Monday, September 22, 2014

Chamois Tales: Cream, Glide or Neither

A couple of summers ago, I was convinced that in no way did I need padded cycling shorts. As my distances were increasing, however, my sensitive parts were not loving the additional time in the saddle and it was suggested that I give in and get a pair of padded shorts. Yes, I am stubborn and I was convinced that they were unnecessary and it was merely an attempt to get me to spend money on something I didn't need. Oh, how I was wrong. I was so happy to have that extra padding when I completed longer rides. I have no idea now how I ever got away without wearing them on long distances!

Much like my thoughts on padded cycling shorts, I couldn't understand why anyone would use chamois creams or glides. It seemed unnecessary, but again, as distances became even longer and more time was spent sweating in the saddle, I wondered if this product would provide any kind of relief. In addition, I'd started experiencing saddle sores on nearly every ride. I'd taken the normal steps to remedy such issues, but no matter how many showers I took before, after, or multiple times a day, I couldn't prevent those painful spots from appearing.

One day early this past spring, as we meandered through a bike shop, I decided to take a peek at the chamois creams/glides. After asking the shop guys if they had any preferences among the various choices, no one seemed to have any real advice or opinions (I found out later this is because none of them use the stuff). So, I figured I'd be the guinea pig and try some out for myself.
*Image found here
My first round started with a chamois glide. It comes in a stick form and the container looks a lot like deodorant. To use, it is simply applied to the location(s) where friction or rubbing occurs (whether on the skin directly or on the chamois is apparently a matter of preference). I returned from a 30-mile ride without any indication of hot spots or saddle sores. Hmm, I thought, perhaps this is merely a fluke, or on longer rides it may not have the same usefulness. So, I tried it on a longer ride, and for multiple days in a row too. Wonder of all wonders, I never once had any issues with sores or hot spots. It was like a miracle product discovery. Why had I avoided this for so long?
*Image found here
During another shop visit, I picked up a couple small packets of chamois cream and figured I'd give those a try as well. It didn't have quite the same effectiveness with the cream for me (I think the ride was too long and I didn't bother to reapply the stuff as time ticked away), but it seemed to work better than nothing at all. The cream version was messier to handle and deal with, whereas the glide didn't have that lotion-like feeling. I can see how either, depending on preferences, could be useful though.

At this point, I have a difficult time imagining doing a long ride without a cream or glide. The fact that I can ride all day and not have to deal with saddle sores seems like some sort of miracle - though I realize this was all due to my unwillingness to simply try it and see what happened. Such an inexpensive fix for something that was at times quite painful. However, I know of many others who don't use any products and they complete centuries (or longer) on their bikes. Whether using a cream or glide would be beneficial to these individuals, I do not know, but I suppose if they haven't needed it thus far, it makes perfect sense not to seek out a product.

How about you? Do you use a cream/butter/glide when you ride? Any particular products that have worked well for you? If you've avoided it like I did for so long, was it in any way due to articles such as this one? Because... honestly, had I remembered reading the article prior to trying a product, I may have thought about it even longer.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shimano MX80 Saint Pedals Review (or how I found the best platform pedals I've tried to date)

If you've hung out in this space for any length of time, you are likely aware of my incessant pedal conundrum. It isn't so much that I have difficulty finding a bicycle pedal that I like, but rather that I always seem to have numbness issues when I ride. I have run the gambit of types of pedals from cruiser to platform to SPD (clipless) style, but the pain never seems to go away. Over time, I've come to understand that this is really more lower-back related than caused by my pedal choice, but there are certain pedals that do a better job of keeping this numbness to a minimum.
Shimano MX80 Saint pedals
*Image from Shimano
While waiting for the IndyFab bicycle to be completed, I went on a serious hunt for pedals that might work for the new bike, and during that time arrived upon the Shimano MX80 Saint pedals. I know it seems a bit strange to some to use a platform pedal on a road bicycle, but I won't get into my reasons here for not using SPD's nor any other form of clip(less) style pedal. Instead, I'd like to share why I really like these particular pedals and why you, if you're into more of a platform style, might appreciate these as well. Praises have already been sung for these pedals by BMX riders, downhill and other mountain bikers, but I think these could easily translate to road bikers who opt not to go down the clipless route.

First of all, the platform is really wide (each pedal measures approximately L-3.75" x W-4" x H-0.75" or L-9.5cm x W-10.1cm x H-1.9cm). This may not seem like a huge deal, but it provides support for the entire width of my foot, preventing the sides from spilling over the outer edge. I don't have a particularly big or overly wide foot, but it's always nice to have support on longer rides. I had noticed that while width wasn't always an indicator of foot numbness, I appreciate having the wider style for support purposes.

Their weight is pretty decent too (especially for a platform pedal). The pair together weigh about 500g (or just over a pound). If you're someone who's looking to strip every ounce or gram off of a bicycle, you'll probably choose a clipless system over a platform anyway, but it's nice to find a set of platforms that don't weigh more than my frame (which is only a slight comparison over-exaggeration).
The pedals blend pretty nicely with the Ultegra crank/kit
As for style, they are probably some of the least offensive platforms I have put on a road bike. Somehow, they really don't seem out of place to me (as many I've tried have appeared). They stand out more in the photo above than they do from a distance, but even with a closer shot, I still don't find them particularly obnoxious on the bike.

One of the nice features about these platforms is the pins. Those little nub-like points on the pedals are extremely good at keeping my foot where it needs to be, but not so ridiculously sticky that I can't move my foot if need be. It's kind of a best-of-both-worlds situation in that I don't worry about my feet slipping in wet conditions, nor is it impossible to shift them if I need to move just slightly one way or another at some point during a ride.

The thinner profile on these pedals may not seem like a big deal for someone on a road bike, but I appreciate it for the aesthetic value, and every once in awhile I wonder off the beaten path on this bike and its slimmer height has come in handy on these occasions. Additionally, the pedals are built with a strong axle intended for harsh rides, so I think they will do well over the long haul on a road bike as well.
I have read that some people experience a "clicking" when using these pedals. Some have become so frustrated with the sound, that they've elected to no longer use the pedals. Unfortunately, I found a similar problem pretty quickly after mounting the pedals. I don't know if it's a luck of the draw kind of thing, or if some are just less sensitive to the sound, but I wasn't thrilled to hear a click-click-click with every pedal stroke myself. It quickly became a huge annoyance while pedaling - in quieter spots particularly as it was all I could hear. But, Sam to the rescue. He removed the pedal that was making the noise and stuffed a whole lot of grease (he used an automotive/high mileage version) into the bearings and voilà, problem solved. When the same clicking started happening again a couple of weeks later, we realized it was the other pedal. So, a word to the wise, if a clicking noise presents itself, I'd highly recommend packing both pedals. Since the greasing, I have had zero issues with any kind of unexpected noises from these pedals.

The pedals retail for about US $100, but as of the date of this post, with a little research online it is easy to find a set between US $52 and $70, which seems an entirely fair price for something that works pretty splendidly as far as I'm concerned.

Surprisingly, I found a pedal that doesn't appear overly out of place, is comfortable, and that is able to keep my shoe on the pedal without a lot of effort. I have put only about 700 miles on these to date, but I think it's enough to know that they work - and they work well. As always, finding something that works is not always an easy task, but these are pedals I don't mind putting my feet on day after day.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Lost & Found

Growing up, I was always looking for someone who was going to lead me into the "thing" I was supposed to be doing with my life. I never really outgrew that idea. I had read stories, articles in newspapers and magazines, and heard personal experiences from a number of individuals who were happily going about their life's ambition. They would always have a person they'd credit as recognizing their talents and helping to guide them into the person they'd become. Perhaps it's the part of me that enjoys living in a bit of a fantasy world, but I fully expected this to be the case for me too. When routinely chosen last for sports and doing well enough academically to get through without much notice, it almost feels as though there must be some sort of fairy godmother out waiting to point out the thing that makes me special - that thing that I would excel doing - that thing that would cause me to wake up one day and say ah, yes, I really do have something I'm great at.
To my astonishment, that never happened for me (perhaps I'm not the only one who never had that person come to help point him/her in the right direction). For me, it was devastating to get all the way through school and have to acknowledge that the fantasy I'd been living since my very young years might never happen. It's difficult to let go of such things though.

Everyone wants to believe s/he is good at something. Some people are great at lots of things, while others seem to really be able to focus in on one in particular and it charts a course for his/her entire life. Much as I hate to fess up to it, I can become really jealous of these people. I have always been more of a wanderer, a passer-by, or a curious dabbler, dipping my toes in the water of a lot of different things, always trying to find that one place, activity, skill that had eluded me my entire life. I get by in life this way because I have always been willing to work hard at whatever was in front of me. I've been hired to do jobs that I was in no way qualified to hold, but when it was something that I truly wanted to experience I always found a way to get the knowledge I needed and convince the hiring individual(s) that I was the one they needed - even when I doubted myself. Maybe it's one of the reasons I found myself on the other side of the hiring chair for several years, working to find the right individuals to work for companies. After all, it's hard to bullshit a bullshitter (though a few did sneak by me on occasion). That, and I genuinely enjoyed bringing people and a company together to form a great union.

My personal life has a lot of parallels with my professional life. I am great at providing what seems to be extensive information about myself without really getting to the core or exactness of anything. I'm not proud of that fact, and I don't do it intentionally - or I suppose more accurately, I don't do it consciously - but I think it's a protective buffer of sorts that allows me to check people out before really giving up too much of myself.

When it comes to athletic endeavors, I think my junior high school gym teacher put it aptly after I'd finished running one of the last of our weekly miles, heaving and attempting to regain regular breathing. She stated emphatically, "You will never be a track star." Well, duh. I was about 50 pounds overweight, short legs, with no desire to be a runner... and I could barely run the entire mile without passing out. Most of my time in school to that point I couldn't run the full mile, so to be able to reach the point that I could actually run the whole distance was a feat in itself. We're not all supposed to be track stars. I will say this though, I always gave it everything I had. I hated running with a passion (still don't love it to this day), but I was determined to be able to run the entire four laps of the track, which I accomplished without so much as an acknowledgement that I'd achieved something that seemed impossible months before. It didn't matter that everyone else could easily do it; what mattered is that I couldn't and I was able to overcome the mental and physical barriers to achieve a goal, no thanks to my gym teacher (who could've easily offered a few pointers to help me out).

One of the things I've learned as time has passed is that I can't always wait for someone to come and tell me what I should be doing. If I had waited for that magical, non-existent fairy or godmother to come along and point me down the proper path, I probably wouldn't have experienced so many different avenues in life. I'll put it this way: Some people take the same route to work every single day no matter what. I was never one of them. I like changing up the path and finding ways that seem ridiculous or out of the way. Sometimes the best kept secrets, adventures, and lessons are found by not choosing the path considered normal, safe, or most efficient. There are times this gets me in to trouble, but I often find that the trouble is worth the reward.

As I've gotten older, it's become easier and easier to lose some of that free-spirited, spur-of-the moment nature that lurks inside.  The person who intentionally sought out new paths is slowly disappearing. Maybe it's age, or I suppose it's possible some might say wisdom, but I find myself in moments realizing that I've made a choice I wouldn't have made 15-20 years ago. At times, I choose the path that seems safer over the one offering an unknown experience, and I'm surprised at my decision. Those decisions seem to slowly be taking over the let's-just-go-for-it side of me.
Bicycles, in many ways, have helped the spirit of wanting to see and experience new things. Riding a bike can be routine, if I allow it to be, but there is always a new path, a new adventure, another small (or even big) secret to uncover if I am open to it and ready to make that choice. Just as in life though, it's sometimes easier to make the safe choice and go with the route I know. I find myself choosing these known paths more often than not lately. In truth, there are only a finite number of paths I can take right out the front door. At some point, they all become known and seen and maybe even routine.

Seasons change though, which can help bring new perspective. There is a part of me looking for that lost piece of self when I ride a bike, I think. Even on a known path, the outcome really cannot be entirely known until I'm on the other side. I think I'm slowly finding her again - that person who chooses adventure over routine, who makes last minute decisions and lives with the consequences, who doesn't necessarily make the most logical choice just because it's what she's supposed to do. I know that personal history is always going to play a role in the future, and experience will provide some level of importance and prevalence as time marches on, but I hope I always hang on to a piece of that person who looks for the unknown and adventure in life, and I think bicycles are one of the best ways to keep her in reach.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Barn Burner Concludes (Part 3)

If you've missed part 1 and/or part 2, you can get back to them easily by clicking on the appropriate link, or you can simply read the end of the adventure here. As a reminder, anything written in plain text are Sam's thoughts, and anything in italics are G.E.'s.

LAP 3

Lap three began pretty much the way lap two had ended. I dove deeper and deeper into the cave of pain, trying to eat my way through it. I didn't bonk, which was great, but I was drained.

Back at the barn, I had picked up some Gu Roctane to refill my own version I'd had in my bottle. I downed about 30% of it before the second descent, and it actually brought me back a bit. I was averaging faster speeds and found myself tailing people for awhile. The cave returned shortly after that momentary reprieve, and no amount of Roctane or anything else was going to save me.

I was also starting to build some anger - anger over the people doing single laps around the course as part of the relay groups. Out of the 900 or so riders, only about 165 were actually doing the full solo/cowboy event. Every time I saw someone with a clean bike and tons of energy with a scarf tied to their seatpost (the scarf was the identifier for these riders), I was pissed - and not in a way that motivated me. It seemed wrong that I was in so much pain while they were happily completing their 26 miles.

After Sam left the barn to start his third lap, I wasn't sure how much time to give him for the third lap. He'd slowed down dramatically from his first lap (which was completely understandable given the circumstances), but I didn't know if perhaps he'd get a second wind and speed up, or if he'd meet his doom on this third time around. I decided to return to the barn area after about 2 hours just to be prepared if he sped up.
When I got back to the barn, I watched other riders come through. I was astonished that some racers were already through the ride. Amazing! Before too long, the ambulance that had been parked at the barn all day took off, lights flashing and sirens blaring. I hoped that everyone was okay and that nothing too serious had taken place. 

Suddenly it dawned on me that it might be Sam. In his weakened state, he may have done something that could've sent him off on a rock, off course, or any number of things. I started to panic. I was getting sicker by the moment, and before too long, I overheard some of the event staff talking about someone injured on the course pretty badly, and possibly a second individual as well. I asked them if they had a name, but they couldn't confirm anything at that point. All I could do was wait helplessly, hoping that it wasn't Sam.

Every rider that came in caused the pit in my stomach to grow. Where was Sam? Why hadn't he come through yet? I was convinced he was the injured rider out on the course.

Suddenly, disaster presented itself (but not for me). At about mile 23 on my third lap, a man wiped out hard just before a cattle guard. It probably happened about 5 minutes before I reached the spot, but he was in the hands of the EMT's and was unconscious. I gawked for about 30 seconds, but figured there was nothing I could do and it was better if I moved on to finish the lap and get out of their way.
Sam walks through the barn at the conclusion of his third lap
Rolling up to my lap three finish, G.E. was there and handed me a Luna bar, filled with estrogen goodness (G.E.'s note: I'll point this out again for anyone who may have missed it in the past, this is a joke in our house because of a comment made by someone to Sam about Luna bars having estrogen, which is of course completely untrue). She asked how I was doing (as she had every lap) and my answer was always, "Bad!" and deep down I was contemplating quitting right then. Seventy-eight miles is a really long ride on a mountain bike, in the mountains. Really, the thought had been rolling through my mind the entire lap and the format of this ride made the possibility to give up really easy.

My own reality took over at some point during these thoughts and I remembered that I don't quit. I just don't. No matter how painful, slow, or terrible I feel, I don't quit. I told myself I would take a break for 1 minute at miles 90 and 100, as a reward. I was also thinking I could ride 26 miles in my sleep, even if I was now fully engrossed in the pain cave.

Finally! I saw Sam rounding a corner not too far away. Thank goodness he hadn't been hurt. I knew that with each lap he was slowing down, and I was trying to figure out a good way to motivate him. I pulled out a protein bar and prepared to hand it off to him if he needed it. I also knew exactly what to say to light a fire under him (I hoped!). 

After handing off the bar to me, G.E. hollered, "Two hours and fifteen minutes will get you a 'big buckle' for the ride!" The announcer seemed to back this up, stating that the time cut off for the larger belt buckle finish had been extended by 35 minutes due to the accident. Apparently, not many riders after me were able to get through and they'd stopped everyone due to rescue services, including a helicopter evac. I had snuck through, though it did me no good time-wise.

G.E. was hopeful that I would finish in time to get the big belt buckle, but I knew there was almost no chance I would make it by 9:35... but, I was going to try.

LAP 4

I had just left Sam for his final lap. I was in a lot of pain, but I hoped it wasn't showing to him. Between not sleeping and my injury from the dog, I wasn't doing well. My feet and ankles were swollen and the burning wouldn't quit. I really just wanted to go to sleep and not be standing anymore. I hoped my shout to Sam about the big buckle cut off would see him to the finish, but there wasn't anything I could do to help him until he crossed the finish line. I retreated to our tent, packed everything up, and did my best to entertain the dogs for the next couple of hours.

I actually picked up the pace a bit on this final lap, knowing it was almost over. Everything was dry... except, there had been another downpour on the backside of the mountain that I'd just missed. The mud was back. Yay! Really, this didn't slow me down any more than my internal stuff was, but it sucked to be wet-muddy all over again, and all of those clean, happy, single-lap riders were still out there - mocking me silently with their freshness.

As promised, I stopped at mile 90 for one minute of rest. My time was looking pretty good, and I wasn't falling any deeper into the pain cave. Mile 100 rolled around and I stopped for my second one minute break. Time was tight, but there were four miles left, and I had about 12 minutes to make the 9:35 cutoff for the large belt buckle. In any other flat or downhill situation I think I could have made it, but the last 3-4 miles of this course are climbing - and not just regular stuff, but 4 mph climbing. I knew I would not make the cutoff - no way.

I didn't slow down, but I didn't break myself, knowing that no good would come of it. My only goal now was to do sub-10 hours, grab the smaller belt buckle and wait to see if I'd be randomly picked in the lottery for one of the LT100 slots.

I waited for Sam at the finish. I watched as the 9:35 cutoff time came and went. My heart sunk a little when I realized he wasn't going to make it, and I was bummed for him because I really thought he had a chance. Under normal circumstances, with proper sleep, I think he could've made it, but I also knew that just finishing today would be a victory. I really pondered what an incredible thing it was for him to even attempt this ride in the state of mind and condition his body was in. I am always amazed that he finds a way to power through, no matter what is going on.
Rounding the last corner to the finish!
About 20 minutes later, Sam was in sight. I couldn't believe that he was actually going to complete this ride. I smiled as I watched him round the corner and head for the barn.
Sam makes his final dismount at the barn/finish line
Well, well... I managed to reach the end with a sub-10 hour and a finish time of 9:58. Somehow, I didn't faint. I didn't waste any time getting out of the finish area, wrapping up the bike and changing into other cleaner clothes. The pain cave hadn't beat me.

THE AFTERMATH

Sam was excited to see that I'd actually managed to get everything packed up on my own (well, sort of - I couldn't get the tent back in its packaging, so I'd kind of just chucked it into the back of the car). I was incredibly proud of him for just finishing something that most probably wouldn't even attempt in his state of being. 

We had a bit of time until the start of the awards ceremony, but we decided to head over anyway.

Waiting is the hardest part. It was just after 5p and the awards ceremony was slated to begin between 6:15 and 6:30p, thirty minutes after the official cutoff time for solo racers. We got our folding chairs and plopped down in the "beer garden" thinking this could all be over by 7p, and we'd be on our way out before the sun went down.

Wrong. My biggest complaint about this particular event (beyond the mud camping, disorganization and lack of enthusiasm compared to other events held in Leadville, CO) is time management. The announcer didn't start the awards until 7p, and then proceeded to drag through with some confusion, bad paperwork and more stalling. Somewhere around 8p, they finished with the winners of each category (of course, I was not one of them).

Then, it was finally time for the lottery roll down. I knew this was my best chance to get into the 2015 LT100. Well, at least this early before the new year. I knew there were 55 coins left over to give to remaining riders randomly.

As the lottery names started to be called, I kept thinking to myself, "Say Sam's name, please! Don't let all of his torture be for nothing." I knew it wasn't really "for nothing," but I knew how badly he wanted to get into Leadville next year, and while he'd have other opportunities next summer, it would be great to know that he was in now.

It didn't take long at all after the lottery names were called for us to suddenly hear, "Sam..." and then a ridiculously long pause before my highly difficult [eye roll], basic, Italian last name was spoken.

I friggin' made it! We will go to the 2015 LT100!!

Hotel? Trailer? Tent? Who knows? I know I need to train like crazy over the winter though, and even harder in the spring. I am going to do the next round on a single speed (that isn't presently in my possession quite yet).

There are so many things I know I'm forgetting... so many details. I really, once again, could not have finished this without my best supporter and partner in life, G.E. I may convince her yet to participate in one of these races. : )

On to LEADVILLE!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Barn Burner Begins (Part 2)

If you missed the first part of this report, and would like to read it, you can click here to find it; otherwise, feel free to read on.

As is often the case when I attempt to combine two different viewpoints into a single post, it can become a bit awkward, so hopefully it will make sense to point out that anything not in italics is written by Sam while anything italicized is G.E.'s thought on the race. Because Sam didn't have the opportunity to share his side of Friday, I've included that below. And with that...

Summer is drawing to an end and the thought of qualifying for the 2015 LT100 was on my mind. These ideas rolled through my mind as I thought about the Barn Burner in Flagstaff. How great would it be to qualify right out of the gate? Plus, I could do a fun, 104-mile race while in relatively decent training shape from finishing up the LT100 in August.

It seemed like an easy enough plan:  Drive out Friday, camp in the designated grounds for $10 and a canned food donation, race Saturday morning, and head home on Sunday. And, there was the possibility of qualifying for the LT100 and getting another belt buckle for my 2014 collection.

FRIDAY

I know G.E. already gave her version of the drive out, and mine follows along very closely since we were together. We roll - very early. Initially, I drove due to G.E.'s aversion to pre-7am functions. I got us to Raton, NM where she took over. The dogs were good, everyone was feeling fine. We were making good time and on top of it all, we actually gained an hour going into Arizona. We rolled into Flagstaff, a really cool city that seemed a bit out of place. Apparently, it had rained all day at higher elevations and mud was everywhere. This was the messiest, most disorganized situation I've seen since my time in the US Army. I picked up my racers packet and was given no information whatsoever.

Despite the mud, bad attitudes from those volunteering/working, etc, we were able to find a place to set up. We both ate a little something cooked on the camping burner and all five of us slept poorly in our wet tent. All told, I probably slept about 3 hours, and I'm sure G.E. slept even less. I think the dogs may have had more sleep than either of us. It was a bit ominous before a century/endurance/sufferfest kind of bike race!

SATURDAY - Race Day!

You know that nauseous feeling you get when you haven't slept enough? You stand up and feel dizzy or lightheaded and you have kind of a pit in your stomach. That was exactly the way I felt Saturday morning as Sam got up and dressed for the Barn Burner. I asked how he was feeling and if he was excited about the ride, but it was plain to see he was really in no shape to do anything except go back to sleep.

One of the amazing things about Sam is his ability to push through tough situations. I knew he was tired and not feeling great, but I had to give him props for putting his cycling gear on and acting like he was actually going to do this race.
Layered up in the cold of the morning.
"We can just pack up and go home, if you want," I said. "There's no law that says you have to do the race. If you aren't up to it, it's okay to let this one go." Even saying it I felt ridiculous. I knew there was no way he wan't going to ride. I felt like a bad partner for even thinking such a thing and swore to myself that it would be the last time I'd say anything like that to Sam on this trip.

The sky was starting to lighten, but the sun hadn't actually made its way over the horizon quite yet. We were both shivering and cold from sleeping in wet clothing and bedding overnight. The temperatures had dipped into the 30s F and apparently our tent had not been waterproofed (something we'd failed to realize until the evening mist began seeping in to our sleeping space). Personally, I was wrecked. I had no idea how I was going to function through another entire day without proper sleep, and worse yet, I couldn't imagine doing a 104 mile mountain bike race in this condition. I figured if Sam could get through that sort of punishment, I could manage to get up and deal with the dogs and make sure he had what he would need for the ride.

Normally, the Barn Burner begins with all of the bikes racked up. Participants race on foot to their bikes, jump on and begin the ride. However, with the massive amount of rain and the condition of the ground, the organizers felt it was better to just have everyone on their bikes at the starting line. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed to not see the spectacle, but I also understood the mess and potential danger it could cause with mud getting stuck in cleats, shoes, and pedals.
As racers began to line up, instructions were repeated and some minor changes to the route were announced (again, due to rain). The skies actually didn't look too bad and everyone was hoping for a rain-free day.

My first problem after setting the bike at the start line was my Garmin. It was stuck on the start screen and wouldn't budge. It must've gotten damp sitting outside for the 20 minutes I left it to go and find G.E. I kept rebooting it (5 times, in fact), until finally it came up with the familiar "locating satellites" message.... thank GOD! It would've been really horrible doing a 26-mile lap with no information. It may have been tolerable, but still, I really am addicted to seeing the data as I ride.

There are several options for participating in the Barn Burner race. The course is a single loop of 26 miles, so an individual can ride solo for one lap, complete two laps, or the full 104-mile, four lap course. There is also an option for 2- or 4-person teams, in which the riders switch out every lap. In order to use this course as a qualifier for Leadville, however, the only option is to complete four laps as a solo rider.

The good news for me with a lap course is that I could stay in one spot and wait for Sam to loop back around. Having to deal with our pooches, keep them entertained and knowing Sam could deal with the 26 miles before he'd need anything would hopefully make things a bit smoother.
Sam waits to begin the Barn Burner
At 7am(ish), we roll. We begin the 104-mile scamper with the first 26-mile loop.

LAP 1

Mud and soreness were the only things on my mind. It's so muddy and my legs are ridiculously sore. I'm tired, but at about 10 miles in, I start feeling better. The course wasn't very technical, but it went something like climb-descend, climb-rock garden-descend, climg-descend/climb, finish at the barn.

The first climbs were long and slow, but not particularly steep. The descents were mild, but fun when there wasn't a ton of rocks... and here I thought I'd left the rocks of the Rocky Mountains behind.

I was pushing a bit on lap one and feeling pretty darn good about myself, even with the mud and my dizziness from lack of sleep and an 800 mile drive. I managed to come into the barn/dismount area in about 2 hours, which was right in line with what G.E. and I'd discussed prior to the race. I was having fantasies about finishing every lap in two hours - or better - and coming in at 8 hours or less.

As soon as Sam left the starting line, I was back to check on the dogs. I'd left them in the car with the windows rolled down a bit (it was still early and cold, so I didn't want them to freeze or roast). They were anxiously awaiting my return, and I was trying to figure out how I was going to wear them out when everything was a sloppy, muddy mess. I thought about just letting them run free (how bad could that be?), but I thought better of it. Instead, I pulled them out, one at a time and took them for another morning constitutional.

When I returned with each of them, I tried to figure out what I was going to do. I was not functioning at all, and I was feeling really bad for Sam who was out trying to race feeling the same way. Part of me thought there was absolutely no way he was going to be able to finish a 104-mile ride in this condition. Mentally, I prepared to deal with whatever would come. 

The bike rack on the back of the car became an anchor point for me to secure the dogs. We'd stopped in Albuquerque to pick up a couple of 30-foot nylon rope/leashes so that the dogs could run more than a couple of feet. I tied each to the bike rack and let the dogs loose. They seemed content with the idea that they could move, but they had limits to their freedom.
Bikes (and riders) coming in were absolutely filthy. This one wasn't as bad as many that rolled through.
At an hour and a half after the start, riders were already coming back around for their second lap (or to exchange with their relay members). Not knowing if Sam would find the energy to speed up, I decided to go and wait at the barn. Better safe than sorry, I thought. Dogs were loaded back in the car with windows down and off I went to wait.

One "rule" of this race requires that riders dismount their bike and walk it through the barn to the other side before continuing on after each lap. Despite the event staff and giant sign (and instructions they'd been given at the start of the race), riders really seemed to be struggling with this idea. Even as laps continued, I noted several who attempted to just stay on his/her bike as staff yelled after them to dismount.
Sam coming in to the barn, just finishing lap 1
Before I knew it, I spotted Sam coming in to the barn area. I was excited to see how quickly he'd been able to complete the lap. About two hours, for someone who was absolutely exhausted, was pretty impressive as far as I was concerned. He saw me and seemed to be okay, as he didn't really slow down, but headed right into the barn. I was glad to see him functioning so well thus far.

LAP 2

The good news was that the mud had actually dried up considerably. At this point, there were only a few puddles and the surrounding areas were dry. Unfortunately, this reality didn't remove the existing mud from my body or the bike, but at least it made things better.

The bad news was that five miles into lap 2, I was completely drained. The entire week had caught up with me - my lack of tapering, my insistence on continuing other workouts, combined with the lack of sleep - and I felt like I was climbing up Columbine in Leadville all over again. Except, this was 26 miles of it.

The lap itself was very uneventful, slow, and the same as most of the others, besides the pain cave I was sinking deeply into. The second lap ended up taking about 2:30 to complete. I realized I'd been 30 minutes slower. I was also making huge realizations about both my climbing and descending skills: they both suck. My energy was waning with every pedal stroke. I got through the lap, but I was not doing great.

When I'd left Sam at the end of his first lap, he seemed to be doing okay. I noted the time, and figured I'd come back to check for him in about an hour and forty-five minutes. I know when I ride, I tend to speed up after I've warmed up a bit, so I figured it was better to be waiting for him than to miss him entirely.

I went back to the dogs and decided that perhaps throwing a ball around for them would keep them amused for a bit. They were being surprisingly good for dogs that normally jump at the opportunity to misbehave. They had a few brief moments of barking at passing dogs, but beyond that, they were actually doing well. I was impressed. Still, it was a long time to try to keep them amused. Normally, they'd get their exercise in the morning and then they like to nap most of the day until evening, but their schedule had been completely thrown off. 

Balls were being tossed for them to fetch, and they happily did what retrievers do best. The terrier had little interest, but he seemed content to just rest in the shade. As I went to throw a ball for our Labrador, I expected her to run straight out to get the ball. You'll recall that they were tied to nylon ropes? Well, instead of running straight ahead, she decided to run behind me, stretching the rope to its limit and giving me the gnarliest of burns on my ankles.
One side of the burns from our fetching incident
Oh my god! I was in so much pain. The burning would not stop and I was convinced she'd taken out the tendon on the back of my left heel. I sat for a moment, hoping it would pass, but in reality, the burning would continue for two more days and I'd add ridiculously swollen ankles and feet to the list as well. I decided we needed a time out from fetching for a bit. They played with tennis balls on their own and then I realized we were getting close to the time I thought Sam might be coming back around from his second lap.

I put the pups back in the car with windows down and limped over to wait for Sam. I watched as riders who'd been just in front of him on the first lap came and went. I kept thinking he had to be on his way any moment. About two and a half hours after his first return, Sam lapped for the second time. It was plain to see he was exhausted. 
Sam rounding the corner to finish up lap2
"How are you doing?" I asked, as he came by. "Awful," he responded. One of the event staff chimed in stating, "Well, get through the barn and keep going!" It was easy for him to say, but I appreciated that he was attempting to keep Sam motivated. I wasn't sure what to say to him, honestly, and in my own sleep-deprived state, I couldn't form many intelligible sentences. I was starting to doubt that Sam would even be able to finish this race. I couldn't even handle what I was doing, so how would someone having to put forth actual effort be able to make it through?


That's going to wrap up things for this round, but the final post will be ready soon. I look forward to sharing the end of things at the Barn Burner.

The final of this series can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Road to the Barn Burner 104 (Part 1)

The Barn Burner 104 is a Leadville Series race that takes place in Flagstaff, Arizona. Over the weekend, Sam and I ventured out that direction so that he could attempt to score a spot for the Leadville Trail 100 next year. After some investigating, we discovered that not as many folks seem to choose this ride, so we thought the odds could perhaps be in his favor to end up with a lottery spot (Sam was under no delusion that he'd be at the top in his category, so the random lottery for finishers was what he hoped to achieve).
*Image from Barn Burner 104
When he first broached this subject with me of going to Flagstaff, I wasn't super keen on the idea. Finding someone to dog-sit our three, four-legged family members is always a challenge and the thought of dragging them along on this long road trip, followed by the race and subsequent long ride back home seemed impractical. I see lots of people at bike races that have their dogs with them, but their dogs are good mannered, well-behaved, and don't seem to require much of their people.

This in no way describes our dogs. They are perhaps some of the most needy animals on the planet, and a couple of them really don't behave very well in public. Oh, they aren't out to mangle or hurt anyone, but they can be on the loud side at times and very rarely seem to listen. I imagined myself being pulled all over the place as our dogs attempted to smell, fetch, and hunt down whatever suited them in the moment. In between all of this, I would be expected to crew for Sam, making sure he had what he needed... and of course, I'd also need to get some photos to have documentation of the race.

Then there were the sleeping arrangements. We'd be camping in a tent in a parking lot, from my understanding - which is fine in and of itself. However, our dogs are highly sensitive to sound and throughout their history have been known to bark at any little noise that seems out of place. I imagined them barking all night as they listened to the commotion all around us, which I knew would present a problem.

All in all, I was not excited about the prospect of making a family trip out of this race.  After some discussion, I thought it would be best for Sam to head to Arizona on his own.

I could read the disappointment on his face when I uttered these words, so, sucker that I am, I agreed to give this a one-time shot to see if we could possibly make it work. This was the moment in time I was sure I would live to regret.

As the days grew closer to actually leaving, I really started to second guess my decision; but I had committed to going, so I needed to see it through. I tried conning my mother into coming out for a visit to watch the beasts, but she had too many other things going on. Instead, I knew I was going to have to make peace with the idea that it was going to be a hectic weekend.

Our plan was to leave early Friday morning so that we could arrive before the sun went down at the campsite in Flagstaff. This meant that I'd have to go to bed at a reasonable hour and actually get up before the sun. Not being at all a morning person, the thought of getting up at 4a was not exciting. Sam is quite used to being awake at this hour though, so he figured even if he had to clang together garbage can lids to get me up, he'd find a way to make it happen.

Of course, the night before departure neither of us slept much. Is there some sort of law of races that one must be in a lack-of-sleep fog for these events? I woke before the alarm went off, as I had several times over the last few hours, but I was definitely not in a state of awareness. I stumbled through the morning, attempting to get together the few things that needed last minute preparation, though admittedly, Sam did most of the work that morning.

To make matters worse, I was supposed to do the driving so that Sam could rest and prepare for the ride ahead on Saturday, but I was barely awake as we rolled out. Sam said he would drive, at least until I was more awake, and so we got out on the road.

As our bad luck would have it, rain had been falling all night and was still coming down in the early morning hours of our drive. I couldn't really sleep in the car because I felt uneasy about the driving conditions. Sam stayed behind the wheel until we made it across the Colorado/New Mexico state line, at which point I finally felt somewhat alert enough to drive.
*Image from Google Maps
From our home, there are actually three routes we could have taken to get to our destination. One travels south on I-25 through Colorado, into New Mexico, and across I-40 into to Arizona. The second heads west out I-70 through the beautiful Colorado Rockies, into a portion of Utah, south through Moab, and then into Arizona. The final option is to head in a south-west direction (also through the Rockies), traveling through Durango, Colorado, and ultimately down through the north eastern side of Arizona.

Neither of us have ever been to Durango, so we thought that route might be a fun choice. Not only would we be on our way, but we'd get to see another city on our list of places to check out. Because of the rain, however, we made a last minute switch and decided to head down I-25 and go through New Mexico. We figured we could always come back home through Durango, and this way we'd also get to see Albuquerque (we have been to Santa Fe, but never quite made it to Albuquerque).

Traveling with dogs meant that we were going to have to stop every 1-2 hours to let them out. It actually turned out to be a nice way to stretch and not feel as though we were just tearing through to get to Flagstaff. I was surprised to find that they were behaving pretty well in the car on the way as well. Really, two of the three love to go, but the third whines and cries the entire time in anticipation of some activity she thinks she's getting to do. I was shocked to see that they were all pretty much just looking around and/or huddling up together for a nap. Good pups!

For the most part, the traveling portion went as well as could be expected. As we drove into Flagstaff it was interesting to see such a change in geography/topography from most of what we'd seen. Yet another city neither of us had visited, we were surprised to see that it felt a lot like Colorado. There were lots of wooded areas, it was kind of mountainous, and as we rolled through the older portion of town, it could easily have been any of the many older communities at home.

The sun was starting to lower in the sky and I was anxious to get to the campsite to get set up before night fall. We believed that we were almost to the location, but as it turned out, we still had about a 45 minute drive in front of us. It was obvious as we drove through that massive rains had hit this area. The roads were sopping wet and the glare from the sun reflecting on the slick roads was so blinding we were seeing spots for hours afterward.

As we continued to wind through the mountainside, we came across the dirt road where we would turn. This road lead us to the start line of the race and our camping spot for the evening. The road was outrageously difficult to drive. Potholes don't even begin to describe the crater-sized holes in this dirt road. Not to mention that they were full of water from the rain that we had apparently just missed.
That isn't a river or a lake glistening in the remaining daylight - that is the campground we'd be sleeping on.
When we arrived at our spot, we realized that this was essentially a very large, mud pit. The car had a difficult time driving through it, so I couldn't imagine what it was going to be like to walk around in this mess. We found our spot, just as the sky was turning dark. The ground was a muddy, wet mess, but we looked for the driest possible location to set up (which wasn't easy).
They'd been out of the car for all of a few minutes and were already muddy.
The dogs were happy to be able to get out of the car and stretch, but of course, it would be time to hunker down for the night before they knew it. As Sam set up the tent, I worked on feeding the dogs and removing items that we'd need for the evening and early morning hours. Everything was filthy that had touched the ground or been exposed to the outside. Sam's bike already appeared to have been ridden through quite a mess, simply by being on the back of the car.
It didn't take long before the campsite was set up for the evening though. I will say this - we are definitely not camping people. I grew up going camping all the time in the summer, but in adulthood, I can count on one hand the number of times I've packed or unpacked a tent. It seems to be one of those things we always say we'll do and just never get around to actually doing. Because we don't camp, we don't have proper camping equipment, so instead of sleeping bags, we take blankets from the house, and we forget that we'll be outdoors all night and don't pack the proper, warm clothing either.

We went to bed early, knowing that the morning would arrive quickly. It was difficult to sleep though because, as I'd predicted before we'd even arrived, people were up laughing, talking, and having a good time (nothing wrong with that - this is advertised as a party ride of sorts anyway). I waited for the dogs to start barking, but something magical happened: they remained quiet. Maybe they were scared we were going to leave them there, or perhaps they've just matured since our last camping adventure, but either way, I was happy to have them behaving like well-mannered dogs - even if it was just an act.

We both should have been exhausted, as neither of us really slept the night before. I'll re-phrase that - we were both exhausted from not sleeping the night before. It's difficult to remember what it's like to sleep in a tent when we only do it once every 4-5 years. People were chatting most of the night, some more loudly than others. Cars continued to pour into the camp well into the late evening hours. Animals and insects were making their typical noises. With all of the sounds, it was difficult to get any kind of sustained sleep.

By morning, we hadn't slept for long, but it was time to get up and get ready for the big race.

And... that's where we'll pick up the next time. You can look forward to more of Sam's thoughts during the race for the next installment, though I definitely have my own side of the story as well. :O)

Part 2 of this series can be found by clicking here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Grandmother's Tale

Over this past weekend, Sam and I wandered our way to Flagstaff, Arizona. Sam was participating in a mountain bike race, and there will be a report coming on that, but spending a few days in Arizona reminded me of some things that prompted a need to get some other thoughts out of my system. So, while this post is not in regard to bicycles, it was sparked by them in a manner of speaking, and I hope to find some relief or maybe comfort by getting it out of my mind and into a more tangible state. I never cease to be amazed by the small details which can bring about the most interesting of memories.

The last time I was in Arizona I was fourteen years old and visiting my aging grandparents in their respite-from-the-cold-Pennsylvania-winter home, located between Tempe and Mesa. It's incredible that despite the fact that both my grandparents passed away well over two decades ago, there are just certain memories that have stuck with me.
My grandmother pictured in a newspaper, illustrating how she made a "cookie tree."
My recollections of Arizona center mostly on the aforementioned region, including frequent trips into Phoenix to see the "big city" that wasn't all that large at the time.

I laugh when I think about my grandfather driving my younger brother and I into the city.  As he'd drive, his turn signal would click rhythmically through the entire trip, as he could never seem to remember it was on. He always drove at 35 mph, regardless of the sort of road he was traveling, which incensed drivers nearly as much as it does today.  He was always unfazed by what surrounded him on the roads, and I'm honestly not even certain he heard all of the honking and commotion around him on our drives. The car was a bubble of sorts, and he spoke to my younger brother and I as though we were sitting casually in the living room. He would ask us about our futures, how school was going and our grades, and he'd tell us stories of the farm back in Pennsylvania. We'd try to tell him that other people were honking, but he'd always respond with a "What?" or a "Hmm?" To this day, I don't know if he just had the greatest powers to ignore, or if he had no idea what was taking place all around him.

Their home, nestled in the southwestern part of the U.S., was my grandmothers' domain. Time spent with her was full of playing board or tile games and watching Wheel of Fortune. At the time, it was a somewhat newer game show on television, but it was one of my grandmother's favorites. She was so great at solving the puzzles long before the contestants were able to begin to form a possible answer. To this day, I cannot watch the show without thinking of her.

I remember the peach and turquoise southwestern prints that hung on the walls of their home. It was decorated so differently than their "real" home. Back in Pennsylvania, their farm house was decorated with turn-of-the-century pieces and items they'd picked up during their many travels abroad. My grandmother spoke four languages, not including English, and this skill had served them well on their many adventures overseas.

I recall the absence of the super-green, lush foliage I'd grown up with on the coast of California, and an abundance of rocks and desert/cactus plants in hers and the surrounding yards in Arizona.

I also have memories of her rising at 4am to start cooking meals for the day. A hot pot of oatmeal was inevitably sitting on the stove waiting for me when I woke, regardless of the home we were visiting. Mrs. Fields had nothing on my grandmother, and I'm convinced she was, without a doubt, the greatest cookie-maker ever to grace this earth.

She also taught me to crochet, despite my desperate attempts to escape such a task. She always told me that it was a good activity to learn for any young lady; It would keep my hands busy and my mind active.

I sent her letters regularly when we couldn't see each other. My entire youth I wrote to her at least a couple of times each month. Without fail, in the weeks that followed, I'd receive my letters back in the mail with her spelling and grammar corrections in red ink. I took offense to this for a long time, believing that she didn't appreciate that I wanted her to have something of me, something hand-written and from the heart. I often believed her "corrections" were her way of telling me I wasn't good enough. As years went by, I came to understand that this was simply her way of interacting with me and trying to help me learn something from her years of experience as an English teacher.
A portion of one of the very few letters I have left from my grandmother.
She wrote me letters too, even though I sometimes forget that part. She enjoyed updating me on all that was happening in her life, and I loved reading about the things that brought her joy or amusement.

My grandparents were quite old even when I was young. They were in their mid-40s when they had my father, and my parents were in their 30s when they had me, so the generation gap was palpable. Most grandparents are "old," but mine were of the age that I was never sure how long I'd have them around. Even without it being said, I knew they wouldn't be grandparents I'd have into adulthood, or that would be alive to see my children (if I'd had them). I tried to soak up every moment I was with them because I didn't see them as often as one would hope. Living most of the year almost 3,000 miles apart didn't allow for the kind of frequent visits kids enjoy with grandparents who live in the same region.

It didn't matter to me though. They were my grandparents and I loved being with them, particularly in my very young years.

Both grandparents were on the quiet side, my grandfather more so, or at least when it came to conversing with me. Generally, when he spoke to me it was a criticism of something I had done, was about to do, or was contemplating doing.

Neither understood my clothing choices or the fact that I had pierced ears (which was a huge issue to my grandfather in particular). How could they possibly have identified with anything I was doing or wearing or saying? God only knows how they'd react today after seeing my many tattoos.

They had lived through the Great Depression (with 4 children - my father wouldn't come along until later) and were accustomed to subdued, reasonable, and practical choices. They reused everything in a time long before recycling/reusing was part of anyone's vocabulary. It was just what they did, not something that was special, or "in," or "hip."

I was a coming-up-teenager who was struggling to have her own voice and identity recognized, and much as my parents attempted to convince me to "tone it down" around my grandparents, I was a quietly rebellious youth and chose to behave and wear what I would any other time. Some things don't change, I suppose.

Each of my grandparents had stories that fascinated me as a child, and that I hold on to dearly to this day. Most of the stories I recall though came from my grandmother. She was a fabulous story teller, weaving together thoughts that seemed incongruous, but that made her tales so much more memorable.

Despite her introverted demeanor, she would speak at various events, narrating allegories that she'd likely told more times than she could count. I still have newspaper clippings from some of her speeches, as she'd often make local news for her ability to provide motivation through her words. Long before the days of TED talks, motivational speakers, or other speaker's bureaus, grandma was the lady to hear. She was entertaining to young and old alike, and she could morph her tales to a specific audience like no other.

As I grew into more of a teenager and was nearing the end of high school, my grandfather passed away. He had been arguing with my father about financial matters (that seem so insignificant now) when we received news that he passed in his sleep during a hospital stay.

At the time, we couldn't afford to have our entire family travel to the funeral, so my father went alone. I was saddened by the news, and hoped that my grandmother would be able to make it on her own. Soon, we heard that she was moving in with one of her daughters, who also happens to be my favorite aunt. She lived just across the street from their home in Pennsylvania, so it would make for a fairly easy transition.

A few months later, my parents thought it wise for me to pay my grandmother a visit. She was not getting any younger and they wanted me to a spend a bit of time with her. I was reluctant to go as I was in my last year of high school and had so many activities taking place that seemed far more pressing. I had a job and didn't want to ask for time off either.

Begrudgingly, I made the trip back east. When I arrived, I found my grandmother to be physically in a similar state to the last time I'd seen her, but I could tell something was different. She was having difficulty moving around due to a broken hip, but my aunt was always gracious in doing whatever she could to help get her mother healed. My aunt would enter the room, smile on her face and words of encouragement dripping from her lips. I always appreciated that she was such a positive person.

As I sat with my grandmother one afternoon, she started to cry. She had never been particularly emotional, and I always thought of her as quite a tough individual, so to see her well up with emotion was odd. I, however, have never done well with crying people in that I am extremely sensitive to others emotions. Even in my selfish, teenage state, when her tears started to fall, my heart broke. She started to reminisce about the times she'd had with my grandfather and would trail off as she'd just get into a story. I wondered if she was losing her capacity to form sentences, or if she just didn't want to share times that had been so special between her and the person she'd loved for so many decades.

The last story she would ever share with me was not like the ones she'd told me in my younger years. This one was completely non-fiction, and as I sat wanting to be anywhere but where I was, she began her saga.

"I have never told anyone what I am about to tell you," she began. I'm sure I stared a bit in response, expecting that there was some sort of comical line impending. "I am serious," she reiterated.

She would start her story by telling me about the birth of her first daughter and how happy she was to have her. Soon thereafter she had two more children and they had their happy family of five. As the Great Depression was well underway, she found out that she was pregnant with child number four.

Knowing that they were struggling financially without the burden of an extra mouth, she was unsure she wanted to tell my grandfather about this new child that would be coming to their family soon. As she continued, she repeated that she didn't want to tell my grandfather that she was "with child." She feared that he wouldn't be able to handle the stress of such things, so she decided she was going to do everything in her power to lose the pregnancy.

At this point, she started to cry again. She relived to me all of the things she attempted to do to lose this child that she knew they couldn't afford. She would run up and down stairs as fast and hard as she could, she would punch herself in the stomach, hoping that it would cause a miscarriage, and, in short, she shared many things she had done that today would likely result in her being committed, jailed, or at bare minimum that would receive wide eyes and gasps from anyone hearing what she'd done.

I have to admit, I was in shock hearing such a story. This woman, who I believed to be one of the greatest people on earth, was telling me that she had tried to kill my aunt before she was even born.

I tried to fathom what life would've been like without my favorite aunt. She had always been the fun one at otherwise often boring family functions or reunions. She was one of the very few relatives of the 90-some-odd on my father's side of the family who would actually come to visit us. She was spunky and full of life.

My grandmother continued to speak with tears streaming down her cheeks. "I... I don't know how I could've done it." It was a statement, not a question. "I tried everything in my power to not have her come into this world, and now, as I sit here nearing the end of my own life, she is the one taking care of me. The one child I could not imagine having is the one here for me now. She is the strongest, kindest, and most understanding person I have known."

Now I was crying. To come to that realization that the very child she hadn't wanted, the one that she'd attempted to abort, the one that was now nursing her back to health in a most loving and caring manner, must have come as quite an ironic twist. How many years had she carried this story with her? How many sleepless nights must she have had while she mulled it over in her own mind? The sort of self-loathing ideas that must have run through her at times when she'd relive that span of time.

I both despise and love that this is the last story my grandmother would tell me. I don't particularly love that my final memory of her is one of a reenactment (of sorts) of her attempts to abort my aunt, but I appreciate the realness and perspective it gave me of her as a person. It also gave me an appreciation for humans and a capacity to understand that making mistakes is part of existence. No one gets to escape errors in judgment or behavior.  Last moments are no ones entire life, and no matter what we do, we really can't know when those final minutes will be on this earth. We have all done things we wish we could go back and change or revise or completely erase from time, but they are done and gone and already in the annals of history. We hope to learn our lessons, and we hope not to hurt anyone along the way, but not one of us is perfect. Maybe we take from those not-so-great moments an opportunity to learn something about ourselves or the future, or perhaps we can only view those instances as a part of the past.

I really miss my grandmother. I wish I could talk to her today and get her perspective on life and ideas in general. She lived nearly a century and saw so many things that I'm sure society is repeating now. I think she'd appreciate my love of bicycles, and she'd probably find it entirely amusing that I have a blog - full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes in my haste to get thoughts out of my head. I may have driven her crazy with the way I worded things, but I would think she'd see that her love of writing carried through a bit to me (and I can even make a decent cookie), so I'd hope she would know that a little piece of her lives on - even if it's in a package she didn't always approve of or believe to be the most proper of beings.