Sunday, August 31, 2008

how the light gets in

my day yesterday began with a ride that took me up provo canyon to sundance, then up the alpine loop to the summit and down american fork canyon.
my day yesterday ended with a service beside silver lake at the top of big cottonwood canyon.
a day full of aspen, clean air, stunning views, rushing and resting waters, rocks tumbling down a sheer wall and sprinkling the road as I rode by, cool shade and goosebumps, hot breath from the sun, pine trees by the thousands, deeply beautiful souls, peace, and one perfect poem stanza.

last night liz's friends and family hosted a Light Ceremony, a letting-go ritual, a tribute to her life. I don't want to diminish its beauty and depth by trying to describe it, so I will only say that the gift for me of being there is that I was among over 300 amazing, beautiful, loving, giving souls opening their hearts in Liz's honor.
and that it was Liz's spirit that brought forward this opening.

I feel Liz everywhere, and I know, I know, that she is where she's always wanted to be. not that she didn't love being here, doing the work she did, loving her partner and their three children. but now she is in a place to touch all of us, albeit in a very different way. I know that I will always feel her at the top of big cottonwood canyon, a place she deeply loved. I feel her now, as I sit in my home in sugarhouse, typing and looking out at my foliage in my back yard and the blue sky that filters through. I will feel her when I need a good laugh, when I start to take myself too seriously. I will feel her when I need strength, when I start to weary of the human stressors that cross my path. her spirit will always be available when I need support. for she knew, she knows, what's real and what is not. and all I need do is tap into her spirit, and I will feel true grace.

Liz's sister shared part of a poem, from Leonard Cohen's Stranger Music, that touched me deeply. I will hold on to this, as I think mr. cohen has beautifully described human nature and what we are to do with it:

ring the bells that can ring
forget your perfect offering
there is a crack in everything
that's how the light gets in.

Liz had cracks; I have cracks. we all have cracks.
it is our nature, and it is God's gift to us.
may I always remember that without those cracks, none of us would be able to let the light in and reflect it back to the world.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


my oldest son has cerebral palsy. he is seventeen, and has always lived with me. until last january, when he moved to a place where they care for him with great patience, strength and love. he is quite small for his age, which helps keep him easier to care for, and he loves nothing better than to be snuggled with. which is very cool: not many moms get to cuddle with their 17-year-old sons.
he comes to visit me about once a week: I have him ride the para-transit bus, which picks him up from the center and brings him to my door. he spends the day at home with me, then returns to his other home in the late afternoon.
yesterday he hung out with me here. and what came to me is a vision of what I wish to do with him: I want to have him with me on my bike as I go swooping down hills, the air rushing against us, the thrill of the downhill speed bringing a shocking pleasure to us both.
I have never before thought of having him with me for such an experience, and the idea just took over. how can I do this? can I do this? can I hold him and make him feel safe and secure as we speed down the hill? is this even possible on a bike?
the logical answer is no, it's not. but I'm not going to settle for that. I am going to think about this, and ~ as I do for most of my creative ideas ~ NOT think about this for a while, until I come up with some kind of idea.
I want to give my son this experience, I want to share this with him.
I was him to have that sensation of thrilling freedom and weightlessness, while being held so closely and safely that there is no fear, no discomfort, no wish to be doing something else.
I recognize that this is my desire, not his. but sometimes love is all about wanting the other person to have, to know, to live the experiences that you yourself love.

Friday, August 29, 2008

little cabin in the wood

emigration canyon road is dotted with oodles of interestingly designed homes. riding as slowly as I do, I have a significant chunk of time to look at these homes, and ~ of course ~ make up stories about their histories and inhabitants.

some are dream homes, solidly built and of eye-pleasing design, set just far enough back from the road to have a touch of privacy. one such home is actually what I call a "compound." the house is huge, and it has a greenhouse, a beautiful garden with wooden arbors and trellises, and perhaps a guest house and a carriage house and I think they're building some new kind of house on the property as well. slight exaggeration. but it is a beautiful property, one in which its owners have invested substantial time, effort, and financial resources.

others are closer to the things of nightmares. houses that were built carelessly or cared for haphazardly, and have slipped into ruin. there is no better word. there are a few that have been condemned, and you know that the inevitable next step is a bulldozing. at some point were these homes loved? did they nurture couples, families, pets? at some time even these homes were refuges for someone, were washed and scrubbed and vacuumed, and were home to people who lived, ate, and slept inside them. I am not anthropomorphizing structures built as dwellings, but there is a certain sadness that hovers around houses that have stopped being homes.

then there is the most current house on my "I am intrigued with" list.
It is set back from the road on the stream side, and the section of house that faces the street is barely visible through the dense foliage between the road and itself. large windows adorn the front, and they are mullioned, full of little panes through which light always seems to be shining. the house doesn't seem to be very big, and could possibly be just a single story cabin. this is all I know of this house.
oh, and the sound that accompanies it.
the stream is loud here, and must run directly in front of the house. so as I ride by, I hear the rushing water, I glimpse through the shrubbery and trees warmly lit panes of glass, and I feel a cozy sense of perfection.

and today, I'll let you make up the rest of the story for yourself.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

on moons, goats, and stuff

all I want to write about today is the moon.
it was a teeny sliver of crescent this morning, lying on its back, just resting there in the eastern sky.
it was my favorite kind of moon, where the part we give name to is well illuminated, but the entire moon is still visible. in the dark this morning, I could see the whole moon, with all of its craters and rises appearing as different shades of indigo and navy. and then the slender, graceful crescent of brightly lit moon just hung there, smiling back at me.

although I could go on about the moon forever, I understand it becomes tiresome. you might not love it the same way I do, or you might, but may still not want to read what I have to say about it. so I will move on, but just know that it was glorious, and all who slept until six-fifteen or so would have completely missed the dual view.

I saw my first goat in emigration canyon this morning. alive, thankfully, and no, I didn't even come close to running it over. (but the porcupine is still there . . . ) on my way downhill I noticed a rather large black and white dog with a peculiar gait running up the other side of the road. there was a small SUV behind it, possibly guiding it, encouraging it to run back home, I thought. and as the distance between us narrowed, I realized it was not a dog, but some other animal, and, yes, crazy, a goat! the goat veered off to the left, down into what appeared to be a yard and then I was past the spectacle and I assume all was well.

which brings to mind two thoughts. first, as we weave our ways through life, we are constantly given minuscule glimpses of other people's lives. we witness scenes like this, we see the aftermath of a car accident, we walk by lovers holding hands on a bench, we overhear an argument at the grocery store. and either we make up stories to fit those tidbits, or we file the events away to be pondered later, or we just let them flow over, through, and past us. if I think too deeply about them, I sometimes find myself immobilized. life is so full and rich, so deep, so touching, so painful.

my second thought is along more scientific (and therefore less touchy-feely) lines. it's about the process in my brain that led me from "largish black and white four-legged animal" to "dog" to "something other than dog" to "goat." I think that because I get up, throw clothes on, and get on my bike early in the morning, my brain is not always in "quick fire" mode during my rides. add to that the fact that I am sending all that oxygen and focus to my leg muscles, not my thinking muscles, and I find it understandable that my thoughts are often slowed. which avails me of the opportunity to be more attentive to them. I had time, this morning, to observe each step of the goat-identification process. how amazing our minds are. and to think that we begin not knowing what anything is . . . I could segue here into an entire discussion of whether or not I'm better off being able to label the goat "a goat," as opposed to just seeing the largish black and white four-legged animal, but I will spare you that.

steven pinker's book The Stuff of Thought has been in my possession since last Christmas, and I finally started to read it a few months ago. and I am still trying to read it. he is a brilliant man, and I can follow quite a few of his thoughts, but not all of them. the book is about how we learn to use language, and how language connects to our thoughts. it is truly fascinating that we operate the way we do. mr. pinker could go on and on about my goat-naming process, but I will stop where I have stopped, adding only that

it was really cool to see a goat running up emigration canyon road this morning.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

porcupine on the hill climb

just because I find it humorous, I have to share this.

I rode in the dark this morning, in the bike lane, up emigration, with my headlight. said headlight sheds a small circle of light, which is quite helpful for detection of things-in-my-path, but it works best when I'm actually watching the road.

at one point this morning I was NOT watching the road until a dark, lumpish shape suddenly appeared in front of my tire and I ran over it before I could react.

"I just ran over an animal!" I said, thinking to myself it was either a hefty squirrel or a cat, and either way, the animal was a dead, non-moving lump.


so of course on the way down, now that it's light, we have to look to see what was there (if anything, is bill's thought I'm sure).

can you say porcupine?


this just goes in my book as one more strange and hopefully non-repeatable biking experience, like crashing on railroad tracks, and the time I ran over a slithering snake.
perhaps new batteries in my light, or perhaps just a stronger commitment to watching the road, or perhaps both, will be in my future.

[for those of you who aren't tied in with the local cycling world, every year the Porcupine restaurant sponsors a race from their location to Brighton resort, which is called, of course, the Porcupine Hill Climb.]

color palettes

the sunrise this morning was subtle, the kind that sneaks up on and is past you almost before you realize what's happening. there was a faint, palest of pale pink tinge to the edges of the sky, and the few clouds that hung around the valley rim were barely touched by the pink, so lightly, so gently as to almost not be colored at all.
I was riding down the top portion of emigration canyon this morning when this display surrounded me. It is fairly wide open at that point, and you can see how the sun paints the eastern sky, and the resulting echoes across on the other edges of the giant tableau spread around me, pink dabs of color on small clumps of cloud.
I rode with bill this morning, and his experience was not the same as mine.
bill has a form of color-blindness, one that is quite common, I believe, in the male population. I was contemplating this as I looked at the sky and knew that what bill saw was different from what I saw. How can they test this? How do they know exactly what he sees? And how could he ever describe what he doesn't see? we have tried to talk about the sky before, and I will describe what I see, asking him if he sees the same thing. he will describe his view, and I take mine and subtract colors to imagine his.
this morning I conceptualized the perfect way to test someone's vision. (this falls under the category "How Susan Would Run the World.")
we show them a picture of something, like this morning's subtle sunrise, and give them blank white paper, a paint brush, and a set of at least 50 watercolors . . . and ask them to paint in the colors of what they see. not the shapes, no focus on form, just the colors, what they see, where.
I envision these beautiful pieces of paper covered with wide swaths of color, the pale blue of the upper sky, the grey-white of the clouds, the green of trees and yellow-tan of the dry hillside grass.
bill's painting would lack the pink, this I know. but his would be wildly filled with everything else, and he wouldn't know that the pink isn't there. his painting would be his truth, and would be every bit as beautiful to him as mine, blushed with pink, would be to me.
this morning was cold, the coldest morning yet. it was autumn-cold, no longer summer-cold, and the sky and air were both full of promise. promise that the approaching season will renew the earth, that the soon-to-come blanket of cold will revive all that the heat of summer exhausted, and that each sunrise will satisfy each one of us, however we see it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

in memoriam

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
~ lord alfred tennyson

I knew a small part of a girl.
she was full of joy and peace, and had visions of a harmonious future not only for herself and her circle of family, friends, and community, but for a huge chunk of the world. she gave of herself freely, and she had reached a point of feeling so little fear that her movements appeared effortless. she heard callings and she answered. she connected with sky and earth and spirit, and with humans across a wide spectrum of existence.
she loved, she nurtured, she offered pieces of herself and she was wise enough to draw from others what she needed for herself.

her name is liz johnson, and I know that she will live forever in the memories of all who knew her. whether they knew big parts, all of her, most of her, or just a small part as I did. the liz I know will always be smiling and vibrant and grounded and deeply connected to our world. she will teach me things through her presence, and through her creativity. I have deepened my own connection to my creativity because of liz.
liz is the reason this web log exists, as she is the one who unleashed my creative passions and reignited my belief in who I am and who I need to be.

I give not of myself, I wither.
I rest in peace and love and find
that fuel surrounds me, gives to me
the passion that I sought
and I give, myself, and find that I
am more whole than before.

liz was, is, and will always be a gift to those of us here on earth.
may all of those who have been touched by her life know that she is still here, more perfectly than ever before, and that she will always be a part of us because of her unending gifts to us while she was in human form here, on this earth.

[liz johnson survived a catastrophic plane crash in guatemala on sunday, only to die later that night during medical procedures at the hospital. she was one of a handful of humanitarian workers who were there to work on a school. she lived here in utah with her family.]

cross training, susan style

"So, what do you do for cross training?"
this from a thirty-something hunk of an orthopedic surgeon in my cycling "power camp." He is slender yet solid with muscles glistening everywhere, and his smile is enough to knock you off your saddle. If you notice things like that.
"um... well... does yoga count?"

cross training in my dictionary is a synonym for "overachieving." is it not enough that I work really hard to be competent in ONE athletic endeavor? do I really have to add another? or two more, like all of my triathlete friends/acquaintances? I know people who actually RUN and SWIM and BIKE, and then they go compete in these things. no kidding.
you know about my running fantasy, and I fear it will remain in the fantasy realm for some time to come. I can only imagine trying to fit in enough workouts to keep becoming a better cyclist, plus more to become a (better) runner. I don't think so.

so I will stick with yoga.

I find two different definitions for cross training: first is the one I like, then the one I don't like as well.
1. To train in different sports, mainly by alternating regimens.
2. Doing two or more aerobic activities such as jogging, bicycling, and swimming on a regular basis.

I'm sure you detected the difference: the "aerobic" part. I can't really say that yoga always puts me in an aerobic zone.... so once again, I prefer the moderate, less intense definition. I will hang on to the belief that cross training just means focusing on different aspects of physical fitness instead of exclusively on one activity.
which means the weight training, the core-strengthening exercises, and yoga can all be considered cross training for me. see, isn't it nice to bend definitions and beliefs around so that they meet your needs?

cross training is on my mind this morning because it's yoga day, which is always a favorite. my shoulder has healed enough that I can again do cobras and crocodiles, though I am still careful. in a month or so, I may even return to power yoga on thursdays . . . but tuesday (gentle yoga) will probably always be my favorite.
I am fortunate to have an instructor who shares the easy translations of position names as well as the traditional Indian names: since all of the Indian names seem to end in "asana" I often fail to recognize them at all. which makes me wonder why it is that I don't try harder to learn them. I am a curious person, and I love to learn. so why is it that I don't put effort into learning these names? at times I give it a little try, and then I just let go. why am I not more eager to understand more deeply the world of yoga, when it is something I am so grateful for? I've been attending yoga classes regularly for over a year now; how difficult would it be to learn one name a day? or even one a week? perhaps I will take you on this journey with me . . .

let's start with a great one: Sukhasana. suh-KAHS-anna.
This means "easy pose," which is quite similar to sitting "indian style." of course there is much more to it ~ that's what yoga is all about ~ but it is not one of the more challenging positions.
"sukh" means happiness or delight, and I can't think of a better way to end this and set you on toward the rest of your day.


Monday, August 25, 2008

the front porch

I like to count while I'm riding. not revolutions, or by fives, or just to keep my brain busy.
I like to count things. or people. most often I count other cyclists: how many coming down the hill, how many who pass me, how many I pass (which is always a very small, manageable number), and then how many coming up the hill while I'm headed down.
I also count joggers, and am surprised on mornings when the runners outnumber the cyclists.
one morning I kept track of how many cyclists were (a) friendly, (b) unfriendly, and (c) neutral. how does one get placed in the neutral category, you ask? "neutral" is for those who don't acknowledge me but could possibly be (appropriately) focused on their descent and unable (quite correctly) to indicate that they have noticed my existence.

this seems to be an issue for me, doesn't it, this acknowledgment of each other? for some reason this is quite important to me. I feel strongly that we are all here on earth to find a way to work together toward peace and harmony. (can you hear the music playing in the background? I'm hearing the "I'd love to teach the world to sing" song, complete with a visual of girls in peasant dresses, wearing headbands on their foreheads.) I don't believe that the "me first" attitude benefits anyone in the long run. and perhaps this is why I don't like to be snubbed. I do believe we are all connected, in some way, and that what I give is what I receive.

back to counting.

this morning I was counting chairs. chairs on front lawns, chairs on porches, chairs on verandas. well, the latter was in my imagination, as I didn't ride past a single house with a veranda this morning. I got into trouble, though, when confronted with gliders and double-chairs: should I count them as one each, or should I count each place for a bottom as one? actually, by the time I rode past a handful of gliders I had given up on keeping count.

there is something terribly romantic to me about chairs on porches. one house I passed had five chairs, all in a line between the front door and their driveway, facing the road. do they really come out and sit on them? five people, all facing straight ahead? do they move the chairs around so that they face each other as they sit and talk? I will have to make up a story, as I will never know.

but I love the idea of people sitting, relaxing, on their porches. that at the end of the day, or perhaps at the beginning of the day, they sit and look out upon their world. that they drink in the sky, the air, the peacefulness of the start and ending of days. that they wave hello to people passing by. that they smile, make eye contact, and acknowledge the existence of those people they see.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

the view from up there

I have lived high up on hills, once at the very crest of a hill, with stunning views in all directions. there is something to be said for living in places like that. I love the views, I love to see lights in the distance: house lights, street lights, lights on signs and freeways. to be high on a hillside is freeing; to be able to see so much at one time is both awesome and humbling.

but it can also be isolating. this depends upon your hill, of course, but if it's a large one and you're on top, you can become one of few. and though there may be neighbors and community there with you, you can still be far from the rest of the world. which may happen to please you to no end.
I, however, find myself wanting to be part of the larger whole. during the times I lived on those hills I was fine with the arrangement, but at this point in my life I want to be closer to the middle of the mixing pot.

thus I have to ride my bike to experience those views.

today's ride filled me with enough city views to last a good month or so. I usually head up canyons for long summer rides, as you know by now. today's goal, however, was an 85-mile ride, and since I wanted to leave from my house, avoid east canyon (as I am tired of it), and not kill myself climbing, my options were limited. I finally decided to take wasatch to draper, then up traverse ridge road to suncrest and down the other side into american fork, then up american fork canyon until I hit 42 or so miles and could turn around and retrace the route backwards.

riding up to suncrest is something I had only done once, and I had never come down it until today: wow. I completely understand why people want to live there.

not that I do.

nonetheless the city views are absolutely amazing, staggering, heart-stopping. and the juxtaposition of these houses, these views, against so many, many acres of open, untouched land . . . I can identify with the desire to build a home atop this hill.

for me, though, it is like taking a vacation to an exotic locale, one I find beautiful and extraordinary. as much as I may love it, as many smiles and sighs and exclamations it may pull from me, I do not necessarily want to make my life there.
I don't want to live on south mountain.

nevertheless, it was a great visit there today.
and I loved every moment of swooping down that ten percent grade, especially along the stretches of untouched grass and scrub oak that will hopefully always remain structure-free.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

morning list

I want to write about happy dogs today.
it being an odd-numbered day, dogs are allowed on the upper trails of millcreek canyon. I love this system: that odd-numbered days are for dogs and even-numbered days are for mountain bikes. that someone has decided that it's too difficult (dangerous) to have horses, hikers, dogs, and mountain bikes all on the trails at the same time. that someone made this decision to allow different usages on different days. and that because of the fact that our weeks consist of an odd number of days, that one weekend dogs get to play on saturdays and the following weekend they get to play on sundays. it just seems to work out so well.

I have a friend who works for the forest service, and he enlightened me to the fact that much of what his organization does is try to manage these natural resources in ways that meet the great variety of needs we all have. to try to please those who want to cross-country ski on quiet, virgin snow as well as those who want to blast through uninhabited country on their snowmobile. those who want to fish, and those who want to water-ski and boat. those who want to hike, back-pack and camp in tents with those who want to drive their motorhome to a concrete pad and hook-up to amenities.
and those who want to let their dogs scamper on hiking trails with those who want to ride their mountain bikes on those same trails.
current millcreek canyon rules made for lots of happy dogs this morning.

which made for a happy me this morning.

I love this canyon, you know this. but it is not an easy climb, and parts of it seem impossibly steep, at least to my quads and hamstrings. so I am always working hard, especially in the top half (not to mention that initiating first half-mile or so). and I was alone this morning, allowing plenty time for my thoughts to settle into "argh, can I really keep going?" mode.
and then a car would pass me, a window lowered and a big canine head poking out, mouth open, tongue lolling, ears pressed back and the biggest smile possible covering its entire body.
this makes me grin.
which lightens my load and keeps me pedaling.
because in so very many ways, I am as happy as those dogs to be out doing what I love on a beautiful almost-fall morning.

this is today's list of reasons I ride in the morning:

* the clean, cool air
* that most other people out exercising in the morning seem to share my happiness to be alive
* to see the bridge at 33rd topless, and to watch the new bridge inching its way into place
* so I can eat more when I get home, and all day, actually
* to see all those happy dogs on their way to heaven on earth
* to begin the day with an accomplishment
* to see only one cyclist coming down the hill before me
* to be cold, actually cold, when the rest of the city is wearing tee-shirts and preparing for a 90 degree day
* to yell "good morning!" after they passed at the two girls running downhill as I was going up who totally pretended I wasn't there. maybe tomorrow I'll write about some female egos.
* because I can, and I am grateful for that.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

to genus or not to genus

another late summer early morning. bill rode with me this morning, and we again rode in the dark, then in the not-s0-dark, then in a time of silhouettes and surreal quiet, and finally in the early light of morning where the sun still hovers behind the mountain yet our little section of the world is lit and all becomes clearly defined and radiantly visible.
it's the time of year when I start saying goodbye to those things that mean summer to me:
long morning bike rides where I can go as far as I want, a quiet house when I return.
sleepy, lazy children, and my kudzu-like wisteria shooting tendrils across my patio.
staying inside because it's too hot to venture out, cool showers that decrease body heat and late nights, waiting for the air to cool so I can open a window.
my birthday, my brother's family visiting, picnics up the canyon.
sleeveless tees and suntans.
the winding down of gardening season, when I feel less sadness about the state of my yard: there is always next year.
summer is not yet over, but once the kids return to school everything shifts.

the sky glittered with stars this morning, and I pointed out to bill what I thought yesterday might be the little dipper. on closer inspection this morning, I was no longer sure. there were three stars, perfectly aligned, on the left side of the constellation, and I started wondering it that was orion's belt. how obvious is it that I've never taken an astronomy class? taking such a class is on my "someday" list. I would love to know all about the night sky, but I'm not quite ready to free up time and brain power for such an education. I will get there, someday.
this morning, however, I realized that I drink in information, whether it be collected through visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or intuitive senses, and then I fit that information into my existing paradigms. I suppose we all do this. I smell something: I try to categorize it, make sense of it within my existing knowledge base. I see something small and fluttery: I immediately select "bird" and "bat" from possible explanations, and use further actions to determine which category to place it in. people behave in certain ways, and I work to fit it in with what I know of human behavior. most always, this works.

but with my star show this morning, I was given a perfect lesson of it not always working. I know so few constellations, my paradigm is pretty narrow and inflexible. so when I saw a group of stars, I tried to make it be the little dipper. then when three stars, aligned beautifully, were sharper and brighter than the others, I tried to make them fit orion's belt. because I don't know anything else.
what a great lesson! because I know so little, I try to make everything I see fit into what I know. maybe this is human nature, perhaps we all do this, regardless of the stimulant.
cycling the other morning I smelled something so beautiful, so rich and sweet and enticing I just wanted to pedal around in circles right where I caught the fragrance. It was easily the most glorious aroma I've ever smelled while cycling. (except perhaps that from great harvest, or the bakery at dan's grocery store, but these are in a completely different category.) and I have no idea what that fragrance was, nor could I even describe it's properties. I tried to. my brain immediately tried to disect it, to connect it with something I knew, to label it. but it failed. I couldn't give you any descriptors other than rich, full, sweet, warm . . . and I wanted to be able to say "lavender" or "freesia" or "hyacinth" or "orange blossom."
I was caught without a paradigm, and I had to just accept that the world contained something beautiful and glorious that I myself was unable to contain or label.

the stars. the night sky offers them all up to me, and the lesson I learned this morning is that my job is to welcome them, be grateful they exist, and to just glory in their beauty without trying to fit them into conceptual schemes. I don't need to classify everything. in fact, I will probably find the world to be more peaceful, abundant, and glorious if I just let everything be it's own unique self, without a label, a classification, or sometimes even a name.


Coldplay is one of my favorite bands.
they have been touted as "one of the best bands of the 21st century," and I hate to be so plebian, but I truly like their music. and their lyrics. I place them in the same category as I do Sting: what I call "thinking man's music."
as this is all so terribly personal and subjective, I expect most all of you to feel differently. which is great. and if you'd like to stop reading right now, feel free. because I'm going to write about chris martin and his band for a bit.

coldplay's newest album features the song viva la vida, which could be taken as a rather sad discourse on leadership ~ or perhaps just arrogance ~ set to a bright, catchy tune. I can't help but sing it, and bum-bum-bum-bum-BUM along to it whether it's playing or not. and there is a part when the band oh-oh-oh's behind chris' voice, and this has created a vision for me: I see the band in the studio, recording this. at the appropriate time, they all lean slightly forward, into their microphones, and elongate their chins as they stretch their mouths into the oh's, and I feel their ecstasy. they are doing what they love, and they are great at it. they are at the top of their game, and they are creating something millions of people hear, love, and find themselves connecting with. what more can we ask from our career, our calling, our place in the world?

"The time I feel most alive is when we're playing. It's the only time that my head makes any sense." this is what chris has to say about his experience, and I just want to curl up inside those words and wear them. you know about my back-up singer fantasy: when I sing I can feel what he describes. (except it's not the only time my head makes sense.) when I write, or when I'm soaring and swooping down the hill after a climb, his words pinpoint my experience precisely. I am alive, brilliantly alive, I am connected, and it's okay for every cell, iota and inch of me to be me.

and back to the "thinking man's music," my favorite line in viva la vida is, "be my mirror, my sword, my shield." this line ran through my head this morning as I was riding, maybe because it was so dark I couldn't see a thing. perhaps I thought a mirror, a sword, a shield, a something might help me find the road!
I love this line. every time I hear it I think about couples, about partnership. this is what we want from a partner, or at least what I believe most of us want. my mirror: love reflects back to us our strengths, our gifts, our beauty....who would not want this? my sword: protect me, help me fight my way through the difficulties out there, make it easier for me. my shield: defend me, show the world what I'm all about, represent and champion me.
this is what came to me in the dark this morning, while the crickets chirped, unknown creatures scampered and scattered in the shrubs just feet from my right shoulder, and the stars watched over me:
visions of mirrors, swords, shields, ecstasy, completeness.


the milkman, for some unknown reason, did not deliver this morning.
we needed milk.
I stopped at the store on the way home from my ride, bought a gallon of milk and asked the nice lady to put it in a plastic bag.
try riding a road bike while carrying a gallon of milk in a plastic bag in your left hand, and you will then know how the last half mile of my ride was. I laughed at myself when I realized I needed to signal to make a left turn, and I just absolutely couldn't . . . I would have sent myself to the ground, for sure.

I am hoping this was my greatest challenge of the day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

moon shadows

have I mentioned that I am this terribly romantic person? I think this of myself, but in writing this here I realized that I have a sense of what "romantic" means, but I couldn't define the word. Hence I consulted a dictionary, and here is what I've found:

Characterized by strangeness or variety; suggestive of adventure; suited to romance; wild; picturesque. A dreamy, imaginative habit of mind; a disposition to ignore what is real.

I think that all suits me perfectly!! I laugh as I read it, and think there has got to be a better definition out there. but that's all actually beside the point.

the point of this posting is that I had an incredible ride this morning.
now that school has begun for my kids, I have to be home by seven, which means I have to leave pretty early if I want to get a good ride in. so this morning I left about 5:30, and it was dark and summer-cold. not fall-cold or winter-cold, but that delightfully refreshing mid-august cold. I wore a short-sleeved jersey and my arm warmers, and was chilly at times but thrilled to be so.

I have a great headlight, which lit my way. stars were out in full force, and the waning gibbous moon was behind me, so I couldn't watch it as I love to. but this morning's gift were the moon shadows. (yes, I've been singing along with cat stevens in my head for the past few hours. for some reason I don't believe his song had anything to do with cycling, however.)
I was riding in the bike lane, little headlight throwing a small circle five feet in front of my tire, so grateful to be in the dark solitude. it is so peaceful there, and I am self-contained and wrapped in a cocoon of strength and security. there is nothing wrong, there is no one who needs me, there are no challenges to deal with or people to please or even problems in the world. it is just me, just me.

and the shapes on the asphalt.

it is so dark up the canyon; there are no street lights, and very few houses that throw light out into the narrow roadway. and although the moon is large and bright, it is high and to my right and behind me, and I don't see its beams lighting my path as I sometimes do. what I do see, though, are these shapes on the asphalt, hovering over the bike lane and reaching thick fingers out toward the road. (remember it is early, and most of my brain cells are focusing on processing oxygen and fueling my leg muscles.)
all of a sudden I realize the shapes are shadows, that they are shadows of the scrub oaks that line the side of the road. that the moon is reaching over their southern side and pushing its way through to the road, so that this faint light is creating artwork on the road, lighter and darker gray designs that I finally am able to label moon shadows.

which then sends me to a euphoric state, because I am living and experiencing this terribly romantic thing that cat stevens sang about all those years ago.

I have learned that I write best when I leave home. I am inspired when I am away, when I see new vistas and experience different environments. writing flows from me when I am given these opportunities. and that is part of what cycling does for me: it allows me to see things from a different perspective, and to have experiences I might not if I weren't on a bike.

romantic: Idealistic yet impractical; passionate and imaginative, having uncontrolled creative imagination, individualism, and strong emotion.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


it's all downhill from here . . .

an oft-used phrase that is extremely meaningful when speaking of cycling. but there are a million (at least) different versions of downhill, I have learned. one can coast, one can torpedo, one can press hard against a headwind, one can spin, one can have a pleasant workout, one can have a really crappy experience.

sunday I came down trapper's loop fighting. I kept waiting for that big downward swoop, the antithesis of my semi-grueling upward climb, and it was a long time coming. I pedaled, I pushed, I fought that wind, and I pedaled even harder. the signs warned trucks about the 7% grade, next four miles, and I kept wondering why it didn't feel anything like that. why did it feel like chalk creek canyon on a hot and windy august afternoon?

one of my first times coming down big cottonwood gave me the same feeling: I am working! how can this be?? I am going downhill, I should be relaxing and enjoying and instead I am pushing my heartrate and pedaling like mad. on that particular day I was riding with a small handful of men, who were far, far in front of me, so I was pushing to not fall further and further behind. but when it's just me, no need to stay close behind anyone, I still push. I feel slightly guilty when I coast. I can coast for a bit, but then I pull my heartrate right back up out of its happy zone and go to work. I know, I know. normal people would coast.
I have never claimed to be normal.

now downhill is one of those places where weight matters. when the big guys win. I am a middleweight: I'm not skinny, but neither am I as heavy as most men. so nearly all men swoop me on the downs. in addition, most men I ride with are much more confident than me on the downs. I have come a long way from my first terrifying descent down big mountain, where I wore my fingers and brakes out from squeezing so hard. I am proud to say my top downhill speed is just over 52 miles an hour (on a wide, straight descent), and I am exceedingly grateful to say that I have never crashed at a speed over 20. I'm comfortable in the 30's, and don't mind the lower 40's on a long straight downhill. but these men I know can go fast AND corner AND swoop beautifully while they do it.


this morning I spoke with my runner friend who was hit by a car this summer. she said her foot and ankle are healing well, but the left side of her body has still not recovered. but then she said, I am just grateful that I'm alive.

I am, too. and I really don't plan to hit 52 mph again, and maybe it's not so bad that I'm slower than the guys. in fact, I'm just remembering what I told a friend a few years back. he wanted to go mountain biking, and we started up a pretty steep, rocky trail that I was struggling with. after fifteen or twenty minutes of fighting it, I finally said to him, "I think that's enough for me.... I have four kids and really crappy insurance."

my mom hopes I'll remember that statement on my descents, don't you, mom?

Monday, August 18, 2008

why we do this

I heard this story from a cyclist yesterday: he had been on a long ride and his tire blew on his way down emigration canyon. not just the tube, but the tire itself. he was stuck on the side of the road, telling passing cyclists who offered help that he was fine, wondering what to do. (not many cyclists carry spare tires with them.) finally a car stopped, and the people inside offered him a ride. they were from back east, and one of the questions they asked him was about all the cyclists they'd noticed riding up and down the canyon: why were there so many people doing that?
he said it took him a really long time to come up with an answer.

I think I'm there. there is no good answer to the question of why I do this. yesterday was all of these things: great, terrible, amazing, thrilling, painful, exhilarating, exhausting, hot, nauseating, cool, beautiful, stunning, crappy, sucky, and did I say painful?

why can't I just go for a bike ride?

this is why: on the way home, I reached the big mountain summit about 5 pm. I have never been there that late in the day. I looked out to the south (more or less: I have an inferior sense of direction and no internal compass at all), and I would give anything at this moment to be able to recreate my experience for you. I'd ridden about 115 miles by then, and there was not a lot left in me. but I looked out over the hillside that dropped away, and saw an ocean of pine trees, the mountain to my left absolutely covered with them, and far, far below a solid quilt of green tree tops, with just the slightest glimpse of what might be a road. looking straight out I saw mountain top after mountain top, rows of them as my eyes moved south, the ones furthest away in complete silhouette. It was quiet and still, and to soak everything in through my exhaustion and depletion was to be filled with new life.
of course I knew that I had a great downhill in front of me, then just a minor climb up little mountain, then ten more miles of downhill and then I would be HOME. this may have had something to do with my rejuvenation.
but to stand at the top of big mountain, to gaze out over the hills and pines and valley toward the mountain ranges in the distance: this I wish for everyone on earth. I don't know how anyone could stand there, drink it all in, and not have some kind of spiritual epiphany. even a slight one.
and to be able to reach this location by bicycle is an amazing gift that I do not take for granted. I moan, I whine, I fall, but I thank God that I can always get back up, back on my bike, and see his world the way I am able to.

we rode to two reservoirs yesterday: East Canyon and Pineview, and I will end this today with brad's joke ~ not a new one, but definitely a well-used and loved (by me) one ~

what did the fish say when it swam into the concrete wall?


Saturday, August 16, 2008

going the distance

this is a rarity: a pre-ride post. today is the Big Ride day, and I don't know how long it will take me or when I'll get back (and crucially: after I return, how much energy I will have left for thinking and typing). Therefore I decided to post now, beforehand, to assure that at least something will be posted here today.

last year the Big Ride took me 9 1/2 hours, riding 135 miles, from my house to Huntsville and back. my rear tire blew (the tire, not just the tube), I had a mile-long stretch where my stomach wanted to explode, we got sprinkled on and threatened by the thunderstorm gods, and I returned home feeling like I was among the toughest, most capable people on earth. that ride was a turning point for me: after I completed it, I knew that I could do the 206-mile lotoja ride. up to that point I had questioned myself frequently.

this summer has been better, psychologically speaking. I have had my times of "burnout," but I have had more experiences of feeling capable than I remember from last year. four days ago I rode from home to the top of city creek and back (a 27-mile ride) and at the end of the worst climb on the way home I thought to myself, "this ride was nothing." I am stronger.

not that I expect today to be "nothing." I expect it to be challenging, and I am prepared to want to stop, to want to vomit, to pray for certain hills to end, to feel my legs aching, and to at times just feel pretty crummy. none of this is unusual during a tough ride. but I also expect that I will return home feeling like I can do anything.
which is the best gift cycling has given me: the knowledge, based on experience and understanding, that I can do anything. I can survive anything, I can conquer anything, I am capable and competent.
I may not be the first one up the hill, but I know that, at the end of it all, I will always be able to take my place among the last ones standing.


today is the day of the infamous Snowbird Hill Climb..... a ten-mile race that ends at Snowbird. I am not a participant! in fact, I slept in this morning, and at this moment have no plans to get on my bike at all..... a rare day in susan's cycling-season life. it is chilly and breezy and just a delightful morning to sip my coffee and relax into just being. soon I will start doing, but for now I'm incredibly happy to just be.

I have a handful of friends who raced this morning, but I have no desire to compete in these events. and these friends aren't really riding to compete, most of them are just concerned with their own times. but the whole atmosphere is competitive, and for some reason the thought of participating makes my skin crawl. I am trying to understand this about myself, and I can't quite get to the bottom of it.

the Porcupine Hill Climb was a month ago. this is a race from the mouth of big cottonwood up to Brighton, at the top. again, many of my cycling friends rode this race, and enjoyed it. I can ride up this canyon, and I time myself each time. I know what a good time is for me, and I sometimes press myself a little to work harder and knock off a minute or two. and sometimes I pass other people going up, and frequently people pass me. I've looked at the race results, and I see that most everyone gets to the top in less time than I take. and all of this is okay, so why do I not want to do it?

I think it comes down to two things. I don't like being passed by females; and I can only work so hard ~ if I start trying to keep up with everyone else I fear I'll send my heart into severe and permanent tachycardia. yes, I am kidding. a little.

everyone that passes me while I'm riding sends my ego a little message: "you have room to improve, don't you?" it doesn't matter how young or talented or well-trained they are, my ego hears this repetitive message. my ego can take it a tad better if the cyclist is male and in great shape, but less well if the cyclist is female. even if the female is twenty years younger than me and a triathlete. how ridiculous is this? but it is my current truth, and so I think of these races, where fifty, a hundred, two hundred people will pass me and I just think my poor little ego will faint. but before it does, it will tell my body to "work harder, damnit!" and then my heart will go into overload . . .

this is why I don't register for these rides.
silly, isn't it?

some day, I will be able to control my little ego. I am working on it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

my mellow

I love the movie Cinderella Story. It is a Disney film, one of those made for the pre-teen/teen audience, starring Hilary Duff. I have watched it over and over (okay, I am usually folding laundry or doing some other task that occupies my hands) and over, and I still love it. why? because the good guys win and the bad guys lose. honesty triumphs over deceit, those who hold true to their dreams achieve them, and best of all, in the end, true love prevails. what more could I ask for?
along the way we are thrown some funny jokes, a few exceptional characters, moments of teenage angst, and some pretty cute actors to look at. my kids and I have a few favorite lines that we weave into daily life at times: the evil step-mother has some great moments! at one point she talks about how expensive it is to fly her Norwegian salmon in all the way from Norwegia. So now Norwegia is part of our vocabulary, a land far, far away. The step-mom also has a great line where she calls herself a "very appealing person," in this nasal, whiny voice, which we love to imitate.
but the line that is staying with me lately, often during rides, is one from the cute, female disc jockey. at one point a teacher interrupts her DJ-ing, and she replies, "Hey, Mrs.-- , you just harshed my mellow."
you harshed my mellow. wow. this is a description that is sometimes unbelievably accurate. coming down emigration, light tailwind at my back, pedaling hard and feeling great: this is a mellow for me. I love it, I'm feeling good, I've done most of the hard work already and now I'm on my way home. no big bugs jumped out and scared me; I'm good.
and sometimes things harsh that. in particular, anything that makes me apply my brakes! a car backing into the road from its driveway, a spray of gravel across the road, anything unexpected that causes me to use my brakes and slow the downhill rush.
this is all in my head, usually. I would never use that phrase out loud in front of my children: I'm sure they would cringe first, then give me grief for the rest of my life. I know I'm old ~ I try not to pretend otherwise, but sometimes I really like these descriptive phrases kids come up with.
I like being in my mellow.
in fact, I am going to remain there today. It's a beautiful morning, still cool, and it's friday. I have my whole life in front of me, and my bike doesn't need to go to the shop today. I am fit and healthy and my kids are the same (yes, my son's leg is still broken but at least he's healthy), I have food in the fridge and gas in my car, school supplies in backpacks and shoes for my kids' feet. I am set, I am in my mellow, and if anything tries to harsh it I'm going to take a deep breath and tell it no way, not today.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

fantasies, part two

"perception is reality."
we've all heard this, in one form or another, at least once. I take it to mean that we all see things differently, and what we see or perceive is true for us.
which is terrifying, in a way, if you think of it on a broad scale. we could go into a discussion of quantum physics here, but I couldn't do it justice, and while quantum physics seem to be in vogue, it is quite difficult to bring down to earth and make user-friendly. to even imagine that we create our own reality is mind-boggling.

so for today I'll stick with this: what I perceive to be true is my truth.

so, that means the dead bug carcass I saw while riding last week was real.
at least for me.
I saw this huge insect carcass on the shoulder of the road, and my first thought was "huge dead bug," and my second thought was, "no, it was a pinecone." even my own mind was trying to talk itself out of accepting its reality. the body was huge and orangish and basically the stuff of nightmares. a little bit further up the road I saw another one, not quite so large, but still scary. and then I saw one more, that could have been just part of a body, I'm not sure, as it was just a quick glance as I rode past.
after passing these three things, my mind went to work.
ooh, gross, scary, that thing was huge! this is totally what nightmares are made of, or maybe, some really good young adult fantasy books. kingdoms where huge insects reign, or maybe they're just the military force like the wicked witch's flying monkeys.
after my ride I came to my computer to search the internet for information about what this carcass could have been. well, nothing seemed to fit. and everyone I told about it would get this skeptical look in their eye, like, sure, susan, uh-huh, you saw a really big bug. like that fish grandpa caught a few years back . . . it was this big . . .
I stand by my truth. I saw a big hideous, huge, scary bug body. It was rusty orange and had hairy legs and it was at least three inches long, and when I run out of writing material I am going to start a fantasy novel about a kingdom protected by fighting forces made of platoons of them.
because these darn things are real.
at least for me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

not the triumph but the struggle

This morning my ride took me up the east bench to the mouth of emigration, then around through research park, federal heights, and eleventh avenue on the way to the mouth of city creek. It's an odd day, august 13, so I was allowed to ride my bike up the canyon. as always, I love this canyon. always green, shady, narrow and twisty, it is a challenge for downhill riders: you can't see too far ahead, and although the speed limit for us as well as vehicles and runners (big grin) is 15 mph, I see very few cyclists coming down at that slow of a pace. regardless, it's a joy and a powerful way to start the day.
this morning bill told me about some of the testing his son underwent yesterday. his son is a gifted athlete, who trains consistently and intensely for his sport. one of yesterday's tests was on a position called "the plank." in yoga we do this in a facedown position supported by hands and toes, with body straight and rigid. apparently it's done in athletic training on elbows/forearms instead of hands. either way, it's all about core strength. so bill's son held this position for EIGHT MINUTES and I said to bill, "what did his mind do??"
the mind.
In my "power camp" cycling training I usually sat next to a guy named rob. just a few years older than me, rob came with a totally different background than me, the cycling novice. he was a triathlete who was working to get back in shape, training for a few upcoming triathlons and ironman competitions. he, more than anything or anyone else, helped me with the mental part of the process. because as I have learned, it is the mental part that is most difficult to train.
"I can't do it" is in the mind, not in the muscles. It is in the gray matter, not the red, pumping heart. It is in the fearful part of our psyches, not in the beautifully designed, efficient machine we call our body.
of course we have limits, and I am not suggesting we disregard them, but that we learn to know them by pushing them. just a little further, past that point where we want to turn tail and run. I experience fear, and panic, and I tell my mind to back off, to lighten up, to knock it off. I tell myself, "I am okay in this moment. I am breathing in this moment. I have air, I am fine, I am okay right now." and if I keep telling myself this, I am always okay. there is no room for fear if I am okay in the moment.
I am extremely grateful for my intellect, for my ability to experience emotions, for my psyche which I think of as who I am and what holds me together in a mentally structured being. but it is this same aspect of myself that I must battle in my training as an "athlete." my mind tells me stop! quit now! this hurts! when my muscles are willing to stick it out a little longer.
so I wonder how bill's son managed his mind. what was it telling him during those eight minutes?? where did it go, how did he keep himself from listening to it when ~ as it must have ~ at some point it told him to STOP?
Amy Bass published a book in 2002 called Not the Triumph but the Struggle, about black athletes and the 1968 Olympics. and apparently we have adopted that motto for the Olympics this month.
I love it.
It is a perfect summation of what it's all about for me: it is pushing myself and surviving. it is taking myself somewhere I've never been. it is about working hard and getting stronger. it is about the grit and grime and sweat and tears and thriving, anyway.
I am nowhere near the level of an Olympic athlete. but as with any challenge in life, we grow and learn and strengthen ourselves only when we push past "easy" and enter the realm of "difficult." and often we can only do this when we turn our minds off and tell them "I am okay in this moment."
and then in the next moment we say it again.
and again.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

fantasies and fibulae

I have two fantasies.
One, that I am a runner.
Two, that I am a back-up singer for a band.

I can sing, and maybe with vocal training I could be good enough to be a back-up singer . . . someday . . . you never know.
Now, running. Well, this may just not happen. I ran for a while my sophomore year in college. I remember thinking a mile is a really long distance. I also remember my knees not being terribly enamored of the process.
Here I am quite a bit further down the road, with those same knees. Last year I spent many weeks icing one knee or the other, and I should probably be doing the same now: my knees are complaining a bit about what I've been making them do.
I do not want an injury. Perhaps it's not my biggest fear, but I don't want to imagine my life without cycling. And that's where thought of an injury takes me.
An acquaintance of mine is a runner: she currently has her foot in a cast because she was hit by a car. Hit by a car is terrible, but not being able to run is worse.
Most of us try to avoid injury, but sometimes it happens anyway. A car hits us, or perhaps we're at football practice, being tackled by a teammate during a drill, and we fall, landing akwardly on our left ankle. Then we might get up, limping, realizing something isn't right, and go see the trainer. Who gives ice, asks questions, tapes it, makes us stand and try to walk, sees the failure. More ice, suggestions of an x-ray . . .
Yes, my 15-year-old son fractured his left fibula yesterday morning, during football practice. Argh. Small break, clean, no surgery. Phew.
But the piece of it I really love is this: yesterday was the first day of "two-a-day" week, the toughest week of football practice all year. The night before, my son was talking with God, saying, please help me ~ I'm going to need some help getting through this week.
God knows I've never really wanted my son to play football . . .
and I know He's always listening . . .
I believe the saying is, "God works in mysterious ways."
Now, about that back-up singer thing ~
do re mi fa so la ti do

Monday, August 11, 2008


recovery ride today. lately my route for a recovery ride takes me first to Michigan, and then to Tuscany, and that just makes me smile. Okay, in reality it's Michigan Avenue and Tuscany the restaurant, but in my mind . . .

recovery rides are about keeping my heart rate below a certain number, and this is always challenging. and my heart monitor was playing games this morning, as I know that my heart wasn't really beating 228 times per minute about a mile into my ride. then it would jump from 159 to 179 when my effort didn't increase at all, and then it would sit at 44 for a good couple of minutes . . . now I have plenty friends who don't wear heart monitors, because they KNOW when they're working hard. I understand that, and I think I'll probably be there someday. but for now, that observation and adjustment is important for me.

so "heart" is on my mind, especially since my monitor is acting up. then I ride by a sign for a company called "" and I think this is kind of clever and I segue right into What Moves You . . . and I know that when I get home I will come to the computer, close my eyes, and type a list of what moves me. so here is a list of what comes to me this morning:

ordinary people doing ordinary things
adults with down syndrome
baby quail
starving children
crisp, cold mornings like this one
brilliant sunlight behind clouds that makes them appear to have silver edges
the tremendous expanse of night sky covered with stars
small gestures of love
swooping down curving roads
water, in just about any natural form
one of my children teaching another something
my oldest son laughing
people in emotional pain
deer, especially young bucks with furry antlers
the smell of lemongrass
nights in white satin, by the moody blues

a small list, but no small feelings attached. and this is how it all comes together for me: some of the things that move me are like my heart beating in a slightly elevated zone. it isn't uncomfortable, it feels good, and it's good for me. and some of the other things that move me are like my heart beating in a higher zone: intense, a little uncomfortable, but still good. and still others send my heart over the edge, like my monitor this morning. too high of a heart rate, for too long, doesn't feel good at all. it hurts, it can make you ill. some of the things that move me impact me this way, and I really can't sustain that feeling for too long. I have to move my thoughts to something less intense, I need to move out of that zone.
hearts are beautiful and fragile, vital, almost incomprehensible. I exercise my physical heart to stay healthy and alive, using a monitor and a guideline. I exercise my emotional heart, also, and find that perhaps I need to work those higher zones a little more, so that it's not so uncomfortable to be there.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

wind and wheaties

I awakened this morning to the sound of tree branches tapping and banging against my house, and the slap of the rope on my neighbor's flag pole hitting against the metal, over and over. my dog was lying right by the side of my bed, which was my first clue to the intensity of the weather outside. he is extremely sensitive to changes in the weather, and becomes highly agitated with high wind, rainstorms, and thunder. the clouds weren't dark enough for rain to be coming, but many of my windows were open and the wind was flying through my house, pushing aside whatever papers might not have been battened down.
so I made coffee and thought I'd read for awhile, waiting to see what the weather might do before I committed to my ride. as usual, after about half an hour with my book I was ready to go, regardless of the weather.
today was going to be a lower-intensity ride, maybe not a full "recovery ride," but nothing extremely intense after yesterday's climbing. so I started out heading north, to see what the wind would do to me.
well, it pushed me. and I pushed back. and we played this little game for the next fifteen minutes or so as I rode around my neighborhood streets, heading north then south then east then west, trying to decide what the wind was really doing before I chose my route.
it was definitely from the north. then, well, perhaps the south. and powerfully from the east, that was for sure. I decided emigration canyon was out, as the wind was definitely making eastward riding quite challenging. I decided to just head out south.
wind, the cyclist's friend and foe.
I time myself when I ride. I have PBs (Personal Best) for each canyon, and also a range of average times for myself on those same canyons. and what I've learned is that every time I ride one of those routes, the time it takes me is mainly dependent upon two things: wind, and wheaties.
wind, meaning how hard I'm fighting it or being pushed by it, and
wheaties, meaning what fuel is in my body. what I ate yesterday, what I had this morning.
and, knowing me as you probably do by now, I extrapolate this to our entire lives: our performance and thus our experience in any arena will be affected by wind and wheaties. what is pushing against us, causing us to work harder to achieve our goals, and what is helping us to sail along? and how did we fuel ourselves, what did we give to ourselves to help us through it? not all wheaties are food: some are emotional fuel.

life is full of wind, it its myriad forms.

life is also full of wheaties: we all just need to ascertain which wheaties are the right ones for our own, unique selves.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


I rode for over six hours today, which availed me of numerous writing ideas. by about four hours into it, I had decided I would write about national forests: I was in big cottonwood canyon, gazing at thousands of tall, strong, regal pine trees, and I felt so grateful for our nation's plan to preserve settings like this for all of us.

however, fate stepped in and gave me a new subject, which I have no choice but to write about.

but first, a quick telling of the event that solidified this as a perfect day: riding down big cottonwood, just a couple miles from the bottom, a guy in an orange t-shirt and what looked to be rock-climbing accoutrements (harness? pick axe? bags hanging off his belt? I have no idea what I actually saw in my half-second glance) walking up the opposite side grinned and blew me a huge kiss, using his entire arm to throw it across the road to me. wow! that was even better than the whistles from the truck last week.

back to the story:
riding up big cottonwood with bill, it is our third canyon of the day so it is afternoon and I am on the tired side, and I am hot. bill actually pulls over where a run-off pipe is spurting gorgeous, life-giving cold water and dunks his head underneath. (I keep riding, knowing that he will catch up to me in a minute or two.)
shortly after his pause, the few clouds in the sky settle beneath the sun, and a gentle breeze is wrapping itself around our path. it is remarkably cooler without the sun beating on us, and I am full of gratitude for this gift.
we ride a few more miles, and the clouds hover between us and the sun, and I think to myself how well this has worked out for us: we hit this canyon later in the day than usual, and we could have been riding under the scorching sun the entire time. what luck!
we pass Silver Fork Lodge, and I know we are less than four miles from the top, I can hang in there. and a rain drop sprinkles down and lands on my arm. I smile. how cool is this, to be sprinkled on, have cloud cover on one of august's dog days . . . I am blessed.
another teeny rain drop. I smile. another. another, and another. I keep smiling, and stop keeping count. pretty soon it is what I would call a "light rain," and I am still smiling, with only a tiny little concern for having to ride back down steep pavement that is wet. oh well, I'll just go slowly.
we're almost to Solitude by this time, and the light rain has shown its creativity by throwing some hail in, too. rain, and little white hail globes bouncing off my helmet and skin. okay, this is a treat! and then the rain gets a little more intense. every tenth or twentieth drop is huge, like it has gathered on a big spoon in the sky before dripping down on me.
we could now call this a steady rain, and shortly past Solitude the hail stops, taking away some of the silliness of it all. I am now truly wet, just about everywhere. and I'm still smiling. what a great experience! I listen to a rumble of thunder and think God is just reminding me that you should train under all conditions, as you never know what weather will appear on race day . . .
we've now just about reached Brighton, and with every turn of my crank arm my feet get a new reminder of how cool and fresh rainwater is. each time my feet reach the bottom of the rotation they squish against my nice, white, soaking socks. this rain is serious. it is really coming down. rumbles move across the canyon wall and I wonder about lightning, and biking, and how the two play off each other.
part of any ride up big cottonwood includes the "victory lap" around the loop that takes you to the actual resort. for me it's more about calming my heart rate from "full speed" to "okay I can talk now", and it is something I never skip.
today, I have rain pouring into my helmet, down the back of my top and skort, into my shoes, everywhere, and I tell bill I have to do the loop. good sport that he is, he sets off beside me.

did I mention there are small rivers running down the road? and that there have been for the last mile or so we climbed?

we are perhaps a fourth of the way around the circle when the downpour becomes a deluge. rain is pelting down with twice the intensity it had been, and it bounces so high off the pavement after it lands that my ankles and shoes are hit with two times more water than the rest of me. thirty yards from the end ~ the brighton store ~ all of the sweat on my forehead finally releases it's hold and comes rushing down into my eyes, and I can't see a thing. rain, this rain is a torrent, I am almost blinded, I am dripping as much water as the sky is producing, and I am laughing.

I hope I never forget today's ride, the experience of riding in a deluge, of laughing at the hail, of knowing that I am one of the most fortunate people on this earth. thanks, God, for the great time.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I want to take you to the place I was this morning.
my words won't do it justice, but since my essays aren't about photography or teleportation, I have little else to work with. my words, your imagination ~ some teamwork will need to occur.

there is a place where the stream flows quickly and with abandon, where pines intermingle with aspen and tall shrubs and every surface but the one you're riding on is covered with green growth. I inhale, and pine, strong sun-warmed and night-air-cooled pine fills my nose with its sharp, clean fragrance. I breathe in scents of wet loamy soil, of pungent greens I cannot name. wildflowers wave their happy heads on stalks that are full of life and strength, even now in early august when much of our land has given up its moisture and relegated plants to their dry, brown, seeding stage.
water gurgles and bubbles in flatter meadowlike places, and the foliage is incredibly thick: this spot is as close as utah can get to hawaii's lavish and riotous flora.
the air is still cool; it is close to seven am and there is a dampness to the air that along with the cool temperature tells me I am far from the valley floor. we have climbed a few thousand feet, and entered a foreign land, one that fills me with awe each time I visit.
the creek rushes, dribbles, floats lazily, and gushes, all at different times along our climb, and has spread itself over rocks, moss, tree branches and trunks, plants, and myriad other items I cannot name. august eighth, and water still pours down from above, signally to me the abundance of this incredible earth.
our ride culminates at just over 7600 feet, at an opening, a small meadow, where hiking and mountain biking trails take off. where God has said "here you are, receive my gift, use it gently and with love."
I wish you could have been there to drink it all in, to savor it, to bring those fragrances into your own being . . . I wish I could give you my experience in some sort of sensual "virtual reality," but until that technology exists I can only give you my words.
which I have now done.
breathe deep, and imagine, just for me, that the sharp scent of pine has just filled your senses, that the cool air surrounds and refreshes you, and that you are in the embrace of the top few miles of millcreek canyon.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

made up stories

I make up stories about people. but only for my own amusement, not to be shared, and never about people I really know.
I make up stories about people who live in the houses I pass as I ride my bike.
emigration canyon gives me plentiful fodder for this pastime, and I was in full swing this morning.
an example: there is a house along the road that is architecturally stark and uninspiring. to me, that is. the roof is flat, the windows appear to be placed at random, and there is just something missing. something to soften it, to add visual interest, to give my eyes a place to rest and say, "ah, yes." the house has one large, multi-paned window that faces the road, and through it I can catch the tiniest glimpse of the interior. you would have to hypnotize me to find out what I really have seen through that window, but my impression is that of a study, of file cabinets and desks and papers and work.
a few times I have even seen a woman who appears to live in this house, out walking her dog or collecting the morning paper from her driveway.
so, I have decided she is a writer. the house feels like the kind of house you could lock yourself away in for months at a time, writing away, lighting a fire in the fireplace when the weather turns. she is a solitary soul, and her huge black dog keeps her safe, and sane. perhaps one semester a year she teaches a course at a college in the city . . .

there is another house up the road where a man with an expensive sports car lives. this house has fabulous ironwork on the balconies and the front gate, and beautiful windows. I can't tell much about the house other than it's large, close to the road, and of some interesting design. the interior could be stunning, or it could have one of those floor plans that gives you a headache. I think these people travel a lot, and fit that "yuppie" category. no children, good jobs, life far enough up the canyon to be away from it all.

of course I know nothing about these people, but my mind wants to create facts and situations and experiences for them. I give these people relationships and stories, and snug it all up with a belief that all is well.
not that bad things don't ever happen to these people, but that they are resilient, that they will survive whatever life throws their way. that all the difficulties they face in life are temporary, and that when looking back on their experiences the overall feeling will be one of peace and understanding.

if people were to make up stories as they rode past my house, my hope is that they would say something along the lines of, "the house is visually interesting, probably has a few great nooks and crannies. I can see lots of books stacked on the tables that tell me whoever lives here loves to read. and she probably has kids and loves them like crazy, you can just feel the love oozing from the bricks . . . here lives a woman who loves to ride her bike, in fact, I think she must prefer that to yardwork . . ."

a little bit of truth is an okay thing. :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

to be one traveler

I believe in paths and journeys. that we each walk our own path through life, and that everyone's life is a unique journey. our paths may twist and weave and sometimes double-back on themselves, but they are always paths that move us forward on our journeys.
I believe one part of everyone's life journey is to develop compassion. compassion toward self, and compassion toward all others. yes, all others. and the simplest way to develop compassion is to realize that each of us has their own journey to experience, and that every journey includes challenges and obstacles. every one. whether we can see those obstacles or not, they are there.

cycling is part of my current path. I don't know how long it will be with me, or in what form. as I've mentioned, I am at that place of questioning why I am doing this to the extent I am. (also known as 'burnout'.)
at present, I have a goal to reach: I will ride my 206 miles on september 6th. and thus I must keep training and be prepared for that event. but after that . . . I am not sure. I enjoy being fit; I like being able to see my muscles and feel their strength. I like knowing I am capable.
but can I do this at a slightly less intense level? do I have to ride 235 miles a week, with canyons involved in almost every ride?
the real question: will I let myself decrease the intensity?

the problem: I want to be better.
the only solution I see: I have to keep working hard ~ how will I get better if I don't challenge myself?

I want to be able to ride when I want, where I want, and I want it to be slightly challenging, not greatly challenging. do I want too much?
will I get there if I keep doing this?

an example: one day I'd like to say to myself, "I think I'll ride up to brighton today, and then ride up millcreek," and myself will reply, "great! that will be fun!"

my current self would reply, "oh.... are you sure? remember how hard storm mountain is? and then at the top, how your legs don't ever want to do that last little climb? and then you want to add millcreek on after that? are you nuts?"

I'm not sure where I'm headed. do I want to be one of those people who've done lotoja 10 times? will I be a quitter if I stop at 2? do I want to be someone who rides 20 miles a day for the joy and workout? or do I want to be someone who rides 230 miles a week because it's part of a training plan?

today I don't have the answer. I'm not sure there is an answer yet.
which brings to mind robert frost and his two roads diverging in a yellow wood . . .
one of life's greatest challenges is that each of us is but one traveler, and we have to make choices along the way.

I'm looking down my road, far as I can, to where it bends in the undergrowth . . .

(with apologies to mr. frost)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

balancing acts

tuesdays are yoga days, lately my only days off the bike. they are about recovery and balance. and keeping me on the path to living a long, healthy life. I have this quirky love-hate relationship with yoga: I know it's good for me, I know the effects are worth the work, I know it will keep me moving in a healthier way throughout my life. but sometimes it is just hard, impossible, painful, and as difficult as climbing steep hills with no water.
well, the last was an exaggeration. however, there were moments in this morning's class where I was counting to myself, thinking "I can only hold this pose until I reach 30 . . . okay, 35 . . . okay, maybe 40 . . ."
I think I'm supposed to be breathing during yoga, breathing steadily, deeply, consistently; and I'm supposed to have an uncluttered mind. I shouldn't be planning tonight's dinner or worrying about what all I need to accomplish before noon. I should be feeling my body, listening to it, affirming it and aligning it gently. no huffing, puffing, jerking stuff.
I try so hard not to compare myself with anyone else in the room. not the 5'10" perfectly toned blonde who came in late and plopped herself right in perfect view of my non-comparing eyes, not the beautiful thirty-something pediatrician who is also a runner and a well-accomplished student of yoga, not penny, who has been practicing yoga for over 5 years and can do everything, and do it correctly . . . nope, I focus on me. who is getting better, but still can't do that twist and reach one arm behind the shoulder and the other between the legs and connect them and hold on thing.
inversions are part of the routine in the more advanced class: basically, just what it sounds like. we invert ourselves, into headstands or handstands or shoulderstands. I am still at the headstand-next-to-the-wall level, which would be the beginner level. it's okay, though, I suppose I have the rest of my life to perfect these things.
after inversions, though, come something that I'm sure has a better name, but I will call 'reverse' poses. miguel has us move into a pose that does for our neck and back the reverse of what the inversions do. a complement, really, or an antidote. and this system is what's on my mind this morning.
what if we treated life more in this way? for every stressful happening in our life, we gave ourselves a few moments of joy and laughter? for every wild, crazy party we attended we spent time in meditation or prayer? for every mountain we climbed we relaxed in a bubble bath or jacuzzi? I think that most of us do this to some extent, but I don't know that we bring an awareness to it. what if we were to consciously realize that we need these reverses? that life is full of high intensity experiences--be they wonderful or difficult--and that they need to have an antidote for us to remain healthy?
this one can't be solved with a pill. this one needs awareness and commitment.
I cried today: tonight I need 30 minutes with a funny movie.
I struggled with work stresses today: this afternoon I will go for a run.
I giggled for 2 hours at lunch with friends: tonight I need some downtime with a book.
I am now done wearing my counseling hat, and am going to go put my head on the floor and my feet up the wall. I will stay there for a few minutes, viewing the world from a different perspective. and then I'll hang out in fish pose for a minute or two, to restore the balance in my system.

Monday, August 4, 2008

the award

I won an award this morning, for which I must thank my 15-year-old son.
but first, the back-story.

I began riding my bike in the early morning two years ago: that first summer I would leave home about 5:45, ride a 45-50 minute loop, and return home in time to relax and read (summer), or get the household up and off to school (once late august rolled around). the last two falls I kept riding until about mid-november, when I finally succumbed to the cold and wet.

I love early morning. it is quiet, it is calm. birds chatter, skies undergo metamorphoses, the air shifts, stars vanish in mere seconds. by september it is dark, and I begin by moonlight under a canopy of twinkly stars and deep indigo sky. I ride by headlight and occasional street lamps, my taillight flashing its little red alert. I stick to a route in town, as the canyons are deep and dark and cold.

this morning portended a seasonal shift: though we are caught in the depth of summer's dog days, we are also moving away from summer's pinnacle. this morning it was dark, darker than the mornings before, and I felt the shift of our shortening days as we slowly work our way into autumn. I put my headlight back on my bike, and set off on my journey up emigration. I left home a little after 5:30, as I had to be home by 7 to get my son off to football camp.

I was the lone bicyclist. it was quiet, it was calm. after the first third I no longer depended on my headlight to see the ground in front of me, and after the second third I decided cars coming down didn't need my headlight to be able to see me. the sky had lightened, yet the mountain was in silhouette, the sun not yet peaking over the hill.

no one on a bicycle passed me; no one on a bicycle came down the hill. pure peace, lovely solitude. but for the sound of my breathing and the whir of hummingbird wings, it was as silent as nature allows.

I reach the summit, where I often just melt with awe. I look down at little dell and feel the peace of the smooth water, I see the pre-sunrise pinking of the hills, I see the cars and trucks on the freeway oh so far away, quietly moving east and west, and there is not a human sound to be heard. I drink it all in, I memorize it, I want to keep this close and return to it when I need.

I have just earned the "first one up" award.

I cannot believe there is no one else there, that no one has been here and come down yet. I am the first to experience daybreak at the top of little mountain today.

there is no cash prize, no ribbon or medal or even certificate to document this event. in fact, it is an award only in my own mind. but the reward, however, is significant. it is the hummingbirds who fly with me, the cold air that slips past me, the sky that moves from indigo to baby blue cotton, the panoramic view coated in vast silence, the young buck who leaps across the road in front of me.
today, I am not the queen of the mountain, but a humble servant who feels extremely blessed to have been the first one up.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


new chain, new rear cassette, new cleats:
they are all too pretty to use, but . . .

regret not

so much to say, so difficult to find the words to do so.
I've had a few people ask me why I started this web-log, and my answer is that it's all about discipline. I am a writer who writes in spurts, and it's time to change that. I made a commitment to myself, that I would begin writing on a regular basis, and this is my vehicle. my daily practice. my have-to.
like my daily bike ride, I love this and I don't. it is not always easy to choose a topic and try to make an interesting mini-essay out of it. sometimes I am more efficient and effective than others! sometimes I have a great morning ride ~ full of energy and purpose and joy ~ and sometimes I don't.
but the important piece is that I do it. I ride, and I write. I am committed to improving both of these skills, and the only way that will happen is if I practice them, over and over. a joke between my kids and myself is based on a line from a song in one of their animated movies, "practice, practice, practice." whenever one of my kids ask me how come I'm so good at something . . . guess what they hear?
or I just say, "I'm old, and I've been doing it forever . . ."
but I prefer the p-word. which is what it's become. one of my daughters has finally reached the point where she answers her own question about how come I do things so well, "I know, the p-word . . ."
practice. but along with that comes another important piece: the willingness to take chances. to try something new, to push limits, to tackle a challenge, to take on more than you think you can. stepping out of your comfort zone. sometimes far outside that zone.
when I decided to begin this web-log, I knew it would put me in an uncomfortable place. I am speaking my truth, and it's available to anyone who wishes to read it. I have always been a very private person, yet I am a writer. the conflict was blown wide open when I started this: I am committed to being who I am, and I guess I've hit that point in my life where I no longer care about the judgment of others. you will either enjoy what I write, respect me for being real, and accept who I am, or you won't. either way is fine. and none of that is in my control, which frees me to be authentically me.
a line in a book I'm reading sunk into my soul this morning:
"every timidity eventually turns to regret" (anthony doerr).
challenge, push, reach, stretch . . . and always stay grounded, your roots holding you firmly in your authenticity.


Saturday, August 2, 2008

tour of everywhere but park city

where to begin.

"that sucked!" from an almost-fifty-year-old president of a large corporation: this was my favorite quote of the day.
he was referring to the climb we all had to make to reach the top of Mirror Lake Highway, where the summit is about 10,700 feet.
the irony here is that "suck" is a word I do not permit my children to use when in my presence. (at least not in the sense of the word I'm discussing here.) but it was completely, totally, fully, perfectly appropriate today, used in reference to that climb.
first of all, it went on about 3 miles longer than I thought it would,
second, I was out of water for at least the last 2.95 of those miles, and
third, it was just HARD.

I rode the Tour de Park City today, and it beat me up. to the point that all of my brain cells are on "refill and revive," still, more than 3 hours after finishing.
so all I can write about is that ride.
I am glad I did it: I conquered a new climb. I faced headwinds and crosswinds you wouldn't believe. and I rode the last 20 or so miles with a chain that kept falling off and a non-working cleat on my right shoe . . . geez. ( tomorrow I will be visiting the bike shop, won't I? )
I am always glad, after the fact, that I do these rides. but that doesn't necessarily mean I want to do them again.

but, although the climb sucked, the view from up there was absolutely amazing. beautiful. restorative . . .
and my favorite spot of the ride is a place called Slate Gorge. from the road, you look down, over the right berm (okay, it could have been a concrete retaining wall but 'berm' is a much more romantic word and I had to use it) into a deep divide where the river rushes 50 or 60 feet below.
it was stunning.

great rewards abound when we reach outside our comfort zone, as sucky as it might feel at the time.

Friday, August 1, 2008

i can ride a bike with no handlebars

WOO HOO !!!!

there is a guy who must be a commuter who rides in my neighborhood sometimes. he can ride in slush, sitting upright, sipping a coffee, no hands on his handlebars at all.
I have the greatest admiration for him.

so I have this secret goal of learning how to ride without using my handlebars.
I am a chicken. I am still learning how to ride in my dropbars, and I'm terribly nervous about not being steady. so for me to be able to ride without holding on is SO far down the road . . . until last saturday! my back was killing me, my arms were aching like crazy, and I just sat up and let my hands off the bars and oh my gosh, I was still going forward, smoothly, and nothing bad happened! it went on for the longest time, and before I knew it at least 3 seconds had passed! wow! and then I did it again, and then one more time . . . I am on my way.

look for me next fall, riding in slush, sipping a starbucks, hands free.