Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Our Trip: Gettin' My Hoosier On Part II

We fought the crowds

And the rain

There was merriment on the river - Hey, Pirate, I didn't know you were coming!

Fish were caught (and released)

Wars were waged

Truces were called

There was even a little bit of swimming

And, yes, there was scenery - even in the midst of the crowds and the rain and the merriment and the drinking - there was still . . .

It was all good.

Friday, May 25, 2007

What are the Odds?

Sometimes things happen that make you feel blessed, watched over, guided even. Iron Wil has posted recently about this very phenomena. So, what are the odds, after reading and being inspired by those posts, that something like that would happen to me? And what are the odds that, just when I needed one, a guardian angel would appear to guide me through potentially dangerous waters and then give me the opportunity to return the favor? Confused yet?

I'll start at the beginning.

Last night, after a series of missed opportunities to get on my bike and put some actual miles on it, I finally had the window of time, the weather and the strength in my body to get a ride in. I showed up at a local ride determined to make it happen. As is usually the case when a ride in traffic is looming, I was nervous as hell. I was talking myself through it - promising myself that if it was way too scary I could always just turn around and come back to the car or, in the absolute worst case scenario, call Hubby and beg him to come and rescue me. And he would've 'cause that's just the kind of Knight in Shining Armour that he is. I was breathing deep and running positive affirmations through my head and shaking life a leaf - and I hadn't even left the parking lot!!

Finally, I decided enough was enough and set out. I mean, what's the worst thing that could happen - I get hit by a car and die. Big Deal. Tremble, shake, choke back the puke. But, there I was, on the road, cars were passing, I was following the yellow arrows, I was out there and I was doing it. To my relief, the ride turned into a neighborhood and I was able to enjoy a car free road for a bit. At a stop sign, I passed a guy in hammer gel bike shorts, hanging out, looking like he was waiting for someone. I haven't had a lot of luck with really friendly roadies, most of them just blow by me without so much as an "On your left." So I gave him his space and rode on. He caught up to me on a hill shortly after that - I'm ashamed to say it was a tiny little bump of a hill and I was having trouble with it. I laughed and said "You caught me!" and he joked that this was only a little mole hill to which I said "I know, that's what's so sad about it!" At that point, he just started riding with me. It was obvious he could have left me in his dust, that he was by far a much better rider in much better shape - but he hung with me and we started talking. We got passed by a whole group of roadies - and I really wanted to hang with those folks, to be able to pick it up and ride with the big boys - and I know he could've and should've been riding with them. But he stuck with me. The conversation turned to triathlon and we talked about my upcoming races, my newbness, etc. After a bit, he asked my name - like duh, why didn't I introduce myself in the first place? I told him my name and he told me his and then casually mentioned that he was the dude who ran "Swim Bike Run St. Louis" website and magazine. Wha?!? "Wait, are you the guy that wrote the article about the 500 in Tulsa?" "Yeah, it was in Tejas Texas, but yeah, that's me." "HOLY CRAP! You're famous. . . " and I continued to gush for several minutes, not believing that my guardian angel just happened to be the uber-cyclist multisport celebrity that kept me and the rest of St. Louis' triathletes informed of the many goings on in our little multi sport lives. Not to mention that this guy was just the humblest, coolest and most unassuming person you can imagine. I mean, here he is tooling around with little old me, I'm sure seriously interrupting his training (though he assured me that last night was his "junk miles" ride)just to pass on some knowledge and keep a girl from getting creamed by some car. He even opted for the short route - though I could tell he wanted to take the long - because I was just too scared to go on the roads that were designated for the long route. I did feel so much braver riding with him - and I learned a lot just from watching how he handled cars at four-ways, hills, lights, etc. I could go on and on at what a blessing the ride was - but suffice it to say that I felt my prayer for protection (the one I usually say in my car on the way to a potentially dangerous ride) had been answered in a big way.

But it gets better. See, had the ride ended like that, I would've felt kind of bad that this guy sacrificed miles and speed to make sure that my own inexperience didn't get me killed. But it didn't end like that. Just before we had finished our loop, SBR guy saw a wallet on the shoulder. He back pedaled and stopped to pick it up. It turned out to be just a business card holder and, in a cruel twist of fate, his derailleur just up and broke. Not fixable. Finis. Luckily, we were close enough to the ride start that it was an easy walk with the bikes back to the parking lot - but the clincher was that he had ridden his bike to the ride. So, I was able to give him a ride home - which I would normally probably not do, but I consider myself a good judge of character and my usually keen instinct had no problems with taking the dude home.

It gets even better. As thanks for giving me a ride, SBR guy said he wanted to give me some swag - some socks and some Hammer Gel. I protested a little but, hey, a gal's gotta get her swag when she can. So I waited in the car for him to come down - and he comes down with this bag FULL of shtuff. Two pairs of Swim Bike Run socks, a BUNCH of Hammer Gels, at least two season's worth of Hammer Electrolyte Replacement Tabs - I didn't even realize how much stuff was in the bag until I got home. So, I'm back to owing the dude. Next time I get a chance to do a favor for a fellow athlete, I'll do it. Maybe it'll be for SBR dude, maybe someone else. Maybe, years down the road when I'm not a newbie anymore, but an uber-cyclist triathlete goddess, I'll have the chance to take a break from training and show some silly little newbie a few of the ropes. I hope so.

Either way, I owe SBR dude a huge thanks. THANKS!! You really helped a sister out. I 'preciate it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mixed Feelings.

So, wow. I have mixed feelings about this cover. Obviously, so do a lot of others On the one hand, I'm appalled at the prudishness of people who can't handle talk of sex, who want to pretend that its not a major part of the human experience, who want to imagine that "serious" athletes or Christians or feminists or philosophers don't think about, talk about, dream about "it" all the time. Or at least often. I, at least, admit to participating in this sport partly because I feel an athletic body is sexier - I want to feel sexy and training and the aesthetic benefits of such helps in that regard. There are many, many other reasons I do this as well, but I'd be in denial if I didn't admit that lookin' hawt was not up there in the top ten. Unfortunately, like one of the folks in the discussion mentions, I have found that when I expend all my energy on training, I don't always have the energy to perform the very activity I'm trying to make myself more appealing for. I can't imagine I'm alone on that. So, sex is an issue for triathletes - and moms and dads and businessmen and clergy (just read the news!) and everyone. And, like it or not, most of us are very interested in it - even if we're only interested in criticizing people who admit being interested. Confused yet?

On the other hand . . . I'm appalled at the fact that Inside Triathlon served up Desiree Ficker like just another piece of scantily clad eye candy. As if the woman was nothing else. And it's gross the way some people (male and female) begin speaking of her as a non-person the minute her shirt's off. Can't a woman be an athlete, a person and a sex symbol? When does she become just an object? And can any of us pretend that we don't sometimes enjoy being objects? While at the same time we're creeped out by it.

See - Confusing. I'd be fascinated to hear your responses on this one - classless smut or intriguing and useful information? You decide.

******** After note - okay, so being the stereotypically ditzy blonde, I didn't realize until just now that this issue is a month old - which really shows how successful their attempt at "Scandal Sells" was - it took me a month to hear about it. hmmm. Anyway, I still think its a relevant topic. So there. Talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gettin' my Hoosier On

So, we're getting ready to embark on an incredible journey into Hoosier-ville. With our children. We've done this once before, so I'm really not sure what's possessing us to do it again.

What you can't see in the picture is the multitude of partying, redneck, twenty-somethings ahead of us - and the blow-up doll (yes that kind of blow up doll) floating just downstream of us. It was Mardis Gras on the river. And there are six, count em six, kids in that raft - two of ours with their freinds and two belonging to one of Hubby's friends - who somehow trusted us to ensure their safety amidst the chaos that was the Hooza River. Yeah. Its called the Hoozah. Nuff said.

At least this year we were bright enough to tell the kids no friends - and to ensure we can all fit in canoes and float the upper Hooza - on which rafts cannot venture thereby cutting the Party Barges down to a manageable level. We hope.

And I don't even want to talk about the campground. First off, I've got to say I'm a bit of an outdoors snob. I don't particularly like campgrounds - I like to set my tent up somewhere I've had to trek at least ten miles to get to. If I am going to go to a campground, I prefer those maintained by the Parks Department - they tend to be quieter, more pristine, and have less tolerance for the Hoosier Types that like to party until the wee hours. Types whose "Camping To Do List" looks something like this:

Get Lighter Fuel.
Make a Huge Bonfire.
Blast Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Take off Shirt.
Down a Six Pack.
Get out the Southern Comfort and drink directly from the bottle.
Say "Whoo Hoo" at top of lungs at least every ten minutes - Continue until 4 am.
Pass Out.
Pee Self.
Wake at 7 am.
Yell "Whoo Hoo" as loud as possible.

Unfortunately, the campground we are staying at attracts types like these by the hundreds. Of thousands. Thankfully, we are on the "Quiet Side", across the street from "The Zoo" where all the Mardis Gras folks stay. To say I'm looking forward to this would be - an overstatement.

I have to say that the last time we went, we actually had a good time, despite the aforementioned "difficulties". After the trip down the river, where we managed to keep all six children intact and maintaining most of their innocence, we figured we could handle just about anything. And this is a tradition for Hubby and his friends that dates back to high school - so its kind of fun to chat with his old buddies - and a few of them we see on a regular basis, so I won't be amongst total strangers. And none of them qualify as the "Hoosier" types I'm so quick to poke fun at. In fact, yours truly - who grew up on a horse farm, would rather play in the dirt than get dressed up, and whose favorite hat just happens to be of the cowboy variety - will probably be the closest thing to a hoosier in that crowd. There will also be a ton of kids for our pack to run with and I know that they'll have fun. Still - this type of camping:

Is not my preference. I wish we were doing this instead:

Maybe next Memorial Day.

Slack Ass Week

It’s been a slack ass week. Slack. Ass. It started great on Monday with a 3000 yard swim, I felt fabulous even though I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. I should have known something was up. As I was walking my son to school, I was suddenly hit with stomach cramps so agonizing, I was doubled over on my neighbor’s driveway. I had to send my poor little guy the rest of the way on his own – me watching to make sure he got across the street okay, then making my way back to the house wandering which god I had offended and what animal I needed to sacrifice to make things right.

Then, I did something I haven’t done since I got this job a year and a half ago – I called in sick. I really thought that I probably wasn’t that sick I just needed some extra rest – so I imagined an hour or so nap and then lots of quiet time to study for the looming LSAT. I slept for six hours – non-stop. Then I woke up, ate a piece of toast and slept for a few more hours. It sucked. It continued to suck for three days – though I dragged my ass into work on Tuesday and Wednesday, I just sort of shuffled around, trying to do some work without falling over. No animals were sacrificed. And I survived. I even felt better eventually – fully human by Friday. But I got absolutely no training in all week. Zero. Suck.

I eased back into training on Saturday with a 1900 yard swim and a four and a half mile run. I felt like such a slacker – and I was amazed at myself that a forty-five minute swim and a four and a half mile run felt like slacking. I guess I have come a long way, even with my week of slothfulness. I was hoping to get in a 30 plus mile ride yesterday, but alas, my ride was cut short by a flat tire and an impending softball game. Long story.

So, with a Memorial Day weekend float trip on the near horizon, in which I will get no training in save a few strokes with my canoe paddle, I am trying to cram some actual miles and yards in. Wish me luck. I think I’m gonna need it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

For Niki

Sunday evening, a professor, mentor and icon left this earth for better theatres. She was a brilliant teacher – she knew more about theatre history and literature and how to impart that knowledge to her students than anyone I’ve ever met. She was also a woman who spoke her mind with no fear of repercussions in a university riddled with nasty politics. She was quick to laugh and to make others laugh. She was loved by many, feared by some, and revered by all. We’ll miss her.

Her visitation brought hordes of students, friends and colleagues and ended up being an opportunity to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in years. It was strange in some ways – both saying goodbye to Niki and reuniting with old grad school buddies. It was a wonderful time in my life. But, it seems that since my love for theatre has left me, its been hard for me to revisit that time. It’s seemed wasted – all that money, all that time, all that energy – for what. I got the answer to that last night, laughing again with my old friends. And, ironically, this morning this song was on the radio reminding me that the journey is twisted sometimes, that it makes no sense sometimes, but it still gets us where we need to go when our time is up – as long as we just keep walking forward.

Indigo Girls - Watershed Lyrics

Thought I knew my mind like the back of my hand,
The gold and the rainbow, but nothing panned out as I planned.
And they say only milk and honey's gonna make your soul satisfied!
Well I better learn how to swim
Cause the crossing is chilly and wide.
Twisted guardrail on the highway, broken glass on the cement
A ghost of someone's tragedy
How recklessly my time has been spent.
And they say that it's never too late, but you don't get any younger!
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness
And feed the hunger
Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony's your heaviest load.
You'll never fly as the crow flies, get used to a country mile.
When you're learning to face the path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while.
Well there's always retrospect to light a clearer path
Every five years or so I look back on my life
And I have a good laugh.
You start at the top, go full circle round
Catch a breeze, take a spill
But ending up where i started again makes me wanna stand still.
Stepping on a crack, breaking up and looking back
Every tree limb overhead just seems to sit and wait.
Until every step you take becomes a twist of fate.

I don’t know where this path leads, but I’m so thankful for the steps I’ve taken so far in my thirty five years – and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to share it with so many wonderful people. And I’m looking forward to the next bend, the next adventure, the next lesson.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Hills, Valleys and Honeysuckle: A Portrait of Motherhood

I knew I wanted to write this post on Sunday but, with a whirlwind Mother’s Day and coming down with some unknown stomach bug yesterday, my post has been delayed. Anyway, better late than never.

On Mother’s Day, I got up early (5:30 again on a Sunday, and Mother’s Day to boot – WTF is going on here?) and went for a shorter but more challenging ride than last Sunday. After struggling up a fairly minor hill in Forest Park last week, I decided it was time I revisited my first real road ride and tackle the hills in Fenton once again. It was a fitting ride for the day as it had me exclaiming “Oh, Mama!” more than once.

As I enjoyed the many ups and downs of the Fenton route, I had the time to contemplate all the things that motherhood has been to me and I realized that my journey as a mother has not been unlike the route I was riding.

There have been many hills : some short and steep – like those first weeks home with a newborn, wandering if I’d ever sleep again; some minor annoyances – tantrums in K-Mart, calls from the teacher that he’s been “acting up” again, spending an hour fixing dinner only to have my child look at it as though I’m trying to serve him poison; and some have been the type that make you beg for mercy with half a dozen false summits teasing you only to climb again around the next bend, the kind of hills you want to give up on, the kind you think you’ll never see the top of – struggling through a difficult marriage to a man who didn’t begin to understand the value of the work I did raising our son, being a newly single mother of a three year old with no job, no place to live and a soon to be ex husband threatening to take full custody because I “wasn’t stable”, living like a gypsy for a summer – house sitting for friends and friends of friends, staying odd nights at my sisters or my parents, all the while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy on those nights I had my son, sobbing uncontrollably on the nights I didn’t feeling like someone had torn away a piece of me. Funny thing about those hills – they were hard, sometimes impossible, but I climbed them - the real and the figurative. I finally found the true summit of that never ending hill in Fenton, just like I found work way back when, and a great pre-school for Boy Genius, and a fabulously shabby chic apartment in South City – with wood floors and stained glass windows and picture molding and wonderful neighbors, all for very cheap. I’ll always treasure the memory of that apartment – that was a very important summit for me and for my son.

There have been some thrilling and somewhat frightening descents as well – accompanied by a simultaneous sense of relief and fear for what might be in store – breathlessly watching my sons first steps as he padded past me, the first day of kindergarten, the first bike ride without training wheels, watching from the window as he roams the neighborhood with his “pack of boys”.

There have even been some moments of out and out danger – on my ride it was the dog charging out of his yard, his teeth inches from my calf; on my journey as a mother, I have had 3 am trips to the emergency room with a sick toddler and, even more terrifying, a suddenly and severely ill three year old on a backpacking trip – two miles from the car and an unknown distance from the nearest hospital – the way out was definitely the hike of my life that thankfully ended uneventfully with my son asking for McDonald’s only thirty minutes after reaching the trailhead and strapping him into the car to head for the closest town and medical attention. I knew if he thought he could stomach a Happy Meal that he was fine.

Though the climbs, the descents and the moments of terror are the most memorable and sometimes threaten to define the entire experience, it’s the ridges and the valleys that take up most of the time – cruising peacefully along the river, winding along a ridge knowing that, for now, the climbing is over; planting flowers with my son all day on a Saturday, watching him at baseball practice, sitting on the porch swing at the beginning or end of the day discussing what has been or will be. Those moments make everything that has come before and everything that will come later worth it. Seeing my son as a happy, well adjusted seven year old – a boy who knows his place in the world – this makes anything else seem immaterial.

And, just like on that beautiful, painful ride through Fenton, where the sweet smell of honeysuckle was with me on every climb, every descent, every ridge and valley – the sweetness of motherhood has been there through everything for me. Just knowing that I’m a mother and holding my son in my heart reminds me that, whatever the struggle may be, whatever the temporary terror or annoyance or boredom, there is a purpose, there is a reason – I am a mother.

Happy Belated Mothers Day to all!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Slogging in The Miles

Yesterday I went for a long ride – just shy of 40 miles. I got up early (5:30 a.m. on a Sunday. WTF is this sport doing to me?!?!) and drove out to Columbia, Illinois, a place heralded for miles and miles of flat, trafficless roads and fresh green fields of corn and soy. It’s quite picturesque. My last ride in that area was so idyllic, I was foolish enough to anticipate a similar experience, just longer.

I arrived to foggy, windy conditions – the flag pole in the parking lot was noisily whipping away. I hoped for mostly headwind on the way out and tailwind on the way back. I got a mix both ways, including a nice crosswind, but the headwind was mostly on the way back. In fact, I did the first 17 plus miles in an hour, even with a few miles of headwind, the remainder took me an hour and a half. It was brutal. But I learned a few things, as I often do when I let go of my brain and go with the flow. As I was battling the headwind, the following mantra came to mind:

Without a headwind, there would be no tailwind.
Without uphill, there would be no downhill.
Without discomfort, there would be no relief.
Without work, there would be no rest.
Without thirst, there would be no quenching.
Without hunger, there would be no satiety.
Without want, there would be no gratitude.

I won’t pretend it kept me sane the entire way. I won’t pretend that I didn’t have moments when I just wanted to quit working so hard, when I wanted to stop the bike and lay on the grass beside the road. Another day that might have been called for, but resting was not what yesterday was about for me. I also won’t pretend that I wasn’t near tears when I realized I had missed a turn off just a few miles short of the end of the ride and that I would have to back track for who knows how many miles to get to my starting point. And I can’t pretend that I did the intended brick when I finally reached my longed-for car. But, I made it. I put in the miles, though I didn’t do them as quickly or as gracefully as I had envisioned. Sometimes, that’s how it is. You imagine yourself completing a goal heroically, beaming, arms overhead as you cross the real or imagined finish line. You imagine crowds applauding your mind boggling efforts and walking away a stronger, better person. But often the reality is that you just slog it out and get it done. It’s not pretty and it’s not heroic and nobody cheers. But you did it anyway. And maybe you’re not as proud as you would have liked to have been, but you took something away anyway. Without disappointment, there would be no accomplishment.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

I Think I Understand . . .

At least part of it.

I'll start at the beginning. Or at least where we left off, gentle readers, when I announced my registration for what could be argued to be the Mother of All Tests - the LSAT - June 11, 2007. I went into this a bit cocky. I took a couple of practice LSATS at the office - didn't time them but finished relatively within the time constraints, even with the phone ringing. And I did pretty well. A little over the 95th percentile. So, I was feeling cocky.

However, with the test looming, I decided to prepare a bit, raise my score, make sure I was on top of it - you know, train a little. For the Ironman of Tests. Yeah. I started checking out LSAT prep books, particularly those that focus on the logic games, the weakest link in my LSAT repertoire. Those books suggested something kinda funny. They suggested at least two months of prep (which I don't have). So, I'm officially "cramming". Not good.

And the logic book I got. HOLY CRAP! It should be titled "So You Think You're Pretty Smart: We'll Fix That" Or "How to Feel Like a Total Imbecile in Three Minutes or Less" Last night, as I poured over the beginning lessons yet another time, felt I had gotten the knack yet another time, and discovered I was dead wrong, yet another time, I was ready to throw in the towel. Just Quit Trying. Screw it, I thought, I'll just take the damn thing and if I bomb I bomb (I'll just try a Sprint, who needs to train, if I DNF, I'll DNF). Not my usual philosophy.

Then something clicked. That soft voice that comes every once in a great while, the one that contradicts every stupid thing the demons ever told you, the one that always points you in the right direction if you're quiet enough to listen for it - that voice said "Remember the bike."

Oh, yeah. The bike. The "I can't seem to keep the rubber side down" chariot of death. That bike. The one I was sure I would never learn to ride, much less race. That bike. The bike that I was riding when I zoomed past numerous riders last Sunday - it was a ride sponsored by our local cycling advocacy group and there were tons of people of all skill levels. The bike that sailed me past a group of male roadies (albeit somewhat out of shape male roadies) who proceeded to look at each other and attempt to pick up the pace. They didn't catch me. That bike.

I remembered. I walked back to the book. I let the book continue to make me feel like an idiot until I started to understand it. I sat there until it started to make sense and I knew that I would, in fact, learn this. Just like I learned the bike.

I may not ace this test, just like I may not pass a single soul in my races. But I'm going to try. And I'm going to feel good about it because I'm reaching. And reaching, even if you have to get up on your tippy toes, even if you have to jump a little bit, is what makes us taller in the end.