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No Fun

We are about halfway up to the start of the singletrack from where this photo was taken. It’s a brutal hill in any weather, but the July heat made it even worse.

Two miles of hot, dusty gravel road. One mile, at least but it felt like much more, not riding my bike, but forcing it up the hill beside me. We weren’t even five miles into our ride and I was experiencing a new “first”. I was not having fun. My cyclometer wasnt recording my mileage. I was carrying the Camelbak water pack; something I hate doing because it adds another five or six pounds to the already large amount of weight that is my body on the bike.  Sweat poured off my body like water in my morning shower. Dust coated everything; my body, my sunglasses, my contacts, my bike tires.  I wondered, feebly, what kind of effect this dust was having on my chain, crankset, and derailleur.  I knew this meant work cleaning my bike later; a necessary inconvenience, but one I wasn’t in the mood for. A quick glance at my sketchy cyclometer says it’s 105 degrees. It’s really about 95, but it feels every bit of 105 today.  “Why am I here?” I wondered to myself. ” This is not fun.”

I told my son I needed to stop and rest. By this, I did not mean get off my bike and haul it up The Hill Of Death. I was already doing that. I really meant I had to stop. Completely. Sit down. Take my helmet off. Breathe. Clearly something was wrong. I never, ever have to stop. Not on a ride. Not like this. And never, ever this early in. I was tired.  I was depleted.  I was mostly very, very hot.  I can ride in rain and cold, if I have the right gear.  I can ride at night, usually without much gear at all.  The one condition that stops me still on my bike is the heat.  I’m not talking about just a warm day that seems bad until the air from riding your bike cools you.  I’m talking about that still, heavy, oppressive heat that makes even breathing hard.  Regardless of the temperature on the thermometer, when this kind of heat hits, I simply lose all power.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m at the age where, most of the time, I’m experiencing my own personal summer anyway.  So, when the weatherman says it’s 95, I’m experiencing 115 degree temps.  I simply melt when this happens.

We rested for about 15 minutes then we muddled on to another location, where there was a rock I could sit on in the shade. This location was a hundred feet from the start of the Payette Trail around Applegate Lake. We practically crawled to the start of the trail, me spewing misgivings the entire way when, usually, I am the one encouraging everyone else onward.  We ventured forth, deciding to tackle the singletrack trail for a little while, then turn back.

Immediately, I knew I was in trouble.  I was riding my brakes almost entirely on the descent which characterizes the first half mile or so of this trail.  My bike didn’t feel stable under me, but I think that was due to the fact that this was very rocky single track and I have become accustomed to the solid asphalt of the road.  I was already tired and in no mood to exert the required effort that manhandling a mountain bike on a downhill requires.  Further, I wasn’t exactly excited about packing my bike up that hill, especially after the hill I already climbed.  I let my bike roll for a few more yards, then I called out to my son, who’d disappeared from  view.  A few moments later, he appeared below me, his bike and his youth handling this trail with far more success than I. I told him I wanted to go back and he, surprisingly, agreed with me.  We turned our bikes around, rode back up as far as we could, trudged the rest of the way to the top, then rolled down the dusty road that we’d just walked up.

Three unknown boys sit contemplating whether or not to jump off the rocks at Applegate Lake in Southern Oregon.

Later, while lounging in the sun at the swimming hole that we discovered at Applegate Lake, we were reflecting on this experience.  Last year, at about this time, we made this very same ride.  Sure, we had to walk up that initial road, but I don’t remember feeling quite so spent at the top of it.  I also don’t remember feeling nearly this apprehensive when tackling the downhill.  We have done this ride twice, with minimal mishaps.  Last year at the end of the ride, I missed on a switchback, landed on my back wheel and tacoed the thing.  This cost me two days of ride time while my bike was in the shop.  Not something I was especially thrilled about, but neither was it a traumatizing event that left me scared to ever attempt this ride again.  We speculated about the heat, the fact that we’ve become used to riding the road, the fact that on a day like today, the swimming hole looked far more inviting than the trail.  There are any number of reasons for today’s ride fail.  All of these factors could have contributed to the dread I suddenly felt heading down that hill.  I don’t know.  I suspect, more than anything, I am not in the same mental and physical place I was last year, and something deep within me knows this.  Somewhere inside, I sensed I wasn’t up for the challenge of this trail.  I was too tired.  I would likely make mistakes that even I, as a rookie mountain biker, would know not to do.  I was afraid of the consequences of such mistakes.  I’d spent enough time in surgery this year.  I wasn’t about to sign up for another visit.  Maybe I’m still experiencing a wee bit of radiation fatigue.  Admittedly, this week is far better than last, and last week was better than the one before.  I’m feeling like I do have more energy every day and I am accomplishing more, though not nearly what I hoped and planned to accomplish by this time in the summer. More than the physical drain, I just mentally didn’t have the strength and the determination to make that ride today and I knew it.  Deep in my psyche somewhere, I knew I couldn’t handle it.  I’m not sure what that’s about or why.  It could be I just like the smooth flying sensation of the road as opposed to the adrenaline-driven jarring ride of  the singletrack. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Whatever it is, I am okay with it.

My son and I spent the rest of our day enjoying the water.  That was much more fun.

My son’s bike with mine behind it. Dusty.

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Slowly Getting Back in the Saddle

As much fun as the surgical party was, the time spent convalescing wasn’t nearly as smooth this time around.  More pain, more fatigue, less weather that cooperated with me getting out on the bike, and more of the daily stuff of life that can just get in the way of feeling 100 percent.  That being said, I’m sporting a pretty wicked looking 4-inch scar.  I can, at least, still proudly announce that I do have all my original body parts. I’m certainly glad that it wasn’t worse than it was.

Two days ago, the weather relented, and I ventured forth on my first ride after this last surgery. My significant other, my son and I logged 17.04 miles in an hour and 26 minutes.  Not too bad for a first day out.  The SO kept asking how I was doing and telling me not to push too hard.  After my typical sucking air for the first 10 minutes, I was fine.  After the first 30 minutes, I was fully warmed up and having a great time.  The weather was perfect.  Of course, there are some who would not consider overcast and sprinkling weather as perfect, but I was ecstatic to be on two wheels again, with the wind in my face. The ground was mostly dry, large puffy clouds scudded across the sky, every now and then we were hit by a few sprinkling drops of rain, but nothing significant.  Fruit trees are beginning to blossom and trees are beginning to leaf out around here.  It was beautiful.  I was disappointed only by the fact that we started out late and due to time constraints had to head back much earlier than I wanted.

It was good we headed back when we did, though, because my body was screaming at me for going out that far and that hard after two weeks of complete inactivity.  I was pretty grateful for a few of the remaining pain meds that night.

A Hee Haw Life

This week reminded me of one of those That’s Good, That’s Bad” comedy skits from the variety show Hee Haw I used to watch as a child. The routine begins with one person asking the other how things are going. The person responds to the question with a statement about a disastrous event that just happened. The first person reacts with horror, “Oh no! That’s bad!” The other person then replies with “No, that’s good because…..”, and he states something good that came about because the bad thing happened. Then this first person says, “Oh, well, that’s good,” to which the person then mentions something bad that happened as the result of the good thing happening. This elicits the response, “Oh that’s bad!” and so the skit goes to its humorous conclusion.

This was my life this week.

First up, I returned to work (that was good). But the ex also decided that instead of bringing our daughter home according to our agreement, he was going to keep her. Without planning ahead and indefinitely. (For the record, his reasoning for doing this was not so off the wall, but the manner in which he did it was what created the stress.  Stress is not what I need as I’m recovering from surgery and returning to work.) That was bad. This did, however, give the Significant Other, and I some time together without the kids around. That was a little unexpected treat. I was able to get the family paperwork and finances done, also good. But because of the Ex’s bully tactics, I decided to seek out the advice of my attorney. That event gets mixed reviews. I love talking with her, because beyond being a fascinating person, she is so very reasonable, and has a great deal of life wisdom. The downside: it cost money at a time of the month where things begin to get tight for us. (Sure wish the SO could find decent paying work!)

On the way down to another appointment I had this week, something terribly wrong happens to my car. I barely get it parked, call the SO to come have a look-see and head up to my appointment. The SO gets the hood opened but has no idea what is wrong. Of all his fantastic qualities, vehicle mechanic is not on the list. Miraculously, a mechanic walks by, takes a look, and diagnoses a blown water pump. That’s really bad! Fortunately, my mechanic was able to come get the car and get it to his shop. He was able to have the vehicle repaired in less than 24-hours and $466 later, I have my car back. He was able to allow me to pay over two months, which definitely eases the strain that an unexpected mechanical problem can place on the budget.

In the midst of all this, after going back and forth with the ex about what exactly our divorce document means and him changing things at will, I had no confirmation from him that this self-appointed parenting time he’s taken the liberty of giving himself will ever end. I finally received confirmation and a pickup time and location is decided. 12 hours later, I receive texts from him wanting to bring the daughter back early. A full 24-hours early. It’s crazy-making but I’m certainly not complaining that I get to have my daughter back for which, it now turns out, will be all of Spring Break.

As all the rest of this is happening, I’m plugging along at my first week back after surgery, too exhausted to work out each evening. It’s also raining, so I can’t ride. In the midst of it all, the SO gets the word that his teaching credential was finally granted (a process that took almost an entire year) and the very next day, he receives a job offer at a wonderfully classy dining establishment (read tips and discounts on great food, ca-ching!). He can substitute and work this job so he will have work all year long. Very, very good news. He’s been out of work for a very long time.

Yesterday was the last day of work before Spring break, I packed the family up and headed north to pick up the oldest to bring her home. We planned a special night at Chuck E. Cheese. It is, after all, the closest thing to Disneyland in state and probably safer too, since I’m not sure my stomach can handle the rides like they used to.

For those who are not familiar with Chuck E. Cheese, let me explain briefly this bizarre dining experience.  Chuck E. Cheese is an arcade place where parents spend a small fortune for a bunch of gold-type coins imprinted with a rodent’s smiling face. These tokens are then used to play the arcade games which, in turn, earn the kids tickets.  These tickets can then be traded for prizes at the Cheesy Store.  The pizza is just pretend.  I believe it is really cardboard masquerading as pizza.

For my oldest kids (21, 18, and 16), Chuck E. Cheese was an opportunity to revisit some of their quickly fading childhood.  My youngest was ecstatic.  The SO was the most amusing. As serious as he sometimes comes off as being, it was surprising to see him enter into the fun. At one point, I heard the girls calling my name and I look over to see him on a mechanical horse race game. It was crazy hilarious to see this guy, nearly 50, on an arcade horse ride game. I do have a video, but out of respect, I won’t post it.

Chuck E. Cheese, however, was not such a good plan for me. Looking back, scheduling an evening at Chuck E’s after teaching 4th graders who’ve checked out for Spring Break (that’s not bad, but it isn’t easy) and driving 3 hours (usually not so bad, but my body was in pain) was probably taking on a bit much just two weeks after surgery. By the time we arrived at Chuck E’s, I was feeling pretty ragged. By 9:00, I was in pain and exhausted. And we still had a 3 hour ride home. My kids’ enthusiastic gratitude helped ease the pain, but by the time we got home my body was screaming in protest at the discomfort of the crowded Durango seating.  I was exhausted. Probably not the smartest thing to run myself into the ground like that.

This morning, I  planned to attend a ride with the local Velo Club. It would have been my first ride with a group larger than three. I’d been looking forward to it all week.  As my head hit the pillow last night at nearly 1:00 a.m., I decided not to set my alarm and take my chances with waking up in time for the ride. Upon waking this morning, I felt energized…for about three minutes.  I gave it my best shot.  I actually got up, got in my gear, checked the weather, then checked email. Due to the “iffy” weather they cancelled the ride. Personally, under normal circumstances,  I would have ridden in this kind of weather anyway, because I try to ride whenever I can except in pouring rain or when it is so cold there might be ice on the ground. Today, I took the excuse offered by the wimpy weather, the cancelled ride, and decided to try listening to my energy level by making today an easy, lazy day.

That was such a good decision,  I might just try it again tomorrow.

Bike Hoarders

I hate the show Hoarders. Beyond the fact that I feel this program capitalizes on human despair, misery, and mental illness, it just hits a little too close to home for me. In my last marriage, I was married to a hoarder. It didn’t help that from childhood, I myself have been a bit of a collector or, to be more direct, a hoarder. The truth is, the show makes me very uncomfortable. While my hoarding was never that extreme, I see the situations on TV and often think that under certain circumstances, maybe, I could have ended up like that. It kind of makes me shudder.

What’s different for me, is that while I do have the tendency to hoard (think: a garage full of stamps and scrap booking and craft supplies or a closet full of shoes and handbags), I am also a neat freak. My hoarding was always somewhat contained because of this. Even so, in my last marriage, my hoarder husband and I managed to create a disaster that almost looked like an episode from Hoarders. It took me almost 5 years of dedicated effort, numerous truck and trailer loads to the local Goodwill or landfill, the help of many people and the dedication of one wonderfully and meticulously ordered man. My life now, while not entirely minimalist, is drastically changed. It feels great.

Old tendencies do die hard, don’t they? Since starting on this cycling venture, I can see my hoarding temptation begin to rear it’s ugly head. To begin with, one can never have too many cycling shorts…or jerseys. The desire to bury myself in all the cool cycling gear is something I have to resist every month on payday. My strategy? I pay all the bills for the month right away, and since there is never any money left over for such delights, my inner struggle is abated…temporarily.

My desire for gear and cycling accessories, which can easily amount to a small fortune, is nothing compared to my recent desire to accumulate bikes, an “illness” that can easily cost a large fortune. I take responsibility for my own weaknesses. Lately, I’ve fallen off the wagon and given into my hoarding desires once again. I’ve become a bike hoarder.

My demise began innocently enough with the purchase in 2010 of my hybrid bike; a Specialized Ariel Elite. You can see pictures of it all over this blog. I call her Ariel, and she is still my first love. Of course, The Beau had to have his own bike so he purchased his own hybrid, a Specialized Crosstrail. This brought the household bike total from zero to two in about six weeks. That Christmas, my daughter’s own Hot Rocks Specialized bike joined our fold, followed this last summer by my son’s Specialized mountain bike and my college daughter’s beach cruiser. In a very short time, our family became a 5-bike family. This really isn’t such a hoarding problem, because, really, one bike for each member of the family isn’t such a problem as long as you have the garage space, is it? (Never mind, that I did rent a small storage unit to store camping gear and Christmas decorations so the bikes would fit in the garage.)

The trouble really started when a friend of mine decided she wanted to try riding with us. She was able to get her semi-recumbent bike from her ex and, since she is an apartment dweller living in a third floor apartment, it just made sense to store the bike in our garage. She gave me permission to ride it at any time. I took her up on that and have discovered a new love.

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This crazy-looking bike is a miracle bike. If you ever had any image issues or hang ups about how you look to the world this bike gets you past that instantly. Anyone riding it looks completely ridiculous. Anyone riding it also elicits envy from onlookers because not only is the bike all sorts of fun to ride, it looks like it is all sorts of fun to ride. Let’s face it, on a day to day basis we envy those who are having fun when we are not. When I’m on that bike, I’m having all the fun, everyone else? Not so much. Yes, 10 miles on that bike and I was striking a deal with my friend to officially take ownership of the Fun Wheels. This is where my bike hoarding really began. I now had two bikes for just me.

That was sometime in December, 2011, I believe. In January, I saw this cool YouTube vid where people had taken a picture of a bike in NYC everyday for a year and gradually watched the bike disappear. So, of course, this sounds like a brilliant thing for me to try. I began scouring Craigslist, and by the end of the day I acquired a rusted, vintage, blue Schwinn 3-speed. Perfect for my “Year of The Bike” garden photography project.

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I now had three bikes of my own, while everyone else had only one.

It gets better. Ever since last August, when my daughter purchased her beach cruiser with the balloon tires, I’ve been wanting one. One might ask, “Why?” I would respond to this inquiry with the explanation that I am learning that bikes are like shoes. You need a different one for each different occasion. The beach cruiser is a different kind of fun than Fun Wheels, and Garden Bike, though it is cute and cool and has gears, is too small and completely unrideable. I want a balloon-tire cruiser with a step through bar and a dorky basket on it so I can ride down to the corner liquor store or neighborhood sports bar for some adult beverages. (Wait. I forgot. I am not drinking hard liquor anymore since my diagnosis, and the soft liquor is the death knell to my 50 Less By 50 plan.) Revision: I’d really like a dorky looking beach cruiser around so I can ride it to the gym or grocery store for milk and bread or maybe even ride it to work. But I am way off the beaten bike path here.

Just this last week, I happened to visit a friend’s house. As I drove up, I noticed this cool, old, single-speed Huffy with big balloon tires in the front yard. Jokingly, I said I wanted the bike, obviously thinking that my friend would then tell me the story about how she got the bike and all the fun she’s having on it. Instead she said, “Take it!” Clearly, I thought she was joking. I mean, bikes are becoming more the rage now. Even in my small not-so-progressive city where most people still drive everywhere, even to the corner store, there is a small but growing bicycling contingent. Just yesterday, the weather broke. I saw someone on a bike at every corner as I was running errands. Beach cruisers, like my friend’s, can run $250 or more on Craigslist. I know, I’ve been looking. Daily. Here my friend was, offering me this great looking bike for free. Turns out, a friend of hers had abandoned it and she was tired of it sitting in her front yard. The Beau was stunned when I turned to him and asked for help putting it into the back of the Durango. The Youngest was just as shocked when she saw us unload it after arriving home.

That’s how we scored this beauty:

20120303-104424.jpg Sure, it needs some work. While the bike looked great just standing there in the yard, we discovered that it needs some serious cleaning, oil, and new wheels. I’m getting new grips, a new seat and a beautiful, white, dorky basket on the front. I’ll do more to improve it eventually, but this is about all I can afford right now. I dropped the Blue Cruiser off at my local bike shop yesterday, and it should be ready next week. Total damages are still significantly less than the same bike in good repair sells for on Craigslist. I can’t complain about that.

I now have four bikes of my own. We’re now an 8-bike household. I’m definitely a bike hoarder. With this last acquisition, a small seed of hope is sprouting in my hoarding, little, rationalizing brain. Maybe, I’m not really a hoarder at all. Instead, maybe I’m really a Bike Magnet!

If that’s the case, I’m now going to focus all my magnetic powers on that road bike I want. I saw one in the shop yesterday. Beautiful. My favorite colors even: black and white. Of course, I’d change the white bar tape to another color, like black. White handlebar tape never stays white. The price tag on this beauty? A mere $7,000 and some change. Yeah. Since the readership on this blog isn’t large enough to garner sponsors who will gift me with products for review, and since I am a single mom with limited financial resources, four children, and two (almost) in college, I’m going to need some serious magnetic power in order to get that bike from the stand in the bike shop to the stand in my garage.

I think it’s good to have dreams, even if they are of the pipe variety.

Afterward:
I left this post as a draft on my cell phone. Before 10, this morning, the guys at the bike shop called informing me that the bike was ready. We went out for a long ride and picked up the Cruiser after. I’ve included an “after” picture below. I think it looks beautiful!

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Not Just Another Auld Lang Syne

New Years Eve 004How does one look back on a year such as mine?  Three years ago, I ventured out into one of the scariest places I think I’ve ever been.  Post divorce, 40-something, straddled with debt that wasn’t all mine, looking forward to fewer years to earn back the losses than I had behind me.  While many would say I look good for my age, the fact that they had to add the phrase “for my age” said it all.  I was divorced, single with more children than most, struggling to avoid bankruptcy, and wondering how I was going to pay the bills and put food on the table.  I was frightened.  I was destitute. I was humiliated and ashamed.  I was alone.  To make things better, I blew an engine on one car, and dropped the rear differential out of another.  I had no credit, no cash, no clue what an engine or a rear differential was, and nowhere to turn.  I was terrified.  I wondered, often, how and if I was going to survive. But wait, there’s more