Friday, April 17, 2015

girl versus gnarl

not me:  no cyclocross in my future
spring riding means—for me—short sleeve jerseys. with armwarmers or a wind jacket for early starts, downhills, and cloud cover. 
but this spring (until the snowstorm two days ago) has given us plentiful warm, sunny days where nothing more than a jersey is needed.
unfortunately, I seem to always forget sunscreen on my arms, and thus, I have a farmer’s tan, a golfer’s tan, that terrible line across the middle of my bicep where skin changes from sun-kissed to fish belly white.
I was moaning about this to Biking Buddy Bob the other day, and he looked askance at me.

I’m always surprised, he said, I think of you as pretty gnarly, and every once in a while you show that you’re, um---
girly? I supplied.
yes, he said, girly.

I’m really more girly than gnarly.
I’d much rather be in a dress than in cycling jersey and shorts. but it’s difficult to ride a bike that way.
I’d rather be clean, with my hair styled, not sweated into disarray.
I’d rather not have grease, grime, dirt, and dust embedded in my pores.
I’d rather not have white salt stains running down the side of my face, and down the back of my shorts.
thank God there aren’t mirrors in most porta-potties, outhouses, and vault toilets.

my gnarly side is the one that says yes to adventure, I can do it to ridiculous rides.  it is gnarl that grits teeth and swallows pain.

it’s girl that can’t wait for that shower, clean clothes, face cream, a hair dryer.

the problem with being girly is that you miss out on adventure, epic experiences, and fodder for great stories. scars. grease tattoos.

so this girly person has traded some girl for some gnarl, and is happier for it.

well, happier after she takes that shower, dries her hair, and puts her dress back on.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

snow fords

there are those who will cross snow, and those who won't.

and of course, those who will cross snow if it's no more than
10 yards wide
10 feet wide
3 feet wide
a foot

I know of a cycling couple who abide by a rule of never getting off their bikes to walk over snow. never. no matter what.
they'll come back the next day, the next week; they wait for it to melt. they are patient.

I will cross fingers of snow. sometimes really FAT fingers of snow.  maybe six or even ten feet wide.
but there must be a long stretch of clear asphalt visible on the other side.

this winter has given us so little snow that I'm able to ride farther up big mountain than usual for march. the top three miles of the climb twist, bend, and switchback upon themselves. as a result, some stretches melt clear of snow long before others.
yesterday, biking buddy bob and I rode up to the point where snow thoroughly covered the road.
and then we stopped. we knew that the snow before us probably only stretched a hundred yards or so ~ and then the road was probably bare for quite a ways, before it curved back into the shade where snow remained thick upon its surface.
"do you want to walk it?"  he asked.
"no way. you?"
we looked up the northern hillside, red rock, almost completely free of snow. the road cuts across, and we watched two cyclists speeding down.
those who walk their bikes across snow.

we turned our bikes, and headed to the next canyon over.

grunt. sweat pooling on my forehead, trickling into my right eye, its salt stinging. I blink, close the eyelid for seconds at a time, try to clear the pain. quadriceps shrieking, angry, moments from defiance, a battle in my head. stop--no--another revolution.  stop.  no.  I cannot do this.  my granny gear won't hold, my mind tells my legs, you'll have to push harder.  harder. I ache to stop, I ache, triceps tight and stiffening, a trickle of electricity ripples my torso, sparks, my abdominal muscles shouting through the skin.

sixty feet. battle. wind presses my back and slips past me.  rushing upward. it cools my skin but my forehead still drips into my eye, stabs of pain, needles. I hold my right eye shut and look at the gray hillside, distraction, please.  snow-matted, ugly, bare sticks of trees, scrub oak bumpy and twisted.  thin clouds lighten the sky, fade its color to the palest blue.  twenty feet.  pain both dull and pervasive, and angrily sharp in fiery strips of muscle.  fifteen.  the road flattens in four revolutions, three, two.  five feet.  quads immediately hush, they loosen, quiver in delight.  buds, pale green, smaller than peas, peek, dirt-crusted snow lies at the edge of the road like a remnant of last night's party.  legs turn faster, speed increases, my eye is clear.
four more miles, some easy, some hard.  then the gate. beyond the gate, snow.

snow which I will not ford, but will look at with respect, before I turn my bicycle and my back, and fly all the way back down the canyon to a city that holds no snow, anywhere.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

it ain't like riding a bike

the other day I was struck by the realization that I keep choosing things that are hard.
I was on my forearms, my hips a foot above the floor, in a plank position. the instructor told us,
"now lift your right arm, and your left foot."
sweat poured, and the part of me that wasn't straining to find a way to move my arm---just lift it the tiniest bit, come on, you can do this---was laughing.
it was nearly impossible.
they call it teeter-totter, and expect you to strain, wobble, touch again and again.
it was yoga, but a core class, all about strengthening core muscles by engaging them, pushing them beyond boundaries. sweating like hell.

when I bicycle, I go up hill. I push hard. I sweat like hell. my heart beats so fast and strong I hear the tattoo in my ears.

and this winter, I've taken up skate skiing.
which is hard---especially when you're determined to make it up that rise, to the top of the next hill, just like the ones who know what they're doing.  and even they sweat.

I've had four lessons so far. I've gone out twice, on my own, to practice.  in the moments when everything clicks, I love it. the grace, the glide. the flow of it all, shifting from one leg to the other, sailing on snow.
but climbing the hills sends my heart rate skyrocketing. and I push. I bend my knees, widen my stance, speed my tempo. get up that hill.

and at the beginning of each session, I have to learn, all over again, how to be on skies.

I grew up skiing, first in michigan, then in utah. I skied until I had four children, when I stopped out of pure exhaustion.  and now, twenty years later, after 6 times on skis, my body is beginning to remember what it's like to be on skis.

it's not like riding a bike.

but it's returning. and when I have my rhythm, I'm in heaven.
when I'm pushing to get up those hills, it's hell.

some day, perhaps, I will learn how to back off.  how to take--and enjoy--a restorative yoga class.  how to go for a leisurely bike ride.  how to glide along on skis and take my time getting across the expanse of track and up the rises and hills.

but for now, I seem to be in a place of push. work. sweat. tackle what's hard.
it's not all about the chocolate cake at the end . . . though I do love my carbs.

it's deeper. it's about exploring boundaries. searching for edges. and at those places of pain and doubt, finding grace.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


once again, I am waiting for my world to warm.
it's dreary outside, sunlight baffled by rippling clouds that stripe the sky. blue is unveiled in narrow strips, but nothing today makes a shadow, not building nor tree nor jogger with white breath.

it will warm, they say. it's barely surpassed my threshold, and I'm promised another ten degrees before the high is met, and thus I wait.  ten degrees is significant:  it is toe-covers instead of full booties, it is thin gloves not fat, it is the fuchsia coat alone, without another on top.

but I fear my patience is ebbing, as I've already waited for hours. the desire to move is more powerful than the desire to be warm.

I can ride low, stay in the city instead of climbing a canyon:  this will save me degrees, ice, snow, the rooster-tail up my back.
it will take from me some joy, and replace it with the frustration of cars and stoplights, but it will allow me to pedal away sooner.

I ache to leave. to put my body in motion, to out-pedal the discomfort of being unsettled, of wanting, of desire. budhhism suggests all temporary things and states are unsatisfying.  that it is our desires that cause our suffering.

I desire warmth so that I may outpedal my other desires.
but perhaps I will honor the budhhist path and ride in discomfort, to embrace that which is given me.

it's climbed another 3 degrees, and I have plenty layers.  my house is warm, I can heat water and wrap myself in blankets upon my return.

I could wait, or I could go.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

the fat on the inside of my knees

life offers tremendous opportunities for self-improvement, from niggling neighbors who point out the shortcomings of your gardening skills to relationship disasters to hangovers.
there are self-help books, programs, therapists, doctors, landscapers, AA.
but when it comes to our bodies, there exist some tiresome, seemingly irresponsible design flaws, most prominently, the inability to direct weight loss to specific targeted areas.

ask any man over, say, middle age-ish, just how hard it is to lose those love handles.
ask any woman who's ever lost weight if it came from places she wanted (ha!) or didn't want it to.

my impossible zone is the inside of my knees, where my body has retained fat since the day I was born, preparing for that inevitable global freezing.  you know, those little chubby legs every baby is loved for, the ones most people outgrow?  my inner knees refuse to let go.  they are going to hold that fat forever, and laugh at the rest of the world when temperatures drop and everyone everywhere is freezing except me, warmed forever by that extra body fat.

the main reason I started cycling was to firm up my flabby upper legs.  and it's done wonders for that ~ everywhere except for the insides of my knees.
and after 8+ years, I don't see a big change coming.

so I'm prepared.  I'm ready.  let global warming throw it's best at me, because I am ready.  that stubborn, exercise-and-diet-resistant fat is going to ensure my survival in the wickedest winter weather, when all those slender-legged women freeze to death.  ha!  payback!
I will survive!

Monday, October 20, 2014

lessons from bob and andy

there's always something to learn.  a million things, actually.
and as much as I love cycling alone, losing myself in the rhythm of pedaling, the shortness of breath, the blue sky or clouds or mist or blinding sunlight, it's when I'm with my biking buddies that I often  learn something deeply meaningful.

from bob, lately, it's this:  saturday cycling is not at all about the destination, but completely about the company and the opportunity to be outside.  not at work, not performing chores, not shopping for necessities.  outside, away from the city, somewhere where the sky grows wider and trees fragrance the air and hillsides draw the eye up and up.

from andy, lately, comes this awesome lesson:  slow down.
andy is still in recovery from last february's significant back surgery, and he hasn't been able to train, put the miles in, as he has in the past.  he's a bit slower than usual, and to be social, I have to hold myself back a bit and, yep, slow down.
the world, for years, has been trying to tell me to slow down.  I don't listen well.

yesterday, I rode by myself but thought of bob and andy and worked to incorporate---take into the body---both pieces of wisdom.   and my ride was, mm, an experience almost beyond words.

I set off mid-morning, the sky pure blue, the air a bit chilly but fresh, invigorating.  and I rode like I was glad to be outside, and in no hurry.  I climbed a canyon, peacefully, astounded by the trees, the bouncing water in the creek, the silvery waterfalls, the mossy rocks and shining flat stream where fishermen stood in tall boots.  gratitude and restraint combined to make my ride one of the best of the year...
gratitude, and restraint.

there is much to learn from those around us.


Thursday, September 25, 2014


today the coyote feigned nonchalance as I pedaled slowly past, a scant seven feet away, 
silently beseeching him to meet my eyes; 
it is as if by ignoring me he retains ownership of the land, 
the hill and even the asphalt strip on which he stands, casually staring anywhere 
but at me.