Sunday, September 27, 2015

mind shift

my bicycle has 22 gears.  you can almost think about them as being on a continuum, moving from least-helpful to most-helpful, with just a bit of overlap in the middle.
our brains have an infinite number of gears, and I suppose you could place them on the same type of continuum.
my bicycling brain, however, has seemed to have very few gears, namely

  • go hard
  • go less hard
  • don't go

don't go, of course, is a complete recovery day.  these are the days that increase your strength as your overtaxed muscles rebuild. usually once a week.
go less hard is a riding-recovery day, when I (try to) keep my heartrate at a mid to low level. maybe once a week.
go hard is every other day.

but I threw a spanner in the works this year.
april, 2015, came and went, and I didn't sign up for lotoja.  first time in 8 years.
without the carrot of a 206-mile race in september, I, mmm, well, relaxed.
no pressure to ride for 80 miles every saturday, nor to do frequent multiple canyon rides. my longest ride of the summer was 82 miles, and my typical saturday ride has been about 60.
I've ridden at least 1000 less miles than I usually have racked up by the end of september, and I haven't missed the training stress one iota.

however, I still have been limited by those same 3 mental gears. go hard, go less hard, don't go.

until yesterday.
I'd had a draining week, and was squeezing a ride in around other commitments. I knew I was mentally depleted, so I promised to go easy on myself. I would ride how I rode, with the only goal being to have a good experience.
the universe gave me a 69 degree start, gentle wind, someone to draft riding to the canyon mouth, and a tailwind all the way back.
I made such good time I stopped at great harvest for a treat on my way home.

I now have a new gear. a fourth gear. I call it go well.
and I plan to use it more frequently.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I find more to be right with the entire world
when I begin my day with a pre-dawn ride
up a canyon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

ode to the commuter

to see one riding on her way
across the asphalt road
with bags attached and fenders strong
legs afire, this transporting mode

keeps air more clean and particle-free
and works his muscles well
chain marks on his calf, or narrow pant
are often the cycling tell

panniers on the rear, one left, one right
carry her work, her clothes
while she wears helmet, glasses, gloves and coat
and covers to protect her toes

he rides with caution and with ease
the streets he knows by heart
snow and rain and wind and hail
he from his bicycle won't part

I ride behind her fully at peace
I trust her every decision
her movements are so smooth I am
captured by the vigilance and precision

I am not nearly so strong and true
as to daily ride my way around town
I admire the commuter, each her, each him,
my highest respect and regard are theirs, hands down.

yesterday was SLC's Mayor's Bike to Work day, with mayor ralph becker and county mayor ben mcadams.
a hundred or so cyclists showed up at the starting point, and moseyed through bike paths and city streets to the city-county building downtown.
I've never felt so confident riding behind cyclists:  these commuters are steady, vigilant, smart, and wise.  thus the ode. (which proves why I am not a poet!)

hats off to every commuter, everywhere ~  hats off, and helmets on.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

nine dollars

The road up Big Mountain, gated during winter months, offers surprise and delight each spring. Receding snow pulls back inch by inch, revealing moose and deer scat, red rock gravel tumbled down from hillsides, new cracks and frost heaves. A bolt from a snowmobile, a mangled and misshapen glove, a ski pole basket. Familiar landmarks, and the intangible but certain promise of new growth.

While the road is still closed to motor traffic, intrepid cyclists ford fingers of snow and ice to reach bare asphalt and continue their upward journeys. This year the plow came early, shoving aside, during the first week of March, what little snow remained. On a bright April day the road, though free of snow, is not free of gravel and rocks and red dust, nor the rare but deadly shard that pokes up and into unfortunate bicycle tires.

I felt it, argued against it, doubted myself, convinced myself it was true, and finally, braked to a slow stop. The rear tire—of course—the one with the complicated derailleur to navigate as I take the wheel off and endeavor to put it back on. The chain goes under this one—no, over—no, this way around the cassette . . .

Biking Buddy Bob played the hero role, removing my tire, stripping the deflated tube, then checking for the culprit, the minuscule piece of glass, rock, metal I had run over. Nothing. I handed him the new tube, the cartridge in its dispenser. Five minutes, maybe a few more, and we were again pedaling, heading down toward the reservoir, Little Mountain summit, home.

I ride thousands of miles, outside, each year. I bicycle our Wasatch canyons regularly, grunting and sweating as I climb, grinning like a fool as I descend. I clean my chain, wash my bike, re-lube. I keep a spare tube and cartridge and sunscreen in my tiny seat pack. Ten bucks and an expired driver license in my front bento box. And I get a flat tire perhaps two or three times a year. Tube, seven dollars. Cartridge, two dollars.

Each spring I participate in the greening of our world. Trees sprout buds, gray-brown trunks and limbs flecked with pale green hope. Red twig dogwood deepens in color, thickens. The shoots of winter-dormant plants green the hillsides, creeping their way up the canyon, each week another few hundred feet higher. Trees then burst into leaf and blossom, bird’s nests once again veiled by fluttering leaves. I tuck behind Biking Buddy Bob’s wheel and float down the canyon.

I pedal as summer heats the earth, as brilliant yellow arrowleaf balsamroot dies, cracks break apart earth, the creeks quiet and laze downhill. Crisp morning air, hot midday sun, sweat, dirt, grime, brownies at Brighton, a PayDay at the East Canyon Resort store. Sunflowers burst, their heliotropic heads following daylight east to west. When they, too, die, stalks thin and dry, and temperatures drop, the world again changes in front of my wheels, and I pedal up the canyon and skirt lumps of snow pushed against the berm. More layers, toe covers, pink cheeks, the thrill of a hot shower back home. The gate at the base of Big Mountain is once again locked. Snow falls, then melts.

Tube, seven dollars. Cartridge, two.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


stormclouds are hovering over the salt lake basin, sitting on our mountain peaks. they swirl, whisking away, returning, then tumbling down and releasing themselves, sometimes torrentially, sometimes as widely scattered sprinkles. they've been here for days and days.

they release rain in the afternoon, during the night, in the middle of the day.

I went to bed last night convinced that the night rain would stop sometime in the deep, black, early hours. my cycling clothes sat in a pile in the bathroom, and I'd pumped up my tires and checked my lights before I closed up for the night. alarm set for 4:45, I was going to have an early morning ride in between storms.
when I opened the garage door I looked at my driveway, noticing the damp cement that was beginning to dry, but also noticing hundreds of little dark spots that looked suspiciously like raindrops. I looked up, there was the almost-full moon, just a few thin clouds passing nearby.
clouds hung more thickly over the canyon.
well, hell, I was dressed, ready to go, what's a little rain?

it only sprinkled on me during the first mile, and for a few miles in the middle of my ride and I learned, many years ago, that I do not melt.
the pavement, however, was damp in the good spots, and plain old wet most everywhere else.
when I first spotted one, I thought it was a twig.
the second one was not a twig.
ten inches long, glowing with the reflection of my headlight, its tumid body slick with rain.

legless wildlife?
another one. eight inches.
another one, six or seven inches, then a big long twelve-incher.  little five inchers.
I've heard that when you cut an earthworm into two pieces, each will grow into a unique body again. (apparently it depends upon where it is amputated -- the worm can possibly grow a new head or a new tail, or become two worms, or just die.)
I'm guessing that when I run over an earthworm, I'm probably cutting it into two pieces, and occasionally, cutting it in the exact right spot.
does this mean I'm increasing the earthworm population?

near the bottom of the canyon, on my way homeward, movement off to my right caught my attention. a deer, no, three deer. a fawn, two doe, grazing the hillside.

I prefer my wildlife to have legs.

Friday, April 17, 2015

girl versus gnarl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

snow fords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

it ain't like riding a bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

it's not like riding a bike.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 10, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could wait, or I could go.