Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Kitchen Soup of Posts: Mines Road, Nevada, and Writing

I rode 120 miles.  The farthest I've ever ridden.

I can hardly believe it myself, even now, weeks later. I've been wanting to write this post for a while, too-- but I've been incredibly sick-- so much so that I've spent days in bed and unable to move. Sometimes nauseous. And other times, unable to breathe.  But the only thing I thought-- and have thought-- since then is this deep and profound gratitude for my life. For all the things I've done and have felt. For the dawns, for the sunsets; for the runs, swims and rides; for the friends I've had; for the books I've read and for the love I feel from family and friends.  

And how funny if it was: just when I was hitting my stride and feeling that it was OK to not-run. To not be "great." But I suppose life is funny that way, too. 

This post is informed, too, by the news that an athlete I coached two years ago has just found she is unable to run anymore, either. Some untreatable injury. No longer a collegiate athlete. I mourn her loss in a way I never would have imagined I could: to know a part of you dies. And that you will never have that life as a runner-- as a person who sees the world by their feet--again. And also, how it feels for me to know about all of that. I must be old--or something--to really sympathize. That is new territory for me, too. 

So, two weeks ago, I set out with four other of the Diablo Cyclists crew for a 120 mile ride. We left Walnut Creek at 7:00 am, at sunrise with our breath still visible and the bathrooms unopened in the park (BIG PROBLEM). I was glad I had full-finger gloves and what was later termed as a "space jacket" to keep the crisp-cold of morning off me.

The early morning pace-line, shortly after entering the Collier Canyon route.

 We departed from Walnut Creek and took the boulevard through Alamo and Danville to the entrance of Collier Canyon. I remember the way the light was low and soft; the way there was hardly anyone on the road; the silence of it-- the swish of our chains on the cranks; and always, my visible breath. I led, once, on the way in and I tried to keep my upper body still while I rested in the drops, pulling the group of us along. 18 mph, perhaps. Not a great speed, but not so bad for short-me, either.

We traded leads, but I was usually near the front of the group in these early miles, especially while headed to Blackhawk when fellow-rider Jay started talking to me about e-readers. Ward intercepted and told me to back off and save energy for the rest of the ride. Sage advice: but I mean: who wants to forgo an e-reader conversation??? (Sorry, Ward.)

Once we got into Collier, the landscape opened up. Became rural with fields and blossoming things. I remember a structure that was like a fortified white wooden windmill of sorts on a corner of one country road and another. And as we rode past I thought: this is like riding would be, in heaven. All those things I thought I wanted as a kid: and here I am, riding right by them.

And at this early hour, quiet. And, green. Livestock's children lined the roads-- lambs, baby horses, calves. Orange poppies cropped up in the pastures (not ready to bloom-- the sun wasn't high enough)  along the road's margins. I've always (slightly) hated this stretch (usually we see it coming back and I've only ever seen it brown.) Today, in green, it was pastoral.

It was beautiful.

I loved it.

Christine and I: just outside Livermore, en route to Mines Road. 

We met the other DC's in Livermore, at the Library. Dr. Dave acted as ultimate SAG and took away our extra layers from the chilly morning ride. He and Ward would later give me Fig Newman's and bananas and for that I would be eternally grateful.

After our brief stop, I joined up with Christine and Dr. Dave as well as a new guy from Nevada City where S.'s family is from (and where I would run a lot, in my former life as a long distance runner.) Oddly enough, he would prove to be my company on the miles up Mines Road.

How can I tell you about Mines Road? The last time I rode it, it was October or November of 2012 and it reminded me of home, which means, it reminded me of Nevada. It's this narrow windy, road that travels up a narrow canyon. Last time I rode it, the landscape was a palette of tawny-brown.

Originally, this was a road that led to mines-- (hence the name "Mines Road") which, perhaps, added to my old associations since two of my four parents worked in the mining industry, growing up. It didn't remind me of home as much this time, however, simply because the canyon was so GREEN.

Even despite the odd buildings, the stray abandoned building, the homage to a former cathouse.

Riders Blinky Ray and Cisco Dave took off and I tried to keep up, but they quickly dropped me on the continuous ascent up the canyon. I thought I was all alone for a while, until Mr. Nevada-City joined me. So, alone the meandering and narrow paved road of canyonlands-- of ranches and the places most-people-forgot-- we took turns out in front, pulling one another up and up, toward our midway destination.

The mid-way point is this odd biker-bar/outpost at the intersection of some very desolate roads. I arrived, grateful to pee in an indoor toilet, and looking forward to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat that is actually on the menu for the modest price of $4. By this point, the wind was strong and made it seem a lot colder out.  I was grateful for the indoor bathroom and noted there were several other cyclists huddled inside.

We chose to weather the conditions outside, however. I tried to rest my back against what appeared to be a small wire fence while I ate my long-coveted PB&J but found the small dog on the other side didn't like me so much (he tried to bite my ass off).

After that many miles (60) and weeks since I'd allowed myself peanut butter or bread so NO ONE or no DOG was going to take that sweet, sweet sandwich away from me.

Plus the wind was fracking cold.


We rode back in a headwind. Dr. Dave and I pulled each other up and out of the canyon, but he had more left in his legs than I did; by mile 80, I needed some water, some rest or something. But it's funny how our minds and bodies work: after a screaming downhill, I was ready to pull the team for a while and managed to do a passable job getting us back to the Livermore Library.

(Here is where the bananas, the Fig Newmans, and my desire not to ride anymore surface. At mile 90, however, you can't just decide not to go home. You've got to cream the cookie; spread the butter on the bread. You've toasted it: time to chew.)


The ride back was BRUTAL. 

A headwind, the whole way. 

Plus we'd ridden this way on the way out, so it was mentally challenging as well. The wind was in our faces; I tried to pull our group and found myself unable to keep up a decent pace. Then, when we reached Blackhawk (outside Danville) Ward got a flat. It was a lovely respite and granted us the lovely shot, below. 

I wish I could say I rode well, that I was in TOP FORM and kicking ass-- but instead, I'm so happy so say, simply, that I was able to ride 120 miles, that I had a great time and that I'm ready for more, this coming week. 

How much I would have loved to have been the best; or to have had some recognition for my effort. But really, I've come to understand, it's all in the doing. In the here and now; in THIS life at THIS time. 

I can't wait for more.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My longest ride ever...

More to come soon... but I cannot believe I rode 120.5 miles in a single day.

THANK YOU, DIABLO CYCLISTS, for letting me ride with you. I never thought I'd ride this far. And I love that I proved myself wrong... I CAN do the things I never thought I could. :-)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My first published essay...

So today, just another day in March, I was published in a literary journal....

I can't help but pause after writing that.  I've wanted to be a writer for so long-- since I was a little girl, in fact-- that the possibility of it actually happening became distant like a dream-- unattainable, but nice to think about.  I wrote my first novel when I was twelve on lined notebook paper until my hand cramped and the blue ballpoint ink ran out after 3 solid days and I had filled a mere 70 (front and back) pages.

I wrote all through high school and college; hardly ever submitting my work for outside consideration but I was, in those years, constantly writing. I wrote about everything I could possibly write about: the way my dorm room was (mostly) white; the way Reno was dirty and bitter cold at dawn; the way I had no idea what to write about.

It wasn't until I started running that the words and images began to come; that there was a reason why I was writing. I had experiences to convey-- and suddenly, in my life, there was MEANING.

It took a long time-- six years, really-- since I took my first step to train for a marathon to today when I have finally-- really-- published a work about a part of that incredible journey.

Here it is: a work which outlines the outstanding history of women in sports, set to the cadence of a 20-mile run. For once, the mind and body in motion and it only took me 31 years to do it:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In the long haul

Part of the Diablo Cyclist's crowd that helped me ride 110 challenging miles. (I'm the one in white.)
The long ride this week was a crisp one; not a breath of wind, but I wouldn't have called it "hot" out as we left Heather Farms Park in Walnut Creek, either. Mere miles into the ride,  "Chairman" Ward, innocently observed as we pedaled our way toward the Pig Farm: "You haven't updated your blog since 2012." And he's right, I haven't-- but I had little to say that Saturday morning about that. 
Me, headed up Wild Cat Canyon.

After all, I've been writing. More than I ever thought I would, actually. I write every night when I get off work. "Writing"-- not my day job-- involves creating something new, revising, or sending a piece out to a literary journal when it's ready and tracking all this action on a spreadsheet that may very well be larger than the 300-square foot cottage I live in.  

I think one of the reasons why I like endurance sports so much-- or why I am a writer-- is because they are both so similar. Both are long processes in which you may never make a living doing; but the more you practice at a sport or at writing, the better you get and that distant oasis of-- of what exactly? it's not greatness.. but proficiency? of pride?-- glimmers just beyond the visible horizon. And you just can't help yourself. Swim more. Ride more. Write more. The mistresses that rule your life in the hours you aren't behind a desk, doing something that might not be exciting, but that (at least) funds their existences. 

For all this writing: is my writing better? Can you tell

It's not like a physical skill. But then, it's hard to tell with those, too, when you play with others.

Last Saturday, we had a girl join the group who actually races. I loved to watch the way she attacked the downhills; descending like a madwoman. I admired her more when she admitted she'd busted up her face enough to need reconstructive surgery after the front tire of her commute bike failed and she buffered the fall with her visage. And still, she descends like she's fearless. Just the thought-- or the possibility-- of that sort of personal road rash makes me descend like a grandma. Just to be safe. 

The big news, though, is that the prescribed ride was 50 miles through the Berkeley Hills. And really, in all, it's one of our club's more challenging "prescribed rides." I didn't want to do the bonus miles. I felt like crap at mile 50; my legs were tired from going hard on the ups to compensate for my suckiness on the downs; I've also become (again) a fat-free vegan and I'm wondering if that's truly the best thing for a person who wants to be an athlete. (After the documentaries I watched about how farm animals are treated, however, I'm not sure this this a negotiable issue.)

I JUST DIDN'T WANT TO DO THE LONG RIDE. The racer-girl was going back home and I had an out-- a great out-- to take her back to Walnut Creek like a good-club-member that I aspire to be. And then I'd have had 50 miles of hills. And maybe I'd spend the rest of my day doing laundry. 

 But dammit, my guys didn't let me quit.  I was in for the long haul. 

For sixty miles more: over the undulating ridge line to Castro Valley, down to Palamares and up and over that hill not once, but twice before turned around to come back again. 

In a way, it's like my writing is sometimes: I don't want to do it, but I've got to keep going. Even if it sucks and I have no validation from the outside world. 

So, Saturday I ended up riding 110 miles. That's the longest I've ridden on a day in February. Usually the bike doesn't see sunlight until late March. 

So I don't wonder so much at the news that I am FINALLY GOING TO BE PUBLISHED. I've been submitting my work all over; I've been working longer than I ever thought I'd have to-- but finally, something happened. (More news very soon.)

And maybe that's the lesson: you just have to keep at it, whatever it is you do. 

I'm just so grateful I'm a part of a group that makes me remember to smile along the way.