Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fat Bike

Preface: I started writing this post a few days ago and then stopped myself. I wasn't sure that I wanted to post it at all, but I think this is an ongoing issue that humans, and in particular, females are dealing with continuously and while I don't have the answer or the solution for anyone, perhaps it will be a good point of discussion or a means for someone to vent or share stories. Maybe I'm just rambling to try to sort through my own thoughts. I'm not entirely sure, but I'm going to attempt to make sense of the thoughts that have been rolling around for the last several days and hopefully others will be willing to offer personal insights or thoughts on the matter. 

Over the last several weeks, Sam's and my schedules haven't been the most normal. We haven't spent a ton of time together during this stint, and while that may work well for some couples, I prefer to have at least some amount of time together to vent about happenings or just simply to be in the same room. So, when we had a morning free of obligations recently, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to spend a little time together.

My suggestion was that we ride to the gym for a morning workout and then ride to breakfast afterward. A couple of months ago we stopped our kickboxing regimen that had existed for nearly 5 years, so I was feeling as though something was missing, and if I'm totally honest, I've started to feel a little extra blubbery after our departure, even though I've continued to work out in various forms. Additionally, I find it challenging to motivate myself to go to the gym by myself, particularly in the summer months. It's warm and sunny, and all I want to do is wander around in the world taking in the goodness.

Sam agreed to this plan the night prior, but when we awoke the following morning, nothing seemed to go right. I over slept and was displeased that Sam hadn't woke me from my slumber. I understood his reasoning (trying to allow me some extra rest), but I was still irritated because it felt as though the whole morning had been thrown off. I also wasn't physically doing well. I was having a hard time standing upright due to a project I should not have participated in a few days prior, so I was trying to work out some kinks in the body.

By the time I finished my leisurely rising and petting of the dogs, the morning was quickly escaping. I figured I'd better get dressed rather than continuing to lollygag or it would delay things further, but just as I was slipping on my t-shirt, our doorbell rang.

A familiar voice could be heard just outside the front door, so I went to greet our friend and we cackled and chatted about summer, her now-second year high schooler returning to classes, and the vegetables overtaking our garden. Some people are just those I can speak with for long periods and not realize we've been chatting for hours. By the time we were finished and she went on about her day, it was nearly 11a. [sigh]

I looked at Sam and asked, "So, do you still want to do breakfast? Looks like we're not going to work out beforehand though because I am really hungry now."

We agreed that we'd ride to get bagels and then get about the day. As we started down the road, I felt fat. I felt that even my bike was making me appear fatter, which is not something I'm used to experiencing. I was fussing with my shirt that felt as though it was riding half way up my back. I pictured rolls of skin being exposed to anyone traveling by, even though logic, if it had been working that day, would have told me that my shirt was just barely sitting above the waistline of my shorts. I could feel my body expanding beyond the confines of my clothing and no amount of stretching or pulling was resolving the issue. The shorts I had on were riding up and pinching at the saddle. My stomach felt as though it was protruding particularly far and as I pedaled all I could feel was the wiggling and jiggling of extra weight attached to several parts of my body.

Most women understand that one does not necessarily need to be fat in order to feel fat. While I definitely do have more than my share of extra meat on my body, there are simply days that I have that feeling of being fat which comes from a whole different place than physical fat on the body. Lots of things can contribute to this. It could be that I didn't drink enough water the day prior, or that I had too much sodium. It could be that I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. It could be premenstrual bloating. It could be something that someone said that unwittingly seeped into my subconscious. There are a number of potential factors at play with this feeling though, so sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint the exactness of how the fat feeling came about on any particular day.

Sam and I weren't even a half mile from home when I proclaimed I was returning to the house. In my mind, all I could hear was snickering from non-existent people we were passing saying, "Fat girl on a bike coming through... make way!" I just felt gross.

At first, I thought switching to a different bike or a simple change of clothing would help, but that, as anyone who has experienced the frustration of looking at a closet full of clothing and feeling as though there is nothing to wear can testify, did not go well.

There I lay, face down on the bed, dogs sniffing at my face as I cried into a pillow. I felt Sam walk into the room, but he didn't say a word. He likely had no clue what was running through my mind and may have wondered if he'd done something to upset me.
                                                         
A few days later, I was on Facebook for a brief catch-up. I don't spend a lot of time there because most often I find there is little of value to me personally, but it was a rather well timed check-in that afforded me the opportunity to see a quick quote-post from a friend on the subject I'd just days before been battling myself.
*Image found here
The post read:
Stop worrying about whether you're fat. You're not fat. Or, rather, you're sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this. -- Cheryl Strayed

For some of us, we're more than "a little bit fat," but I get the point or the quote, and most days I agree with the sentiment. It's such a meaningless waste of time to expend energy beating ourselves up.

The comments that followed made an impression on me as well. I'll simply use first initials to identify the parties for purposes here.
I was amazed! First, the fact that a whole range of ages of women are obsessed with their weight is mind-boggling. In my experience, most of the women who worry about such things tend to be rather fit and/or normal sized humans, yet they beat themselves up over 5-20 extra pounds - based on a chart that a doctor told them was their "ideal" weight.

I also understand the response by E when she said she is "permanently damaged." As someone who grew up with daily and weekly weigh-ins as a child, I completely empathize with those who are traumatized for one reason or another in regard to weight. In my case, it was very conflicting messages... You will be weighed in by a parent every week to make sure you're not gaining weight (or, as became the case as I got a little older, that I was losing weight) combined with a very unbalanced, unstructured, and frankly unhealthy diet and lack of emotionally-healthy role models.
In some respect, I look at E's comment as a means of justifying how she feels. She is damaged and therefore it is acceptable and almost necessary for her to feel justified in her body self-bashing. I don't think this is a healthy response or thought, and even though she may feel that words cannot heal her state of being, I think her own thoughts are doing more detriment to her mental state than she imagines.

I don't know E. I know J, and E is simply one of her Facebook friends making a comment, but I know those thoughts, those feelings. I know there is nothing healthy, good, or positive that comes from these thoughts. Nearly everyone has them at some point - some more often than others - but when we live in constant self-hatred, self-bashing, how can we ever learn to accept who we are or to love ourselves or anyone else for that matter (to semi-steal a quote from RuPaul)?
It is almost as though it is expected that women (I'm using women here because I'm part of that gender and know what has happened to me personally, but I won't assume that males are not subject to this sort of thing either) constantly obsess and fuss over their weight. If I were to tell people that I really don't care about my weight and mean it, I would immediately be judged and (more than likely) get a few sets of sideways eyebrow-glares. If I am an average weight or slim size, women say, "Well, that's because you're already the perfect size/weight, so of course you don't worry about it;" and when, such as is the case for me, we are overweight, other women think or sometimes even say aloud, "Well, maybe you should be worried about your weight." And yes, this does happen. If you've never witnessed it yourself, count yourself lucky because people are surprisingly okay with telling others how, who and what they should be.
I have read studies that were much higher than this figure estimates, (one suggested women lose up to 17 years of life thinking about weight and diet) but even losing a year of life thinking about weight is disturbing.
*Image found here
There is always someone judging, but I think our own thoughts and words do the most damage. I was raised with the idea that I should weigh myself every single day so that I would always know my weight. But weighing daily quickly turned into an easy way to hate my body when it rebelled against what I was doing to improve it. It was far too easy to focus on that number instead of the actual changes taking place or how I felt. Then, I became that number. Those three digits were literally my identifier. When I spoke to others, when I went about my day, any time I went to put a bite of food in my mouth - that label became all I could see in my minds eye.

The best thing I ever did in regard to this matter was to stop weighing myself.

I'll admit, it wasn't the easiest decision to make and even though I had others encouraging me to drop the scale, I fought it for a long time. There is a part of me to this very day that sometimes wonders how I can function without knowing what I weigh, which is sad in itself.

Then, I remind myself that my clothes still fit and I can move and do the things I need and want to do, so the number on a scale is inconsequential. Every time I have a passing thought about weighing myself I stop and ask, is anything positive going to come from this action? Am I going to feel better or will I enter the day feeling empowered in any way? The answer is always, no. So, I don't drag out the scale.

The fact remains, I am not at my slimmest. I don't need a scale to tell me a number to know that I have been lighter at various points in time. Bashing myself does nothing to change my weight though and knowing the number often only makes matters worse. I know that there are factors affecting weight beyond what I do and what I eat as well, and it is the same for many on the planet.

When a person comes from a family of meaty individuals, it is going to play a role in weight. My entire life doctors have tried to tell me that it's purely a matter of calories in versus calories out that is reflected on the scale, but I know for a fact that isn't always the case. Some may view this as my own attempt to feel better about myself (and that is perfectly acceptable if you are one of these individuals), but I've done enough long term experiments to recognize that there is more to weight than simply exercise and nutrition. I understand that weight is not a math problem to be solved with a simple formula. If it was, the answer would be easy and nearly everyone would be a "perfect" size.

Of course, then I wonder what society would be if we all looked exactly the same? It strikes me as rather boring to think about walking out into the world and seeing carbon copies all around me. Part of body composition is evolutionary, I'm convinced. There were those in our history who needed to be slim, fast and long-legged to be able to out run beasts they were hunting for food. Others needed to hold on to more weight to be able to survive lengthy periods without food or famine. How could this not survive in our cells as they get passed down through generations?

Throughout history, different body types have been the sought-after ideal. Even today different cultures view weight and size quite differently. For the western world, our Eurocentric viewpoint is often all that is considered though, and today the idolized body type for a female is one that is lean - though I do see this changing very slowly to a viewpoint that encourages and accepts strong bodies. But, this just feels like yet another goal for women to achieve that, let's face it, won't be attainable for every body type. Additionally, many resources that encourage the strong body don't even show images of individuals who are strong but look different from each other (meaning the represented ideal is still a slim and mildly muscle-y individual).

Until we as a society learn to accept ourselves and each other as we are without need to comment on someone else's appearance, there will always be an ideal that is expected; and when one is incapable of living up to that expectation, there will be self-blaming and continued feelings of inadequacy.

Or, maybe that's just how I feel.

If I take a moment and rewind to the day I cried into the pillow because I felt fat while riding and therefore unworthy of existing in the world, I wish I could take this more rational self and beam her into that moment. I wish I could have the strong me that exists 90% of the time standing by the weak and fragile 10% to tell her that she is okay. That she is strong and capable, even if there are moments of vulnerability to the outside world. I wish I could tell her that we all feel unworthy or less-than at times and that it will pass. I wish I could tell her not to lose out on a moment with someone she loves, just because her brain is temporarily telling her she is unacceptable or undeserving.

But, that isn't the way life works. I can't go back in time or even hold on to the majority of strong moments to help the weak side of me get through the more difficult times. Instead, I have to keep working to be able to bring out the strong side when the weak side is insistent upon taking over. I'm not sure it's possible in today's world to make that happen, but I continue to try.

Truthfully, I am saddened that this topic is so prevalent and pertinent in our society. I can't help but think if we as individuals used all the energy we expend worrying or thinking about how we look or how others perceive us we could make actual, tangible change in the world. We could combine our efforts and do something that actually matters.

I realize the likelihood of individuals giving up this time-killer obsession with looks and weight is slim to none, but a girl can dream.

Post Script: Kendra's comment below got me thinking about past posts on this same subject, so I thought I'd link them here if anyone is curious. The first one is here and talked about the plateau I was experiencing and the other one I'll link can be found here where I talked a bit about my history with weight and food and how I hoped (and continue to hope today) that we'd start to see more diverse athletic role models. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Soma ES Deux-Over

Two and a half years ago, I wrote here about my initial impressions of the Soma ES. I was completely infatuated with this bike and I never really did put a finger on what exactly it was that created such joy. I don't think it hurt that I felt fast and yet stable when I rode, and I was pretty comfortable as well. Unfortunately for the ES, I was in the midst of a bicycle meltdown and the ES only remained long enough to get me through late winter, spring and most of summer until my first custom built bicycle arrived. I had decided that to help finish paying for the custom, it made perfect sense to sell the ES frame and the majority of its components.
The original Soma ES on a ride in early March 2014
If I'm completely honest, the sale of the ES took place near the start of bicycle heartache and headache, as well as a great deal of two-wheeled turn over in my personal bike fold. Part of me was always looking to replace the feelings I had on the ES, but I was convinced it could be even better. If I was willing to spend more or go through the custom process, surely I would be even happier on the other side, I believed.

As you may recall, the custom process turned into quite a disaster and the last couple of years have been spent attempting to not only recover from injuries but trying to find a road bike that would work for me once again. We in our household had discussed the idea of re-purchasing the ES frame (and it had even been suggested by a couple of readers in messages via email), but it never seemed to be the right time or I would continue to look, thinking that something else would come along.

One day in June of this year, Sam came home from work and said, "I have an early birthday present for you!" Since my birthday was months away, I was a little perplexed, but Sam had alluded in earlier conversations to having a fix for a problem I was experiencing riding. So, as I followed him out to our family room, I presumed he had picked up a part for me to try out.

As I reached the room, there sat a fully built Soma ES. I have to admit, I was a bit confused.
"I didn't go to work today," Sam began. "I ended up going out to my dad's place and building this up for you."

"Okaaay..." I drug out, sounding completely confused, I am quite sure.

Beyond my confusion about how this had all taken place without me having any clue, I noticed that this wasn't built up with leftover components that we had stashed somewhere; this was complete Shimano Ultegra from wheels to drive train and I was mentally trying to put the pieces together in an attempt to fathom what was going on.

"I looked at the old photos of your ES, so I think it's close to being set up the way it needs to be, and I know you'll want different pedals, but those were the only ones I could find," Sam continued.

I don't know that I had the exact reaction one would hope for when receiving such an incredibly thoughtful gift because I was still trying to figure it all out. Of course I was excited, but I also wasn't sure this was a necessity. I was doing well riding the BDB Pelican and while I had thought and talked about possibly getting a strictly faster-paced road bike, I didn't expect it to be sitting in our house at this very moment.
After I recovered from the shock of realizing this was now my bicycle (again), I took it for a ride. At first I was hesitant to get on it. What if it wasn't everything I had built the ES up to be in my memory? What if today this bike no longer worked for me?

As I started to pedal, I instantly remembered why I enjoyed the ES so much. With the first build, it was initially put together using random pieces and parts from other abandoned or sold projects, but it was later fitted with a mostly SRAM Red groupset. I knew this bike had capabilities with both higher end and lower end components though as I have several personal best time records that were achieved riding the first Soma ES with two very different levels of components.
I have to say, I was surprised that I liked the frame color of this ES. It's not the currently available Pacific Blue option, but the former hue called "Cappuccino." I have seen many builds of this bike online and on the Soma website and thought the color looked rather dull and washed out. In real life, the color is far more saturated, appearing much more true-to-cappuccino color. I think the pink accents actually work nicely with it as well.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen a short rant-tweet about my "pink" bar tape that wasn't pink. I was using some old bar tape for a short stint while waiting for an order from a British bike shop that had pictured online a light pink Brooks bar tape. I had never seen this color in person and was excited to have a different color, but when it arrived it was actually the darker raspberry color I have on my Hillborne handlebars. The bike shop offered to pay for return shipping and did apologize profusely, but I ended up liking the darker color with this build so I kept it.

As for the ride, I still enjoy the ES just as much (and perhaps even more given recent history) as I did in the past. There has been a small amount of tweaking to the set up since the initial build, but overall, Sam did pretty good for someone using photos as his sole reference. When I ride the ES I have the same thoughts I did in the past... it's just an easy to ride and enjoy bicycle. I don't have to push it if I'm not in the mood or I'm feeling like just going slow and enjoying the scenery, or I can pump it up a notch (or several) and find myself speeding down the road.

So, to those who encouraged me to try this option again and to Sam who had the foresight to move ahead without a lengthy discussion, I thank you. It's been fun to re-explore this bike and I'm pretty certain this time it will stick around, regardless of what other options may be added in the future. The bottom line is, it's a fun bike and I'm happy to have this Soma ES "deux-over."

Monday, August 1, 2016

An Unlikely Garden

A few years ago, at our former home, I had decided that we should really attempt to grow a little vegetable garden in our backyard. We didn't have a lot of space to do so because the yard was almost completely covered in shade, but we managed to section off an area and used whiskey barrels as planters for an experiment in growing our own food.
The experiment was somewhat successful, but at least three-quarters of what we attempted to grow never made it into actual food. We found some success with spinach in the spring and bell peppers in the summer, but beyond that, it kind of all fell apart. I chalked it up to not having a green thumb and figured we just weren't meant to have a vegetable garden.

After moving into our current home about a year and a half ago, we quickly realized that growing anything in our backyard, food-wise or other, would be impossible as it sees only about an hour total of very late day sun. I was not interested in a repeat of what had happened prior, and I knew that sun was likely the biggest issue we'd had in that location.

The front yard of our new home, however, was a glowing food-beacon of promise. There is a lot of real estate available in this space and absolutely no shade at any point in the day until the very late hours of afternoon. My only concern was the neighborhood and the thought that perhaps some neighbors would find such a thing unsightly.

But, we do not have a neighborhood association and although we weren't looking to create enemies in neighbors, we figured it is our yard to do with as we please. Since there are not city laws to forbid it and no association to say we couldn't, we figured this space would be our future garden. So, last summer, our first summer here, we began preparation in the yard, digging up the grass (that was actually mostly dead-weeds that had been mowed) and preparing raised boxes for garden beds.

Of course, neighbors became curious as to what it was we were doing because the yard was a mess of progress for the entire spring and summer in 2015. I have no doubt many of them shook their heads wondering what these two new-to-the-neighborhood youngsters (to our neighbors we are definitely "youngsters" as the majority are into their 70's and beyond) were doing tearing up their yard and seemingly leaving it in such disarray.

My biggest neighbor-concern was the house directly next door. They have maintained a perfectly manicured space the entire time we have lived here, with a perfectly-groomed-at-all-times yard consisting of a deep-green colored lawn with exactly zero weeds and a precisely arranged flower bed (also somehow entirely weed-free) around their house.  They spend their days working diligently to maintain this yard, but I was concerned that they would disapprove of our choice of garden in the front.

Preparations began last summer to ease the neighbors in, sharing often our plans for the yard. Conversations consistently ended with, "and of course we will share the veggies with you too!" hoping that it would soften the news. The neighbors next door are perhaps the sweetest couple I've met in a very long time, but I have had experience with meticulous yard-folk in the past and they can be very particular about what is acceptable as front yard landscaping. I could never quite tell from their expressions and reactions if they were accepting of what was to come, or if they were cursing us under their breath. Perhaps it was a little of both.

In reality, we really aren't farmer/gardener sorts of people in our household. Yes, we'd love to reap the benefits of fresh food at our doorstep, but neither of us has a ton of experience with growing food successfully or even unsuccessfully. But, as with most things we've done in life, the only way to learn is to research and then try it out to see what happens. I know I've always learned better by doing, so we were jumping into this garden hoping for the best, but realizing it may very well end up as a bunch of flower beds or other greenery if we failed.

Beyond having fresh vegetables and fruit to consume during the summer and early fall, my hope with planting the garden in the front was to provide an opportunity to chat with neighbors. Most people seem to keep to themselves and rarely do we see people on the street stopping to talk to one another. It isn't that they're unfriendly, but I had hopes that having to tend to the garden in the front would provide an opportunity for others to stop by and ask how things were coming along and hopefully start conversations.

Frankly, I was concerned about whether we could even manage to keep a vegetable garden alive after our prior experience, but we felt better prepared to deal with set up and maintenance this round and went to work creating a drip system that would allow for better watering, prepared better soil for growing, and chose a variety of plants so that at least some of them would (hopefully) succeed. I told myself that this current spring and summer would be an experiment, simply to see what would grow.
I was thrilled that something was growing in the garden early in the season
Our early success was with spinach; however, we have little appropriate weather for growing in the spring and the spinach quickly bolted (making it bitter and no longer usable) in the heat and we were giving it away left and right just prior to its end.
We were successful with growing red leaf, head, romaine, and a 'greens mix' of lettuces through late spring and early summer
A variety of lettuces also did well and provided several summer salads for us and for friends and neighbors who were willing to try out our experiment. As with the spinach, when the weather really heated up, the lettuce became bitter and no longer edible though. While we'd been enjoying our lettuce and spinach, I wasn't sure if any of the other plants would make it.

We had planted a variety of other items including: potato, jalapeño and a few other hot peppers, bell pepper, three varieties of tomato, strawberries, green onion, broccoli, three varieties of cucumber, celery, two varieties of melon, pumpkin, kale, as well as a few herbs in a narrower but taller raised bed.

We had considered growing zucchini squash, but hadn't had the best luck with it in the past and it tends to be something that takes over the garden in my past limited experience, so we decided against it.

Slowly, something started to happen. It was gradual and I almost forgot that it was one of the reasons for planting the garden at all, but community started to form. Neighbors began to walk over to say hello. Walkers stopped to ask about containers or watering. People driving by would park, get out, walk over and have conversations as I was weeding or pulling off bits for a meal. It was amazing!
Both the lettuce and spinach were dying off at this point in late June/early July, and everything else was still quite small. I wondered if anything else would survive long enough to turn into food at all.
Granted, the garden didn't look great, but it was bringing out people who we had rarely or never spoken to for conversation. I always offered up some of what was available to anyone who stopped over. Some accepted, others were hesitant. Some even refused entirely, but still came back for conversation at later times, and many accepted the offer upon second or third visit.

The melons and the pumpkins we had planted I was sure would never grow. A few weeks after they'd gone into the ground, I'd had a conversation with a friend who stated that both are difficult to grow if the soil is wrong. Not being very well versed in vegetable garden matters, and after seeing the leaves of the plants at this point,turning yellow and brown, I was convinced they wouldn't survive. I did my best to tend to them, knowing that we were likely in for a yard full of empty garden beds.
The beginnings of celery and pumpkin, just before they started to really turn yellow and brown and appear as though they were near-death. The melons looked even worse than these at this point. I had also planted a couple of flowers in each of the boxes, hoping that it would bring bees to pollinate. Even the flowers seemed to be dying though.
As it happened, one of the three varieties of cucumber I'd planted turned out to actually be zucchini squash. This was discovered one day as I was whining to Sam about the lack of growth in the garden. He had gone out to see how things were coming along after work one day and said upon his return, "You know there's a large cucumber growing in there, right? It's under all the leaves."

"What?!" I responded, "Something is actually growing?"

I hurried out to take a look for myself and sure enough there was a very large cucumber growing. Except, I was pretty certain it wasn't a cucumber.

"I don't think that's a cucumber," I said hesitantly. "The skin looks exactly like zucchini."

I pulled it off as it was about 6 inches in diameter and decided to give it a taste. "Yep, zucchini," I nodded, as if reassuring myself that I wasn't entirely crazy. "Definitely not cucumber."

I'm sure it's very easy to confuse the two plants when they are small, so I've no doubt it was simply mislabeled, but man alive, that was a very large zucchini squash I had on my hands. Food was actually growing!
A new crop of zucchini is popping up. This one is still quite small compared to those that have been pulled off thus far in the season. In the lower section of the photo, just right of the middle, a small lemon cucumber can also be seen maturing.
A few days later, I wandered out to check on things and took a peek under the leaves again and there were multiple large zucchini appearing as if by magic. At this same moment, our next door neighbor came over to say hello.

"Your garden is looking so nice!" she exclaimed. "Those." she said, pointing to the jalapeños, "They are looking lovely. You must have quite the green thumb."
I couldn't help but giggle inside about the green thumb comment as I seem to kill nearly everything plant-based that we attempt to grow, and I was still unsure if I should take this comment about the garden looking nice at face value or if she and her husband were actually displeased about the vegetables starting to take over the front. They had politely refused each of my vegetable offerings in the past, but I decided to try one more time.

"Would you like some?" I offered. "I have jalapeño and salsa peppers, if you'd like to take some home."

"Oh, could I?" she responded softly. "That would be wonderful!"

I couldn't help but smile both outside and in.

"Is that kale you have growing back there?" she inquired in her soft-spoken way as she pointed to one of the boxes a few feet away.

"Yeah, it is. I wasn't sure it would grow, but it seems to be doing pretty well. Would you like some of that too?" I asked. "It's getting a little out of hand and I need to give some away."

She nodded and I went to get a container for her to take home her small stash. We spoke briefly about how we cook various items and I told her that both she and her husband were welcome to anything they'd like from the garden. She thanked me and returned home.

I let out a sigh of relief and ran inside to Sam.

"I think the neighbors might actually be okay with the garden!" I exclaimed bursting through the door. "I just gave them a few peppers and some kale and it seemed to go well."

I was aware that I was overly thrilled about this, but it was nice to be able to share what we had with those around us. Sam was not as elated as I had been, but he smiled and nodded in approval, if for no other reason than to appease me in my excited state.
The pumpkins forming are numerous and one (unseen here) is already larger than a basketball.
Today, those sad, dying pumpkin and melon plants are actually flourishing. The two very small pumpkin plants that I thought would never survive, managed to come back and began to spread out, forming flowers as they grew. Slowly, small gourds began to appear and today there are a number of pumpkins continuing to expand on the vine.
The green onion is sprouting up nice and tall, and is smelling, well, very onion-y, as it should. Perhaps planting berries directly next to these was poor judgment, but when one believes everything planted is going to die off, it seems to make little difference.

We are pleased to see everything taking shape though. In fact, the only thing that hasn't done well has been the broccoli (that can just barely be seen behind the onion above). While the plants themselves have done well, the florets haven't done as they should and will likely be inedible, unfortunately.
Tomatoes are abundant, though most have not yet turned red. We've learned some lessons about what not to do with these in the future as well because they have become an inter-tangled mess with the gourds and melons growing around them. As the branches begin to bend with the weight of fruit, attempting to reach the tomatoes for plucking without trampling other vegetables is a tad challenging too. Not a horrible problem to have though for two people who believed nothing would grow.

With the garden, our immediate community seems to be flourishing as well. People who once barely waved in passing now take a moment to stop and actually chat about life happenings. We have learned that we are not entirely surrounded by the elderly (not that there would be anything wrong with that at all) and that there are many different people of all ages and from different backgrounds within close proximity. We've even inspired a couple of others to begin their own gardens, though they have preferred to keep theirs in the backyard rather than the front.
The front yard garden today. We've pulled the dying lettuce and spinach, but everything else continues to expand.
There was a time when home vegetable gardens were entirely common but they seemed to fade away for the most part with the passage of time. The last several years have brought a resurgence, but it's still not entirely common to find these in front yards. I believe a front yard garden is a wonderful way to get to know neighbors though and a great use of space, especially if this is the only area with a steady supply of sun. After all, if we're going to water something anyway, I'd at least like to make it something useful and usable - and even share-able with others - and it's provided us all an opportunity to get to know each other a little bit better too.

This unlikely garden has been a challenging but entirely pleasant undertaking, providing nourishment for both body and soul. I hope it is something we can continue to share with others and that those unknown to us will keep stopping with questions or simply to say hello. Much like riding a bicycle rather than driving, I'm finding that when we are out in our surroundings, talking with others becomes far less challenging, invisible barriers break down, and conversation presents itself without much effort at all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Flatting Out: An Early Morning Ride

I realize that I haven't written much about my own riding this year. In part, this is because my rides have felt very uneventful. Primarily, I have ridden this year for transportation purposes and although I have moments when I think I should write about some sort of happening from these outings, that thought usually leaves quicker than it came. When that happens, I take that as meaning that there was nothing truly to say about the ride.

As summer is now about half way complete (well, almost), I have started to feel guilty for not riding more athletically or sport-wise over these warmer months. I've had my reasons, and for the most part, I think they are justifiable, but I still miss being out for a lengthier stretch and/or just seeing how hard I can push myself. It amuses me that I seem to fall one way or another though for entire seasons at a time and can't seem to find that space during which I can both ride for sport and ride for transportation. One side always seems to lose.
But, because I've wanted to get out and ride while sweating (Though I suppose I sweat even riding for transportation these days as it's been quite warm), I decided to try to push myself to get up a little earlier than usual and go ride before the day gets going. With so many things to get done in a day, time just slips away before I have the opportunity to get out, but I had decided that if I made a purposeful attempt to go early, perhaps I would actually get out and ride.

This plan seemed to be working quite well for a few days. It was nice to be out before the sweltering heat began and although I struggled to get things together as I was heading out the door, I was able to get this plan into motion. While I don't care for others telling me that I'm not a morning person, I have to admit it really is true. Even though I can get up, I just don't function well for a couple of hours into the day and everything just seems to go wrong when I force myself to be productive early.

A few days into this new experiment, I was heading out when I said to Sam, "You know, I need to get an extra tube to carry. I haven't had a flat in at least two years, but somehow not having a tube with me makes me nervous. I have a patch kit and a pump... and a CO2 cartridge, but sometimes it's just good to have that extra tube, you know?"

Sam, the make-it-happen fellow that he is, walked to one of the storage bins in the garage and pulled out a tube. "This one should work," he said. "I think you bought this and never used it."

"Hmm. Well, thanks!" I said. "Guess I don't need to buy one... Though, I've probably now jinxed myself by even talking about flats."

We both laughed a bit and I joked that I would call if I needed him. Sam was preparing to head off to work though, and I knew I wouldn't be gone for much more than an hour, so I started off on my planned route feeling pretty good.

A few miles down the road, I started to think that my front tire felt a bit spongy. I looked down and everything looked fine, so I kept going and figured it was my imagination after the conversation just a few minutes ago. You really are crazy, I told myself. You've psyched yourself out so bad that now you think you're going to get a flat.

I biked on, but continued to have that sensation that something wasn't quite right up at the front of the bike. I made a couple of turns and ended up on a local highway that leads up to the mountains. I wasn't sure if I was feeling brave enough to climb this particular morning, but I wanted to at least reach the base and then make a decision.

A few miles down the highway, I was pretty convinced something was definitely wrong with the tire. I pulled over to a spot where I'd have some room and sure enough, the tire was going flat. It was a very slow leak as I'd been able to travel as far as I had without much of an issue, but I had a decision to make. Should I keep going and hope that the leak was slow enough that I could complete my ride, or should I turn around and head home so that I wouldn't have to deal with the flat on the side of the road?

The problem in my mind was keeping myself from freaking out about the nearly flat tire. Although I have changed tubes and patched them several times, it has never been when I was alone on the side of the road when it was out of necessity. Somehow, I've always managed to either have a slow enough leak that I was able to get home without dealing with it, or Sam has been with me and either done or assisted with the change for me. It's nothing short of amazing that I've gone so many years and never had to deal with this on my own, I am aware, but somehow in this moment I had a feeling I wasn't getting home without a fix and I definitely would have trouble if I continued on.

So, in a split second I made the decision to turn around and head home. I could feel panic setting in so as I turned, I thought it might be best to put a bit more air in the tire with my hand pump. As I started to pump in air, nothing was happening at first and then, all of a sudden, the tire went completely flat.

Alright, I said to myself, it's time to deal with this. I pulled out the patch kit at first and then thought better of it. I knew I could patch the tube later at home with ease, so I would just use the new tube and then use the currently flat tube as a spare after it was repaired.

Flipping the bike over, I used the tire lever to take one side of the tire off to remove the tube when I found myself scratching my head, trying to figure out how to get the tube out from behind the fork. As I said, I don't function well in early morning hours, so it took me a second to realize that I hadn't removed the wheel from the bike.

Duh, I muttered under my breath, and then followed up with the thought that it really had been a long time since I'd had to deal with changing a flat. I was also riding a bike with fenders, so that took an extra step and a moment for my brain to catch up and to realize that I'd need to remove one side of those as well.

At this point, I looked ridiculous, I have no doubt, and I felt like a complete idiot on the side of the road. I had small bits from the fender attachment in between my lips to keep from losing them, and I was turning back and forth, as I (for the most part) silently tried to coach myself through something that I fully know is not that difficult to do and that I can and have done in the past. I still didn't have the wheel removed, but I wanted to test out the pump as it hadn't put any air in when I'd tried to just pump up the tire without removing the tube.

After attempting to use the pump and realizing it still wasn't putting any air into the tube and therefore wouldn't put any air in the new tube either, I reached my breaking point. My morning fog-brain was not wearing off and I was ready to have a cry on the side of the road. I got out my phone and called Sam.

"Hey," I said as casually as I could when he picked up. "I think I really did jinx myself this morning. Can you come and get me?"

"Where are you?" he asked.

I provided approximate coordinates to which he responded that it would take him a bit, but he would get there as quickly as he could. With that, we hung up and I felt like such a helpless fool standing with various tools in each hand, watching cars and other bicycles whizzing by.

As I stood there, relieved that Sam was on his way, the panicked feeling dissipated. If I was going to be here for awhile anyway, I might as well attempt to finish changing the flat, I figured.

Since I hadn't actually removed the wheel yet, I started to pull that out and then realized I needed to release the brakes. After completely removing everything that was necessary, I got out the new tube and started to put it around the rim of the wheel and then remembered it would need a small amount of air to keep from getting a pinch flat, so I figured I'd try my hand at the pump again to see if I could get it to work. I had the CO2 cartridge and inflator with me, but I've honestly never used it and was a little terrified something might explode or I'd end up hurting myself (Sam would later laugh at me about this and then tell me that we were going to have a training session so that I wouldn't be afraid to use this tool in the future).

The pump wasn't putting out much air, but it was providing a little bit every several pumps, so I kept pumping until there was a small amount of air in the tube. Then, I began putting the tire back around the rim, making sure not to get the tube stuck in between.

Before I knew it, everything was put back together and the tire even had a bit of air in it. I had actually done it. For the first time on my own without the help of anyone (or at least the watchful eye of someone), I fixed a flat!

Believe me, I know it's ridiculous. As someone who has changed flats in the past, this shouldn't have felt like such an enormous accomplishment, but it really did. I realized that all I needed was to calm myself down and know that I have the ability to do the task --and then, not to sound to much like a Nike ad, just do it.

As I stood there beaming with pride, I pulled out my phone again. I saw a text from Sam that he'd sent about 10 minutes prior stating that he was on the edge of town and he'd get to me as quickly as he could. I didn't have the heart to have his trip be for nothing and since he was almost to me anyway, I responded that I was able to get a little air in my tire and that I was going to be riding east and I'd meet up with him.

I rode the highway back in the direction indicated thinking that it was kind of sad that at least a dozen cyclists had passed me and not one of them had offered to help as I'd stood on the side of the road, but on the other hand, I was grateful for the opportunity to prove to myself that I could in fact change a flat without the assistance of another person.

The tire was holding up okay, but it was severely lacking in air so I was taking it slow and wondering why I hadn't run into Sam yet. I was heading up a slight incline when a car pulled over in front of me... Sam to the rescue!

As he got out of the car he was shaking his head and smiling. "I've been back and forth twice trying to find you," he stated. "I should know better with you."

He was referring to a past incident during which we'd been riding together and I'd been so upset and convinced that I couldn't go on that he went home to get the car to rescue me. I had ended up riding home on my own though, despite the fact that I believed I didn't have it in me.

"How did you get all the way over here?" he asked. "I thought you couldn't get any air out of the pump."

I smiled, "Well, I was able to get enough that I figured I'd try riding a bit."

On the way home, we chatted about what had happened and as I exited the vehicle and we removed the bike from the car I said, "You know, if this ever happens again in the future... if I call you in a panic and tell you I need to be picked up, just talk me through it. I know you're perfectly willing to come and get me, but I feel bad that I made you turn around from work to come all this way to get me when I ended up fixing the flat. I know I didn't have a ton of air in the tire, but I can do it and I would've made it home okay. I think I just needed to be reassured that I have the ability to do it on my own."

As much as I could have lived without this situation, I am grateful for the opportunity to prove to myself that I am capable of dealing with minor issues that come up when riding. After years of riding, I still seem to have a deep fear that I am not self-reliant. While I know I am perfectly able, sometimes I need to know-know - as in, out of necessity - that I am capable, and this moment helped me better understand that often I just need to not panic and the rest will fall into place.

Have you had any moments of panic when dealing with a break down on your bicycle and then pulled it together? Have you had fixes that just couldn't be repaired while on the side of the road? How did you deal with your bicycle break-down?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Silver Rush 50, Part 4: The Anti-Climactic End to a Not-So-Perfect Weekend

This has been a longer-than-usual series for me, so I apologize that this drug out a bit more than anticipated. If you missed any of the first three posts in this tale, you can find part 1 here part 2 here and part 3 is here. As with part 3, this portion of the story has two viewpoints to share. In order to distinguish each of these, Sam's thoughts will be written in bold type face, while G.E.'s will be in regular type. 
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I sat waiting for the lottery portion of the ceremony to begin, hoping (and frankly, pretty sure) that my name would be called. That is, until I suddenly realized things had changed this year. Apparently, the organizers decided that instead of using the computer program to randomize and select from the finishers, they were having people bring up a tag from their bib to put into a hat for a random pull.
The problem? I didn't have the tag. By the time I could get G.E. there with my bib, the drawing would be over, and I couldn't even remember if the piece was still on the bib or if I'd tossed it. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why a bigger deal was not made of this change. Someone had muttered something like, "Don't forget about the 100" when I picked up my packet, but since it didn't relate to the current ride, I thought nothing of it. I think a notice in the packet and/or on the main website would've been beneficial.

The moment that I realized I had no chance of getting in to Leadville this year, I started walking away. I knew I had only myself to blame. Post race, I did search through the packet, wondering if I'd missed an explanation, but there was nothing to be found... simply a tear-off on the bib with a smaller version of my bib number.

Earlier than anticipated, I received a text message from Sam that he was ready to be picked up. I was excited. I assumed this meant that he'd received a slot and we could start heading home while there was still daylight.

When Sam got in the car I asked smiling, "So.... did you get in?!" At which point he made the above explanation to me. Bummer. Big time bummer.

I know Sam was thinking that the entire ride and weekend was a waste, but I don't believe that is necessarily the case. True, he didn't get in to Leadville this year, and yes, the entire weekend had been one of the more challenging weekends in some time, but there is always a lesson to be learned. In this case, as we discussed later on the way home, I think the lesson is to enjoy the moment and not be so wrapped up in what is to come.

I realized that I am such a fool for not understanding that the lottery system had changed, but we were ready to go home. The bike had been perfect and fast. My body was not. I was running on no sleep and I was incapable of pushing myself the way that I should have (and would have) under normal circumstance. I backed off when I shouldn't have and I didn't even try for the coin at the start of Dutch Henri Hill. And, of course, I didn't keep that tiny little piece of my bib for the drawing with me.

As we headed home after what felt like the longest two days of my life, we were both hungry. We decided to stop at a spot for a sandwich and let the dogs out for a bit. We were losing daylight, so I didn't want to stop too long because I fear the dark when driving with no sleep.

Quickly, we got back on the road and on to I-70 which takes us down through the mountains and back in to the Denver metro area. As we were driving, we noticed a sign on the side of the road that said there was an accident about 4 miles ahead. Now, there are always accidents on the interstate, so neither of us thought much about it and assumed it would slow us down a bit, but we'd still be making decent time.

About a mile up the road, everyone was stopped. I don't mean the sort of stopped where we move a bit and then stop again. I mean we were stopped-stopped... as in not moving at all. This can't be good, I thought, but what could we do? My sleep-deprived, barely functioning brain was using all its power just to keep us in our lane and on the path home, and now I had to figure out what to do to avoid this chaos.

Truthfully, there aren't a whole lot of alternatives to getting around something like this. We were coming up to one of the possibilities in a couple of miles, but in the meantime, we had to just sit and wait. And wait and wait.

As the sun set behind us, I knew I was in trouble. We were losing light which meant that sleepy time and yawning were about to take over. I cranked up the air conditioner and hoped it was enough to keep me coherent.

The traffic had begun to move, but at an unpredictable and very, very slow pace. Eventually, we made it to the exit I knew we were approaching and in an instant realized that everyone was exiting here because they had shut down all the eastbound lanes on the interstate. That certainly explained a lot.

It also meant that we were in for a very slow route home - or at least until we got to our diverging point about 20 miles up the road.

I should also explain that there is a reason (beyond the fact that I was beyond tired at this point) I don't like to drive at night. My vision is not the best after dark and I cannot always tell if a car is in my lane or the one traveling in the opposite direction until we are very close to each other. It causes a lot of strain to try to focus well enough to be able to make adjustments as needed, and with no sleep this was feeling worse than usual.

At this point, Sam had offered to drive, but I figured he was probably far more tired than I was and I believed I could hold it together well enough to get us through.

As we continued along our slow slog home, I couldn't help but laugh about everything that had happened. It was comical to me in my state of mind. I was so lost in the idea of the ridiculousness that had taken place that I missed our turn off and ended up taking us entirely off course.

When we were finally heading in the right direction, I believe complete delirium had set in.

"What if this is all a dream?" I asked out loud, half believing it could be true. "What if we're actually asleep somewhere and none of this has taken place... or, what if we're upside down in a ditch?"

Sam is used to my ramblings, but even he seemed to be playing along, which only made me realize that he was in need of serious sleep as well.

"What if we get home and the house isn't there?" I continued. "You know in dreams, when you're struggling to get home and when you finally arrive it's something entirely different and it's so confusing? Maybe that's what is happening? We'll get home and it will be an ice cream shop or a 7-Eleven or something."

I couldn't help but get lost in this idea of being in a dream because, well, it honestly felt like a dream in that state of mind. I pretty well continued on in this manner until we reached home, where we discovered that in fact our home was exactly where and how we'd left it (which should be a surprise to no one because we weren't actually asleep). It had been a long, long 48 hours and it was coming to an end.

Sam stated, "I just don't think the whole thing was meant to be. From start - really before the start - to finish nothing seemed to go right."

I couldn't help but nod along. It did seem that obstacles were at every corner. Even though the dogs weren't that bad (excluding the incident with our Lab snapping at the other retriever early on race day), I realized that together, our two dogs just aren't cut out for adventures on the road and camping.

"Next time," I began, "I think you either need to go alone or we have to figure out another way to deal with the dogs. Unfortunately, they are just all-consuming and it's difficult to focus on anything else."

There has been talk since the ride about what Sam wants to do. There are a lot of possibilities within the region, but I think he just needed a little time to accept that he isn't going to race in the Leadville Trail 100 this year. I know he's disappointed, but I also know he is well trained (assuming he actually sleeps) to do whatever he chooses this summer and wherever he decides to race, I know, as always, he'll put our his best.

What's next? I'm not sure. There are a bazillion events this summer and I will be ready for the next one - whatever it is. Maybe it's an opportunity to try again in Flagstaff, Arizona for the 2017 LT100 and not do as horribly as I did the last time, or perhaps there is something else that makes more sense. I have a little time to figure it out.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Silver Rush 50, Part 3: Let's Ride! Who Needs Sleep?

If you missed either of the first two posts in this tale, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here. For this portion of the Silver Rush 50 story, there are two viewpoints to share. In order to distinguish each of these, Sam's thoughts will be written in bold type face, while G.E.'s will be in regular type. 
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After a rough night of being attacked by mosquitoes and not sleeping (well, the mosquitoes were getting me, even if they weren't biting Sam), Sam was preparing to finally race the Silver Rush 50. Even though the mosquitoes didn't really seem to be biting him it was hardly consolation when he was in pain and hadn't slept.

Sam prepared some oatmeal over the camp stove, and after taking a shower, dressing, and packing up the campsite belongings (let's face it, we weren't about to spend a second night fighting mother nature and everything else that seemed to be working against us), we were off to the starting line.

When we arrived to the preparation area, we split up. Sam headed for the start line at the bottom of Dutch Henri Hill, while the dogs and I went to the top of the hill. I've taken photos of Sam at the start line a couple of years ago when he did this ride, so I thought maybe it would be fun to get a different angle. Plus, our Labrador has issues with other dogs and I figured there would be fewer people at the top of the hill than at the start.

I was very wrong.

As we walked to the top of Dutch Henri Hill and found a spot away from any other animals, a woman walked up next to us with her young Golden Retriever. Our Lab gave no warning and suddenly snapped at him. {sigh} It was going to be a long day. I pulled our pup in closer and waited for the group at the bottom of the hill to get going.
Race day! I had been preparing for months. In fact, it's probably the most preparation I've done for any of the Leadville series rides to date. 

Originally, I had intended to race the group to the top of Dutch Henri Hill for an opportunity to arrive first to get an automatic entry into the Leadville Trail 100, but because of the exhaustion from not sleeping, I decided against it. After all, even knowing that I wouldn't place in the top of my division, I knew I'd have a decent shot at entry in the lottery at the award ceremony after the race.

The bike was ready to go, despite all of my changes at the last minute. I was barely alive, but functioning nonetheless. 

Twenty minutes prior to the start, I powered on the Garmin, but nothing was happening. Searching for satellites, and searching and searching. Unfortunately it was never able to connect with the satellites so it became an expensive timer that would tell me when I needed to eat.

Unfortunately, what Sam didn't know is that on a last minute whim, I had grabbed my Garmin on the way out the door at home thinking that if something happened with his, he could just use mine. I physically had it with me at the top of the hill and could fairly easily have passed it on to him, but neither of us knew what was taking place for the other until after the race.
These people decided to walk in front of me as I was trying to get a shot of racers climbing Dutch Henri Hill... Don't worry people, I didn't get here early or anything to get a decent place to take a photo... No, you just walk in front of me and disregard the barriers that the race staff have created. {sigh} I think I need to get meaner with people! :) 
At 9a, we started. I plodded up with everyone else to the top of the hill, being careful not to tweak a knee or roll an ankle. Once we were at the top, we all coasted for a bit because of the bottleneck right at the start. 

Hoards of people who had jumped earlier at the bottom of the hill were now falling over each other. As with the last time I rode here, I was trying to tell people to calm down and not clip in yet. I'm never quite sure why they do this when no one is really moving yet.

But, after all the falling all over themselves and dragging through, we get loose on to a slow but easy first mile or so before we started the 10 mile climb.

There are mechanical problems all around me. Left and right I hear people, noisy derailleurs, dropped chains, but fortunately for me, my gear was holding strong. 

After watching the riders take off, the dogs and I headed off for the first spot we'd be able to see Sam. I was completely exhausted and had no idea how Sam was going to survive this race, but I figured the only thing I could do was be in as many locations as possible in case he needed anything.

I think one of the most difficult things about the SR50, and why some think it is actually worse than the LT100, is that racers start out climbing 10 miles. Most of it is subtle, but it is consistent for that entire 10 miles. 

My first encounter was during that first mile of climbing. I had come in contact with one of the spinning riders who decided to unclip without warning right in front of me while we were all moving along. It was too late for me to unclip, and the guy behind me nailed me sending me off my bike.

I fall and land on a large, sharp rock while simultaneously bouncing my head on the ground. It feels like I have an open wound on my back, just below the scapula. I pick up my stuff, curse a few times, and keep climbing. I didn't have time to lay around and I was too tired to worry about a flesh wound.
There are numerous sections in nearly all Leadville events during which racers end up hiking their bikes. It's very nearly unavoidable. Everyone else starts hiking and there's no ability to pass, so we all have to hike. I find this to be completely torturous walking at 2.5 mph with a bike, in stiff shoes, uphill, with lots of rocks. But, I made it through this relatively well.

My plan is almost always the same with these races: I do my best to methodically start swallowing up groups or racers. Usually, during the first half, people seem to group up and my intention is always to slowly catch them and pass them until all the ones I can pass are behind me. I had collected the last one at around mile nine, so that was good, and I was actually climbing well, considering I was a zombie on wheels.

Around mile 10, we peak and get a well-deserved downhill/double track/fire road, which leads almost perfectly to the first rest stop at about 13.5 miles in to the race.

The dogs and I had been on our way to the first rest stop. I figured it would be the best first place to wait for Sam in case he needed anything. When we arrived, we had a long hike in because of the traffic at this particular area, but I loaded up my backpack with everything we might possibly need and started hiking up the road, two dogs pulling in two different directions.

As a side note, an observer might think that I never take our dogs anywhere and that they never get out of the yard based on their behavior. For the record, we have some of the most spoiled dogs who get to go just about everywhere from swimming to hiking and walking, and more. And, despite my best efforts with training and classes, they just don't seem to understand that I expect them to behave themselves, at least occasionally.

We finally arrived at the rest stop but there were so many people and a good portion of them had dogs. I could feel the anxiety coming from our Labrador. I tried to find a spot away from everyone, but this was no easy task. People with dogs continued to arrive and pretty soon I had nowhere to be that there wasn't another dog.

Perhaps it was just my sleep-deprived state of being, but I couldn't take it as people continued to come closer and closer with their dogs, knowing that our Labrador had already lashed out just an hour or so before. So, we had to hike back down the hill to figure out what to do.

As we walked, I remembered a cross over point on the road we'd just come up, so we went to that spot to wait for Sam.

At the rest stop, I don't bother to stop. I had everything I needed and I didn't see G.E. at the stop. I was feeling okay and seemed to be doing well (or at least I felt I was doing well). 

This is the point when we started to break down into groups with riders who have similar speed and capability. I settled in with them for the most part and kept riding.
It wasn't too long before I saw Sam coming up to the crossing where we'd settled, just beyond the rest stop area. I yelled to him, but I don't think he heard me. He continued along, pedaling his legs off and I assumed he must be okay.

Well, I thought, on to the next spot. Originally, I was going to go to the second rest stop, but after the overwhelming number of people at the first one, I went with my back up plan to go to a spot at the base of the climb up to the turn around/second rest stop.

I was surprised to arrive and find only a handful of people here. Maybe I had missed Sam? I asked one of the people standing around if most of the riders had come through and he explained that only those at the very front of the pack had come through. Perfect, I thought.

I listen to two guys talking about this race in past years and other races they have done over the summer. I watch a young girl nearly get run down by a racer because her parent wasn't paying attention. I help direct racers that seemed to be confused about where to go. Before I know it, Sam is coming down the road.
"Go Sam!!!" I can't help but shout. "Do you need anything?" I holler as he goes whizzing by. He shakes his head at me and I have to say, I'm pretty impressed that he's still upright and smiling. I didn't even feel like smiling and I wasn't riding. I decided to wait until he came back from the turn around not far away, just to make sure he was actually okay.

At the 25 mile turn around, I asked the crew of volunteers to refill my water and whatever the god-awful concoction is they have in their buckets. I swiped a few GU packs, drank a paper cup of lukewarm Coke (Exactly what I didn't want -- who wants warm Coke?) and I was off again.

In this race, the turn around is a bit of a low point so we have to climb to get back out. After I'm out of the dip and back on a downhill, it's time to head back to the first (now the third) rest stop.
The dogs and I watched as Sam came back down the hill he just climbed until he disappeared from sight. Now we'd have to figure out where to go to help him on his way back, if he needed it.

This is hell, and the lack of sleep is now catching up to me. There is a three mile stretch during which there is at least one more mile of hike-a-bike. I crashed two more times due to people who wouldn't move or that didn't warn anyone that they were going to stop in the middle of the course. During the final crash, I bent my already noodle-y rear derailleur which caused my shifting to be off the rest of the race. It wasn't enough to keep me out of the gears I needed, but enough to be a nuisance.

I headed back to the spot we'd waited in after having difficulty after the first rest stop and waited for Sam. I was trying to calculate how long it was going to take him to finish. He had trained so hard for this year's ride and I knew he wanted to finish somewhere in the early 5 hour range, but that was simply not going to happen. Finishing at all in his current state would be nothing short of a miracle in my mind.
Before too long, I saw Sam coming our direction. I yelled to him, but yet again, I don't think he heard me. He looked okay though, so I knew that all I could do was wait at the finish line and hope he would make it in okay.

At mile 40, I swear it seemed as though it took forever to get back to this point and would be more of a downhill portion of the race. On my way, I encountered a fellow who was having cramps, literally standing in the middle of the road. I asked if he needed anything (not that I had anything to really help, but I felt the need to ask anyway), but he said he just needed to rest for a bit. Even though he looked like a pro rider and as though he was prepared, he also looked like I felt. But, now I finally had my 10-miles-to-go marker and it would be down hill.

In case I haven't mentioned it in the past, I am lousy at down hill. 

During the entire second half and the downhill, I was either behind or in front of one individual with an Ironman tattoo on her calf. We spoke briefly and laughed about how badly I suck at downhill. I must have seemed crazy with my fully rigid bike (Yes, you will get hammered going down hill... something I should perhaps reconsider in the future). My hands were cramping often and horribly during this portion. It was wet, rocky, and it was now pretty hot for Leadville. Somehow, I have managed to avoid rain every time I've ridden in Leadville. 

I continued to chase "Iron Lady" as best I could and continued jack hammering myself on the rocks.

With about three miles left of the race, the route designers like to have some fun with the racers and bring us around right next to the finish, just to tease us, and then make us ride three more miles of single track. We can hear all of the people at the finish line and it's like a last little piece of torture. Ugh.

The dogs and I had been near the finish line for awhile now. I know how bratty and spoiled it sounds, but I'm trying to be honest here... I was really sick of standing around waiting for Sam to finish. I have no doubt that having two decent sized dogs pull me around all day, getting more mosquito bites throughout the day, and not getting sleep myself was not helping my mood. I gave myself a little pep talk, and reminded myself that we were here for a reason, but the heat was getting to me and I truly just wanted to just lay down and take a nap.

In my calculations, I figured Sam wouldn't make it in until about 6.5 hours, but there was still that part of me holding out hope that he had kicked it into high and would make it in before that time.

Without much fanfare, I came in around 6:26. It was okay, but certainly not great and definitely not what I would have expected with the training I've completed this year.
This hill is right at the finish line. As a side story, one guy came around the corner as Sam is in this photo and yelled out, "Oh, $#!^! I can't get down that!" and stopped dead in his tracks. Those of us at the bottom couldn't help but giggle, but warned him others were coming so he could get out of the way. Eventually he made it down, but not without saying to those of us watching, "No one saw that, right?" I just found it amusing that he thought that was the worst thing he'd encountered during the ride.
Despite my internal, child-like tantrum, I was excited to see Sam coming in at the finish line (and hey, my calculations weren't that far off, surprisingly). I felt bad that he wasn't going to get the finish time he'd hoped and trained for, but I was so glad that he'd made it in at all.

Right after the cut off time at 8 hours, the organizers start the award ceremony and lottery pull for the Leadville Trail 100. 

Because our dogs had been behaving so badly throughout the day, Sam and I had decided that I'd wait for him away from the award ceremony, just to keep anything from happening with them (well, one of them) and any other dogs. Sam headed over while I fed the dogs and tried to keep them occupied for a bit.

There were so many fast, amazing finish times in all of the age divisions. I was truly impressed! In my division, there were 20 regular coin slots (without dipping into the lottery). So many people had declined the coin that I actually thought I might have a chance to get in straight up without the lottery, but they finished just before calling my name. 

No need to worry too much though, I thought. There were a total of 50-75 coins to be given away randomly to finishers for entrance to the Leadville Trail 100 in August. 

**We're leaving off here for this installment, but the last in this series will be ready soon!

Part 4 is now up and can be found here.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Silver Rush 50, Part 2: Mosquito Pheromones Dripping From My Pores

If you missed part one of this post, you can find it by clicking here.
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As you will recall from the last post, we were on our way to the campground. I am not the best person when it comes to obtaining directions if I am at least somewhat familiar with a city. If I have a few anchor points or landmarks, I always figure that I can find my way just about anywhere. I'm not sure when it started, but for many years I have simply trusted my instincts when looking for a particular spot.

Occasionally, this doesn't work for me and I end up lost and completely confused as to how I got myself so twisted around, but as a general statement my directional instincts are pretty decent. Sam is the exact opposite in this regard. He could nearly get lost in our own backyard, so when I shared with him that I wasn't exactly sure where we were going in regard to getting to the campground, I sensed his concern.
Fortunately, my senses held up this round and we were on the right path, so finding the site was really very easy and not far from town at all. The roads, contrary to what I'd read in the reviews before leaving home, were actually quite nice. We had no problems traveling any of them and I wasn't sure what the reviewers had been talking about in this regard.

When we arrived, I went inside the main office to get registered and everyone was cordial, informative, and they even took the time to personally walk us to our site. I was convinced that the dozens of reviewers were completely crazy, or that they had been reviewing the wrong campground. Everything seemed great and I was excited to get to camping.

There were a lot of people on the grounds and some of the spaces seemed more cramped than others, but we were on a tent site and our neighbors were at enough of a distance that we didn't feel completely on top of each other. True, we could hear each other talking at regular volume levels, but that's to be expected when sleeping in a tent at a campground, I think.

We let the dogs loose on some attached-to-a-post cables so they could sniff around and still be within sight if we needed to pull them closer. As we started to take out all of the gear, I saw that a swarm of insects were following me. I was lightly brushing them away from my face when I suddenly realized these were mosquitoes.
These weren't little mosquitoes either. I have seen larger ones (not quite as large as Mosquito the movie - of course, those were infected with alien DNA), but these were definitely not the average sized version that we see at home... and they just wouldn't leave me alone.

Now, I get bit at home if I'm not wearing some kind of mosquito repellent, so I came prepared for such a situation, but I was amazed at the quantity of mosquitoes that were constantly landing or flying around my face. I doused myself in spray from head to toe a couple of times just to make sure they'd leave me alone, but they just kept biting.

I looked over at our Labrador and the mosquitoes were all over her face and legs. I use a Deet-free repellent that is made from oils and other extracts so I figured I'd put some on her as well as they were biting her. I sprayed her down, but they just kept landing. Neither of us could escape these little flying nuisances. Within a matter of no more than a couple of minutes, I had at least a dozen swollen, welting bites that were visible.

I decided I needed to distract myself and help Sam with getting the tent set up. We managed to get the tent upright, but I was swatting and slapping at mosquitoes the entire time. I kept saying out loud, "I don't know what to do. They won't leave me alone," but Sam didn't have any suggestions to offer.

As I glanced around the campground, wondering how everyone else was dealing with these pests, no one seemed to be mad swiping or even experiencing the mosquitoes. What gives? I couldn't help but wonder. Meanwhile, the mosquitoes were eating me alive. I couldn't even stand outside of the car without having dozens of them biting at me, and our Lab didn't seem to be faring any better.
So, we left Sam to fend for himself as the insects didn't seem to be biting him like they were us, and the dogs and I got in the car while I wondered how we were going to survive the night.

Sam had been busy bustling around the site, getting things together. We were doing our best to avoid the nightmare of bike races, camping, and dogs we'd experienced in the past and we really wanted everything prepared by the time the sun dropped below the mountains. That part was still going okay. Sam had gone into the tent to attempt to inflate our mattress and get the sleeping bag set up.

He had been in the tent for quite awhile when I started to wonder if he was okay. I really, really didn't want to exit the car though because the mosquitoes were everywhere just waiting to attack again. I had just decided to give it a few more minutes when Sam emerged from the tent.

He looked displeased.

As he strode over to the car and got in I asked what was wrong. He said that the air mattress wasn't inflating. We had brought a new set of batteries because we were pretty sure the ones we'd used the last time would be dead, but even the new ones weren't doing anything.

"I've tried everything," Sam stated with a look of defeat on his face. "I guess we're sleeping on the ground... or not sleeping on the ground more precisely."

My initial thought was to try and use the bike pump to inflate the mattress, but the connections were all wrong, so that just wouldn't work. Then, I thought that perhaps we should just go home as this really didn't seem to be going well. If we left then, we could be home at a somewhat reasonable hour, but then we'd have to be up again by 4a in order to get back up with enough time to prepare for the ride. Of course, that felt entirely wasteful and it just didn't make sense.

There aren't a lot of retailers or stores in Leadville. The population is small and doesn't require all of the typical stores available to those who live in moderately small cities all the way up to very large ones, but I thought maybe there was another option for us. I ended up pondering aloud, "I wonder if Safeway would have something that would work as a substitute? We might as well go and take a look. It can't hurt anything."

Sam agreed and we were off to see what we could find. We ended up at a dollar store that just so happened to have one air mattress tucked away in the back. Lucky us! With purchase in hand, we went back to the campsite.

On our way, I wondered if we should just set up sleeping quarters in the back of the car rather than in the tent. I was getting really concerned about these killer mosquitoes because I knew I wouldn't survive the night with constant bites. After attempting this, we realized that the back of our hatchback is simply not conducive for a queen sized air mattress, so we ended up going back to the tent to set up sleeping arrangements.

Sam had me go inside the tent to prepare the mattress and sleeping bag to get away from the bite-y creatures. I seemed to be safe once inside the zipped tent, so I was pleased to discover that I would not be eaten alive. Although, in many ways it felt too late as I was now covered in little itchy spots all over my arms, legs and back.

We were both pretty exhausted at this point and ready for bed. We didn't even care if we changed clothes at this point because everything seemed to be working against us. It was still fairly early (about 8:30p), but we both agreed that getting rest was important, especially with a tough ride the following morning for Sam, so we decided to call it a night and go to sleep.

It was a bit early for me personally to go to bed, but I really was tired, so I thought that if I counted sheep in my mind or told myself stories silently that eventually I would drift off. That did not happen.

Our tent seemed to be on a very slight slope and I continued to slip down toward Sam and he was getting pushed off the edge of the mattress on to the ground. Additionally, our dogs, who were nestled on top of us, refused to budge making readjustments nearly impossible. We were both frustrated and annoyed.

A new arrival to the campground had just drove in and they were attempting to set up. For what must have been an hour and a half (at minimum), we listened to the sound of stakes being hammered into the ground and people laughing and talking loudly. We realized it was still not horribly late, so we did our best to ignore it and hope that we'd drift off.

Then, just as the camper noises began to fade, the various dogs around the campground began to bark. It started with the dog two sites away from us and spread around the grounds until even our dogs were barking. This continued on until about 3am. Just as we would think we could drift off to sleep, another round of barking dogs started. At one point, some coyotes could be heard howling in the distance and that started the campground dogs barking as well.

Through all of this, we had continued to slip off our sleeping spot and poor Sam ended up half on and half off the mattress (which was not holding much air at all, so we were really laying on the ground regardless).

The night and early morning had become quite cool. We were down to about 38F/3C, which, while not technically a freezing temperature, is awfully close when one is not covered completely and/or is in an already uncomfortable situation. Our Lab had begun to shake uncontrollably, so I pulled her up to me, trying to keep her warm. As I pet her, she relaxed, but couldn't stop shaking. I tried to wrap her in part of the sleeping bag, but it was twisted in such a manner that neither Sam nor myself seemed capable of moving.

At about 5a, we gave up on trying to sleep. We both realized it just wasn't going to happen, so we decided to get up and get ready for the race. The camp/bike/dog trip we'd hoped to not replicate seemed to be happening regardless of what we did. Sam was in some pain. His back was not doing well from the position he'd laid (though not slept) in all night. I knew he was hurting, but the only thing I could do was tell him that I'd support whatever decision he made. If he wanted to ride, I'd do whatever I could to help him, and if not, we could go home.

His response: "If I wasn't going to ride we would have gone home and slept last night. I'm riding... Oh, I'm riding."

Okay then, I guess Sam is riding, I thought to myself, and we got about the morning.

**That's it for part two of the Silver Rush tale. Next time, we'll get into the actual ride (finally, I know). 

Part 3 is now up and can be found here.