Tuesday, May 31, 2011

on feeling like a groundhog

I have this recurring experience while riding during the past six weeks or so:
I feel like punxsutawney phil.
without the paparazzi.

it's been gray, cloudy, rainy, snowy, sleety around here, just about everything but sunny. and then every once in a great while, the sun will pop out from behind the clouds and I'll see my shadow.
yes, I see my shadow!
I get all excited--look, sunshine, wow!--and then I think about phil. does this mean six more weeks of gloom? or is spring coming? it's almost june: shouldn't spring be here by now? how does it feel to be phil, does he feel anything like I do when I'm surprised (gratifyingly) by my shadow? does he care whether it's gloomy or sunny?

I saw my shadow again today, quite a few times during my ride. then it disappeared for great lengths of time. I missed it. I'm ready to see it more regularly.
I'm done with the hibernation of winter, I'm ready to ride sleeveless and without toe-covers. I'm ready to have my tan lines pop back out for the season, I'm just plain old ready for it to be warm.
and sunny.
and full of shadows, preferably my own.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


" . . . I've been thinking about a.j. muste, who during the vietnam war stood in front of the white house night after night with a candle. one rainy night, a reporter asked him, 'mr. muste, doyou really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?'
'oh,' muste replied, 'I don't do it to change the country. I do it so the country won't change me.' "

(from anne lamott's plan b: further thoughts on faith)

Friday, May 27, 2011

removing rocks

I have a friend who moves rocks out of the bike lane.
he stops, reaches down, picks up and tosses the rock into the brush beside the road, then clips back in and continues pedaling up the road.

the rest of us avoid, ignore, curse, open our eyes in amazement, or simply ride past and around those rocks.

he stops, performs his simple task, and clears the way for those who come next.

and that says volumes about my friend.

last night I attended my son's Baccalaureate, the precursor to his high school graduation. it was a beautiful service, a mass followed by the awarding of academic honors to individual graduates. one young man, someone my son has attended school with for 13 years, someone whose parents are my great and loving friends, received more honors than anyone else--from highest achievement in AP English to outstanding athlete to excellence in service and peer ministry--his handsome face simply glowing, his smile a humble acknowledgement of acceptance.
in speaking with his mother, my friend, later that evening, she said, he just came out that way. she never had to encourage him to study, to take on challenges, to stretch, to reach higher than others, to perform well, to offer himself in service to others. he just came out that way.

we are all capable of learning, of stretching, of growing. of seeking enlightenment, of evolving. but certain aspects of who we are come in our dna. the desire to explore and expand ourselves, to be the best possible version of ourselves, to acknowledge our place as one in a community of many: these are vital, beautiful pieces of our character.

my friend's award-draped son, my friend who removes rocks, the anonymous donor who gave $10,000 to help send high school graduates on to college: each of these people is gifted with vision that includes those outside of their own experience. this is a strength, this is truly a gift, this is part of what we call character.

I know when my rock-removing friend has ridden a road before me, and when he hasn't.
I have yet to meet--or see--anyone else who stops to remove rocks from the road.

and I suppose one of my greatest goals in life is to be someone who removes rocks from the paths of others.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

my future

the first woman I passed this morning had short gray hair, curling slightly under the back edges of her helmet.
the next had longer gray hair, pulled back in a pony tail.
both were riding at a good pace, working steadily, climbing up the canyon.
the next few women had gray hair as well, as did the two men.
and they were all cheerful, exchanging greetings with me, smiling between labored breaths.

this is who I want to be.

I'm never good at guessing ages, but I think they all had at least a dozen or fifteen years on me.

and some day (sooner than I think) I will be the one riding a little more leisurely up the road, being passed by those younger than I, turning and smiling and saying good morning, as I drink in the fresh air and smell spring everywhere.
my gray hair tucked neatly into a ponytail or curling beneath the edges of my helmet, my breath labored, my soul happy as ever, I hope to keep climbing up the canyon until my legs can no longer pedal around and around,
and around.

Monday, May 23, 2011

toward the blue

I rode two directions today, north and south.

a storm was moving in from the south, thick gray clouds drooping low into that part of the valley, the sky over the north blue and pure.
I rode south, toward the threatening sky, watching it move toward me at the same pace I was moving toward it. we met, and my world darkened but remained dry, so I continued south. heavy gray pressed down, the air thick, the occasional kiss of a raindrop brushing my cheek.
the wind behind the clouds blew into me, gently, reminding me that wetness was inevitable in my future.
upon reaching my turnaround point, I swept through my wide rotation and faced north. wind at my back, I faced--high above and fighting for space in the cloud-filled sky--blue.
and my mindset changed.

I love storms, deep, dark cloudy skies and torrential rain. thunder, lightning, flashes that light up pearlized clouds and the electrical tension in the air. I love the weight of the clouds that hang low, I love the smell of earth soaked with fresh rainfall.

but I also love the blue of a carefree sky, unburdened by weather, by storms, by angry clouds dense with the weight of rain yet to fall. the blue that sings, the blue that promises life, growth, freedom from the imprisonment of cold and wet.

moving toward the blue, my heart lightened, my spirits lifted . . . my pedals may even have spun around more quickly. there's just something different about moving toward an outcome you desire, a hope that may be fulfilled, a dream that may be attained.
emily dickinson wrote that hope is the thing with feathers . . .
hope may also be the pieces of blue sky that hide behind the edges of the storm clouds, far to the north, teasing. calling me onward, promising . . . simply, hope.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

newton's laws of motion

last post was about being still.
I liked being still. it was restorative, a little bit fun. it forced me to breathe deeply and refuel a few depleted cells.
however, nothing remains the same, nothing is static for long: today I got on my bike in the glorious sunshine and rode 106 fast miles. fast. faster than was comfortable, faster than I'm really capable of, if that could be true. (it's as I tell my friends: I'm not that strong of a rider, I just always ride above my ability level.)
it's as if I took every bit of stillness from the other day and practiced its opposite. in yoga, we'd call this a counter-pose; today I'm thinking that it's just an aspect of life that follows one of newton's laws.

as tired as I sometimes become, as weary as I often feel, as depleted as I at times am, there always---always---comes a time where I go ride hard, work all day like a fiend, run errands/do laundry/cook/run kids here and there, give 150 percent of what I thought I had to give. newton was right when he told us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
stillness on thursday; ridiculously fast cycling today.
there you go.
scientific laws acted out by yours truly.

now newton also says that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. hmm . . .
okay, he did go on to say that it will stay in motion unless an external force is applied. I guess life could be considered an external force. at the end of those seemingly non-stop days I eventually collapse, ceasing my motion.
and at the end of my 106 mile bike ride today, I collapsed. well, actually, I didn't so much collapse as try to eat everything in my fridge and freezer. I sighed deeply, repeatedly. I stretched and groaned. I took a hot shower and gloried in being clean again. and then I ate some more.

for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
stillness thursday, fast motion on a primarily flat course today . . .
I don't dare think about tomorrow.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

still and still

one breath.
my breath.
in, deeply, held for mere nanoseconds longer than is natural, released. completely. emptied, concavity.
gathered again, collected, drawn in and inflating my lungs, held, once again released.

the world stills, its momentum slowed, its energy collected and held as close as my breath.

it's raining, relentlessly, again, ceaselessly.
I am being asked---told---to slow, to be still, to breathe in one breath at a time, to hold it, to release it, and to move forward at that pace.
no jumping on the bike, revving the heartrate, breathing fast and shallow and chasing away the thinking.
today I get to just be still, and listen to the rain, and breathe.

it was a yoga morning, stretching and pulling my muscles, flexing and pushing my joints, helping my body relearn its flexibility and resilience. practicing quietly, breathing deeply, hoping that my heart and mind will rediscover their own flexibilities and resiliences.

it is a day for stillness, the sweet smell of rain settling heavily around, the splash of puddles bringing a childlike glee to my heart, the wet somehow weighting me, solidifying my presence here on earth.

I breath.
one breath, in, held slightly longer than I want to, and released.
and it rains, still.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

it's snowing on my geraniums

just imagine what my geraniums think, and double that.
and that might come close to what I'm thinking as I sit here, inside, on may 17th, and watch it snow.
all over my flowers, my plants, my lawn, my sidewalk, and my streets.
my streets, where my bike wants to ride.

the forecast for the week is dreary and gloomy, and it's likely ruby won't be seeing dry pavement much at all.
I keep telling myself how beautiful it is, the snow that sits on all of our mountaintops, and how fabulous it is that we're receiving so much moisture, here in our desert state.
but there's a part of me that's moaning and moping, shivering and grumpily wrapping up in blankets. waiting for the pavement to dry.

they say life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
life is snow and sleet when you want to be riding your bike; life is disappointments and heartache when you want to be joyful and easygoing. life is work, chores, seriousness and responsibility; life is hugs and spontaneity and stalwart pansies who peek their heads through blankets of snow.

enjoy the rain, susan, enjoy the respite from pedaling and climbing. enjoy the lush growth and vibrant trees, the smell of wet earth and the mountain peaks outlined in snow.
you will be able to ride your bike when it's time.
tomorrow you can make plans again; today was meant for enjoying fresh, white, clean fat snowflakes sitting, fleetingly, on your crimson geraniums.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

the fabulous fantasmagorical non-thinking machine

holly commented on my may 9 post about lovely S-curves with this message:
Your blog makes me think so hard. I read, and I read, and I read, and I always feel like I need to read each post again . . . I can't think this hard!

the irony: while she was posting that comment, I was riding my bike, mentally composing my next blog post, which was going to be all about the gift of non-thinking that cycling gives me.

I shrug my shoulders and smile: life is full of little ironies.

because truthfully, the gift of non-thinking is possibly the greatest gift cycling has given me. as One Who Thinks Too Much, I need escapes from my too-busy mind. pedaling up hill after hill, swooping down, being surrounded by ever-changing, awe-inspiring natural scenery: these things occupy my mind and oxygen supply, limiting my opportunity to ponder things that don't really need to be pondered.

perhaps that's what I should tell holly: don't think about my posts, just let them be absorbed, allow your mind to pick what it wants to hold on to and what it prefers to let go of. that someday the pieces that have meaning for you will gel and inform some action, thought, or movement in your life. the flotsam and jetsam will drift off, leaving that ever-so-quick mind available to draw connections and light upon insights when pieces of what I write marinate with others' words and the experiences that grace your life.

I need to trust my own mind to pick through and save what matters, and jettison the rest.
unfortunately, being One Who Thinks Too Much, I should probably begin an exercise program for my mind, excising the flotsam on a regular basis.

oh, I think they call this meditation . . .

so, I must keep cycling. it affords me meditative moments that I desperately need. times when hillocks and rippling water and crashing streams all float into and through my consciousness without truly registering. where waving grasses and budding trees and the smell of freshly chopped cedar seep into my core, where sunshine and cloud cover and rushing wind permeate the shell of my thinking mind and soften my stance as a Thinking Being.

holly, then, was right on target.

and I love my fabulous, fantasmagorical non-thinking machine that goes by the name of ruby. descartes was a remarkable philosopher, but perhaps if he'd ridden a bike as I do he might have adjusted his famous statement---je pense, donc je suis---to

I ride, therefore I am able not to think, allowing me to exist more fully as a thinking being.

Friday, May 13, 2011

the ipod experiment

in all of my years of riding (okay, almost 5 now), I have never worn an ipod and listened to music as I've pedaled up the road.
until yesterday.

some organized rides have Stated Rules that forbid the use of ipods while riding---which some people ignore---and I've always thought of ipod use as something that would interfere with my interface with the natural world. pearl jam blaring, drowning out the chirping birds, kenye west's lyrics messing with the sound of rushing water, bob dylan mumbling so loud I couldn't hear the crickets.
I have friends and even a few riding buddies who listen to their ipods while riding, and even do it when we're on a long group ride: I've never quite understood why they choose to do so. which is a little strange, I'll admit, given my absolute love of listening to music while I run.

and then came yesterday, when I decided to try it.
I planned a route with as little traffic as possible, and as few intersections and stoplights. hah! I chose to ride up my favorite canyon! what a surprise. it was all in the interest of being safe.
it was a gorgeous day, and I wrapped my little ipod holder around my arm, earbud around my left ear, pushed the "shuffle" button, and set off.
within a minute a smile crept onto my face, and there it stayed.
I had a great ride.

now, it was 70 degrees, and I was in my favorite place, and I did get to ride all the way up toward east---on a closed-to-cars road---until snow covered the asphalt right before the first switchback . . . but I do have to give some credit to the music playing in my ear.
it was fun.

so, what did I learn?
I liked listening to music as I rode
it was motivating
I could still hear everything: birds, cars, my pounding heart, my labored breath . . .
the only time I had to pause it was to hear more loudly the rushing creek
I need some good climbing songs

I know lance used to listen to linkin park: guess it's time to me to google motivating cycling music, and dig out one of those itunes gift cards lying around, and reload my ipod with some great cycling tunes.
and see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

when the weatherman nails it

today's forecast: partly cloudy,temps in the low 50's, with a 20 percent chance of rain.

today's ride: partly cloudy, temps in the low 50's, and sprinkles of rain during 20 percent of my ride.

when they're right, they're right.

Monday, May 9, 2011

the lovely s-curve

bicycling magazine, june 2011 issue, pages 18-19:
a photo of the infamous S curve in big cottonwood canyon. obviously retouched, the asphalt is bitter black, and neither a car nor pothole is in sight. it brings a grin to my face.
and gives me slightly different stats for the canyon than I'd thought:
14.7 miles
total gain of 4584 feet,
average grade of nearly 8 percent.
huh. no wonder it hurts.

they call it "one of the loveliest S-curves anywhere," and although I haven't sampled many S-curves on my bike, I absolutely love this big cottonwood curve and smile to think of it labeled "lovely." it is lovely. and even lovelier without cars nearby . . .

I've come a long way, baby, in my willingness to descend at speed, and I've trained myself to steer my mind away from "what if" thinking. I am not a speed junkie, I am not a thrill seeker or one who takes excessive risks. but there's something powerfully addictive about pushing your speed on a descent, leaning into the curve, tightening your core and trusting your symbiosis with the bike to hold you steady and safe.
when a "what if" thought sneaks in (what if I were to crash at this speed? wow, I'd be plastered all over the asphalt, what a mess, what would happen to . . .) I immediately send it away.
it does me no good.
I have to focus on the road, my belief in myself, my trust in the bike, my vigilance in scouring the road in front of me, and just, well, have faith.

life is full of trade-offs. no risk, no reward is an axiom spread throughout our society and used in situations from dating to stock investing.

tavis smiley recently said that we need more people who are willing to fail. and to fail big. to take risks, accept the inherent uncertainty, and take the resulting ups and downs.

I accept that every time I get on my bike I'm taking a risk. a calculated one, an informed one, and almost always, a tempered one. when I hit the approach to that S-curve, I do apply the brakes.
lightly. carefully. with knowledge of my own skill level and my bike's handling, the road conditions, the wind, how many cars are around.
I want the thrill, but I also want to be around to tell how much I enjoyed my descent.

I don't disagree with tavis, but I don't know that I'm willing to fail big. not with the funds I need to feed and care for my family, and not with my life.

I watch people swoop and drop down winding canyon roads, and I watch people invest and score big in new products, IPO's, fabulous new technologies and ideas and crazes. and I am content to sit in the middle land of being just daring enough to enjoy the swoop, yet safe enough to retain my pretty-darn-good life.

may you find your own version of our canyon's lovely S-curve, and enjoy the thrill. and perhaps you operate as I do: a little braking, some appropriate vigilance, and a great big grin for the swoop.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


'tis the season.
shoulder season, that is, when the snow is piled impossibly high along the side of the road, the ski resorts are ghost town quiet, and we cyclists are climbing up the canyons.
it's quiet; cars are few, cyclists dot the bike lanes sporadically, parking lots are deserted.
the brighton store sits naked and lonely, its sign gone, no reminder that it is planted 8600 feet above sea level.
a few boarders hike up the beginner's hill at brighton, a handful of cars round the victory lap with us, and the cold breeze is cut by a gift of bright, warm sunshine.
the season's first trip up big cottonwood now safely tucked under my proverbial belt, I am ready to tackle the rest of the year.
bring it on.
gradually, though, please, as my legs are beat.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

gone with the wind

often I get home from a ride exhilarated and joyful.
sometimes I'm frozen, sometimes I'm crusted with dried sweat and tears.
I'm always glad to be home, and I'm usually grateful for the great ride I've had.

and then there are those times I say, wow, that was a great training ride.

"training ride," in my vernacular, means yucch, sure didn't enjoy that one.

yesterday's ride was a great training ride.
often, as was the case yesterday, it's due to the wind. it was wicked, and only fun when it was directly behind my rear wheel.

if you've been following me for a while, you know I have a thing with the wind: it messes with my mind. here's why: unless it's a recovery day, I work hard when I ride. and I gauge where my heartrate is based on my perceived exertion, and I'm almost always right on, within a few beats. unless I have a significant headwind. then I can work like crazy, certain that my heart is beating like mad, look down at my monitor and see some wimpy mid-work-zone rate and I just crumble.
I go through a "how can this be?" process, and fall apart. I think, I can't work any harder, and yet my monitor is telling me I can.
I've been trying to figure this out for years.
some have suggested it's psychological.

today I had a break-through: I think I've figured it out, and I'm floating on a cloud of either understanding or denial, hoping for the former.

I've always noticed a tendency for my heartrate monitor to show numbers much higher than possibly true when I have a strong headwind: they can jump 20 or 30 beats, and I know they're incorrect. when I press the chest strap in more closely it will sometimes go back to normal. well, today, I had two monitors reading the message from my strap, and they were all over the board, from 125 to 223. normal work zones for me on the downhill range from about 150-174.
the lightbulb?
the fact that I was seeing artificially low numbers as well as impossibly high numbers: ah ha! for some reason, my strap is sending undependable messages to my monitors when it's aggressively windy, and therefore, it's likely that when I see low numbers when my perceived exertion is high, the monitor isn't accurate.

I am tough!
I'm not a wind wimp!
I don't have psychological problems!
well, at least not related to my performance on a bicycle on windy days.

this may not seem like a big deal, or you might not agree with my possible explanation, but it sure feels right to me, and helps explain what has been inexplicable to me for a long time.

all that being said, it doesn't change the fact that yesterday's ride was a great training ride.
it just makes me feel like I trained a little better than I'd thought.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

the unimaginable

this is what I've learned:

everything is possible.

each day I begin a ride toward a canyon I start with my heart pounding and my head saying, uh-oh, can't do. the first mile is tough, as it's all uphill, and the second mile is never much easier. it takes me a good twenty minutes to get in the swing of things, twenty minutes of no, uh-uh, I'll quit early today, and oh I want to stop.
this happens every time I ride, and you would think that I could condition my mind to accept its negativity as a simple phase to pass through, but each time it happens I believe myself. I believe the "this is too hard" and the "I can't do this."
of course I can do it!
I've proven I can do anything I set my (obviously conflicted) mind to. what I cannot seem to do, though, is keep this certainty, knowledge, and awareness front and center.
so every day is like a new day, a new day of learning that I can.

I signed up for lotoja (yes, I'm still waiting to hear that I will or will not be training like a fool again all summer) knowing that I will panic a bit about how I can't do this, but that I will do it anyway.
I am hoping that one day I will completely internalize this awareness that I can.

I've come a long way, I've come to this point where a century is always doable, and any old ride will be survivable. I know this, at least until I get on my bike and have to suffer through that warm-up period where I know I can't. the ride/the goal/the successful outcome seem unimaginable, and perhaps this is where the opportunity lies: perhaps I need to remember to imagine it.
to imagine my success.
to imagine myself already at the top of the hill, already beginning to descend.
to imagine the outcome I desire.

so, the lesson.
it must be to imagine the unimaginable, and to let that be your guide. forget the aches, disregard the naysayers (even if they live inside your head), and believe.

in other words,
have faith and simply keep pedaling.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

why I don't wear bikinis

well, there are a few reasons, actually.
but this is only about one of them.

last weekend I was in southern utah, tooling around on my bike, blue skies above and warm air caressing my skin. sigh. it was lovely.
and before i set out on that first day I was reminded to put sunscreen on, so I carefully applied said lotion to my face. I slipped on my shorts, sleeveless jersey, toe-cover-less shoes, and fingerless gloves, and set out to re-experience the joy of riding a bike in near perfect weather.
four hours later I was back at the hotel, noticing that my arms were pinking up a bit. I pulled on swim shorts and a light, long sleeved top, and went to sit in the shade by the pool. a gentle breeze kept us cool, and it also kept me from noticing the warmth spreading across my skin.
an hour or so later, when I prepared to take a shower, I noticed that I had suddenly become two-toned: torso and upper legs: white; arms and mid-thighs-to-ankles: red.
not brown, not golden, not flushed or glowing . . . simply, red.
and now, a week later, my peeling sunburn having hidden beneath turtlenecks and jeans for the past seven days, my arms have settled into a pinky-light brown color, and my mid-thigh bike-short tan line (that I've possessed year round for the past 4 years) has popped back out in a big way.
once again I look ridiculous in shorts, swim shorts, and short pajamas, and that's just the way it is.
and will be.
until I get old, stop riding a bike, and start regaling my grandchildren with stories about how I earned this scar on my knee, and that scar on my shoulder, and those two scars on my clavicle . . . and, I'm afraid, the silly line halfway between my hips and knees that just won't ever truly go away . . .