Tuesday, September 30, 2008

on golfing

this morning was about numbers:

24 is the number of vehicles that passed me heading west this morning, as I rode up emigration, down to little dell reservoir, and back.
17 is the number of vehicles that passed me heading east.
5 is the number of cyclists I saw that were heading east: 3 were just reaching the summit and 2 were not far behind them as I was heading down from the top.
3 is the number of cyclists heading west as I was heading up: I saw them all before I was two miles up the canyon, and one of them I saw right by Ruth's so there were parking lot lights and I confirmed my belief that he was a commuter (panniers on the back). I think they are all commuters, but in the dark it's really difficult to tell.
1 is for me, the only cyclist who had my exact experience this morning.
0 is for the number of golfers I saw on the course as I was on my way home.

and golf is what I wish to discuss this morning.
I ride through bonneville golf course on my way to and from emigration and city creek canyons, and also when I meet biking buddies bob and andy at the zoo. the golf course is a very familiar place, at least this small strip of it that rests on either side of wasatch drive.
this morning the sprinklers were on both as I went up and as I came down, and I'm thinking this might have been due to a small glitch of the system. the wind is often quite strong through this section, and this morning at 5:40 the wind carried the sprinkler spray onto the road ~ and thus, me ~ more than any other time I've ever ridden through. brrr. not what I wanted or needed, but a rather cool experience, as those first miniscule droplets of water landed softly on me, in the silent dark, seemingly from nowhere. my headband, covering my ears, muffled any sound the sprinklers themselves were making, so that first fine spray caught me completely by surprise.
but the watering system of the golf course isn't really what I wanted to write about. I want to write about golf. I want to apologize to the golfing universe for all of the unkind things I've ever said about the game. I was married to a golfer, and I came to resent golf, and that has thrown a shadow over any thoughts or feelings I might have about the game itself. it's time to be free of that shadow, though, and I think that my frequent rides through the course have helped me push that away and release it.
I see people playing golf at 6:30 in the morning, in twosomes and foursomes, mostly male but some females, in the heat of the day, against the wind, under cloudy skies, beneath skies bluer than blue and sun so hot I want to hide from it anywhere and anyway I can. I hear the smack of the club hitting a ball so dead on that I know it will fly hundreds of yards straight down the fairway. I see men off in the weeds and overgrowth, bent over, searching for a small white ball they will likely never find. I see people walking, golf bags slung over a shoulder, I see them riding in carts, smiling and laughing and holding on to the roof supports.
what I see is people enjoying their experience. and like the people with too much body fat that I see out walking, running, working to change that, I see these golfers outside, working to hone a skill or just to feel the thrill of playing the game, and I admire and appreciate them all.
it's that kinship thing: we are all doing something from which we receive some kind of satisfaction, whether it be because we're improving a skill, becoming more fit, or practicing a task that brings us a sense of accomplishment. or something else, completely ~ I can't begin to know why we all do what we do.
but I have relaxed my position on golf, and it feels good. it doesn't mean that I again want to be married to a golfer, but it does mean that I have a greater appreciation for the personal fulfillment that can be gained by spending those hours on the course.
and who knows: one day, I may find myself out there on a golf course, smacking my own little white balls into the rough . . . oops, I mean, straight down the fairway and onto the green.

Monday, September 29, 2008

monday morning high

I didn't ride this morning.

this time I'm being truthful.

my yoga class is held at the Jewish Community Center, which is closed this evening through wednesday for Rosh Hashana, so there will be no yoga for me tomorrow morning. and since I try to squeeze in a brief weight room workout before yoga class, I will miss that as well. so I decided to go to the JCC and work out this morning, and I'll ride tomorrow. my well-planned life.

what I need to write about this morning has to do with weight room workouts and technology. not about fancy machines or great workouts that utilize new concepts. it's about apple technology: the ipod.

I received an ipod for christmas two years ago, and I thought it was a pretty unnecessary gift. I'd never wanted one, and I didn't really understand why people liked them so much. I had a friend who cycled while listening to one (just using one earphone, for safety reasons), and I didn't get it. I love the sounds I hear while I'm cycling, even if it's just my own labored breath.
but it was a generous gift, and I thought I should figure out how to use it. this took a while, but with help from my son, the ipod got set up and filled with music. and then he helped me learn how to work it. or at least to work enough of it that I could turn it on, choose "shuffle," and fast-forward/reverse as needed.
the first day I hit the weight room with my ipod, I felt like one of the crowd. I, too, had an armband with a little gadget in it and earphones running from it. and then I stopped feeling like one of the crowd, as I got lost in my own fabulous world of songs I loved. I cranked the volume, and loved every minute of having this music in my own personal space, and no one else's. the only hard part was restraining myself from singing (shouting) along with the songs.
the workout became almost secondary.
last winter I tried to fit in spin classes when I could, but found that I was usually in the weight room 4 to 5 days a week, and I grew even closer to my ipod. I would fast-forward through songs I wasn't in the mood for, and re-play (sometimes two or three times) the songs that fit perfectly with what I was feeling that morning. I came to love the experience of having this amazing collection of songs available to me, and the "shuffle" kept me surprised, pleased, and away from getting stuck in a rut of listening to only the songs I thought I wanted to hear. songs would often catch me by surprise with how much I enjoyed them, being aware that I wouldn't have knowingly chosen to listen to them that morning.

but I don't wear my ipod while riding outside, still. there may come a day when I do ~ never say never ~ but to this point I still don't have a desire to. and because my weight-room time since sometime in may has been limited to about 20-30 minutes before yoga, I haven't used my ipod in (gulp, this is hard to believe) over four months.
until this morning.
and this morning at 5:30 I remembered the joy of listening to songs I love through the earphones connected to my ipod. I absolutely love it. it's as if I'm in my own little world, happy as a clam, singing away inside my head. (funny how one can do that...) I see people I know ~ and enjoy ~ there working out, and I reluctantly pull one earphone out to say hello, keeping the other one in so that I am only partially committed to the conversation. when I take both earphones out, it means I really like the person and am willing to sacrifice my listening pleasure for a brief moment.
because I love this music. some bring memories along with them, but most please me for myriad different reasons: the voice, the harmonies, the words, the melodies, the rhythm . . . each song has some unique collection of those that just meshes with who I am and sends me to a glorious place.
I don't need drugs.
I've got my ipod.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

the perfect ride

I got up this morning, made my coffee, and settled on the couch with Atlas Shrugged. I've read this before, but when the book came up in a conversation I had earlier this month I decided I wanted to read it again.
I only had about half an hour to read, because I had made plans to ride somewhere with bill this morning. he was scheduled to show up at 7:30, and we weren't sure where we were going to ride.
it started off with my comment last week that I could probably do a century on sunday. bill had wanted to ride the Heber Century on saturday, but I couldn't because of my "mom" commitments: volleyball and soccer games, strategically scheduled at 9, 9:50, and 2:30.
so, I thought, and even suggested out loud, that I could probably ride a hundred miles sunday. and then I thought a little more, and decided that I didn't have to ride a hundred, I didn't even want to ride a hundred.
so my next suggestion was that 60 miles would be plenty.

saturday evening we left it that we'd figure it out this morning.

so bill showed up, we had a cup of coffee, and we threw out different ideas of where we could go. actually, I think bill threw out the ideas and I pulled my upper lip to the side with each suggestion. I drank more coffee. he suggested this, I sneered, he suggested that, I moaned. it was not my best morning.
"what if we go up little cottonwood?"
"oh, I don't really want to do that, I just did that last sunday."
"no, susan, I said LITTLE cottonwood, not big."
"Oh. hmmm."
he sat there, I sat there, and finally I said, "okay."
I have only ridden up little cottonwood once, and (this is my secret confession) it was late last summer, and we only rode up to the first snowbird entry. at that point I think I said, that's enough.
earlier this summer I thought about riding it, and I kept pushing it over into my pile of "last things on earth I want to do." right there with cleaning my gutters, cleaning out my garage, and picking up the dog's droppings before I mow the lawn.
today seemed like the day to do it, as bill's suggestion stared me in the face, so we set out.
"it's only a six mile climb, anyway," I said.
bill said, "hmm, six, yeah, I guess that's about right."
at the time, I thought, gosh, he should know this. now I know why he umm, fudged a little there.
so we rode out to the mouth of the canyon, then headed up. and up. and up. biking buddy bob has always described this climb as "ruthless," I believe. certain other words that come to mind: unforgiving, relentless, painful. but my attitude was, today's the day. and once you've gotten the first mile under your belt, what are you going to do, turn around and give up? no. not if you're me.
you keep going.
and it hurts, but you know it will end, and it's beautiful, and that fuels your legs.
and then when you're a mile or so from snowbird, and your riding partner asks how far you're going, you ~ quite stupidly ~ say, I don't know, how far are we going? and he replies, albion base. you ask, where's that? and he says, the top alta parking lot. and you say, okay. because today's the day.
and then you finally reach the albion base parking lot, and you are revived, because you've made it!
then you see a road that continues up the hillside, past the parking lot, and you say, "you're not going to make me keep going, are you?" to which he answers, no. phew. but now you're in the lead, and you see a brown painted wooden sign by the entrance to that road, and you decide you have to know where the road leads. the answer: this packed dirt road takes one up to albion basin campground. and the road doesn't look too terribly steep, and it's the best kind of dirt road possible, not too full of gravel and rock and sand.
so you ride along, and say, let's just ride up for a while and see.
you know the end of the story: we rode to the albion basin campground, up through vivid orange and deep gold aspen, through dense pine and fragrant foliage, through rocks and gravel and a thankfully pretty hard-packed dirt road.
what I said about last sunday's ride up guardsman holds true again today: at points the vistas left me speechless. I cannot pull the right words from the sky to describe what we were allowed to see from that incredible vantage point.

the ride down the canyon was cold and fast, and just astonishingly beautiful. oh, the canyons we are gifted with. they are stunning, amazing, just beyond words, at least beyond my words.

from the unknown, at 7:30 this morning, the universe conspired to give us the absolute perfect ride, and I could not have planned it one bit better had I tried. perhaps that's the message for me today: let go of the reins and flow along with what happens, and be prepared to delight in the result.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

God and motor vehicles

I didn't ride this morning.
last night I went out to dinner, and ended up with a night full of drinking and dancing, not returning home until 3 . . . I can't even remember the last time I did anything like that. in fact, have I ever?? I had such a great time, it was just so much fun to be silly and to dance, to just relax and not worry about a thing. wow! I must have had a smile on my face the entire time, and it was freeing to be doing something different. something where no one had any expectations of me, where I could just be me and not feel squeezed into someone else's plan or into one of my many more boring roles. you know, mom, business owner, solid citizen, daily exerciser . . .
it was a blast.

ok, did anyone out there believe me?
I had myself going, there for a minute . . . it was actually sounding like fun. and to be honest, I can remember the last time I did something like that, and it was a ton of fun. I'd gone to dinner with a friend ~ it was a Christmas gathering of his company ~ at a great restaurant downtown, where the wine just kept flowing while the platters whisked their way out from the kitchen, then we all headed over to some club and spent a couple hours on the dance floor. I danced and danced, and didn't even mind the fact that I was ten or twenty years older than most of the girls around. eek. what a terrible thought. that I can be twice as old as college graduates now . . . there goes another bubble, burst into millions of tiny iridescent pieces.

I went for a ride this morning, carefully scheduled to allow me the maximum sleeping-in time while still enabling my presence at my daughters' 9 am volleyball game. ( I was only 5 minutes late. ) I lay in bed last night ~ sometime shortly after ten ~ thinking about my route, and realized that today was an odd day, so I would be able to ride up city creek.
I haven't been up city creek for quite a while, and it was the perfect morning to go: I was all alone for my entire ride up after the first half mile where I encountered a few walkers coming down. if someone reached the top before me this morning, they must have ridden the entire way in the dark. which would be a very cool thing to do; must add that to my list.
the road was as bumpy as ever, the entire right hillside has turned colors, and some stretches of the climb were surprisingly green, still. it was as cold as you'd think, but I turned my headband back from my right ear so I could listen to the sound of the creek on the way up. it was booming and crashing in places, burbling in others, but what I love the most are the almost bog-like spots on the non-creek side of the road, where reeds wave tall and moss threatens to cover trees and rocks alike.
and I saw my favorite sign, again, and once again chastised myself for not following through on my plan. twice (that I recall) along the way, there are warning signs posted along the roadside, that state
I want to change this sign, because I think they've forgotten something.
I want to make a small sign that says "GOD AND" and attach it to the top of the sign. because how can He not be, in this amazingly beautiful gift of a canyon?

when I reached the top, weeping rock memorial grotto, I stared at the jagged gray rock formations that jut from the mountainside above and form the grotto below. I pulled on my armwarmers after my breath calmed, drank some water, looked at the time, and headed back toward home.

God and motor vehicles always present.

Friday, September 26, 2008


this morning I tried to keep count of how many oncoming cars dimmed their brights for me, and how many didn't. I failed miserably, but arrived at a guestimate, which I place at 80 percent. and I smiled at every one of those light-dimming drivers. my guess is that they didn't see my smile, but that's okay, hopefully they felt my appreciation, or just added their action to their list of "nice things I did today."
sometimes oncoming headlights blind me completely. and then I operate on blind (no pun intended, or on second thought, maybe this is where it originated...) faith and complete trust. which sometimes just stinks. be it the angle of the road, or the power of the light, or the height of the vehicle: there are times when I cannot hide from that light and it completely eliminates my ability to see a thing. except this beautiful bright aura that surrounds me, which would be kind of cool except for the fact that I'm not cycling in a vacuum. I am cycling on a semi-smooth asphalt surface that has bumps and lumps and potholes and manhole covers and you-know-what-all-else since you read my list.
these headlights pass fairly quickly, this is true, and it's usually a brief enough period that my faith (and luck) carry me through. however, after the car has passed I enter a period of readjustment that necessitates just a little lengthening of my faith. for I cannot see, still, even though the lights are gone. what I see are spots and halos and drifting white particles that only gradually reunite into recognizable outlines and shapes. this can take 5 seconds, or it can take 15. which, if I'm traveling at my average uphill speed of say, 11 mph, would be about 80 to 240 feet of travel during which I cannot truly see reality. (yes, I had to use a calculator, and yes, I had to check my work twice because it seemed too much distance to cover in 5 seconds. let me know if you get a different answer, and I'll hand over my math credentials.)
my point: there is a period of visual readjustment after being temporarily blinded by headlights.
where I'm headed with this: when big and beautiful, bright and shining wonderful things happen to us, we are momentarily blinded, and then we have to readjust. this takes time. and reality is perceived a little differently during that time.
as I was thinking of this while riding this morning, the story of Icarus came to mind. if you don't know or remember, Icarus was the son of Daedalus, the well known and respected Athenian architect, sculptor, and inventor. after building the infamous Labyrinth to trap the Minotaur, Daedalus fell out of favor with Minos and had to escape. to do so, he built wings of wax for his son Icarus and for himself, with which they could fly to freedom. he warned Icarus that flying too near the sun would result in a melting of the wings, which would cause them to fall to their deaths. Icarus was enthralled with the experience of flying, however, and flew too close to the sun. his wings melted, and he fell into the sea and drowned.
when headlights blind me, there is a momentary thrill, as I'm encompassed in this glowing light and cycling without knowledge of where I'm going. it's as if I'm flying, as if my connection to reality and earth has been severed. but along with the thrill comes fear. I cannot see where I'm going.
I don't believe Icarus felt fear until the moment he realized the wax was gone, the feathers were gone, and all that he was flapping were his arms.
I suppose I'll never be a mythical creature, which is probably best. I have my human flaws, but hopefully none will result in my tragic death.
so I will continue to experience temporary blindness when headlights drill into me, and I will have that period of readjustment; I'll experience my brief moment of thrill and my longer moment of terror, and then I'll rely on my faith, once again, to get me through.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

bird trees

there is a bird tree just down the street from me.
I don't know what kind of tree it is, other than one with green leaves that haven't turned color yet. I haven't even looked very closely at it, because it is just another tree in the parking strip of a neighbor's house that I drive past a few times a day. or I bike past a couple times a day.
in my car, I don't notice it at all. and on my bike, at 5:35 in the morning (in the dark) as I ride up the street I don't notice it at all.
but at 7 am, on my bike, returning home, this tree is the most glorious thing on my street. a smile breaks across my face as I ride past it, and I frequently laugh, and everything is beautiful and rich and right with my world for that little span of time that I hear it.

yes, I hear it.

I don't really see it, because I'm almost past it before I catch on that all of those chattering birds are hidden somewhere within the lush green covered branches of that tree.
it is a bird tree.
it's not the only one I've ever encountered, but it's my current favorite because it is so close to home and such a gift at the end of a morning ride.
there must be twenty or more birds hidden behind all of the leaves, and it's as if they are warming up for choir practice. or more accurately, they are symphony members warming their instruments before rehearsal. their voices range across the vocal field and the cacophony reminds me of the horns and strings and woodwinds all spitting out their own notes with complete disregard of each other.
these birds cannot possibly be talking to each other; they are talking on top of each other. or maybe they are all just sharing their joy of being alive, all just singing their morning prayers, each at their own time and tempo.

this is a paradoxical gift of cycling: I am there but for a moment, and I am given a glimpse, a brief audio moment, of this magical bird tree. I am left to create my own ideas of the how and why behind it. were I to be walking past, I would probably stop and stare, searching with eyes and body to understand the experience. I could stay as long as I cared to, and I would know if they voices ever joined together or if they remained in their raucous disjointed song of prayer. but because I am on my bike, I am given this transient moment, which is a present, a joy. but I have only this moment, which quickly fades as I fly down the street toward home.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

stuff on the side of the road

I've been thinking about making this list for a long time, so I finally did it.
if I had to give it a title, I'd call it
"sitings in the bike lane or, why us cyclists sometimes have to ride on the other side of the white line."

what you'd expect: dirt, gravel, sand, little spit-ups of asphalt, bumpy stuff
a biking glove
plastic hangers
wire hangers, stretched out of shape
a 5 foot long pink furry stuffed snake
a leather work glove
dead birds
a sandal
a yellow hard plastic/resin perhaps? replica of male genitalia
shotgun shells (or are they casings? not a hunter, am I)
a lightbulb, unbroken
beer bottles, broken
a little kid's purple knit glove with flowers on it
vodka bottles, rum bottles, whiskey bottles
plastic soda bottles
empty (assumably) cigarette boxes
dog poop
crushed beer cans
a slipper
bright blue glass, shattered and sprinkled over a ten foot area
more gloves
"Road Work Ahead" signs, boy are they big
flattened soda cans
dead animals: deer, raccoon, porcupine, squirrel, prairie dog, cat, fox
empty GU packets (bad cyclists)
scattered pieces of hard red plastic
crackers, not crushed
beer cans, neither crushed nor flattened (must be recent)
empty, faded 12-pack beer boxes
plastic grocery bags
paper and crushed paper cups
a 2 1/2 foot long square wooden dowel

and that's all I can think of at the moment. if more interesting things come to mind, I will be sure to share, down the road.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


life is like this: you move along, at times quite quickly, and sometimes at the pace of a snail. you sometimes feel like you are in a rut, doing the same thing over and over again, barely making any forward progress. at other times you acknowledge your leaps, those rabbit moments, the times when you suddenly find yourself far, far ahead of where you were.
most common are the snail times. or the tortoise, if you prefer.

I often consider myself a tortoise out there on my bike. I will get there, I just won't be the first. but my determination and commitment will see me to the end, or to the top, or on to the next challenge, because that's the kind of person I am.
(just an aside: the other day, riding up big cottonwood, I noticed the speed limit sign, with a big black 45 printed on the white background. I looked at my speedometer, which was registering somewhere around 7. I thought, wouldn't it be great if they had bike speed signs, which read something like "bike speed, 6-10 mph, you're doing great! don't worry about that 45, that's for cars, not those of you self-propelling yourself up the hill...")
what happens on an uphill bike ride strikes me as awfully similar to progressing through life. on my bike, I am climbing, climbing, climbing, going what feels to be ever so slowly, and the miles tick away at the speed of a dashing porcupine. I have a sense that I've moved, that I've made progress, but it is at such a sluggish pace that I have time to acclimate to each stretch of the road and it becomes just a blend of upward leaning asphalt.

then I reach a switchback, and the entire world changes.

all of the sudden, I can see where I was, and where I now am. I am significantly higher than I was just seconds ago: I have leaped! without greater difficulty, with just the same old pace.
in fact, there is a point during every switchback when the grade declines for an instant, and I can actually pick up my speed before rounding the final bend. a momentary respite, and then the view, the confirmation that I've leapt ahead and reached a new level.

life doesn't give us quite as many switchbacks as a good climb up big mountain does, or the fabulous S curve going up big cottonwood. we have to judge for ourselves if we've made progress, if we've moved forward. and it's easy to skip this step of self-analysis.
"I'm just the same old me" is the belief many of us hang on to, when in reality we are not. most of us are learning and growing and becoming someone new every day, just like I am reaching a new elevation with every minute of my bike ride up a canyon. we just can't always see it, and it doesn't always feel dramatically different, so we drift through it, pedaling away, not giving ourselves credit for all the distance we've covered.

Monday, September 22, 2008

confidence crisis

I am suffering a confidence crisis.
for which there is no good reason.
and I'm trying to understand it, without giving it credence by thinking too much about it.
what I know is this: I am not feeling confident in my ability to complete challenging rides. the thought of climbing big cottonwood was almost scary to me last week, and rides longer than 60 miles seem like entirely too much. I am almost afraid to ride up the backside of big mountain, kind of praying no one I ride with suggests a route that includes this stretch.
and none of this makes sense. I am probably as fit as I've ever been, and certainly I should be in the best cycling shape of the year right now. all of the times I've ridden since lotoja (and all season, as well) I've been able to complete the ride, and I've never had to quit or give up. (nor have I had to vomit or deal with debilitating muscle cramps.)
so why do I have this feeling that I can't do it?
I just did a little research on "confidence crises," and they are often connected with losses, or life transitions. I guess I'm in a transition, knowing that my glorious outdoor riding season is coming to an end. but that's hardly like a move, a new job, a divorce, what "normal" people would consider significant transitions. and I haven't suffered a significant loss, either.
so . . .
suggestions for overcoming such crises include journaling (I think we're both aware that I am doing that on a regular basis!), being grateful daily, using affirmations, and taking risks.
I'm pretty good at the first two, but I guess I could start the latter two.

I'm a good cyclist and I can ride up any hill I choose.
I have great endurance and I can ride my bike for 12 hours if I want.
I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me! (with apologies to stuart smalley.)

alright, I can do the affirmation thing. I'll start taping to my mirror little pieces of paper with affirmations on them.
now, for risks. the suggestion is to make a list of things I'm afraid to do, then start doing them, one by one. a risk a day.
this could be more challenging. what can I put on my risk list?
I suppose I have to put riding up the back side of big mountain, don't I? and riding another century, as I've put them in the "oh, that's too long of a ride" category. and other than that, I'm going to have to put a little more thought into what other "risks" might be for me.
Catarina Rando describes a risk as "something you would do in an instant if you knew you would be successful."
You work on your list; I'll work on mine.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


my oldest son was two or so when I first heard the term "respite."
a friend had suggested we apply to the state for services for people with disabilities, that we should get on the list because it could take a while before we worked our way up the waiting list. we filled out the forms, I suppose, though I remember very little of this entire process, and eventually we were contacted and told that we could receive "respite" services.
I don't know if I had ever heard the word, but if I had, it took on an entirely different meaning when it came to state services.
respite was when someone either came to my house to take care of jake, enabling us to go do something different, or it was when we took jake to someone else's home for care, either for a few hours or for overnight. it took quite a while for us to work our way into using this system, but we eventually found a wonderful woman, clara, who would come stay with jake, allowing us to go do a few "normal" things without having to take jake and his special requirements along with us.
respite, "a usually short interval of rest or relief." I had lived a life to that point that didn't require formal respite periods, and it always struck me as an artificial name for a brief break from what had become my reality.

fast-forward 15 years, and here I am on my bike. respite is something I think of daily, in terms of my routes and my heart and muscles. I could never reach the peaks I climb to without the moments of respite along the way.

I've heard people talk about "filling your well." that we all expend energy each day living our life, working, caring for others, loving, sometimes just existing. that sleeps revives us, but sleep alone is not enough. when we give and give, we can reach a point of depletion, and we all must find ways to re-fill our wells, so that we can continue to reach down and find something to give.
enter respite.
when cycling, it can be the briefest push from a temporary tailwind, it can be a slight dip in the grade of the incline. it can be 20 minutes for brownies at brighton, or it can be the unexpected thirty feet of downhill on an uphill climb. sometimes it means a stop, sometimes it's a guzzle of water and a cool breeze.
today it was the sun reappearing from its hiding place behind the clouds, it was a moment of tailwind, it was the middle miles of the canyon where I can cruise along at 12-15 mph instead of a climbing rate of 6.
and today, it was also views that left me speechless, and the pause at the top of guardsman pass where I eventually regained steady vision, a calm stomach, and the ability to breathe.
without respite I could not keep going. not on my bike, and not in life. the trick, I suppose, is to choose paths that allow me those opportunities, and to recognize my need for them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


back to the concept of a runner's high.
I was writing earlier this morning, and a little light bulb clicked on in my brain.
a few days ago I was writing here about runner's high, and how I experienced that on my bike. and then my thoughts moved to all of the different ways we can experience that kind of a high: it happens whenever we're completely connected with what we're doing, when we become one with the process, when we are so engaged that we don't think about what we're doing, we just do.
this happens to me when I am engrossed in writing, and I describe it (using Julia Cameron's metaphor) as connecting with my underground river of creativity, the one that is always flowing within me. the river is there, always. I only tap into it sometimes. but when I do, I am on a writer's high.
when there, I am completely connected with this part of me that only exists when I'm in that place of creativity, and I consider it my divine self, the divine aspects of me.
I have had people comment about some of my writing, saying, "how can you do that?" and my answer is that it's not just me, I have help. it's help of a divine nature, it's God doing his work through me. [please bear with me if you don't see the world this way: it's my way, and it doesn't have to be yours. I am only trying to describe my experience using my limited vocabulary, and you are most welcome to translate it into whatever words and language work for you.]
we all have this sense at times, when we are fully engaged in our activity, when it all flows and there are no stumbling blocks. this is what I love about my writing, when I close my eyes and type away and feel that river tumbling through me and it's no longer work, it is joy.
of course, when I open my eyes and read through what I've written I do have to correct all of my closed-eyes typos, but that is a small price to pay for the experience of being one with that river, of being one with the words that are flowing through me, of being one with my purpose.

this is a high.

runner's high, rider's high, writer's high: what gifts these are to us. they're even worth the work it takes to get there, something I sometimes need to remind myself, something I hope I never forget.

Friday, September 19, 2008

smell of the barn

I grew up with a grandma who loved horses.
I went through a phase of wanting to be a veterinarian, wanting to own my own horse (this was at its strongest point when I lived in south bend, indiana, on a very suburban street with no horse pasture for miles), and just thinking horses were the most fabulous creatures on earth. next to unicorns, that is, but I guess the "on earth" qualifier wipes the mythical horned creatures out of the running.
regardless, I was always begging my parents for an opportunity to go ride a horse, and I eventually learned enough about them to realize that we couldn't house one, or really even afford one. and that they took a lot of work, all that feeding and currying, sweeping out of stalls, training, and riding.
I also learned that most of the horses I was able to ride had a distinct preference for their barn. you'd get to take your horse out, ride him on this trail or that, ride him around the corral, whatever it might be: at the end, they always got a little more excited when they realized they were on the path toward home. a slow walk outward ended with a fast trot back to the barn.

bill once told me I'm the same.

we were coming to the end of the Tour de Park City, having ridden about 280 miles, (okay, a hundred and five, but it felt like more), and he commented that I always seem to finish rides pretty strongly, saying it must be the smell of the barn.
I think he's right.
there is a definite lift to my spirits when I know that I am close to finishing one of those will-it-never-end rides. and, truth be told, I even sometimes experience that lift on a shorter ride. I love the riding, I am thrilled to be in the canyons, I make it through the steep parts and glory in the less challenging climbs, and I always feel better for having ridden. but I still am glad to have it end.
I smell home: a shower, food, water, a book, my couch, coffee if it's early morning, a diet coke if it's later in the day . . . all of those things that are my oats and hay.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

the 7 am list

it's 7 am, and I already have a list of great experiences for the day:

another moonlit bike ride in the silent pre-dawn world
visiting little dell's silvery shadowy presence
13 seconds of hands-free swooping down beacon drive
feeling cool, cold, warm, sweaty . . . a little of everything, already
90 minutes of exercise done, 23 miles to add to my weeks' total
knowledge that the coffeemaker is set, so all I have to do is push the button

what a great life.

some days my 7 am list is much shorter, but it almost always has a few things on it. I am a morning person. which ~ since I am one of those people who need significant amounts of sleep ~ means I give up the ten o'clock news, jay leno, and whoever else has a nighttime program on tv.
it's worth it, though, for I love the early morning world. the peace, the silence, the calm that lies over each street and neighborhood I pass.
I'm not alone in my love for early mornings, as I usually see at least a few others out running, walking, cycling, or lately, roller skiing. I feel a bond with these other people, those others also willing to get up in the dark and start their day by moonlight.
I've talked about the "first one up" award, or what some call "first tracks." while there's something exhilarating about being that person, it's not the only thing. I'm willing to share that honor, I don't always have to win it; I just like being there before daylight, when everything shifts and becomes just slightly less magical than it is in the dark.
John Steinbeck, in the winter of our discontent, describes "first tracks" as his character walks across a frosted field of grass: "It is like being first in a new world, a deep, satisfying sense of discovery of something clean and new, unused, undirtied." there are thousands of ways to make first tracks, and the very best part of it all is that we're given those opportunities with each new morning, with each frost, with each snowfall.
there's always a tomorrow.

and back to lists, just so you know, there are times when my 10 am list includes the following:

had a great little nap.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

moonlight sonata

[you may want to visit YouTube http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=vQVeaIHWWck and play the audio while reading the following, and if you do so, enjoy!]

are there any people out there who don't love the moon?
do we all feel some attraction to it, and is some of that biological, part of how we're made as inhabitants of a land that is circled by a lunar body and subject to some lunar pull?
or is it just us romantic fools out there who feel this connection and experience bliss at moments when we gaze at that globe of rock and craters that graces our night skies?
before you decide I'm crazy, know that I have visited the following site and had every myth I've ever thought of clinging to debunked. [http://skepdic.com/fullmoon.html]
but I am a moon child, born in the zodiac sign of cancer, so I just accept that it's part of who I am and the rest of you can join me in joyful moon gazing, or not.

this morning was a 5:35 start, with a ride up emigration the plan. it was warmer than last week, for which I was grateful. and it seemed even brighter than last week, which made no sense at all since we're in the phase of shortening days, not the opposite. but about half a mile up the canyon it all came together, and I realized it was the moon up above me lighting my way, not an early dawn. bill had already turned off his light, and I finally decided to be brave and do the same, and we rode up the canyon by moonlight. what an amazing treat! it was warm (ish), and the moon shone strongly enough to guide us, and we were the only cyclists on the road.
where was everyone this morning?
it's really okay, as I didn't need a single other soul out there, but I knew what they were all missing, and felt almost selfish to be having this experience while they were not.
at the top we decided to ride down to little dell, and this is always one of the highlights of my day. I want to learn to better carry the vision, and the sensation of flying down the road toward it, with me throughout the day. I close my eyes and can still see it, the lightened sky still before sunrise, the reservoir dark and silvery, the quiet mountains surrounding and protecting this body of water, my own private spot.
I will always remember these days of having this experience. I hope to be riding for many more years, but if for some reason I stop, I will always have this vision of little dell to hold on to, and I know it will always be a place of peace for me.
by the time we climbed back up to the summit the moonlight had become superfluous as far as our vision needs, but left us both with an incredible gift of an experience.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

being pushed from my state

this morning before yoga, biking buddy bob asked me if I was going to sign up for Power Camp again. sign-ups are open, and I am unprepared to make this heavy decision.
therefore, eek!

my road biking path truly began with Power Camp over the winter of 2006-2007. I happened upon it via a flyer at my local grocery store that had the headline: Attention Cyclists! I thought to myself, well, I'm kind-of a cyclist, let me pick this up and take it home to read.
and thus began my connection with a group of great people, and with the simple machine that has truly changed my life.
J.R. Smith's Power Camp is a 17-week long periodization (like that's really a word) program, separated into three 5-6 week phases. it begins with base training, then moves into tougher stuff, and ends late March when (weather complying) it's time to hit the pavement again. I debated strongly about whether or not to take this 2 years ago, and finally decided it was a great investment in my physical health. in reality, it probably did more for my mental health than even my physical health.
we had to be tested before Camp began, undergoing a threshold test to assess our current fitness and set personal heart rate zones. this was almost the most difficult part: I have test anxiety. sitting on my bike in J.R.'s testing room, wearing my heart monitor and pedaling away with increasingly harder resistance, I experienced a moment of pure panic, when I knew I might explode if I didn't slow down immediately. J.R. got me through it, and I survived. soon I had those heart rate zones memorized, as class became a blur of so many minutes in this zone followed by so many minutes in that zone.
rob, my triathlete friend, usually sat on the bike to my left, and his calm words of wisdom saved me, as I pushed my heart harder than I thought possible, and had to break through that mental barrier of thinking I might die.


it's a mental game, as so very much of life is. [remember my favorite lotoja quote: "biking is a metaphor for life."] I had to learn to tell myself I was okay, I was still breathing, I could do it, I wouldn't die, I could survive this . . . this, more than anything else, is the greatest gift I received from Power Camp.
of course, I also quite like my rhinestone-encrusted tiara, my prize for being the A+ student who attended the most classes . . .
have you yet detected that I possess an intense level of determination and commitment?

back to 2008. shall I do this again? do I want this 6-days-a-week commitment over the winter? or would I rather just spend my time in the weight room, as I did last winter, fitting in just one spin class a week? I'll have to give up tuesday morning yoga; I'll have to give up a chunk of money. is it an investment in my health, or is it overkill?
today, I don't know the answers to these questions.

I remain in the state of unknowing, but I'm feeling that little jab that wants me to move along.

Monday, September 15, 2008

the state of not knowing

first, a few facts for the day:

* the first few miles of the climb up Big Mountain have become even more colorful than they were saturday morning; we are decidedly in autumn.
* asphalt is a very nice surface for riding a bike on.
* the sweetest tailwind ever helped me to a new Personal Best climbing emigration: 38 minutes. woo hoo!!!
* I still don't know what those silent, seemingly unfriendly cyclists out there are thinking.
* I have no idea what the next five or six months are going to be like for my cycling self.

which segues me nicely into the topic: I am in a grand state of uncertainty. I don't know how I'll keep in shape this winter, I don't know what I'll do with all those free hours each weekend. I don't know how much cycling fitness I'll lose, and I don't want to know how hard it's going to be to earn it back.

this all started in my mind as I was climbing back up Little Mountain on my ride this afternoon. my thought was, this isn't as hard as it used to be. I won't say it's easy, but it's become doable. as most of my rides have become. I still work hard, still send that heart rate up there, but it is slowly becoming easier.

as I crested the summit and started the descent toward the city, my mind moved to the thought of losing some of this strength and capability over the winter. ugh. it's inevitable, as there's just no way I'm willing to sit on a trainer or a spin bike for six hours on a December saturday. not going to happen.

so what will I be doing this winter? I don't know. it is currently the unknowable. which puts me in the state of not knowing. [remember, this is as oxygen is slowing seeping back into my bloodstream, as the wind is rushing against my face and I am finally descending after lots of ascending.]

and the state of not knowing is where I've been residing for quite some time. it's said that the only certainties are death and taxes, but most of us spend a lot of life hovering in a pretty stable place. we have careers, we have homes, we have marriages, we have stability. and then things happen and we lose one, two, or more of these. and then some of us move to that new state, not knowing.

as I said, I have been here for quite a while. and there's more to come. and the good thing is that I'm getting used to it.
a close friend of mine taught me this phrase a few years back: "I can't know." I like this, and I use it when appropriate.
so I can't know what this fall and winter will bring me, and I can't know what state I'll be in next spring. what I do know, however, is that this state of not knowing has a certain excitement to it, as well. what's coming around the bend can be something fabulous, which is probably more likely than the opposite.
which reminds me of yesterday's ride, a completely new trail for me. at each moment I chose to continue forward, regardless of my state of not knowing. I didn't know what each bend would bring me, I had no idea what was coming next. and I rode on, experiencing pleasant surprises, sudden scares, little thrills, big thrills, terror . . .
the state of not knowing.
this is not such a bad place to be.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

let go and let bike

today I had my first real mountain bike experience in over 3 years.
my intensive training period over, I now have freedom to try new experiences without feeling tied down to a certain number of miles to ride each week. the other day bill asked if I wanted to go for a mountain bike ride sunday, and I thought, why not?
here are some good reasons why not:

* I'm still in recovery and tired (I plan to use this for a long time).
* I haven't ridden my mountain bike (except to the gas station once) in years.
* I've never been on a good long trail ride. my longest ride was in moab ~ not quite the same thing.
* in general, bill's idea of "easy" and my idea of "easy" differ by a factor of about 50 percent.

the challenges started when I loaded my bike in my car: it is HEAVY. then I drove to bill's house, where he changed my slicks out for my regular knobby tires. as he was doing so I was inspecting my bike, noticing all the dirt and grime on it, and the fact that there were no little brake pads to squeeze against the tires. hmmm. then I looked at bill's bike, and sure enough, he had brake pads. I looked again at my bike, and at the empty place where on bill's bike, the brake assembly attached to the fork. hmmm. fortunately, at this point bill said, "wow, you even have disc brakes," which saved me a tiny bit of embarrassment, as I had just been prepared to tell him I wouldn't be able to use my bike because one of my daughters must have broken off the brake assembly. his comment, however, helped me understand why my bike had these shiny round flat silver things in the middle of the wheels.
are you starting to understand how much I know about mountain biking?
bikes loaded, we drove up to Silver Lake lodge at Deer Valley, then hit the trail. hmmm.
bill graciously offered some advice: always look to where you want your wheel to go; and just relax and let your bike do what it's meant to do. let go, and let bike. ah. I figured I needed to let my bike and God in on this one: let go, and let God and the bike get me through it.
I'm not so good at letting go.
which is good, because that phrase is not to be taken literally. I held on for dear life this afternoon, and I'm sure my arms and shoulders will be telling me all about it tomorrow.
I came to a few decisions while I was holding on and letting go and praying to God this afternoon.
first, I'm about 20 years too old to be doing this.
second, I'm too female to be doing this.
third, I am, at heart, a roadie.
I tried.
and I may, someday, try again.
but how many times have I written about new, smooth, fresh asphalt and how much I love it? there's a reason for that.
have I ever written about how much I love bouncing over rocks and gravel, having tree roots catch the underside of my pedals, and being scratched on the arms and legs by beautiful, errant branches?
I have not.
there were moments of pure beauty and joy on this afternoon's ride; I cannot deny this. we paused once in a sea of aspen, so dense and strong and tall it took my breath away. we sat on a bench high on an open ridge of the trail, looking out over too many valleys to count, gazing down on park city, deer valley, snyderville, jeremy ranch, silver summit, and more, in a single view. I brushed against wildflowers, I inhaled loamy earth. I was part of the trail, winding in and out of the mountainside, moving from sun to shadow and back. you aren't part of a trail on a road bike: this experience is not transferable.
I've re-hydrated, I've downed my ibuprofen, and now, I've recounted part of my trip here.
there is a possibility that I will do something like this again.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

about cycling again

the ocean of pines that I look down upon from the big mountain summit is now decorated with splotches of orange and gold, but you have to look far down to see them, as the higher hillsides are carpeted in pines, row after row after row of dense green pines.

it was peaceful there this morning: during my time out I think I saw more runners and even more hunters than I did cyclists. from little dell reservoir to the top I only saw three cyclists coming down, few cars going either direction, and not a single cyclist going my direction. it was cold, clear, beautiful.
and it only took me 14 miles and about an hour's worth of riding to decide that I really did want to be on the ride I'd chosen.
since last saturday's big ride I have done fairly easy rides, none longer than 22 miles. a large part of me is just thinking "whew, I did it, now I can relax and stop working so hard." then there is that other darn part of me that chides, "use it or lose it!" I've worked so hard to get to this point . . . do I really want to completely back off?

and no.

this morning my daughter had a 10 am soccer game, so I carefully planned a ride that would let me sleep in a tad, have a short time on the couch with a cup of coffee, and yet give me a decent workout. so I rode from my house up emigration to the top of big mountain, then back down and over to the soccer field, and I would have been completely on time except that I had to drag myself out the door to begin the ride, as my feet seemed to be entangled in the carpet fibers, and my mind wasn't too eager to direct them to freedom.
an internal dialogue that had started as I was dressing continued throughout the ride, and it was heavily weighted with complaints and doubts until I reached a point 3 1/2 miles from the top of big mountain. which is when I finally heard myself being glad to be where I was, and being almost excited to be climbing to the top.
of course half a mile later I was moaning and groaning again.
last winter my sister-in-law asked me if I experienced something like a runner's high when I was biking. I had to really think about it. I said well, probably when I'm going downhill really fast . . .
so much of my training has been climbing, and I really don't feel much of an endorphin high when I'm climbing a really steep hill. I mostly feel a shortness of breath, some pain, and a desire to just stop. but I do feel that "high" at times, and I must have gotten a big dose at that 3 1/2 mile point this morning.
I know that despite my internal (and sometimes external) grumbling, I love to ride my bike. it's not always easy, and it's not always fun, but it is always gratifying.

big mountain takes my breath away. literally, of course, on the way up. and figuratively, as I pause there at the top, taking it all in: the vastness of the view, the mountains lined up, range after range stretching into the distance, the deep green pines, the deciduous trees in their myriad fall colors.

this morning there were three hunters parked off the side of the road on a switchback near the top. they were using scopes to scrutinize the hillside to the southeast, and these men were silent and focused. and I felt a strange sense of connection with these men. we were involved in completely different tasks, yet were probably having a similar experience of peacefulness, calm, and silent awareness.
it was a quiet and beautiful world this morning at nine am on the top of big mountain.

Friday, September 12, 2008

not about cycling II

last evening I got to get dressed up and go to La Caille.
I, like most people, tend to go there for significant occasions only. and last night's occasion was momentous in that it was a fundraiser/celebration of an amazing organization, but also in that it changed something inside me.
the Work Activity Center is an organization that provides training, care, and employment opportunities for adults with disabilities. the company my business partner connie and I own, alchemy IV, has worked with the WAC (as we affectionately call it) since our inception 7 years ago. we take and have delivered the components of our sets to them, and they put our sets together for us.
employees have come and gone, supervisors have changed again and again, but the "clients" are a much more stable group. connie and I have gotten to know many of them quite well. and each time we visit the WAC, we leave there a little more grounded. life becomes much simpler after we spend time around this group of people.
last night we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the WAC's inaugural year. fifty years of providing care, training, work, and other recreational experiences for adults who did not used to have such opportunities.
our company is small, and the checks we write to the WAC each month can't possibly even put a dent into their operating expenses, once they have paid the clients for their work on our sets. but those clients greet connie and I each time we visit, with smiles and stories and handshakes and hugs, and make us feel like we are a gift to them.
when it is the opposite which is true.
last night debbie (deaf, with some form of cerebral palsy that causes her gait to be awkward and her arms to move stiffly) and mike (deaf, in a wheelchair) danced for us, and their grins were barely contained on their faces. and I barely kept the tears contained within my eyes.
they weren't tears of sadness or of loss or pity, but of joy.
I will never know what it's like to live inside such a body, or to process the world with such a brain. but I do know about joy, about accomplishment, about feeling capable and competent. and these are things each person at the WAC is able to experience.
and these are the things that bring each of us contentment and a sense of harmony with the universe.
something within me changed last night. it was a deepening of my sense of connection to every other human. it didn't happen because being around this group of people was new for me, as it's not. I think it happened because last night's collection of people was small, and populated by people who truly cared. I felt compassion, empathy, commitment, strength, and love throughout the room, all circulating and empowering each one of us.
La Caille is a beautiful setting for any event, but the most beautiful image impressed upon my mind last night remains the vision of debbie's smiling face as she watched, felt, and somehow heard our applause.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


monday I wrote that no one does lotoja alone.
wednesday I wrote that one can only do lotoja oneself.

a beautiful paradox, isn't it?

ghost morning

it is dark, the kind of dark that swallows you whole and negates your presence. it is quiet, the silence sitting on me like a blanket, nature's pre-dawn chatter muffled by the season, my headband and my helmet.
my headlight casts its small circle of light onto the path in front of me, and I forge ahead, the cool wind making my cheeks tingle. I am at the base of emigration, and I have just passed another cyclist who offered a warm 'good morning.'
his headlight is powerful, a full 180 degree sweep of light that illuminates me as I pull in front of him. my insignificant little light pales in comparison to his, and I once again think about replacing my batteries. then I remember that I did this two weeks ago.
I push harder to justify my passing him, and soon I am outside the main arc of his light, living instead in the periphery. I can even see my own shadow now, sometimes, up in front of me now that I have pulled far enough away from him. and here I stay, pedaling up the canyon that I have been aching to visit for days.
emigration has become like home for me. as my son's football team has a home field, this has become my home route. it is familiar and comforting. even in the dark.
which I am not quite in, as my fellow cyclist's light is still brightening particles of space around me. two cyclists have already come down the hill, their lights the only part of them I see until they draw parallel with me for that brief moment and I see their form, the wheels, a flash of covered leg and jacketed arm.
and then I see a cyclist in the middle of the road, with no light at all, no flashing red in the rear or bright white up front. I think the cyclist is moving forward, uphill, but why is he in the middle of the road, so terribly dangerous a spot to be? are my eyes playing a trick on me? no, there is a definite shape, I know, and a shiver runs through my body.
then he is gone.
and less than a minute later I see another shape, this time on the far right side of the bike lane ~ a much safer place to be ~ and this one looks like a runner. again, no lights, and I first think it's another insane person before I question my own sanity as I search harder to define the body and it slips away from me.
ghosts are with me this morning, and I am a teeny bit spooked.
could it possibly be my own shadow again, a ghosted version of me in another space and time?
I shiver again as the other cyclist's light fades further and further behind me until I am alone again, possibly, with my own small circle of light.

higher up the hill I see a round, tumbly, black shape ever so slightly moving off by the right shoulder of the road. a ghost? another unknown form? darkness has lifted a bit by now, and as I pull even with it I see a lighter color on the tips of it's outline, and I laugh to myself as I pass the slowly rooting porcupine, which is thankfully alive.

it is still pre-sunrise when I reach the summit, and I can't even read the numbers on my cyclometer to compare my time to that of other rides.
which is just fine.
I pause for a few seconds to look down at little dell, which is a ghost lake, silver and rippling gently, its iridescence floating up to me.
I turn and head down from the peak, and the thursday morning riders are approaching the top as I do so. there is first a pair of headlights in the bike lane, then a solitary one a bit behind that, then another, and another, and I count the column of riders as I spin my bike down the road. there are eight, eight headlights with barely formed bodies behind them, and these are the only other cyclists I see this morning on my ghost ride.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

rainy day story

this morning's ride was rained out.
which hasn't happened in so long that I didn't know what to do: go back to sleep, go to the gym to work out, make coffee and read a book . . . the latter won, today.
but I am not giving up: I sit here in my biking clothes for the second time today, waiting for the sky to clear so that I can go ride. I've showered, made lunches, took my girls to school, got my son to the doctor for cast-removal, brought him home so he could finally have a thorough shower, took him to school, accomplished some work, and here I am, typing this as I wonder whether or not I'll be able to ride today.
I may be wondering for a while.

since it's a rainy day, though, it's perfect for a story, and I believe I have a good one.
a friend told me about his experience at an AA meeting last night, and gave me permission to share this, so settle in and I will try to keep it brief.
a young woman was receiving a 60-day sobriety chip, and told a story about something that happened over the weekend. her husband was riding his bike in an all-day race, and she was providing his support, meeting him at the rest stops. (my friend is listening to this, knowing that it was lotoja, and that he was there, too.) he started off well, but as the day went by he slowed, and at each rest stop he seemed to be further behind than before. she was worried about him, but kept cheering him on, helping him refuel and get back out there for the next leg of the ride. he kept riding, but by the time he got close to jackson it was very dark, and she was driving her car behind him with her flashers on, providing light for him and protecting him from motorists who might not see him.
he finished the ride.
and when the two of them talked about it afterward, she told him how much she wanted to do something for him, to help him, to make it easier for him to finish this long and painful ride.
he looked at her (okay, that's me giving you a little drama) and told her that this is exactly how he feels about her sobriety: it is difficult, it is a struggle, and it goes on forever, and no one can do it but her. as much as he wants to help, he knows he cannot do it for her. it's her ride, and no one can pedal those wheels around except her.

last saturday morning a cyclist behind me said "biking is a metaphor for life." perhaps any activity could be linked with life in similarly metaphorical ways, but I am constantly amazed at how many metaphors and analogies leap to mind when I compare biking and examples of human life.

lotoja does many things for many people: obviously we who compete in or ride this race have a purpose of some kind in doing so. but we also each have our own stories, and create new stories, connections, and significant discoveries during this event. the story of this young woman and her husband is now a part of my lotoja experience, and I hope it is one that stays alive for them, strengthening and connecting them as they ride down life's road together.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


yesterday I got on my bike for an easy ride.
the first few minutes were uncomfortable. then the first few kilometers were a bit challenging. before long, I decided that maybe eight minutes would be long enough, really, for a recovery ride. okay, maybe ten minutes. and finally, I started to feel like I would be able to ride longer than twelve minutes, that I might possibly even make it to my goal of an entire hour.
I rode to sugarhouse park to do laps, as I couldn't bear the thought of riding through town and dealing with stop signs, stop lights, and traffic. (riding up a canyon was definitely out, as that would be way more work than my little heart and muscles needed.)
for weeks I have been meaning to mention this, and it always slips my mind when I actually sit down to write: it is a glorious year for hibiscus around here! I have never seen so many looking so happy, and sugarhouse park has a beautiful display of them near the entrance. each time I drive past I grin, and slip momentarily to a beach on hawaii's shoreline.
so the hibiscus are tall and regal, the sun is shining over the entire valley, and the air is fall-morning crisp as I turn into the bike lane to start looping the park. I feel good. and directly in front of me are three very nice looking men (from the back, anyway, which is all I can see of them) on roller blades, skating together in perfect rhythm. I am spellbound, watching them, as they embody strength and grace in motion. they are moving quickly, and I am perhaps ten or twelve feet behind them, wondering if I will pass them or not. soon we start down a hill, and the gap between us increases, the three of them tightly packed together, drafting off the lead man. then comes the incline, and they separate slightly as their arms and legs swing from side to side and their muscles pump them up the hill. it is beautiful and I am enthralled: I am almost close enough to touch these athletes, and I see every aspect of their process. when they draft their skates are within inches of each others; when they climb they alternate direction of their swings and miraculously do not touch the others' skates or arms.
I, of course, am caught up in the thrill of watching them, which means keeping up with them, and my recovery ride is getting tossed out the window as my heartrate climbs. but I'll be damned if they're going to get too far in front of me.
one takes a lap off, they trade leaders, they hook up with a fourth skater. I have no idea if they came to do this together, or if they connected with each other by chance.
I ride my laps, and after the fifth lap I do pass them, and somehow manage to stay ahead of three of them, but the fourth has accepted my unspoken challenge and pulls back in front of me, beating me to the top of the next rise.
soon he drops back to reconnect with the others, they are behind me, and I am riding on my own.
I don't know if these men use the skating as cross training for cycling or some other sport, or if they do this for its own sake. but they were so graceful, so confident and lithe, so very powerful. it was pure joy to watch them, to admire their athleticism.
it was just one more form of fuel for my own path.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I'm sure you all are just aching to know about my ride last saturday, so here goes.
I survived LOTOJA 2008, my second. once again the universe conspired to give me a perfect day . . . from my incredible support team (that would be three of my kids, a friend of theirs, and my kid's dad bob) to my great riding partner bill, to the absolutely exquisite weather, to my incredible workhorse of a bike.
completing lotoja is a team effort. no one is completely on their own out there, even though they may be the lone soul on a given stretch of asphalt.
which many of us had at times.
but you can feel the energy of all the riders, all the supporters, and possibly even that of those who have ridden before us.
I had help along the way, as I sat behind many people's wheels and benefited from their draft (bill's, quite often). and I helped others at times in the same way. but the most glorious help I had was from Liz Johnson.
a little history: back in june, Liz mentioned that she and her family were going to be riding lotoja, and I remember her mentioning riding the relay. [ many people form teams of 2-5 people who split up the ride.] then the day before the ride, my friend connie sent me a text, saying that Liz's family members were riding the relay in her honor.
so as I was riding a stretch of road coming into star valley (which is not my favorite place in the world), a group of guys passed me slowly enough that I could stay with them. I noticed that many of them wore jerseys that had the initials of Liz's dad's firm on them. I then asked the two cyclists in the back, nearest to me, if they knew Liz. one of them turned his head back toward me, and said, "she's my wife."
oh, God, oh, should I have said anything?
as I type this I'm not sure I should be sharing this story because even though it's mine, it's also his. and I think I have intruded on his life enough. but the rest of the story impacted me so greatly, that I need to write about it, so the part of me that wants to share this wins out over the part of me that respects his privacy.
we talked for a few minutes, and I told him how I knew Liz. I wished him a good rest of the ride, and then dropped off the back to let him be.
for the rest of the ride (which might have been 80 miles or so), we played leap frog with his group, finishing the race just a few minutes behind him.
why I am sharing this is that Liz was with me ~ and thus, I guess, him as well ~ for that entire portion of the ride, all the way to the end. I could feel her all around us, above us in that beautiful white-dotted blue sky. I could feel her joy, see her smile, feel her sadness over the fact that her husband was aching with loss.

the next-to-last section of the ride is up Snake River canyon, which is the most gorgeous section of the ride, for me. looking down on the river, seeing huge rocks through the stunningly clear green-tinted water, left me awestruck. (you know this happens to me sometimes.) It is such a beautiful stretch of road that I wanted time to stop, I wanted to just live there, in that time and space, for as long as I needed.
but I couldn't, could I?

we stopped there by the river on the way home, and walked down a path to the massive rocks at the river's edge. we sat on the rocks, soaking in the sun and the river's strength, until enough absorbed into our souls so that we could return to everyday life.

Liz carried me through to the lotoja finish line,
and the snake river is part of what will carry me through this fall as I slowly transition to a winter off the bike.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Camp Kostopulos is located up emigration canyon, just past Ruth's Diner. It has been there for over thirty years, and is a place for kids, teens, and adults of all abilities to go have a "camp" experience. I first came to know it as the place my church held its "vacation bible camp." our church rented the facility and used "camp K" staff and amenities in the mornings, and did its own program on the grounds during the afternoons.
There is a pond for fishing, a pool for swimming, a barnyard full of animals, horses for riding, and a ropes course for building trust and relationship. there is a lodge for indoor gatherings, and apparently sleeping facilities for the overnight campers and staff.
Yesterday as I rode up the canyon I noticed parking signs for the "united way day of caring" at camp kostopulos. the lots were full of cars, trucks, and two buses, and I could see people in bright yellow tee shirts working away within the camp grounds. having now done a little bit of research, I see that this was an organized effort of our United Way to do an improvement project for a local non-profit.
I've written before about what moves me: camp K moves me, as I think about all the people who benefit from its existence, both those with disabilities and those without. this is close to home for me, being a parent of a child with many special needs. I think my reactions would be different if I didn't have my son, and hadn't been through all that we have. but the reactions would be just different, not nonexistent. people with special needs and those who work with them all tug at my heart, and I'm sure this would happen whether or not I had my son. but because I do have jake, the tug is just a little more intense, a little brighter and stronger. and the tears are just a little closer to the surface.
I don't know what physical work was actually being done by all those people at camp K yesterday. but I know the emotional and spiritual work. these people were donating time, effort, and generosity of spirit with their presence. and whether they signed up as individuals, or were in some manner coerced by an employer into going, I know that they could not have been there giving of their physical bodies without somehow giving of their spiritual side. we all have this humanity within us that understands the gift to ourselves of giving to those who are seemingly (at least in a physical aspect) less fortunate.
our world is full of good souls.
as much hate, violence, war, and crime that exist, there are myriad examples of human beings giving of themselves. these all touch me, and reaffirm my faith in us all.
these are difficult things to put into words without sounding trite. for me, the philosophy of which I am trying to speak is very simple: we are all connected, and part of our reason for being is to be of service to others. in great ways, and in small ways. in authentic ways.

I leave this afternoon for logan, and the Really Big Ride is tomorrow. I will get on my bike and ride 206 miles and my riding will benefit no one but myself, at least in the short run. but hopefully, my determination, commitment, and completion of this ride will help me strengthen my own spiritual self. and the stronger my spiritual self, the more I have to give.
and the more I have to give, the better the world, if only by one iota.

your iotas plus my iota can re-landscape our world.

Thursday, September 4, 2008


I believe the universe gives us the experiences we need to experience.
this is my belief, and I don't expect it to be held by everyone out there. it's a belief that helps me make sense of the world, helps me stay calm, and enables me to retain my faith. it works for me.

the universe gave me snowtoja training monday, and today it gave me the polar opposite: a most gorgeous, perfect, mild, calm and stunning ride. I slept in (oh what an amazing treat) and didn't ride until mid-morning, after the sun had risen and warmed the air. it couldn't be a more perfect early fall day here, with barely a brush of white cloud in the sky and winds so peaceful I think they are just caressing our valley, giving it a little pat on the back for surviving this past weekend's weather.

I started my ride with a jaunt to my son's school, as he had forgotten his camera for photo journalism. a quick three miles down, camera delivered, and then I headed up emigration canyon, planning for a thirty-mile total on my last pre-lotoja ride. I haven't ridden up emigration in daylight for a while, and it was fun to actually see the bike lane the whole way. I also saw the cutest little bunny, but no deer or hummingbirds. I won't tell about all the dead creatures I saw, though I have to say this is the first time I can remember seeing a little white-bellied lizard lying supine, lifeless, on the edge of the road.

I crested the Little Mountain summit and looked down to Little Dell Reservoir ~ which is always one of my favorite moments on this route ~ and was awestruck. the reservoir was so still, not a single ripple caught the sun. the water perfectly reflected the surrounding hillside, yet gave everything a deeper green cast. it was as if someone had taken a huge piece of glass and pressed it gently down on top of the water, a glareless glass that echoed back a picture of the hills surrounding it. words fail me, here, for it was spectacular and so perfect as to be indescribable.

Little Dell never disappoints me. whether it is frozen as I see it during my first excursion of the season, wind-whipped and full of white caps, still and peaceful, or throwing out myriad shades of blues and greens, it is always a magnificent sight. restorative and refreshing, the sight of this small body of water always grounds me, pulling me back into what truly matters in this world.

I believe what I needed from today's experience is that grounding, the reminder that regardless of what comes my way, God is still God, and our world will always be full of visual reminders that what truly matters is simple, uncomplicated faith in ourselves and our own resilience.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

on roads, ports, and lotoja

remember the other day when all I wanted to write about was the moon?
this morning, all I want to write about is being cold . . . actually, I should use the power of positive thinking and write about being warm. okay, blue skies, hot, powerful sun, sweating, heat, fire, baking, roasting . . .
I am still shivering, a good hour and a half after returning from my ride. yes, my house is on the cool side (someday I'll go into the joys and frustrations of radiant heat), but I think I chilled myself more deeply than I thought while riding this morning.
so I will keep thinking warm thoughts while I sit here sipping hot coffee, wrapped in a blanket, typing away on the subject of goals.
we're supposed to have them. right? they say if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there . . . which implies adventure to me, but apparently, to the focused part of the world, this means lack of direction results in lack of results.
another great quote is attributed to Montaigne, "no wind favors he who has no destined port."
that one makes me think. especially as a cyclist who pays attention to wind: what about the winds which do NOT appear to favor me? will they exist, as well? regardless of my destined port? so, truly then, am I any worse off to not have a port in mind?
I semi-reluctantly registered for lotoja last april after much thought, deliberation, soul-searching, and a few conversations with fellow cyclists. what tipped me over the edge into "yes" was what biking buddy bob had to say about it. I said to him that I wasn't sure I wanted to have to work so hard all summer in training for the event, and bob replied that he feared what he might do if he did not have lotoja to train for. I looked at it from that perspective and thought, he's right, if I don't have this huge thing to have to work for, do I trust myself enough to work hard at all? what will I choose to do if I don't have a significant goal hanging out there in front of me?
I feared I would slack off, and not push myself. that I wouldn't strive for better, faster, stronger anymore. that I would say a five-hour ride was enough. that I would stay at the same level, or worse, slip backwards.
and today, what do I think?
will I sign up again for next year's ride?

I don't know.

I'd like a slightly less stressful goal, but I don't know what that would be.
on the other hand, I like my sticker on the car and my "medal" for finishing, and would like to have another.
then on that third hand, the issue of balance arises, though I do feel less out of balance this year than last.

I know where I'm going, and I believe that more than one road will take me there. I also believe that ultimately all winds favor me, for each experience they bring me ~ whether I like it or not ~ will just take me one step closer to being the best me possible.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

riding the white line

there are fine lines everywhere. hairline splits, delicate fractures, cracks that let the light slip in. we draw lines, we eliminate them, and sometimes we cross over them.
most often, it seems, they exist between one side and another, and we ride them. figuratively that is, though many cyclists I know ~ including this one ~ prefer to literally ride that white one as often as possible. [an aside for those of you who don't ride much: the white paint fills in some of the roughness of the asphalt and thus is just a titch smoother than the non-painted surface.]
back to figurative lines.
one exists between good pain and bad pain, and this line is wide and wiggly, and I am not comfortable with riding it. given a healthy body part, I can navigate that line pretty well. my heart, for instance, is wonderfully healthy and I know enough about it to understand when I can push it and when it becomes too much. it hurts along the way, but I know it's good pain. another example is my triceps: I can work them, fatigue them, make them scream, and I know it's all going to be okay. they won't become injured before I have to quit from sheer exhaustion.
it's those not-so-healthy body parts that cause me to question the line.
the other day I wrote that my right shoulder was healing so well that I might be ready to return to power yoga. this morning in "gentle yoga" my right shoulder told me otherwise. I have been playing the "positive thinking" game, exercising and stretching my shoulder, and trying to be gentle with it when putting myself in positions that may stress it. I've been telling myself for months that "my shoulder is getting better," and I pretty much believe myself.
but this morning it was talking to me. and I'm not really sure which side of the line it was on. at first I thought it was just letting me know it was there, ready to work, letting me know that I was asking a lot of it, but a manageable lot. and then after about the 8th visit to "cobra," I started thinking it was telling me something different. like, "you know, susan, I really don't want to do this anymore, and I might just start going backwards on this healing thing if you keep it up."
or perhaps it was just saying, "ow, this is tough, but each time you make me do it I'm getting stronger, so keep it up."

how do I know?
the line is amorphous, and I am adrift.

this is when one needs a professional, I suppose. I can positive-thought myself right over the edge sometimes, or I can wimp myself right out of any activity.
when I first went to dr. jamie to have him assess my shoulder, I couldn't stretch my right arm up behind my back much further than my waistline. but then he told me it was okay to push myself, using a towel held by my both hands, to pull that stretch further until I could get my hand more than halfway up my back. this hurt! but the doctor told me it was a good hurt.
good hurt versus bad hurt: the line between is where I ride, and knowledge of where to stay is what I reach for.

Monday, September 1, 2008

snowtoja practice

alternate titles for this piece:

the wicked wind of the north
goosebumps on my sunburn, or, welcome to utah
sun and moon and rain
timing is everything
on toe covers and full gloves

lotoja is not a weather-dependent race: it happens no matter what the weather decides to do that day. a few years ago, the weather decided on a dramatic showing full of wind, cold, and snow, and thus the event that year was nicknamed "snowtoja." many cyclists had to quit before the end, and I've heard stories of those being pulled off the course, off their bikes, and treated for hypothermia. finish times were much longer than other years, and all in all, it sounds like an absolutely miserable day. to me, that is.

today I did some snowtoja training. it wasn't my intention, at all. I naively thought I could sneak a little ride in before the rain, and I was wrong. but being the determined, tenacious soul I am, I stuck it out. for a whole hour, for 17 entire miles. that would be about 8 percent of lotoja's distance . . .

at 9 this morning I was ready to ride. I'd slept in, had coffee and reading time, and now was ready for a 30-miler, up emigration and then probably down to mountain dell golf course and back. I had my new, long-sleeved cozy jersey on, capris because it was semi-cold, toe covers and full gloves and my bright neon wind jacket. I had two water bottles in my cages, and my sunglasses, and was ready to roll when I opened the garage door.

then a little brown spot appeared on my driveway, and then, another. spaced widely apart, they were friendly little things, soon joined by another a good three feet away.
I looked up into the sky, and saw gray. and more gray. and then, over there, more gray.
so I hopped on my bike, zeroed out my odometer and set off. I studied the clouds as I took off down the street, and they looked most threatening to the north. okay, well, I had decided I really didn't want to do city creek canyon anyway. the west looked ominous, too, but I never ride off to the west. safe there. south looked okay, but I really didn't want to go south.
east, now east, that was almost looking good. I could see pale blue sky, white clouds, and even some sunshine peaking through. east was good.
by this time I was close to foothill, heading up to wasatch drive. and emigration was looking, well, almost clear. and possibly even nice up there, and I bet the threatening, ugly dark gray clouds were just going to hang heavily in the valley. I would be fine, as long as I kept heading east.


I did think that perhaps I should have checked the weather site a little more closely, possibly even looking to see which way the wind was blowing, and how the storm was moving through.

but I kept pedaling up the canyon, thinking how nice it was that I wasn't facing the huge headwind I usually do heading up. I was even sweating a bit, and thinking that it was colder at my house than it was up the canyon. I also noticed that my "clear to the east" observation had been accurate, but that it seemed to keep moving further and further to the east, and no matter how hard I pedaled I wasn't getting one bit closer to the clear part.

and then it started to sprinkle. which is just fine with me.
and then it started to rain. which is fun, refreshing.
and then it started to dump water in bucketfuls from the sky. which is no longer really fine or fun, and I really don't need to be refreshed anymore.

I reached the Sun and Moon cafe, and decided I'd better turn around. I'm all for fun and adventure and new experiences (see august 9, and "drowned rat at brighton" photo), but this appeared to possibly be crossing the line over into stupidity. glasses off, phone re-tucked into semi-dry pocket, I headed down the hill.
ow. (rain pellets striking my cheeks)
brrr. (everywhere)
slosh. (the sound of my feet in the swimming pools that were my shoes)

I am devastated, of course, to know I won't get my 30 miles in. or even a very long workout. so I decide I will ride for an hour, no matter what. which means when I get down to the mouth of the canyon I will hop on wasatch and ride south for a little bit. in the rain. with my soaking wet gloves, feet, pants, helmet, hair, face . . .
are you questioning my sanity?
I kept thinking of those people who rode lotoja three years ago, who stuck it out for as long as they could, some until the end. here I was, 50 minutes into a slightly uncomfortable ride, complaining to myself about 10 more minutes? I don't think so.
and I was really okay with it all, until I turned around to head toward home, and faced the wicked wind of the north. ARGH! I pushed and fought, water pelting me, puddles kicking back at my feet, wind wrapping itself around my soaking form and whispering "you're cold and miserable susan, you're wet and only 55 minutes into a wimpy ride." where's dorothy's flying house when you need it?

I made it home, where I managed to peel off my 10-pounds worth of cycling clothing in the laundry room, where they are still making a dirty puddle on the linoleum. my shoes may not dry out until wednesday.

so, as I sit here and type, I watch the gray sky just sitting there, having released its heavy burden. the ground is wet, but the wind has stilled and no rain is falling to earth.

timing is everything.