carry on as if it's the easiest fucking walk in a manicured park imaginable.
I also think about manatees. Ever go snorkeling with manatees? They just float there. Like fat, uselss-looking, grey, potato monsters. With enviable buoyancy control (they actually control their buoyancy with farts... for real... there, that's a thing you know now).
It's hard work being good at something.
I was never that good a cyclist. I'm a big bastard, you see. Even at my absolute slimmest and most competitive (as a cyclist) I still outweighed normal cyclists by 50%. The Tour de France was never really in the cards for me.
But you know what? I can float.
I can float like the floatiest potato has ever floated. I could probably make a (somewhat stupid) manatee look like a panicking drowning victim. I can, without exaggeration, catch a nap on a deco stop and not move in the water column.
That has taken a lot of hard work over quite a long time.
Which is why I think so frequently about that day trail-riding with rockstars. Because I don't want to forget how hard it is when you're trying, learning, working on getting better. I hate the idea of becoming the sort of person who all, "Just float better, dumb-dumb!" when someone is working hard on simply trying to catch up and already beating themselves up for struggling with it.
To risk immodesty: When you are being guided by a dive professional and you see how controlled they are in the water... do not compare yourself to them. Yes, we're good at it... we do this all the time. Aspire, work, practice, learn, grow, flourish... but unless you're doing this all day every day you're not going to have the level of comfort and capability that we do.
It's not a shortcoming. Not in the least. Making something so hard look so easy takes a LOT of fucking work.
I actually don't know how many dives I've got under my belt now. That's not a brag (it's actually a bit of a disappointment to me... it would be nice to know). I'm guessing about 5000. But I've been guessing that's about the number for a few years now.
It's been a lot of work just to hold still like a farting manatee that is napping. In the middle of a boating channel. Like an idiot.
Is it worth it? Yeah. Probably. I like it. I venture that you (if you've read this far or haven't yet blocked me from your social media) like it too.
Is it important? No. It's stupid. It's floating. And looking at fish or rocks or rusting metal. There is zero point.
But being good at something pointless is just as hard as being good at something..................... slightly less pointless.
So might as well flow with something pointlessly interesting.
I'd recommend against cycling. It's expensive, hard, hot, and you wind up with a wildly disproportionate morphology emphasizing your thighs and calves.
Putting on ski underwear in the Mexican jungle in the summer and then swimming around in holes in the ground is obviously much, much more sensible.