Friday, September 30, 2016

It's Not You, It's Blogger

Just a quick note. It seems that Blogger is having a major issue that started yesterday and has knocked out a lot of blog-roll lists. I did not remove this feature, so I apologize if anyone uses this as a means to keep up to date on reading other blogs.

If you were on the list and are now not, or if you can help me recall any of the missing blogs (or if you weren't on the roll but would like to be added), please let me know because I cannot recall many of the blogs that were there and I stupidly did not keep links anywhere beyond that list. There are a handful that I was able to recall, but I'm sure it's going to take a bit to get them all back.

Thanks for your patience (and in advance for your assistance with getting things back where they belong)!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Barn Burner 2016: A Lone Cowboy

******As mentioned recently, Sam raced in the Leadville Series, Barn Burner MTB race in Flagstaff, Arizona. He has prepared his thoughts on matters before, during and after the race, but I couldn’t help but throw in a few thoughts from my end of things about 800 miles away. So, Sam’s thoughts are in regular type, while G.E.’s thoughts are in italics throughout the tale below to help make sense of the transitions from one person to the next. Additionally, there aren't a lot of photos since Sam was riding and therefore only took a few photos before the race, so the remainder are available courtesy of the photographers at the race.******

Tempting the gods, once again
If it hasn’t been clear, this year has been a wreck for me as far as the Leadville series goes. At the end of 2015, I entered the standard lottery (which is an opportunity for anyone to put his/her name and $15 in a virtual hat and take their chances with having their name pulled to be a participant in the Leadville Trail 100 in August without having to actually race as a qualifier).

My name was not chosen.

There used to be a couple of in-state options that were qualifiers for the LT100, but there is currently only one (unless a person wants to pay to play or do the stage race series just prior to the official race): the Silver Rush 50. This race takes place approximately 3-4 weeks prior to the LT100 and I had placed all my eggs in the SR50 basket. That race went okay, but I of course blew it when it came to the coin kickdown, realizing too late that the system rules had changed.

So, a couple of weeks prior to the Barn Burner, I decided I would try to shoot for the 2017 LT100 by racing in Flagstaff. There seems to be better odds at this race because there are fewer people, and fewer still who actually race the entire course. While I was at it, I figured I would do it single speed – because - why not?

Unfortunately, this trip would be a lone one because G.E. had to work and I had to head to Las Vegas the morning after the race. So, I made the drive solo. [G.E.’s Note: Beyond what is mentioned, we have not had the best luck on these trips taking our dogs either, so it was just easier to have Sam go on his own to ensure he’d actually get rest prior to the ride.]

The Barn Burner is a 4-lap, 100 mile race and gains about 8000 feet over the course. That is, for those who are racing the full course. There are other options for riders to do 4-person relays, 2-person relays, and partial course options.  None of these qualify a racer for a chance at Leadville, however, so I would be attempting the full course on my own.

Lap 1
We started the race in a “Le Mans” start, basically standing about ¼ mile from our bikes and then running to the bikes after the gun went off. This actually went better than I would’ve thought. No one was trampled and it allowed the herd to separate out a bit.
*Photo courtesy of Athlinks
I was blazing. Seriously, I was feeling good. The weather was perfect and it wasn’t anything like my last attempt at this race two years ago.

The start is rolling, but mostly downhill until about the 10-mile mark, at which point we had our first sustained, albeit short, climb. This was where I first encountered one of the other single-speed guys.

He was fast and leading in front of me, so I decided to take advantage of this and held his wheel. He had a nice, rigid, carbon-framed bike with a fat tire on the front.

He refused to interact with me.

I held his wheel until about mile 17, where the second, longer, sustained climb begins. For some reason, he backed off at this point and I went around him. He seemed to be looking at his heart rate monitor, but I couldn’t quite figure out why he’d slowed down.

Around mile 22, there is a very short, ultra steep climbing section before we begin a super long downhill. All I could think was that I knew where the guy I’d been tailing was and regardless of his position in the race, I needed to keep him behind me.

This worked well for about another mile until he suddenly appeared again and blew right past me, just before we finished up lap one.


At any rate, lap one went well and I finished in sub-2 hours (1:49, more exactly), and I was starting to think I could roll the whole race in around 8 hours (ha, ha – such a foolish thought!).

At this point, I was just sitting down in front of the computer to take a look at where Sam stood in the pack of racers. Even though I wasn’t able to travel with Sam, I was free during the actual race time, so I wanted to try to keep an eye on things as the series has set up an online system that allows people to see where racers stand after each lap. It’s not ideal, but it at least gave me some idea of where he was during the race.

As I checked in, I could see that Sam had come in at under two hours for the first lap and he was in fourth place in the single speed division.  Not too shabby, I thought. 

Then, another thought slipped into my head… Sam could actually place and get on the podium. Wow! That had never even been a remote possibility in past races, but I didn’t want to jinx things, so I let the thought go quickly.
*Photo courtesy of Athlinks
Lap 2
Reality bites. I didn't stop at the start/finish aid station. I figured I could hit the alternate option out at the half way point on the course. Shortly after I passed through I realized I had lost my second water bottle. I seem to have a real issue with this because of my small frame and the fact that my second mount is placed under the downtube, so I often lose bottles on rocky descents. I should have stopped, but it was too late now.

At this point, I was still chasing the fat-front-tire, single speed guy (To this point, I had seen no others), and he was still strong. However, we were all slowing down.

We went through the couple of sustained climbs, rocky downhill, and a quick rest stop. Then, back to the super short, nasty uphill.

We arrived to the same spot where fat-front-tire had nailed me on the last lap and he backed off again. I took advantage and poured it on as much as I could without having gears or much energy. We were now about 45 miles in and the temperature weather-wise was starting to heat up. Again, I thought to myself that I had to keep him behind me and I couldn't stop unless I really, really had to.

At about this point, Sam's mom and I were conversing via e-mail and virtually watching in our respective locations for Sam to come in from lap two. I was sharing that if he was able to speed up just a bit over lap two, that he could move into third place, which would give him a spot in Leadville next year without having to sit through the after-race lottery to see if he'd get a spot.

However, the big problem was that no one was there at the race to tell Sam that he was so close to moving into third place, and therefore he would have no idea where he was in the standings. I tried to explain that this is what is so difficult about going alone and that all we could do is just hope that he did his best. 

I ended lap 2 at just over 2 hours, making the half-way finish time about 3:55. I was still on-track to finish sub-8 hours (at least in theory). I knew that in reality I needed to be further ahead than I was though in order to make the 8 hour estimate, so my guess was that it just wasn't going to happen. I could just tell at that half way point. Plus, the temperatures had warmed and I had only one bottle, not to mention I had not ridden my single speed mountain bike at all this year.

As I waited, watching the monitor to see when Sam would come in, results suddenly updated. Sam was in THIRD! I cried. Not a bawling sort of cry, but an out-of-happiness-slightly-teary kind of cry. I was so happy to see that he was able to move up into the third spot and started to think again that he really had a chance of qualifying for Leadville without the trickle down from the lottery pull at the end of the race. I just wished that I was there so that I could tell him that he had moved into third place and to encourage him to keep moving. I was nearly certain that he had no idea where he stood, which could mean trouble as he became more tired toward the end of the race.
*Photo courtesy of Athlinks
Lap 3
I hadn't seen fat-front-tire guy, but I kept thinking that I didn't want to stop and give him an opportunity to pass me again.

The course was becoming all-too-familiar. In some ways, it's nice to know what is approaching, but in others it is very draining to know what I'm in for as I continually looped around this course.

At the half way aid station, I made a single, frantic stop to refill and then kept rolling. Shortly after pedaling away, I saw a new-to-me single speed competitor, and he was strong!

We spoke briefly and mused about gear ratios before he took off and passed me easily near the end of the third lap.

I had things to do during the day, so I wasn't plastered to the monitor all day. I had an idea of how long each lap was going to take Sam, so I could step away and do the tasks I needed and come back to check on him at about the every-two-hour mark. I knew he would slow down for each lap more than likely, based on prior races, but there's always that little part of me that thinks somehow he will speed up. Of course, deep down, I know how tired he would be and that the same is true for most anyone as the race goes on. The pace, in reality, is going to slow.

As I waited for third lap results, I hoped that Sam was able to keep his position, or possibly even move up. When the second place person came in and I saw that it wasn't Sam, I just hoped he'd be able to maintain the third spot.
End of lap 3 finish times and standings. I will point out that the number one single speeder was ridiculously fast! He had already finished as the rest were starting their final lap.
I quickly saw that Sam had dropped out of third and back into fourth, but he was only 34 seconds behind for that lap. Agh! I wished more than ever that I could get to Sam to tell him that he was SO CLOSE and not to give up on the final lap. But, all I could do was wait and hope that he had some inclination as to where he was in standings.

Lap 4
Don't stop to pee. I kept telling myself that, but I had to stop.

Some way, some how, the other single speed guy was behind me (I wasn't sure how this happened). I took off from the aid station in the hope of keeping him near me (or behind me as was the case at the moment), but after a few miles near the middle of the lap, I knew there was no way to keep with him. He seemed so fresh!

As I would discover after the race, he was part of a duo racing single speed and was not my competition at all because he was riding half the course, so I was chasing him in vain.

Lap four continued without much drama. I was dead tired and as usual I didn't want to eat any more GU.

Come on, Sam. I know you can do it. I was actually talking aloud to the computer, as if it somehow controlled where Sam was and how quickly he was moving. I practiced telepathy skills. Sam often knows what I'm thinking when he's in front of me. Maybe he could hear me if I tried to will him to move faster? 

The dogs and I sat huddled around the screen. Daddy can do it, right? I asked them. They stared blankly, panting, but somehow, I want to believe, understanding that something was going on and that I was definitely waiting for something. They gave me their paws (retrievers seem to like to do this), as if offering some sort of comfort to me in my heightened state. Maybe it helped because I relaxed a bit and decided that no matter what, Sam had raced this course far better than in the past and that was something to be extremely proud of, no matter the results.

I came in to the finish with a time of 8:33, which was pretty much where I had mentally put myself finishing about two laps prior. But, I knew that sub-9 hours gave me a big belt buckle [G.E.'s Note: There are two belt buckles for this race. One is larger and is given to those who finish sub-9 hours, and the smaller one to those who finish in the course cut off time of 11 hours.], which was exciting.

There on the screen in front of me, the results updated and the number three spot had finished. Sadly, it wasn't Sam. My heart sunk a little, I have to admit. He had been so close and I couldn't help but feel guilty because if I had been able to be at the course, I could have told him where he stood and maybe it would've helped him stay motivated. 
I finished in fourth place for the single speed guys. Eleven minutes behind the number three finisher. Sadly, I didn't podium, but it was the closest I have ever been and an hour and a half improvement over my last Barn Burner race.

I called Sam as soon as I saw his finish time. I didn't know if he'd answer or even if he had coverage to accept a call, but I wanted him to know his finishing spot, if he hadn't been told yet. The phone went straight to voicemail. "I'm so proud of you!" I blubbered into the phone. "You did SO well!! You were very close to being third place, and at one point you were in third, but I know you gave it everything. If you get a chance, call me, but if not, I hope you get a spot in Leadville during the post-race ceremony."

Sam's mom sent a message a few moments later. 
"Sam's going to be so disappointed," it read. 
I replied, "Why? He did tremendously well! He finished fourth and nearly an hour and a half better than the last time. There would be no reason for him to be disappointed. He did awesome!" 
"But, he didn't get a spot in Leadville," she retorted.
"He's not out of the running yet," I said. "Give it time. He may still have his spot."

Funny enough, after I spoke to Sam, it wouldn't have mattered if he'd finished third or not because for this race, the only finisher in single speed who was guaranteed a spot in Leadville was the one who finished in first place. 
After-race drama 
Now, the real drama began. The conversations, listening to others, waiting - so much waiting - and eventually, we were all just wanting the awards ceremony to begin.

Pretty much everyone was finished with the race, but we were waiting on the "last ass" (Leadville Series name for the last person over the finish within the allotted time frame) to come through. This person rolled in just prior to 6pm and a couple more brave souls came in about 10 minutes later. I can't help but feel for people who are so close to finishing and just don't quite make it in the time frame.

I was in the beer garden area seated next to a 20-something guy, his dad, and some friends of theirs. It took me a moment to realize that one of the friends in this group was the guy in front of me who finished just prior in the single speed division. All of them had been talking a lot of smack for over an hour about other racers and their would-be LT100 corral positions, even though no one was even in yet and we were all in the same wait-for-the-lottery-pull boat. It's interesting that they wanted to celebrate their position when they weren't even into the race yet.

After the award ceremony started, they continued their smack talk, particularly in regard to women. It was all starting to get under my skin. [G.E.'s Note: While both Sam and I are both generally roll-with-it sort of people, Sam tends to remain quiet in these sort of instances, whereas I probably would've either said something smart-ass to these guys, or, if nothing else, been giving them some serious stink eye. Sam tends to take on a much subtler tactics. Which is why I'll never have to bail him out of jail for causing a raucous, and why it is far more likely that the opposite could potential be a real-life possibility if the situation had been reversed.]

The number three finisher was called up to the podium for the single speed division and I watched from my 4th place chair in the beer garden. It really wasn't bitterness I was feeling, but I wished that people had a bit more dignity and respect for others.

Drum roll
We finally get to the lottery portion of the awards and everyone who finished in under 11 hours, who did the full 100-mile course, and who wanted to try for the LT100 put their names on a tiny rip of paper and dropped them in a lost and found hat with the race director so that he could have someone pull names randomly. At least I was paying attention this time and didn't miss out on the opportunity to put my name in.

There were 25 slots left for the rest of us and there were about 50 or so people who had put their names in, so I figured that put me at somewhere around 50/50 odds of getting in.

Names started to be called. A number of people were getting in and everyone except for a couple of fools who put their names in the hat and then walked away were accepting the spots (The person has to be present to get a spot, so I'm not sure why they did this). Fifteen were left, then 10. My name hadn't been called. Then there were seven left. My odds were narrowing in. At number six, they butchered my name (as usual), but I was in. I had actually made it and this suffer fest had paid off.

A little after 9p, my phone rang. I don't think I even said hello. 

"Did you get in?" I asked frantically. I couldn't help it. I had been waiting for what felt like an eternity to hear if Sam had accomplished the second half of the goal with the Barn Burner race. "Yes," he finally said, and then Sam proceeded to fill me in on what had taken place. 

One of the most entertaining parts to me about the end is that the whole crew of guys I'd been listening to, including the number three single speed finisher I'd been sitting with earlier, all of them talking so much the whole evening, and not one of them made it into the LT100 through the Barn Burner. Which isn't to say that they won't get in, but it didn't happen at this race. A part of me couldn't help but think it was a bit of their shit-talking Karma coming back to them.

The only guys who made it in on single speed bikes were the number one finisher, who was untouchable the entire race because he was insanely fast, and me, the slow, short, old, hadn't-ridden-single-speed-all-year, no-name-bike guy with some eBay bargain Reynolds wheels. But I will take it.

Notes and Thoughts
This was a sad/lone trip during which I rented a room on Airbnb and didn't speak to humans for the majority of the time in Flagstaff, then had to immediately drive off to Las Vegas for work for four days, followed by the return drive home. It was a drain!

I have proven to myself  that I'm better on single speed during these endurance mountain bike races than when I'm geared. I seem to push myself more. There's also a part of me that enjoys being a bit of a spectacle because there aren't as many who do this.

It's ultra hard to know where I am in the standings during a race when I'm on my own. I much prefer having someone with me.

Chasing someone is super motivating, even when I'm not actually competing with them and I never actually see my true competitors.

Another race has come to an end. I think it was a great one to finish on this year, given the hiccups with racing this summer (There have been others beyond this series that haven't yet been documented here), so I'm so glad Sam was able to finish the season on a positive note, and I know he's looking forward to going back to Leadville in 2017. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Coffee, Pumpkin, & Bicycle Stuff

A random conglomeration of quick thoughts for today.

Coffeeneuring is close to starting. I attempt this every year and always concede half way through because, 1) I really can't have much caffeine in my day or I'm even crazier (and shakier) than usual; 2) I don't like to take every trip alone. So, if you're local and you have also wanted to try coffeeneuring, get in touch and perhaps we can meet up as a small group who'd like to explore local (or semi-local) coffee shops via bike through October and November. I have no stops particularly in mind, but there are many to choose from just in our local downtown area, or we could look at traveling a bit farther out of town too. I'm open - just get in touch and we can work out details.
We have a lot of pumpkin coming up in the garden (or at least, it's a lot to me having planted only one small seedling) and I'm curious if anyone has pumpkin recipes that you'd be willing to share?  I have a fantastic pumpkin pie recipe, but that's about where my use of pumpkin ends. I'm actually considering freezing it and using small amounts in dog food over winter, but it would be nice to use a bit more for us human-folk as well.
A couple of weeks ago I tweeted a photo of my bicycle basket with garden vegetables and melon that I was taking to friends around the city (I was about half way through when I took the above photo).
A word of caution to anyone else who may be transporting delicate fruits/vegetables by bike: If you use zip ties to attach your basket, you may want to line it with some type of protection before laying food on the bottom. I ended up with some decent sized chunks missing from the rind of the honeydew melon.  Fortunately, my garden-loving associates didn't mind the missing portion.

One might also note that I still have not done much to update the Campeur since it's build more than a year and a half ago (sans getting the correct rack, adding the enormous basket, as well as the quite handy panniers). Though I have been lazy with facilitating changes to make this poor bike less orphan-looking, I still think it is one of the best "inexpensive" bikes I have ever purchased. It's so utilitarian, functional, and easy to ride that I sometimes wonder how I ever lived without it. I am reminded that a good bike is a good bike, regardless of what it looks like.

Sam recently went and raced the Leadville series Barn Burner 104 in Flagstaff, Arizona in an attempt to qualify for next year's Leadville 100 MTB. Unfortunately, I couldn't make the trip with him this time, but he is in the process of writing up his thoughts on the race and how things went, so that will be shared here soon. Spoiler alert: He did fantastic, improving nearly an hour and a half from his last run at the Barn Burner. And, he did it this year on a single speed, so I'm even more impressed.

Working in the bike shop continues to be entertaining. I think I changed more tubes over the weekend than I have over the course of my entire life. I'll be an expert at ripping and replacing them in seconds before long, I have no doubt. I haven't decided if working in a shop is a blessing or a curse quite yet, but I am never lacking for entertainment. Customers are highly amusing and humorous, and several seem to want to steal my bikes (which I take as a compliment, certainly).

I hope your late summer riding has been enjoyable. I'm looking forward to some slightly cooler weather as we begin the count to the end of the year. Happy riding!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

One Month in a Bike Shop

It's becoming a habit to apologize for being MIA more frequently than I'd like, but here I am again. I've taken on some new projects (probably more than I should) and it's left me with little spare time. In some respects, it's fantastic to have so much to do, but on the other side, I'm left with little reflection time, which is unfortunate as I am one who enjoys that time. I am trying to find balance, but, if you've read here for any length of time, you'll understand that is nearly always my struggle.

It is difficult for me not to give everything to anything I undertake, but when there are splits off the main path, I find myself struggling to do anything the way I would like. At the moment, my attention gets pulled in multiple directions on any given day and I find myself wondering why nothing gets accomplished. For someone who once taught classes on time management and organization, I have difficulty implementing these ideas and plans for myself ('Those who can, do; those who can't, teach', as the saying goes). It doesn't help though that I also have a very difficult time saying no to people who want or need assistance.

Which is how I ended up involved in the latest branch off from the main path.
*Image found here
I was approached and asked if I'd be willing to work in a local bike shop part-time to help out with various needs. The immediate request was to get inventory under control and to give the owner time to have a quick break or work on other necessities as the situation dictated. Unfortunately, all the shop staff had vanished for one reason or another (summer plans for touring abroad, back to school, etc), and they'd been left in a bit of a tight situation. I understood that the need is seasonal and part-time, so it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to agree to do.

Secretly, I also thought, Finally! My way into Interbike. Though, in truth, I'm sure I could fanangle my way in via the blog... I've honestly never tried. Still, it just seemed an easier path to be connected with a bike shop.

Though I've never worked in a bike shop, I am semi-knowledgeable when it comes to bicycles - or at least have enough information in the recesses not to sound like a complete bumbling fool most of the time - so my response without really thinking was that of course I would be willing to help.

Admittedly, it has been a less-than-secret curiosity of mine to have the opportunity to work in a bike shop too, so when assistance was requested, I looked at it as a chance to dip my toes in the pond without having to go for a full-on swim. 

One day early on at the shop, as I was pulling out my hair attempting to understand why the inventory was in the state it is in, the owner asked me to switch out a tube and add a liner to a tire because he was busy with other repairs. He pointed over the counter to a bike I couldn't see from my vantage point, and threw some tire liner at me.

My insides suddenly lit up - and not in a good way. My internal thought was, wait, why am I doing this? You don't think I'm a mechanic do you? You know I am completely inept when it comes to changing or fixing most things on a bicycle, right?

My external response was, "Yeah, sure. No problem," in as nonchalant a voice as I could muster in the moment. After all, I was there to make his life easier and it's not as though I don't know what to do, but I just rarely change tubes for myself (a more recent exception took place, but generally speaking, I've been fortunate enough to shirk off this responsibility to others - namely, Sam).

As I walked around the corner, I spotted the bike in question. Oh, thank heavens. At least it's the front tire in need of repair, was the only thought in my mind. I suddenly realized that the brakes were disc though and that there was no quick release skewer, so off I went to find a tool to free the wheel from the fork.

"You're okay, right?" the owner inquired as he saw me (I'm sure looking like a lost pup) scrounging for a multi-tool.

"Oh, yeah, I'm good. I just need a tool to remove the bolt on the wheel," I responded. Though, it probably didn't come out as smoothly as it appears in written word. One thing I've noticed is that even though I know what parts, pieces, and accessories are, I seem to stutter and stammer through some of the real-life moments because my brain doesn't seem to keep up with my mouth (or maybe it's the other way around?).

As dramatic as one might think this task could have been for me (at least if you are semi-versed in my history with bike repair), it was really a non-event once I found the tool. Everything came off and went on as it should have and I finished in a reasonable amount of time, feeling entirely too proud of myself for accomplishing such a simple task.

Perhaps I was feeling too cocky at this point because a bit later in the day another request was thrown my way to remove a saddle and put a different model on a bike. Aacck, my insides were screaming. Removing and adding isn't such a big deal, but I have a horrible time with tilt. As if reading my mind the owner stated, "Don't worry about the tilt. Can you just get the saddle on there for me?"

This time I actually said something to the effect of, "You know I'm completely incompetent with this stuff, right?" To which his response was, "Well, the only way you'll get better is to do it."

Touché. I couldn't help but laugh at this on-the-nose remark.

Since then, he's cut me some slack (mostly due to the reality that I do want to get everything computer-wise straightened out for him), but I've been told that more repairs are in my future (watch out bike world!).

I've had the opportunity to talk with customers and attempt to fumble my way through real-life problems. It's amazing how different it is to have time to compose thoughts (a la this blog) than to have need for instantaneous response (such as in a bike shop). The knowledge is there, but I find that it doesn't always immediately come out of me in every situation. Thankfully, everyone has been patient.

The brands carried in the shop (at least as far as bicycles go) I am less familiar with than some others, but I know I have an off-the-local-norm sense of what works. I do think that the owner's and my backgrounds are different enough that, in many respects, it is actually beneficial to those coming in looking for advice. We may both love to ride, but our strengths are in different areas without a doubt.

While his ideal shop probably looks something akin to this:
High-end road bikes on the walls and technical gear would probably be the shop-owner's dream.
*Image found here
My ideal is something more along these lines:
Old wood floors, wood racks, steel bikes, wool jerseys, and dogs in baskets (if only my retrievers would fit/sit in a front basket)... what more could I want? There's a definite aesthetic that appeals to me.
*Image found here of Huckleberry Bicycles 
Even though appearances may be different, I know we both want to help people find the right bike for their individual type of riding and to help resolve any issues they may be experiencing whether they race bikes are commute on them. Really, we have more similarities than differences.

Ultimately, I think he'll gain more trust in me as we move forward and I'm able to prove that I'm not as stupid as I sometimes sound, and hopefully I'll get better about answering questions without the occasional stumbling over myself.

It's been an interesting and often entertaining time to have this opportunity to experience what it's like to actually work in a bike shop. It's familiar, and yet somehow all-together foreign. A perfect opportunity for applying knowledge, if I can get my act together, I think.

If you could work in a bike shop (even temporarily) would you give it a try? Have you worked in a bike shop? If so, do you have any words of wisdom for me as I figure my way through this?

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.