"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What you don't want to hear at the start of a spinning class

Particularly when you haven't been to a spinning class, or on any sort of bike ride at all, in a couple months, you don't want to hear the instructor say, gleefully, before class, "I just signed up for the Death Ride! I'm so excited! It'll be my third time!"

Actually I don't think her spinning class would have been all that hard for somebody who's already been to it a couple times. Spinning is very adjustable to wherever you're at in your bike-fitness, and however hard you want to / are able to push it, but I was having trouble adjusting my workout to a low enough level that I could keep doing it for an hour. The secret is to start from a low enough amount of resistance that you can actually keep pedaling when told "Give me a quarter turn! Okay, give me another quarter turn!" etc. etc.  Maybe I'm still tired from the marathon. And maybe it might have had something to do with having eaten a whole loaf of bread in three days (homemade by yours truly, and almost perfect, but for letting it rise in the pan too long, which I think was the cause of the big hole in the middle when it baked - I should have just filled the hole with jam or Nutella or something), along with several bowls of turkey soup made from my FIRST ever wildly successful turkey roasting experience (prompted by an office party last Friday). 

I'm just glad I made it to the class and didn't have to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to do it. This class was at a very reasonable hour, 5:30 p.m. And the instructor turned on an extra fan and pointed it toward me when she observed that I was trying to fan myself with a towel.

I asked her about her Death Ride experiences after class. She said the first time she "only" finished four of the five mountain passes in the ride, and she was determined to do it again the next year and finish the whole thing, "hell or highwater." Those were pretty much the available options, since it started raining on them after they ditched their rain gear just before pass #5. But she did it, and now she's doing it again. Some people don't have a lick of sense. It's a relief sometimes not to feel compelled to try to do certain things (like the Death Ride). At least not in 2010.  Mercifully, registration is already full.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Go as easy as you can

They weren't kidding about the cold. With all the people crowded together at the start though, it wasn't too bad. It took me at least two or three minutes just to get to the starting line, a situation that would have caused me more frustration if I'd been closer to my wishful-thinking pace. Here's the news footage of everyone taking off. The beginning, at least for us middle-of-the-pack folks, is a pretty amazing collective sea of humanity experience. Then the honeymoon thrill of togetherness wears off and everybody has to go meet his or her own giant, some giants being more friendly than others, but still giants.

Yes, I managed to thwart the obvious efforts of the sport photography folks trying to prevent surreptitious downloading of the proofs of their pictures. Sorry about that. But now their watermark can enjoy free advertising on my blog, so that should be worth a little something. When you care enough to make your race photos outrageously expensive, I recommend them.

Views of the finish. I had a good sprint up that stretch of Capitol Ave to the finish line, never mind that maybe 800 yards before that I was walking. Walking as briskly as I could. An old Jennifer Stone saying came to mind - "Go easy, and if you can't go easy, go as easy as you can." This was a 'running theme' of my marathon though I didn't really plan it to be. I held back in the first half, which is probably why I got all the way into the low 20's before things got really, really hard and I started saying things like "Hey, I never have to do this again, so just enjoy this while it lasts. Don't be in such a rush to get it over with!" and also a 'thank you, thank you' mantra. Meaning thank you for my life, thank you for being able to run (and walk). Thank you thank you thank you.

So during and immediately after the marathon, and as recently as yesterday, I was indeed thinking how nice it will be to get back on my bike, do less painful kinds of exercise, etc. And I will. I need time to recover and regroup, and time for my feet to forgive me. I don't know if the marathon is really 'my distance,' as much as I may wish it to be, or if it was just that my training was too thin, or that I've still got the dregs of a cold, or all of the above. But I'm already feeling less averse to the idea of more running than I felt on Sunday when I could barely walk and pretty much just sat on H's sofa moaning for advil and cookies.

p.s. - I think my Nike+ wristband thing has been telling me sweet little lies about how far and how fast I've been running. Either that or I actually managed to run a marathon that was two miles longer than everyone elses on the same course. Time to recalibrate.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Around the corner

Well, Sunday is the big marathon day. My training wasn't exactly everything I'd hoped to accomplish, but it never really is. I've definitely been taking it easy the last couple weeks, partly due to getting a cold immediately after the 20-mile run I did two weeks ago and partly due to sitting around eating delicious cake and pie and fantastic curry sausage stuffing all the blessed Thanksgiving weekend.

I see that my big 1.8 mile run this morning wasn't enough to make my little Nike cartoon person start jumping hurdles again...but Sunday will put the life back into her. (Almost) all downhill. Just have to keep a cool head, think about people who have suffered or are suffering way more than I will be and have no choice in the matter, keep on truckin', and not be too attached to the outcome. How glorious to be able to stand and walk, let alone run. How lovely to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a 5:15 bus to the 7:00 a.m. start. (Choice in the matter, choice in the matter. Yes. I signed up for this.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Liberty and justice for all

This story is a few weeks old but I only just encountered it this morning. Kids like Will and my nephews and no doubt others you know who are such incredibly smart, perceptive and compassionate people give me hope for the future of our country and the world. Hopefully the conditions causing Will's objection to the wording of the Pledge will be remedied. Hopefully we won't have to wait for him to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court first.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

At seventeen, you learn the truth

This video makes me cry. Sometimes people are so terribly dear, hobbling valiantly along, while other people cheer and ring cowbells, for no logical reason, they're all just compelled to do it. Though I did just get back from a 17-mile training run, and a client recently told me that running makes your brain release its own personal stash of cannabinoids. Or something like that, he didn't really go into the neurochemistry of it. No wonder I have so many brilliant ideas while I'm running and can't remember them later. So it's possible that I'm high. But you still just have to love people to bits sometimes. My favorite is the older gent with the dark green shirt and light green shorts (or was it the other way around?) He's really booking along. At some point the person shooting the video says the runners going by are looking to finish in 4 hours. That made me cry too. That'll be me in LESS THAN FOUR WEEKS. Dude. What? I'm hungry.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A truth universally acknowledged

No better prequel to a month of novel writing than to be a great Character for Halloween. Thanks to "Time Traveler Costumes" here in town I was able to hire most of the key articles, but some were already in my possession. In the course of the Holiday weekend, I:

  • gave flowers to an elegant Lady
  • was delivered from peril by a young Scholar
  • attended a Country Ball
  • was asked if the Sideburns were "real or fake"
  • became Famous somewhere in China
  • wrote about 1300 Words
  • ran 18 Miles (in two days)
  • ate no small Quantity of Candy
In all, an excellent weekend.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

eat and / or be eaten

This is a wonderful concept of broad application - nature and the food chain; a zombie attack; and if, say, Jonah of Biblical fame had enjoyed sushi. Unfortunately for the 'big fish' [NOT a whale, they always insisted in Sunday School, because as we all know, whales have TEENY TINY throat openings by which they filter their krill, so a whale could not have possibly swallowed Jonah, and it's very important to apply Occam's Razor-sharp rational thought processes to Bible stories because so many readers of the Bible have a seriously impaired grasp of metaphor. In fact, Jonah made his home in the abdomen of an Ichthyosaur like the 40-foot long fossil in Nevada, off I-50 - the "Loneliest Road in America." I've been wanting to go see for a long time. Oh - but that can't be, I just read on Wikipedia that the Ichthyosaurus was not actually a fish. If God had wanted the story to say that Jonah was gulped down whole by a giant marine reptile, that's what it would have said. Never mind.]

As I was saying, unfortunately for the big fish Jonah was indigestible and caused it acute gastric distress.

I still love this fish story though. I've acted it out now and again...the longer you avoid things you really have to do, the more your life conspires to make you do them, to a degree that can feel a little dark and cramped. I've evaded / avoided / excused myself from some work it seems I really need to do, for whatever reason. So now I find myself single with a social life consisting primarily of a dog, a cat, Facebook, some emails, and a phone call now and then, and I'm totally frigging broke, and the market for jobs that might help that problem is a bit...tight, let's say.

National Novel Writing Month begins in one week. I've never wanted so much to avoid doing something I so much want to do. Because because because because because. I have no narrative! I have no outline! I don't know who the people are! Don't you have to know these things? What if I manage to write every day for 30 days, and end up with random pieces of 30 different stories? What if I lose all control over the process and become really deranged, like Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now?" Or the guy from "The Wall" who smashes everything in the hotel room and spells words on the carpet with the fragments?

Okay, it probably won't be quite that bad. The worst I can imagine is that I might be driven to holler and cuss. This is the girl who, in high school, was too self-conscious even to yell during football games. I've come a long way. Trust me on that one.

"NaNoWriMo," if I manage to participate, will not fix anything, but it would be a reasonable use of the opportunities currently presented. I don't know about Jonah but I do love sushi. How do you eat a very big fish? One slice at a time, with wasabi. Doesn't get any fresher than this.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Greased Lightnin'

I decided to take Ripley on the 3-mile jogging loop this morning, so we could both get our exercise in. When Rip decides she wants to go in a particular direction, she can go very fast, but we don't always agree about the direction. When this happens it gives the appearance that I'm strangling my poor little dog by selfishly trying to run with her dragging behind when her stubby legs can't keep up with me. Ha. So with that in mind I don't generally expect our runs together to break any speed records. When I'm on the path in the park I tend to keep her on a leash because she hasn't quite learned to move aside for bicycles - actually she seems inclined to deliberately obstruct them, if it's up to her. For running I use a leash that clips to my waist, for better balance. And sometimes a pull into town.

This morning there was a little bit of disagreement, early in the run, due to some interesting activity happening on the path behind us. Ripley doesn't like having other dogs behind her, must be a herding thing. But then she decided that her interests lay ahead and took off. She was pulling me along at probably at least a 7:30 / mile clip for a good hundred yards or so, then we finally slowed down a little. Finished 3 miles in 26:53, averaging an 8:52 / mile pace. Not bad for a short dog!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

So many books, so much time

My Zen teacher / friend Lin Jensen is giving a talk and reading from his books next Saturday. It just occurred to me that although I'm familiar with selections from his books, because he shares from them occasionally in his weekly talks at the Chico Zen Sangha (which meets upstairs at Trinity United Methodist Church every Wednesday night, a true interfaith experience), I've not yet read any of them all the way through. I'm such a fan of Lin and his writing, and the Sangha has been so helpful for me, that this seems a rather glaring omission. I guess it's time to go pay my fines at the library and work on remedying this lapse. I have an old pattern of going to the library, getting very excited about several books that I'm sure will be utterly life-changing or will prop up my literary ego in some way, bringing them home, reading parts of some of them (maybe) and keeping them until they're all overdue. Still, it's much cheaper to do this at a library than at a bookstore. I think I owe the Butte County Library about $5.00 right now.

Audio books have helped a lot. I churn through those pretty fast. Our local library has a limited selection of books on CD, but when I discovered Audible.com it broadened the horizons enormously. Unfortunately Lin's books haven't made it to Audible yet.  I'll have to sit down and read, and not try to do two or three things at once. Psh. It's a buddhist conspiracy.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Payin' the cost to be the boss

I'm sitting on the couch at my friend Lisa's house with an ice pack on my knee(s) (sounds like a song, doesn't it?) but I just looked up the results from the "H.O.T. Half," (Hooker Oak Trail Half Marathon) that I ran this morning in Upper Bidwell Park - a gorgeous day, cool enough that I never got too uncomfortable in my long sleeve shirt. I say "ran," but that included some brisk hiking up steep parts of the trail, mincing down steep parts of the trail, and a lot of hopping around between rocks. There was also one point in the middle when I stopped for a few seconds because I felt like I was going to barf. I didn't. Just needed to stop for a second, apparently.

Anyway, I looked up the race results a little while ago only to discover that I took 1st in my division! I guess I should have stuck around for the awards ceremony. Good thing I'm still in my 30's, the competition among 40 - 49-year-olds was a little stiffer. Something to look forward to. I think somebody was taking official race photos so I hope there might be something to post later...it was so beautiful in the park, but it was no barefoot stroll. Knowing I'd be spending a few hours driving later in the day I took advantage of the free sports chiropractic / massage they offered after the race. I see that this (professional help) is something that needs to be a regular component of my training program. He fixed my sore lower back right up and showed me how to work on my very tight iliotibial (I.T.) bands with a foam roller. "Foam" implies something much softer than this felt. I did this for awhile, determined not to give up any more information than my name, rank and serial number.

The little Nike cartoon in the sidebar is reporting that my run was 14.6 miles, not 13.1. Maybe that's due to all the rock hopping and weaving around, and the hiking up and the tiny steps down. Or maybe it just gives me bonus points for trail running. So much more fun than the boring old road, so much more demanding of focus. I still had a soundtrack in my head though. Early in the run when I was feeling quite energized and hot to attack it was Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries...later it was the climactic passages of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, though I couldn't tell if I was feeling Russian or French. Later still it was Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell." Maybe my brain thought singing songs from "The Wall" would help me avoid hitting it.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

"She was the single artificer of the world in which she sang"

Yesterday was the birthday of Wallace Stevens, one of my all-time favorite poets, who happened to have been a lawyer, and subsequently vice-president of an insurance company, and whose life was "quiet and uneventful" according to poets.org. And to be fair, he does sound a bit like you'd expect an insurance lawyer to sound when he reads, but The Idea of Order at Key West is not something you can skim quickly and hope to get, so the pace is probably helpful. It has unfolded for me over a period of almost 20 years. There are still things in it that I can't quite get my head around - they make sense on a level that I don't know how to explain, and the language is stunning, as if events are happening in a world that resembles ours but isn't, quite. Maybe getting ones head around it is not so important.

I can't think of Wallace Stevens without feeling gratitude for the person who really introduced me to him and who gave me the volume I have of his collected works, probably circa 1991 or thereabouts...can't remember for sure. Thanks, Laurie.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stream of consciousness be dammed

I was going to call it 'train of thought derailed' but it wasn't really a train, just a series of things going through my head as I walked Ripley this morning, which came to a screeching halt when I got stuck on not being able to remember the name "Elizabeth Taylor." The process of getting there was so odd, though, that I am compelled to write it down.

It began when I saw someone walking one of those Portuguese water dogs, or a dog that looked a lot like one of those dogs. That made me think of Bo, the Presidential dog. Bo Obama. That naturally led me to start singing "The Name Game" in my head, because obviously it's easier to say "Bobama" than Bo Obama. The Name Game lasted for quite awhile as I ran through everybody's name I could think of, including a few repeat rounds of Ripley Ripley Bo Bipley, Banana Fana Fo Fipley, Me My Mo Mipley, Ripley! Then I began speculating about whether my littler nephews (or even the not-so-little nephews) would find the name game quite entertaining and I imagined demonstrating it for them next time I see them. Then I imagined, for heightened nephew (and self) entertainment value, that it would be good to add a special dance that is danced for any particular person's name. I thought about some potentially very silly dances. Then I imagined telling them it would be "their own interpretive dance."

Then, naturally, the line "If I can't dance my own interpretive dance, I won't dance at all" came to mind, from the film "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I thought about what a depressing movie that was, with the couple going down into the depths of mental cruelty to each other, and how I probably wouldn't want to ever watch it again. Then it happened: I couldn't remember the name of the lead actress. Despite running through several of her best known films, i.e. International Velvet, Cleopatra, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and so on. The name 'Elizabeth' was coming but the only last name that came up with it was Montgomery, and of course I knew that was definitely wrong -- "Bewitched" was my favorite of all the syndicated re-run shows though I was never able to grasp what Samantha saw in Darren - either of the Darrens. Anyway.

The other name that kept coming up was Joan Collins and I knew that was wrong too. Elizabeth. Elizabeth. Overdressed lady in a wheelchair, friend of Michael Jackson...a thing like this can drive you insane. It went on for at least five minutes. Then, suddenly, I got it. Taylor! HUGE sigh of relief. Stream free to flow again.

I'd better start doing more crossword puzzles, or something. It could be a long next 50 years. I can see myself parked in a hallway, singing the theme song to "Bewitched." Or perhaps playing the name game with everybody who walks by and dancing my own interpretive dance. Worse things could happen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

One more song...

loathsome earworms, karma, etc.

Who knows how or when these things get into our heads, but heading out for a run this morning my internal stereo was plagued by a certain perennial patriotic country/pop song I dare not name, for fear of infecting my readers' heads with it as well. I am happy to report that I was able to get rid of it by substitution with the classic, stirring, patriotic "Wasn't That a Time" - originally by the Weavers but I'm very fond of the PP&M version. No video but you can listen to it here. So - if you ever are suffering from the earworm to which I'm trying not to refer, know that there is a cure.

So I watched the BYU - Florida State game yesterday. It was on the Versus channel, my favorite cable channel EVER (and one of the few I get with basic cable). I have a little bit of ambivalence toward BYU but I really wanted them to win one for the Mountain West. Or at least not be smeared all over the field. Which they were, pretty much. Things might have gone better if they hadn't had such a spirit of generosity with the football. Reflecting on the game while running this morning, though, it occurred to me that the 'Noles are sort of like the Utes of Florida. That makes the crushing loss not seem so bad.

But oh, the glum faces in the stadium. Why did BYU lose so badly?

They were completely outplayed. But apart from that, the question raises a serious and pervasive spiritual fallacy. That suffering or loss is ever something inflicted by God as a punishment for sin (at worst), or as some kind of deliberate 'teaching moment' if you can't see why you / someone else would 'deserve' what happened. Conversely, that everything good and desirable that a person might want or enjoy is assigned as a reward for personal righteousness. Gain or loss is neither a blessing nor a curse, it is a situation arising from the continuous playing out of cause and effect. I'm a heretic (if you hadn't already noticed) but I just don't believe that God is the great Skinner Box operator in the sky, or a micromanager of the universe so as to interfere with the system of cause and effect, as much as we might sometimes wish for interference. But I do believe in the blessing of gratitude and acceptance. That is probably the only thing we ever really need and lack, and it's the only blessing I can think of that isn't a little bit mixed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers 1936 - 2009

"'It's not your duty to finish the task, it is your duty not to neglect it.' If war and hunger and racism were easy things to get rid of, I would assume we would have gotten rid of them already." - Mary Travers, 1993

Monday, September 07, 2009


Having just a little trouble coming back mentally from happy-birthday-holiday-weekend-land so it's a good time to express gratefulness to my parents for providing me with 1) a birthday, 2) a world-class location in which to have celebrated it sharing the weekend with good friends, and 3) a brand new car!

Just kidding about #3. Ha ha.

I did get a parent-sponsored new fridge for my birthday though, which I very greatly appreciate, as I learned awhile back that fridges are more essential than cars. I already have a vehicle that runs perfectly well but my old fridge was circa 1990--doesn't seem like it should be that long ago, but it is, considering other events that took place that year. The gentlemen that came to pry it out and haul it down the stairs commented that it seemed the kitchen, and perhaps the entire building, had been constructed around it.

You can always decide to bike, walk, bus, or stay home, but there is really no alternative means of keeping ice cream frozen.

Speaking of my truck, my friends washed it for me as a surprise birthday treat (I'm going with that over the 'in pity and disgust' option). Thanks!

Also, Heather cooked the best veggie enchiladas ever and made sure there was cake and reminders every quarter hour on Sunday that it was my birthday. At my age one begins to need prompts, or so she said. Thanks!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Juniper Lake 2009

Arrived Wednesday afternoon and we got comfortable. Note that Ripley's whites are mostly still white.

Checking the park's website before this trip I learned that the trail to Lassen Peak was closed due to a terrible accident on July 30. A 9-year-old boy hiking with his family was sitting on a rock wall along upper part of the trail when it collapsed, and he was killed in the rock fall. I have thought a lot about that over the last few days, watching the sunset behind Lassen Peak.

Ripley voted on which bed she thought looked more comfortable. As the calm assertive pack leader, however, I have veto power. Sort of.

I borrowed a kayak from one of my coworkers and launched it onto the lake Thursday morning. The wind had already come up a little bit. First thing in the morning, Juniper is glassy-smooth.

I reminded myself that kayaking on a lake is supposed to be a relaxing, meditative activity while I was paddling for the opposite shore of the lake as fast as I could. Because it's easier to relax and meditate after you've worn yourself out in a frenzy of purposeless activity.

There is a lot of dust and dirt in the Juniper Lake campground but there is less than before we arrived, since my dog soaked up about half of it. Whites not so white any more.

Thursday afternoon after a little nap I hiked up to the latest in my collection of Lassen lakes - but this view is overlooking Juniper.

About 400' up and 3/4 of a mile from Juniper Lake Campground is lovely little Crystal Lake. I had a much needed swim - Ripley thought I smelled too bad and was threatening not to sleep in the tent if I didn't clean up. Hmm. Didn't play that one too well, did I? The swim was delightful, though, until I started thinking about Grendel and Lord of the Rings and what dreadful things that might live down at the bottoms of small mountain lakes. I laughed at myself for being so silly as I got out and my heart rate returned to normal. From the exercise.

This morning I took the kayak out on Juniper again, hoping to catch the earlier morning still water time. Didn't quite catch it - had a nice relaxing meditative hike with Ripley (dogs are good for that kind of thing, as is hiking while carrying a travel mug) - but close enough. The water is different colors in different spots on the lake, depending on depth, but here it was a sort of Caribbean tropical blue-green and I could see all the way to the bottom, maybe 20 - 30 feet.

I couldn't take a picture of this but last night I stood by the lake and could see stars reflected in it. That light traveled all that way just to bounce off some little lake in the mountains. At least I saw it. Another year when I camped there I talked to a guy who took his kayak out at night and said he saw the stars in the water, and it felt like he was drifting in space. I would like to try that some other time when I have a buddy along, preferably one who can yell 'Polo!' when I yell 'Marco!' Nothing against Ripley. [She claims she was just warming up my space for me, she never intended to sleep there - but then she fell asleep. I'll have to remember that one in case I ever need to use it.]

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

3:59 in '09: A New Hope

Emily (not shown in photo) is pleased to announce that she is coming out of retirement and intends to participate in the 2009 California International Marathon in Sacramento on December 6. The 2006 CIM was the last time I put myself through that - came close to my goal of a sub 4-hour race but didn't quite get there. Overran the first 13.1 miles and had a split time of 1:45 - burned up in the second half and finished in 4:03 . Three years, major knee surgery, and lots of bicycling later, not to mention some other pretty dramatic life changes, I think I'm ready for a do-over. Anyway, now I've signed up and active.com says they don't do refunds. I need to work on getting my right leg more flexible and aligned properly - it doesn't swing the same as the left. Maybe never did but now it's worse.

This presents endless opportunities for planning stuff on calendars. I will be posting updates of the week's plan to invite public accountability into the process (to the extent that anybody cares - they probably shouldn't).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Climbed a mountain and turned around

Start of the trail up Mt. Lassen
Wildflowers everywhere. And mobs? swarms? flocks? of butterflies, even up at 10,500'.

Pristine, icy Lake Helen far below. I touched the water there once on another trip and it felt colder than the snow from which it had melted. A swimming pool for a higher order of beings, perhaps.

Since this hat was the replacement for one that got stolen on an Amtrak to Salt Lake a few years ago, I was not about to risk it being blown away into the void. Chin strap - check.
There is always room at the top, if not solitude.

Near the crater at the top were a lot of these lumpy boulders that looked like they were warm when they landed, like great big cookies shot out of the oven (though the cookie-shooter is a hard to find optional feature on most kitchen ovens). To use the scientific terminology.
Mt. Shasta through the haze, over the rim of the Lassen crater. It looks like it's the only thing left in the world from this perspective.

The whole hike, including the pause at the top to send some text messages and update my Facebook status, took three hours. It's a steady climb up for 2.5 miles but not technical and all ages of people were moving up or down the trail. Sneaking off during the week sometime would likely offer more of a serene hiking experience, but on the other hand, one can't help but be glad that people are out showing their kids what the world looks like from the top of a mountain. And a volcano to boot.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Red River Valley

After about 20 years of playing the guitar without really knowing what notes were in the C or G or Dm7 or F# chords I was playing, as all along I've been playing by ear and using chord charts and reading tabs, I am at last learning to read standard notation for guitar. It's really not too hard so far to pick it up because I can read music, just never learned how to translate notes on a staff to places on guitar strings. I don't know why it took so long to get around to it. A client who plays classical guitar loaned me an old copy of "Mel Bay's Modern Guitar Method Grade 1" to get started and also recommended the "Carcassi Guitar Method" published by Carl Fischer, which I just ordered on Amazon. The latter looks like something that could take awhile to grow into. Meanwhile I can work on When the Saints Go Marchin' In and Aura Lee and 'From this val-ley you say you are lea-ving...'

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Memory Bike Lane

I've been doing more thinking about riding than actually riding lately, though hoping that between the Tour de France (Go Levi!!) and what I hope will be a series of awesome photo-rich recaps of this year's NCAC (no pressure, Heather), I'll get motivated again. Highly recommend having a look at Heather's recap of Day 1 here or with the link over the sidebar...maybe you'll get motivated too.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wagons East

My alarm is set for 4:30 a.m., can't say if that means I'll be waking up at exactly that time or not (could be earlier in the antici...pation, or could be later, but hopefully around that time) to finish loading up the truck, including the talented Miss Ripley, and head to UT for a couple days to visit my people. As I have not yet updated all of 'my people' as to this plan, some of you may read this and wonder if I'm trying to sneak in and out of the state without so much as a let's-have-lunch or other appropriate refreshments. My plans were a little wobbly until nearly the last minute but I hope we can meet up sometime during my 48-hour or so visit. And have appropriate refreshments. That aren't too hard to chew...the left side of my mouth is still full of stitches and plumber's putty. Feel free to call and entertain me while I'm driving tomorrow, if I don't call you first.

I probably really should be at work this week. But the highway and my hours and hours of Dickens' Bleak House on mp3 are calling. And my people.

First step, shut eye.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New parts

Smiling for the camera after my surgery yesterday. The installation of the secret data transmitter was successful and I should now be able to start podcasting and making calls by clicking my teeth together three times.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A list, at least

of everything I can remember having thought about for posting topics in the last two weeks:

  • My parents' 38th [corrected from original post] wedding anniversary was May 28th. No small feat.
  • My weekend with the Buddhist monks up at Shasta Abbey and remarkably being able to fall asleep before 9 p.m. Without pharmaceutical help. Oh the impermanence.
  • My first practice criterium. Bicycle race! Bicycle race!
  • Tried to take a video of Ripley playing with her vegetables before eating them up but waited until too late in the day, she was worn out and just laid down on the rug and ate the broccoli without throwing it in the air and snorting and barking at it first. I'll try again.
  • My first big Costco shopping experience for the company picnic. The photo of my cart full of five dozen hotdog buns for five dozen hotdogs, similar quantity of hamburgers / veggie burgers and buns, a flat of tomatoes, a 15# bag of onions, two bags of charcoal, a case of diet Coke and Shasta soda (incidentally not available at Shasta Abbey, in case you wondered) etc etc turned out blurry but I might try to post it later anyway. I realized why the original plan had been for TWO people to do the shopping. It was probably a job for two shopping carts.
  • Getting to work by 8:30 or earlier EVERY day last week and this week so far, and cleaning my house, and digging out my office. My boss wonders what happened at the Abbey.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Catching up

Most of the month of May seems to have escaped discussion so far, which is too bad because really quite a lot happened. Those highly detailed and photo-filled posts about the Unknown Coast took up a lot of blogging energy. Unfortunately I didn't have my phone set up to send posts by text (or audio) during the NorCal AIDS Challenge mid-month - of course I would only have sent text messages while I was not operating a motor vehicle, which actually wouldn't have left much time to send them - but at least there would have been some updates.

It was an awesome, inspiring event, made no less inspiring (maybe more so, actually) by the fact that I was on the support crew instead of on a bike this year. The reference to Kansas in my last post was made with certain stretches of the NCAC route in mind. There is a beauty to wide open farmland that is enhanced by air conditioning.

[Here's Jen, one of the strong and lovely NCAC riders pointing out a sign atop Table Mountain.]

I really enjoyed my task on the crew and took it maybe a little more seriously than was necessary - which made it kind of funny when on the morning of Day #4, when I was all exercised by the need to leave extra early ahead of the first group of riders, and I'd checked with my route-marking co-pilot the night before to make sure she'd be ready to go on time (which she was), I lost my keys and spent an extra 15 - 20 minutes looking for them while co-pilot good-naturedly helped me retrace my steps from the night before. Pride goeth before lost keys. They were right where I'd left them so I wouldn't lose them, I just forgot I'd put them there. Keys notwithstanding, though, no riders got lost, so I reckon we did a good job.

When the day's work was done and people started settling in to their tents for the evening I got to put on my troubadour hat (metaphorically...though I guess the hat in this picture could be a troubadour hat...why not?). I'm glad people enjoyed it because to a large extent I think it serves a similar function for me as purring does for cats.

Special thanks to the people who took these photos, which I stole from their Facebook pages because I failed to take any of my own.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Previously, on (the) Lost (Coast)...

Where was I? Oh yeah. Suddenly, it appeared. Here it is again in case you forgot.

"It" being the Wall, of course. I need to come up with a Homeric-ish trope for it -- 'the fearful quad-destroying path' or something to that effect. Open to suggestions.

When I saw it I understood that my concerns had not been unfounded, though I was so tired of riding up the beach in the headwind that I was glad for something different (theoretically) and also to have reached what felt like the dramatic peak of the whole ride. As I approached I thought it would be good to call on the goddess of the Wall that I would be allowed to humbly pass over it. It seemed like such a route must surely have its own local minor deity. There was a little rest station set up at the foot of the hill and I watched people straggle up, start tacking back and forth, back and forth, and (frequently) stop and start hiking. How far would I be able to get? The steep part seemed to have sub-sections, a little warm up at the beginning before it launched straight up into space and then 'relaxed' into a almost-straight-up section before turning the corner and becoming just a regular steady climb of a mere 8 - 10% grade instead of 18 - 20%.

I slurped down some "CHOCOLATE OUTRAGE" flavored Gu, containing caffeine for that extra bit of outrageousness, mustered my valor, and set out. I knew right away that I had a limited number of pedal strokes I'd be able to manage before reaching what the weight training community calls 'muscle failure.' I didn't think to count though. I stood up in the saddle and began tacking back and forth across the road, slowly, like most everybody else, wondering if the shallower plane I achieved thereby was worth the extra distance. Every time I changed directions I felt a little surge of panic and increasing doubt about whether I could keep going.

If you click on the photo above it will open up in a much larger version where you can easily make out the four little people winding their way up (plus a fifth person starting out near the bottom). Note that the person nearest the top is walking. Approximately where you see the third person down from the top is as far as I got before I jumped off my bike with very wobbly legs and shaky arms, and hiked from there to the first level place after I turned the corner. The steeper a hill, the more upper body strength required to give you enough resistance to keep pedaling. At least that's the theory I just made up and it sounds like it ought to be true, considering how fast my arms got tired.

Here I am after hitting the Wall.

While I was hiking, some grizzled ol' hardcore cyclist feller rode by and made a comment all of which I couldn't quite hear, to the effect of "[blah blah blah]...females doing this, you should feel very proud of your achievement." I thought despite the gender reference it was meant to be sincerely complimentary and encouraging. When I got back on my bike after my refreshing hike I passed him and didn't see him again for the rest of the ride. I hope he felt proud of his achievement too.

After the Wall and the after-wall there was a lovely plunge downhill (the Unknown Coast can't seem to get downhill without plunging) into a beautiful little valley, before starting to climb again into the second to last phase of the ride known as "the Endless Hill." As opposed to the all the other hills which I guess are not considered "endless." One thing I frequently tell myself about hills, though, is that they always end somewhere. Early in this climb I felt totally out of steam and had to hike for maybe half a mile. I think this is where I really hit the physical / mental 'wall.' I thought about that "100-Mile Finisher" patch and it seemed like very inadequate motivation. I could just come back and try again next year. I was more than nine hours into the ride, including lunch and rest stops, and it seemed like that was way too long, Auntie M had probably stopped wondering what had happened to me by then (in reality it was the opposite, I just have to work in those Wizard of Oz references whenever possible).

Once you start walking, it's hard to know when you're ready to start riding again, but I finally reached a place where the road flattened out a little bit and I thought, okay, let's give it another go. Amazingly I felt so much better. I got into a steady pace and (as far as I can remember) didn't really have any trouble with the rest of that climb, most of which was still ahead of me at that point. I heard somebody tell another cyclist about the 'false summit,' warning him not to let it break his heart, so I was steeled against heartbreak when I got there and then had to start climbing again.

Mile 92
It was late enough in the afternoon by the time I reached the final rest station, mile 92, that the Humboldt Fog was coming back. A very friendly young man with an assortment of musical instruments sat in the back of his van, and pointed out that along with the sliced oranges (yes!) he also had sandwiches (no!) but didn't think anybody wanted them at that point - not anything wrong with the sandwiches, but my tummy was feeling a bit outraged by then. He also bore glad tidings that we were basically done climbing once we rounded the next bend.

He was right. The Endless Hill ended and the final phase, another plunge down Wildcat Road into Ferndale, began. I let out a "I'm getting my 100-mile Finisher Patch" whoop and took the plunge.
There's no place like home.

I want another patch next year. Both my Aunt Merilyn and my Aunt Sylvia's driveways up there in Humboldt County are very like a Wall in miniature; I figure I could train by riding back and forth between their houses. Oh - and don't forget to go back and click on the photos. The bigger size really starts to capture a bit of how stunning the scenery was. Makes other places seem, well, kind of like Kansas.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ready to Roll

In all my carrying on about Tour of the Unknown Coast, I haven't mentioned that the NorCal AIDS Challenge starts Thursday. I will probably have to wake up around 4:00 am...or so...I think...maybe just a little after that...to get my wagon together and drive up to the starting point by Folsom Lake. Then my route-marking co-pilot (who I've not met in person yet) and I will take off and start putting our brightly colored signs pointing out each and every place where two roads may diverge in a yellow wood (or an almond orchard, or a rice field) and it would make some considerable difference, if not all, should a rider take the road less traveled, in this case.

Heather posted a link to this news video from last night about NCAC on her blog, but I wanted to see if I could get the video to work here. Such nice looking people on this ride. Good thing they did the interviews before rather than after, I don't know that my heat rash and bruises last year would have had quite the same visual appeal.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tour of the Unknown Coast, part 2 (the middle part)

At the brief stop in Honeydew, one of the other riders mentioned that lunch was only nine miles up the road, at A.W. Way County Memorial Park, and there was one more hill between us and it. I'm not sure which one was the one she meant. In studyin' up on the ride, I was so preoccupied with the big hills that I forgot to notice how not flat most of the rest of the ride was. The stretch through Avenue of the Giants to the foot of Panther Gap was mostly flat. The stretch right along the beach leading up to the infamous Wall was flat in a cruel joke sort of way...so windy I had to shift into my biggest gear to keep crawling along at 7 miles an hour. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Lunch featured more tasty sandwiches and even more choices than at the rest stop, plus homemade vegetable soup, and the usual cookies and chips and Gu and powdered sports drink mix. The mechanic fixed my front derailleur. I probably stayed at the lunch stop longer than I would have if not left to my own 'fuffeling,' as it has been called (though I haven't decided how to spell it).

Refueled, I got on the road again uphill and down, roughly following the Mattole River. Seemed paradoxical that the river could flow downhill all the way to the sea but we had to keep riding up.

Reached the town of Petrolia and felt reassured by this sign that I'd been somewhere and I was going somewhere. Only 30 miles to go.

Apparently in Petrolia they have their own language, called Hamburgese, as demonstrated by the sign below.

I'm not sure if the position of the sconce on the wall is meant to serve as an apostrophe, which of course would dramatically change the meaning. Hamburgese has a limited syntax, but with many possible meanings dependent on context. If I hadn't stayed so long at the lunch stop, perhaps I could have studied this further. Aunt Merilyn, who is very knowledgeable about local history and lore, told me later that the Petrolia Store (which either serves plural hamburgers, or is owned by a burger) is also the unofficial seismograph for earthquake activity to which this area is prone. When there's an earthquake, word goes out, "How much damage at the Petrolia store?" whereby the locals can estimate the magnitude of the quake well ahead of the USGS.

More unnamed roller coaster hills. Roller coaster in relation to the big ones, but some about the size of Steiger / Cantelow / Monticello Dam in Winters where we've done a lot of riding. I began to worry that I wasn't going to feel very rested up and ready by the time I got to the Wall. I thought about the Wall all the time. As one might infer from previous blog posts, I thought about it all the time before the ride too. I still wasn't ready for it.

At around 75 miles, we crested whatever poor nameless hill and got our first view of the ocean. I shall name it Hill Where You First See the Ocean. I'm sure there's a language that could say that very succinctly. In Hamburgese, for example, it's probably just a picture of two hamburgers, one being the hill and the other, the ocean.

As I hinted earlier, my dream of a flat restful ride 6 miles along the beach was blown away. A small group of riders were far enough ahead that I couldn't catch up to benefit from their windbreak. Definitely an advantage to riding with some friends even if you're not trying to go all that fast. Taking turns drafting and pulling means less work for everybody.

Then at 79 - 80 miles it appeared.

I just now realized what lovely wildflowers are lining the road.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

California's toughest century? (part 1)

In honor of Mothers' Day, to test the genes for perseverance I like to think I inherited, and in pilgrimage to the area where she grew up, I finished the 100 mile Tour of the Unknown Coast on Saturday. I rode my bike at least 98.5 - 99 of those miles, and hiked a little bit on the hill they call the Wall. More about that later. Here we are heading out of the town of Ferndale, the dairy heartland of Humboldt County (the cows there really do look pretty happy).

Doesn't take long in these parts to get out of town. Here we're taking the back road to Rio Dell. I got to an intersection that can be clearly viewed from my Aunt Merilyn's front porch up on the hill and I waved vigorously but found out later she had gone back to bed. She said she thought about the likelihood that I would wave when I passed, though. Good enough.

Here stopped at the first rest stop near Weott and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. "Avenue of the Giants" country. I like wearing my sushi jersey because I'm shy, and it entertains people and encourages them to talk to me. Though mostly only about sushi and jerseys.
I was pleased with the sandwich choices. Plentiful. I had a tasty little tofu sandwich at this rest stop (from the vegan box) in order to make sure that they saw people eating them. You don't have to be vegan to appreciate having a choice other than lunchmeat or PBJ. Though I like those too.

From the first rest stop we headed further south, where, on not too steep a hill, my chain fell off when I shifted in to my front 'granny gear' chain ring. In the past when this happens it usually results in falling over because I can't get my feet unclipped before I lose all momentum. (Spinning your feet around and around when the chain isn't attached doesn't help at all, but it's hard to stop yourself from doing it.) Happy to report that I did NOT fall over this time, nor the next time about 30 miles down the road, and the mechanic at the lunch stop adjusted it for me so no dropped chains. Good thing, if it had happened on some of those hills, I would definitely have met the asphalt.
Turning west onto Mattole Road (almost rhymes with pothole road) I was glad for the pothole-dodging practice I've had in my training rides. After rattling along for several miles we came to another little rest stop and I topped off my bottles and put on sunscreen, since the morning fog had burned off. I admired this gentleman's mustache and his hat.

Around Mile 40-something came the first big climb of the ride, Panther Gap, with wooded switchbacks climbing steadily for about 2,500 feet. I had agreed with myself ahead of time that it was okay to stop wherever / whenever I wanted to, whether to take pictures or rest. Early in the Panther Gap climb I stopped at a different sort of rest stop -- didn't stay, though.

During my 'attack' of Panther Gap I caught up with a couple women who appeared to be in their late 40s. One had Markleeville Death Ride "Five Pass Finisher" jersey. Jerseys are good conversation starters. I asked her how this ride compares to that one and she said "Oh, this is much easier." The Death Ride is in the Sierras, 129 miles and 15,000+ feet of climbing depending on how much of it you can finish. I'm not (yet) tempted by it. They asked me what my hardest ride had been and I said "This one." They asked how many times I'd done it and I said "Just this time." One of them kindly said, "You're a strong rider, you'll do fine." I made that my mantra for the rest of the ride. I am a strong rider, I'll do fine. I am a strong rider, I'll do fine.

Summit of Panther Gap!

Here I am with the sign marking the top. It's good to be king.

The view as I started the descent down the west side of Panther Gap was lovely. The west side of the hill is much more steep and twisty than was the ascent up the east side, making one both grateful and fearful to ride down it. Earlier a helicopter had flown over, and it turned out it was to pick up a cyclist who had wiped out on one of curves. Everyone knew where the spot was because of the great big red splotch on the road. Reportedly he suffered a broken arm and cuts to his forehead, hence the splotch, but it looked worse than it was. By the time I passed that spot all I saw was the splotch. It was not a good place to try to stop for a picture.

At the foot of the treacherous Panther Gap descent was the quaint and curious forgotten town(?) of Honeydew. They have a cute little store and some large pickup trucks there. Not sure what goes on in Honeydew but I think something does.

To be continued...