Monday, October 31, 2011

a reminder about ants and grasshoppers

I realize that some of you may think that I live a life of ease, picking and choosing my preferred ride times, never having to work, just floating with the sunny skies and perfect air.

I do live an amazingly beautiful life, but that is due, in part, to the fact that I am an ant.

long ago, aesop told a tale of a happy, songful grasshopper who spent his summer singing and enjoying the warm weather, and of an ant who spent his summer storing food for the winter. the grasshopper played, the ant worked. and lo, come winter, the grasshopper had nothing to eat, no stores to use, nothing to get him through the harsh and difficult season.
the ant, meanwhile, had set aside plenty to see him through, as he had worked all summer, planning for his future.

I tend to be an ant.

I am always doing today what might not need to be done until tomorrow. I like to be prepared; I like to be ahead of the game.
I like to fill my shelves with inventory long before the orders come.
so I work early in the morning and late at night and whenever my ant-ness makes me.
and then if the sun breaks out and warms the air I can hop on my bike and go enjoy it, riding, singing, playing in our big, beautiful world.

come to think of it,
perhaps I'm really a hybrid. an anthopper. a grant.
a happy, productive, farsighted, singing grant.

so there, aesop.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

hold on loosely

I have an ipod nano that my family gave me for Christmas years ago. I'm not too much of a geek, nor do I have too much music, so it suits me just fine. but it has this issue, which it seems to have always had: it doesn't always respond when I hold the "turn off" button. I usually have to try more than once, and I press and press, and often become frustrated by the difficulty of the process. geez, I just want to turn the darn thing off! I've considered just getting a new one, thinking there's just some little flaw with that button that's not even a button, just a spot on the little white wheel.
it's old, I've told myself, so I shouldn't expect it to work perfectly.

well, that's how it's been, up until about two weeks ago.
at that magical time, I discovered that when I just lightly tapped the "turn off" button-that's-not-a-button, it turned right off.
and every time since, I've turned it off easily by just tapping that little button.

the roads I ride aren't always coated with smooth asphalt.
often it's chip seal, or worn chip seal (which is better than new), or some patched mess of various kinds of road surfacing. occasionally I cross cattle guards or railroad tracks. and there are always cracks, potholes, uneven surfaces, and what some call "road furniture," debris that could knock you over if it got you before you saw it.

I've learned, over time, that there's a point of perfect tension in my handlebar grip, a place where I'm holding on well enough, yet allowing space and opportunity for my bike to show me where it wants to go. too tight, and I throttle its efforts to move smoothly over bumps and holes, and too loose, I risk letting it get sucked into gouges and ridges and toss me over the handlebars.
a natural tendency---as I demonstrated with my ipod---is to try too hard, to press to firmly, to hold on with a near death grip.
my car is a wiggly little thing, and I've learned this with when moving over the metal bridge expansion grooves on a curve: when I grip the steering wheel too tightly, my car is thrown a bit with each one. when I find that perfect balance of tension, the car moves through them more smoothly. I give it a little space to do its job, while still performing my own.

38 special is one of those american rock bands that had a handful of hits back in the '80s, and is still plugging along. their "hold on loosely" was a number one hit back in 1981 (!) and I think of that title frequently as I navigate through life, bike rides, car rides, ipod use.
as I began to write this today I pulled up the complete lyrics to the song, and was amazed by how well these words convey the truth of all sorts of relationships. and although the rhyme itself leaves something to be desired, this couplet sums it up beautifully:

your baby needs someone to believe in
and a whole lot of space to breathe in

Thursday, October 27, 2011

mali rising

I could be approaching the end of my life.
I could be experiencing my last year, everything winding down, the end terribly in sight. this could be it for me, and for all of my peers as well.
many of my friends, a good portion of my biking buddies, my brother and his wife, definitely my mom, her husband, my dads, their partners . . .
were we living in Mali, we would likely all be dead or rapidly approaching death.

the average life expectancy for males in Mali is 48, and for females is 49.

a while back I attended a fundraiser for an organization called Mali Rising.
this group, run by a man named Yeah Samake, focuses on increasing education for the children of their nation. they use funds to build schools, to train teachers, to expand educational opportunities for all children, especially girls. in many third world countries females come second to males when educational options are limited: Mali Rising is one of many organizations which are trying to change this practice.
Mali is a land-locked nation in northwestern africa, with the following statistics:

Population: 13 million
Capital: Bamako
Area: 1.25 million sq km (482,077 sq miles)
Major languages: French, Bambara
Main exports: Cotton, gold, livestock
Annual per capita income: US $500
Economic base: Agriculture and fishing (80%), Industry and service (20%)

everything about me---from my home ownership to cycling to my graduate degree to the ease of my life---would not be, had I been born to a typical family in Mali.

I often express the fact that I'm glad I'm not in charge of the world, for I don't know what I'd do. I don't know how I'd solve its problems, structure its government, design its roads (except they'd all be fresh, smooth asphalt, of course). I am overwhelmed by the enormity of challenges presented, and although I excel at seeing the Big Picture, I am not always so good at envisioning solutions, let alone implementing them.
there is a line from a beatles song, we all want to change the world.
well, I would like to change the world.
I'd like the people of Mali to live longer, lose fewer children to preventable childhood diseases, be less poverty-stricken, have access to more support/food/clean water/job opportunities/education.
and bicycles.
so that they all could, at least a half dozen times, feel the joy of riding a bike in the early morning when the world is fresh and new, and everything is possible.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


may we never stop learning, may our curiosity never be sated, may we always seek new knowledge and understanding. may we always be alert, aware, open, observant, inquisitive, and full of faith that whatever enters our life is part of an opportunity to deepen ourselves and increase our wisdom.

the following are not my words, but those of thomas moore. I think I'll adopt them, however, for I find them quite adaptable to bike rides, daily movement, relationships, and most every aspect of life:

the purpose of any meaningful journey is to become other than what we were.

forward ho.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

lobster & lambs

I don't own these.
I probably should own these.
If I owned these I could have worn them today.

I'd never even heard of these until last winter sometime when someone said, oh there goes a bunch of cyclists in their lobster gloves.
their what?
see, there is always, always something new to learn.

I rode to the top of lamb's canyon this morning, a chilly place to be, as narrow and shaded and high above sea level as it is. when we left home it was in the low 40's but the sun hung there in a cloudless sky, promising warmth and support along the way.

it was cold. and at times, downright freezing (that's the speeding downhill in the shade part).
and beautiful.
and stunning, fabulous, amazing, unbelievable.
and steep, darn it.

the top is somewhere around 8200 feet, and the views are a gift from the mountain gods. many aspen have already shed their leaves, but a significant number are still clinging to their bright gold clothing. these dancing gold leaves bedeck slender white trunks which stand tall against a brilliant blue backdrop, and if you peer through them and out as far as you can see to the east, snowy tips of mountain peaks sit firmly to anchor the scene.
you can't see this from home.
or even on a drive, because the upper half of lamb's canyon is protected by a locked gate which only those of us on leg or bi-wheeled machines can easily skirt.

I had no lobster gloves on my hands, simply my basic fingerless nice-weather gloves.
lobster gloves would have kept me warmer, may have kept the circulation moving more freely.
but nothing could have increased my joy, my excitement, my gratitude for once again having made it to the top of a hill so I could reap the rich and almost inexplicably spectacular reward.

Friday, October 21, 2011


inexorable divine retribution is a key theme in greek mythology, and nemesis is the goddess of such divine retribution, especially against those who succumb to hubris or arrogance before the gods.* we commonly use the word nemesis to describe a source of harm or ruin, or an opponent that cannot be beaten or overcome.

the first time I rode up (and I mean up) the back side of big mountain from east canyon resort, I had to stop 3 times to catch my breath and recommit myself to the climb.
the next time, I only had to stop twice.
and then I stopped once.
this climb was my nemesis, the one stretch of road out of all my usual rides that struck fear in my heart and exhaustion in my legs. as noted, it became more possible each time, but it remained my nemesis for years. it's only been in this last season that the climb up the back side of big mountain has slipped into the "challenging but not awful" category, and has faded into something less than it once was.
it is an opponent that, while not beaten, can at times be overcome.
it is no longer my nemesis.

I realized today that I've chosen a new nemesis.
or perhaps it's chosen me.

it's name is mariah, more commonly known as the wind. (and if you didn't get that, you are entirely too young.)
yep, the wind.
I don't stop when confronted with it, but I am easily disheartened and exhausted by it, and it has become the one thing I need to find a way to work through/combat/conquer/something.
I try not to hate things, I work hard on accepting what is, but I often come close to hating the wind.
I've conquered climbing hills: though it's challenging and outright hard, I know I can climb just about anything. I can handle the flats: I know my limits, I know that I'll always have to work harder than the guys, and I expect, at times, to fall off the back of a paceline. I can handle high heart rate stuff: I know I can recover, I know I won't die, I know it's all okay.
but the wind.
it beats me every time.
it is my new nemesis.

so my goal this coming year is to change this. to learn how to tweak my mental processes so that I'm not frustrated or overwhelmed. to learn how to pedal more strongly into a headwind. to learn how to tune out the sound, the pain, the reduction in speed. to become more confident and competent when confronted with wind in my face.

the greek gods believed in divine retribution for those who succumb to arrogance, and nemesis was the goddess of this act. the wind, mariah, is perhaps a manifestation of nemesis' caution thrown my way: just because you can climb a hill, manage your heartrate, recover easily, hold your own . . . doesn't mean you are a cycling goddess. not until you conquer the wind will you be allowed that title.

the wind.
my nemesis.
for now.

* good old wikipedia

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


it's a beautiful fall day and I'm riding up the canyon. a rider or two pass me, I say hi, and I stay in my little happy place. the air is clean, it's sunny, and I am just grateful to be where I am.
I pedal up a little rise, the fourth one of the canyon, the one where my heart rate climbs significantly faster than I do. then the road eases, flattens, and I recover and take big, fulfilling breaths.
there's a cyclist ahead of me, a female, and since this is my first sight of her and we're almost five miles up, I know that I'm moving faster than she is and will soon pass her. as the distance between us decreases I can see more detail: she's a brunette, hair in a ponytail, trim, with an earphone cord snaking along her side and into a back pocket.
I'm almost upon her when I hear it.
she's singing. singing loudly, singing along with her ipod, singing like no one is listening.

singing like no one is listening.

I perk up, I grin, I say hi and she startles, then nods at me.
and keeps singing.

how cool is that?
it's my lesson for the day, possibly my lesson for the month.

if you're happy and you know it, sing out loud. sing like no one is listening.
I dare you.

Monday, October 17, 2011


coming up on it, you see sky, blue and vibrant, reaching down to touch the road and it looks as though, as the road bends, you will climb up and fall off the top, down into the abyss of the far away valley, its rounded hills coated with gold and orange aspen and deeply dark sharp-tipped pines.
there are few true passes that I climb around here, and guardsman is the sharpest, the highest (my garmin says 9533, but it's stated to be 9700' above sea level), the narrowest, dustiest, most invigorating and empowering of them all. the road from the big cottonwood canyon turnoff to the top---a mere three miles---is so painfully steep at times that I most always experience, at least once, a desire to vomit. yesterday it was right after the hairpin turn where the grade is somewhere around 16 percent and the road just sits there, taunting, unwilling to compromise and soften, just a bit. you're halfway, I told myself. the whole thing is only three miles, which, relatively, is absolutely nothing.

anyone can climb three miles.

I thought about turning around. I thought about stopping, just for a minute or two. and what kept me from that is the knowledge that I'd done it before, I'd survived, and I'd done it without stopping. if I had made it before, I could make it again.

I sat at the top, resting my bike against a rocky shale hillside then perching on the same tumbly rocks, sprigs of pungent sage fragrancing my little oasis. the pass rounds the hill, the road hugging snugly the hillside upon which I sat. a snow frosted mountain side faced me, its north-facing self protected from the melting power of the sun. the valley spread before me, ridges separating midway from park city from the snyderville basin. I can see bits of deer valley, I can see mechanical structures from the ski resort. I see the dirt road, pathways, little teeny cars in the distance, thousands of feet below me.
I chewed my s'mores protein bar (oh I love that marshmallowy stuff on top) and sipped my water, and thanked God for not letting me turn around a mile or three miles back.

I tend to ride here just once a year, in the fall, and each time I make my way up the hill I'm reminded why I don't do it more often.

and each time I sit at the top, I wonder why I don't do it more often.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

looking ahead

a while back I wrote about carving curves, about the joy and exhilaration that comes with such activity.
big mountain has a few curves, and four big switchbacks in the last two point something miles to the top. on the way up they provide relief, and oftentimes alternating headwinds and tailwinds with each change of direction.
on the way down, though, they provide opportunities for curve carving.
as I moved into the first one this morning, I thought about those possibly conflicting bits of advice: keep your eye on the ball, and look where you want to go.
so I kept my eyes on the road, and focused on that point, out in the distance, of where I wanted to be as I moved through the turn.
and I curved, carved, ended up exactly where I wanted to be.
the next switchback worked the same way.
but then on the third, I suddenly found myself moving too quickly, unable to brake enough, and moving so far into the lane that I crossed the double yellow line into the oncoming lane.
what happened?
I don't know, but it was such a different experience from the first two, scaring me a bit, reminding me that I'm not quite there yet. (you know, that infamous there, that place we'll all be when we can do everything as the experts do.)
did I shift my gaze too far down, too close, instead of looking further out? was I overconfident in my ability? I am not sure.
but for the rest of my descent I focused on that constantly moving spot in the distance where I eventually wanted to be.
peripheral vision kicks in and helps me scan for road debris, potholes, cracks in the surface, but my eyes stay softly focused down, down ahead, where I will momentarily be, always stretching just a bit further to my next future.

I hear wise words in the back of my brain, don't sweat the small stuff, don't focus on the details, keep your eye on your goal, don't be distracted by what are actually insignificant things along your path.

just keep looking ahead, stretching your way into your goal, your next position, your next best version of yourself, and carve your pathway there gently, with strength and wisdom and oh yes, just a bit of faith.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

cycling with a tailwind is like . . .

the first bite of a triple layer chocolate chocolate cake
receiving good news
standing at the top of the hill, looking out over the world
floating in warm, gentle water
having a surprise show up in your mailbox
being in love
being given a promotion
being surrounded by your very favorite people on earth
knowing you get to sleep in
actually being physically able to sleep in
nothing but green lights all the way home
swinging on a park swing
licking the brownie batter off the spoon
curling up on the couch with an incredible book and no time limit

yep, had one today, and loved every bit of it. didn't even mind its opposite on the way home . . .
well, not too much, anyway.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

where we fail

People always think something's all true.

~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Sunday, October 9, 2011


someone built a snowman on the shoulder of the first graceful switchback heading up big mountain, complete with cheery, multi-limbed tree branches for arms.
by the time I passed it early this afternoon, its head had deserted its body, but a grin slowly snuck onto my face anyway.
after four days of cold and wet, the sun worked hard to reestablish its benevolence today, for which I'm exceedingly grateful. 44 degrees is just darn cold, and 48 degrees with lightly spitting rain isn't one bit better: my last 3 rides have been less than fabulously exhilarating.
snow chunks dot the side of the road up big mountain, and by the last mile snow is consistently visible on the hillsides beside you. it's surreal, it's shockingly out of place while completely familiar, and while my ipod is playing a song with the lyrics "summer is here" I am forcing myself to accept the fact that summer is decidedly over.
I'm not quite there yet.

Friday, October 7, 2011


I had brunch with my handful of female friends a while back, something we do much too infrequently. we are connected through former employment and our children's schools, and the seven of us bring amazingly different backgrounds and life experiences together in a beautifully successful, crazy quilt kind of way.
two of us are from michigan, two have lost sons, one has lost a husband. five of us worked for the same company years ago, and four of us have children who have attended the same schools. two of us married boys they dated in high school, and one is currently dating a boy she went to the prom with. one just returned to college, three have graduate degrees, and between us we've given birth to nineteen children. one has a sister with addiction issues, and one has an ex-husband with addiction issues.
while we are all healthy, a few of us walk, a few run, a few own bikes, only one of us is as committed to cycling as I am. yep, that would be me.

one of us has a son who died of an oxycontin overdose five years ago.
his mother has fought for years now to spread the word about this dangerous drug, to warn others, and to have oxycontin banned.
so some of our conversations are about addiction.
and at brunch, it turned to other kinds of addictions, and suddenly I was addicted to cycling.

now, certainly, people can say that, think that, even believe that.
I can get defensive, I can agree with it, or I can try to put it in perspective by understanding their perspective as one who doesn't live inside my skin.

I begin with a definition of addiction. the following is the most relevant one I could find, as most definitions focus on the use of drugs or other habit forming, harmful substances:

a recurring compulsion by an individual to engage in some specific activity, despite harmful consequences, as deemed by the user themselves to their individual health, mental state, or social life. (the infamous wikipedia.)

so . . . compulsion? well, I do feel compelled to move. (I think we're supposed to do that. doctors tell us to, and God gave us all those muscles and capabilities for a reason.) I just happen to like to move on a bicycle as opposed to walking or running. but I also love my books and my couch.
harmful consequences? like . . .? a healthy heart? toned muscles? a boosted metabolism? not sure I can find a harmful consequence. I manage to balance responsibilities and social activities with my cycling. and my mental state is mostly improved by biking.

some say we get addicted to the endorphins, and push ourselves to keep experiencing that high.
well . . . I think I grew up learning that a "natural high" was what we were to reach for, to "get high on life" as opposed to alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, and on and on.

I've stated this before, and I still hold it to be true: I am not addicted to cycling, nor am I even obsessed with it. I am someone who finds peace, joy, and a way to be healthy, all on my bicycle.
and on those days (weeks) when the phone doesn't ring, the editors don't respond, and orders for my work are nonexistent, riding my bicycle is a way to keep my sanity.
I train hard for the events I choose to participate in, and I love feeling strong and capable, but the meditative aspect of cycling is probably the most important piece of all.

a beautiful bit of advice I once heard was this: don't explain, don't defend.
so to even write about this is difficult, as I don't want to be one who doth explain too much.
I am firmly committed to my mental health, to my physical health, to experiencing joy in our world, and to being a peaceful, loving, helpful member of our shared planet.
riding my bike dovetails perfectly with my goals, and for as long as it brings me health and joy, I will continue to hop on ruby and pedal away.

you can call it addiction if you'd like, or even obsession. but I know the truth about me, and I'm okay with it. I've got a fabulously healthy heart, and I've got my sanity.
works for me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I rode yesterday, finding a hole in the clouds, a sunny gap between rainstorms.
it had just finished raining and the road was still wet. dark, shiny, water clinging to my tires.
occasionally I would come up to a dry spot, a stretch of road lit by sunshine, pavement just a touch higher and thus drained dry more quickly, or an area protected by overhanging trees, leaving the road surface pale and dry.

my bike steered itself toward each dry spot. as if on auto-pilot. the kind of movement you don't think about as it's happening: it just happens.

my question is this: which genetic code is it that draws me there? is it simply the move toward safety, knowing that dry surface is always safer than wet? or is it the desire to leave tracks, to mark that spot with my wet tire, to validate my presence, to boldly state "I was here"?

the first unconscious pull to the dry spot happened before I could think about it, catching me by surprise. as I reflected on it once past the spot, I came up with these two possible reasons for why I was drawn in that direction. in trying to determine which one is more likely the "correct" reason, I'm stymied. how can I really know?

I love making first tracks, marking my trail, validating my existence.

but I'm also reasonably cautious, eager to stay upright and unmarred.

I suppose that determining the True Reason my bike was guided to the dry pavement isn't necessary: it's enough to acknowledge that some of our decision making is guided by wisdom so deep within us that we won't ever detect its true origin.

and perhaps we don't need to, if we can simply learn to accept that the wisdom deep within our genes, our cellular structure, our unconscious, is ready to guide us along our path if we can only learn to let go and let it do so.

Monday, October 3, 2011


peter wilborn calls it riding through the top of a climb.
shannon mulder, one of my favorite power camp coaches (think Korn, raunchy jokes, drop your shoulders and consistently genuine enthusiasm) told us not to let up just because you've reached the top.

I simply describe it as don't stop pedaling as you crest, and this has been one of the best tricks in my little cycling bag.

many cyclists dread hills.
I don't; I rather like them.
I prefer them to the flat (ish) sections where men (and strong women) can outpower me significantly, where I usually find myself at the back of the pace line, heart pounding just below zone 5, trying to hang on until I eventually get dropped.
the hills are much better: the line splits up, everyone goes at their own pace, and I get there when I get there without that fear of falling off, being dropped, failing to hold on to the draft off someone's wheel.

and shannon taught me, that first year of power camp, always ride through the top of the hill because that's where people slack off. now I don't care too much what everyone else does, but this taught me a huge lesson that has benefited my training (and experiences) significantly. this is when I learned one of cycling great truisms:
you can always recover on the down.
since I don't race, it's really not about beating anyone else, being faster than anyone else, getting further down the hill before they do: it's about training your body that it can work just a little bit harder for just a few seconds longer, and then find its way to a resting place while coasting (or pedaling with much less intensity) downhill.
to stop at the top of the hill destroys my momentum. it's anticlimactic: I find myself so much more gleeful as I ride through the top and start the descent, grinning and relishing the joy of the much-deserved swoop. my heart will still be pounding as the grade slips into negative numbers, then gradually tick its way down to a hardly-working place as the scenery slips by.
I love this.

to be clear, there are definitely times when I stop at the top of a climb. brighton, alta (or albion basin), city creek, lamb's canyon, millcreek: when you reach these summits the road ends and it's time to savor your victory for a bit.
but on the climbs that are simply leading you to the next leg of your ride---whether they be 10-mile climbs or 1-mile rises---the trick of powering over the top and continuing on teaches you that you are tougher than you thought, more capable, stronger, and, I dare say, wiser.
the road will ease, you'll be given an opportunity to recover.
need I say this holds true in other aspects of life as well?
nope, didn't think so.

power on, don't stop when you reach the crest.
keep striving, keep reaching, give it a little more, and the rewards will shortly follow, when you can doubly enjoy your swoop.

PS: nineteen years ago today at this exact time I welcomed my incredible son beau into the world . . . happy birthday, big guy!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

willingness to learn

our awesome team Bad Ass captain, ann hoffman, alerted me to a great article about riding in groups.
our team has a good hundred or so names on the roster, but group rides usually range from a fat handful to a few dozen at most. as members of this fundraising and social team, we're not all about riding at the same tempo, so many of us just do our own thing. we have team members who are licensed racers, and we have team members with MS and ALS who get there when they get there, and riders who slip in at just about every point of the continuum anchored by those extremes. so our groups often consist of people at different levels of skill and ability, and ann is terrific at herding us all in an appropriate way.

the article she found points out what often happens when groups of cyclists try to ride together, and it brings home some fundamental truths while offering hope for the future. you can access it by clicking on this link
the lost art of the group ride

the author makes a few excellent points, and at the end, provides a list of skills/knowledge that a cyclist should incorporate. he suggests each cyclist does best with a mentor, someone more experienced who is able to teach all of these skills and awarenesses.

I've had a few key mentors in my cycling life, and I've learned from them everything from how to lean into a curve on a descent to how to keep my helmet clean. without my biking buddies bob, andy, ivy, brad, bill, bill and patty I'd still be cycling in a less efficient and effective manner.
with a stinky helmet.
ann hoffman is another mentor, one who has instilled in me a desire to be an ambassador for cycling whenever I'm out, whether I'm wearing a Bad Ass jersey or not. she is the epitome of kindness, common sense, generosity, agility and grace on a bicycle, and I hold her up as one to strive to emulate.

so check out the article when you have time: it's full of reminders of how we can be our best selves while sitting on a bicycle saddle out in the real world.

(and on a side---but oh so wonderful---note, it's october 1, the trees are vibrantly outdoing each other, and it averaged 75 degrees on my 57-mile ride to east canyon reservoir and back . . . what more could one ask for?)