Thankful Thursday #92


This week I’m thankful for…

  • playing Hide & Seek with my nephews
  • riding my bike to work
  • slow churned frozen vanilla custard
  • Saturdays in my pajamas
  • wearing my One Fish, Two Fish pajamas to school on Dr. Seuss Day.  Yes, I did ride my bike to school in my pajamas.
  • riding my bike home under a double rainbow backed by gunmetal clouds
  • arriving home on my bike just as it started to rain
  • this present I received from a little one at my school:
How adorable is this bike basket/bag?
How adorable is this bike basket/bag?  It gets even better…
TAGALONGS!!! There were Tagalongs inside!!! Surely I died and went to Heaven.
And look how my Sharpies look like a bright bouquet of happiness. Sigh. Perfection.

Back to School, Bike Style

Remember being a kid on the first day of school?  If you were anything like me, it was a bittersweet day, the end of summer nearly eclipsed by the excitement of a new year.

You probably woke up before your alarm clock sounded.  If you were lucky, your mom woke you with a kiss on your forehead.  You’d hurry into the bathroom to brush your teeth, but only the front ones because today was not a day to waste time on petty things like molars.

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After your teeth were clean enough and your hair combed to perfection, you’d pull on your First Day of School Outfit, laid out carefully the night before.  You’d check your reflection in the mirror and nod.  Looking good, looking REAL good.

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You’d top off your outfit with your brand new pair of shoes, pristine shoes scant of scuff marks.

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 You’d pack your lunch, a PB&J with the perfect jelly to peanut butter ratio, into your brand new lunchbox.

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You’d navigate your Trapper Keeper and your pencil box full of freshly sharpened pencils and place your lunch gingerly inside your backpack, the one you’d picked out specially, agonizing over the selection in the backpack aisle until you found the one that was just right.

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With any luck, you’d get to school early.

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Maybe even early enough to meet your friends on the playground for a little before school recess.

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And then you’d summon your courage and walk to class to meet your teacher, who upon first glance seemed a little nutty.

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 You soon discovered that your teacher was the kind who not only loved music, but art, too.

First Bike by Mary Carol Williams

When it came time for math, your teacher explained it in such a way that you, the kid who hated math, felt like Einstein.

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Before you knew it lunchtime came around and nothing, nothing was such a relief as when a friend rescued you from sitting alone at the lunch table.

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 After lunch and a sweaty recess of dominating the tetherball court, your teacher would lead you back into class, where you’d cool off, rest your head on your desk and maybe even nod off a second or two under the calming rhythm of your teacher’s voice reading a good book.

Me and My Bike by Ander

Then you’d pull out your notebook, all the pages crisp and white, just waiting for your words, your magnum opus, What I Did On Summer Vacation.

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If you were really lucky, you visited the library.  The librarian, who smelled like chocolate chip cookies and old books, helped you check out a stack of books to take home.

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And just like that, the first day was over.  You’d race home and tell your mom all the details of the day.  And then before the summer sun settled down for the night, you’d ditch your school stuff and race out the front door to play with your neighborhood friends.

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After all, even Einstein didn’t study all the time.

Albert Einstein, Santa Barbara

Thankful Thursday #30

This week I’m thankful for…

  • hot showers.  I’ve caught a bit of a summer cold and nothing feels better than a hot shower in the morning.
  • my big, crazy family
  • my mom, for gathering my big, crazy family together in one place
  • kayaking with my eleven year old nephew, Ryan.  We saw bald eagle in a nest and he couldn’t stop saying “This is awesome!”.  I love him for that.

  • my little brother, Pete,  who drove 11 hours to make it to our family reunion.  We rode up to Shasta Dam Sunday morning and it was beautiful.

  • Terry for bringing my roses on my birthday and for not complaining that I wanted to go to a local greasy spoon and have brinner for my birthday meal.
  • my friend, Abby, for making me this awesome birthday cake.  Yes, she made the bicycle, too.  And it was Funfetti cake.  Best birthday cake ever.

  • my second cousin, Jack, who sang the cutest version of Happy Birthday to me about ten times yesterday.  He also gave me lots of birthday kisses, including one on the armpit.  Did I mention he’s two?
  • all my friends and family who donated to LiveStrong on my behalf.  I’m $90 from my fundraising goal.  Fingers crossed that I reach it by Saturday.  Fingers and toes crossed that I make it across the finish line Sunday!

The Red Boat

Saturday afternoon I pulled on my tights and arm warmers and all sorts of other layers that would keep me warm on such a frigid day.  As I got dressed, my nerves bounced around like rubber bands being fired in my stomach, plinking off the insides of my ribcage.

It was the day of my first bike ride of the year.

I love riding The Rocket, but there is just something about the first ride of the year that makes me all a jitter.  Maybe it’s that a new cycling season is so ripe with possibility.  Or maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t ridden outside in a couple of months and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to clip in and out of my pedals and I’m convinced I’m going to crash.  At least once.  Yeah, that’s probably it.

The night before, I pumped up my tires and took a minute to get re-acquainted with The Rocket.  I checked her brakes, shifted and listened for any new squeaks.  After a couple of neglected months, she had good reason to whine, but no, she is a bike who holds her tongue, a lady who thinks before she speaks.

I gave her the once over, eyeing the little chips and scratches on her frame, each one a battle scar, proof that we have been places, that we’ve seen the world together.  I ran my hands over her, making sure all her parts were in working order.  She was in prime condition.

Saturday was frigid.  I think at one point the temperature got up to a balmy 39 degrees.  My friend, Laura, and I cruised down to the river trail.  We chatted and pedaled, our breath puffing around us as we rode on the mostly empty trail.  There are a ton of newly paved sections and I was excited to try out a nice, steady climb.

We turned onto the new part of the trail and a creek to our left burbled down toward the river as we pushed up the hill.  We were quiet, only a word or two popping between us.  I’d like to say our conversation lulled because we wanted to enjoy the sounds of nature, but the truth of the matter is after a couple of months off the bike, I had to choose between talking and breathing.

One of the best parts of cycling is that I never know what I’m going to see, every ride is a surprise.  And as we turned a corner, there it was.

A beautiful, old, red boat.

You might not think it’s beautiful, but on a day when the sky was a gunmetal swath above the gray river, and the air was wrapped in fog, the red boat was a stunning punch of color in an otherwise subdued landscape.  I yanked off my gloves and willed my frozen fingers to work the camera.

A boat, a beautiful, red boat.  In the prime of its life, it could have held 30 men, maybe carried them down the creek into the river.  And here it was landlocked on the side of the trail.  I wish I knew the story of the boat, but there wasn’t anything or anyone around to offer an explanation.  I slipped my gloves back on and tucked my camera in my jersey pocket.  I thought about that boat for the rest of the ride, inventing a history for it, keeping my mind busy while my legs turned the cranks.

The temperature dropped and a drizzle covered my glasses in a sheet of mist.  We hurried back to our cars, willing our legs to spin faster as our fingers and toes ached with cold.

Back at home, I stood in the shower, letting the scalding hot water needle my skin.  I piled on layers of clothes and slurped hot tomato soup under a blanket, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the cold from my bones, couldn’t keep the goosebumps at bay.

I like to think the goosebumps on my skin that day weren’t a result of winter’s icy grip.  No, I think they were the result of standing tiptoe on the edge of a new cycling season, holding my breath knowing adventures full of unexpected beauty are just around the corner.

Black & White

A long time ago in a space that seems fuzzy and far away, before I owned a road bike or called myself a cyclist, my step-dad, Chris, used to take me mountain biking.  I use that term loosely because it’s not like I was hopping up boulders or screaming downhill, whipping through singletrack or anything.  I was riding mostly flat dirt trails on my mountain bike.

Often Chris would bring along his dog, Jack.  Jack was the blackest dog I’ve ever seen.  His coat was a glossy obsidian color and as he ran alongside us, his pink tongue would hang out.  His tongue had one black spot right in the middle.  In his more nimble days, Jack would get so excited about riding bikes that he would bite at our tires.  I would nudge him away with my foot, half smiling at his mischievous side.  Not that I could relate or anything.

As I tootled along the dusty trails, I tried, with varying amounts of success, not to get lost and not to crash.  Quite often I got separated from Chris and he’d send Jack to find me.  I was never afraid of being lost when I rode with Chris because I knew Jack would always come back for me.  As I stood befuddled as to which way to turn on a trail, Jack would lope up to me, his polka dot tongue waggling at me.  I would say “Hi, Jack.  Thanks for coming to get me.  Take me to Chris.”  And sure enough, Jack led me to Chris every time.  He was my own personal rescue dog.

Today Jack died.  And I am sad.  I know he was old and no longer spry enough to run rescue missions on the trails.  And I know he wasn’t even my dog.  But I am sad.  Sad that he will never nip at my tires or grin at me with his silly polka dot tongue.

I rode my bike to school today and in the late morning Terry dropped by my classroom with a bouquet of stark white roses.  When it came time to go home, I jimmied the bouquet into my backpack and strapped on my helmet.  The roses bumped against the back of my helmet as I pedaled up the hill home.  Every little bump seemed to release a new wave of fragrance into the air.  It was lovely.

As I inhaled the scent of the white roses, I thought of black Jack.  I thought of how grief is anything but black and white.  It is shades of gray, birthed from black sorrow and white joy stacked one upon the other, like crying and laughing in the same breath.

When I got home today, I plunged the roses into a vase of water.  A lone petal fell onto the counter.  I fingered its pale skin, grateful today for the juxtaposition of loss and love.  I stood in the kitchen and gave thanks that in my life there is more laughing than crying, more love than loss, more white than black.

Seattle to Portland

208 Miles

208 miles is a long way to drive, let alone ride a bike, but last weekend, that’s exactly what The Rocket and I did.  The Rocket took a road trip to Portland and then hopped a bus to Seattle.  I’m told she was well-behaved and didn’t talk in her sleep too much.  While the Rocket travelled by land, Terry and I flew to Seattle.  The morning of the ride, I woke up at the unholy hour of 3:30 to yank on my Spandex and throw a bowl of Cheerios down the hatch.  As we fought road construction to the start line, my stomach was a ball of nerves.  With 10,000 cyclists participating in the Seattle to Portland ride, the start line was a hive of activity.  I met up with my pals, Joan, Laura, and Jim.  Terry kissed me goodbye, and at 5:15 we were off.  My favorite part of the morning was riding through Seattle watching the sun rise above the downtown skyline.

I also rode by green fields filled with wildflowers, like the ones I used to pick in fistfuls for my mother when I was a kid.

The sky was overcast most of the ride and temperatures hovered in the sixties and seventies.  It was a welcome relief from the scorching Redding heat and when it began to drizzle, I tilted my head back and let the sprinkles hit my teeth as I smiled, filled with joy to be on my bike.

3 Awesome Things With Wheels

With 9,999 other cyclists on the course, I was never alone.  I thought of the rules Gramma and I had on our trip to Eastern Europe.  Rule #1: See something new.  Rule #2: Meet someone new.  Rule #3: Eat ice cream.  I was riding by all kinds of new scenery and crazy bikes.  On the first hill, I rode past a three person wide bicycle.  Yes, I know that’s not technically a bicycle, but since they were riding across, not front to back, it’s not a tandem either.  I don’t know what this thing was, but it was a bike with three riders that motored up hills like a sack of bricks.  I also passed a unicyclist.  I cannot even fathom what it takes to ride a unicycle 200 some odd miles.  I’m just going to take a moment of gratitude for my comfortable bike seat.  Maybe I’ll write it a sonnet later.  While the brick of riders and the uni were incredible, the most amazing bike (and again, I’m grappling for the right term here) was this:

It is the offspring of an unnatural romance between a bicycle and an elliptical machine.  I saw two of these parked at the finish line which means there are at least two people on the planet insane enough to ride/run from Seattle to Portland.  Incidentally, when I showed this picture to Terry, he said something like “I think I’d be awesome on a bike like that.”  He’s right and that makes me feel a little bit stabby.  Anyway, now I understand why there is a separate room for spin bikes at my gym.  Who knows what might happen if they were left alone at night with the elliptical machines.

2 Creamsicles

After 100 miles there is a midline festival.  I’d heard rumors that when you ride into the festival, there are people there handing out Creamsicles.  I assure you, such Heaven does exist on Earth.  Before I get to the Creamsicles, I have to backtrack a little.  I’m a proud member of Team Fatty and on both days of the ride I sported Fat Cyclist jerseys.  This means that throughout the ride I heard “Go, Team Fatty!”  and “Fight Like Susan!”  This warmed my heart knowing that Fatty has touched so many people with his efforts to fight cancer.  When people rolled up next to me, they would usually open the conversation with a friendly “Hey, Fatty!”  Now, let it be known here and now that if you call me Fatty when I’m not on my bike, there will be punching.  Lots of punching.  People who don’t know Fatty’s story asked about my jersey and I told them the story of Susan and my own story of riding for my grandmother.

There was also a large contingent of cyclists that felt they had to make sure my self-esteem was properly inflated.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of cyclists rode up to me and said “You’re not a fat cyclist.”  I’d say a quick thanks, relieved that my jerseys were ironic and not truth in advertising.  I’ve worked hard this season to trim up a bit, but after 50 or so people commented on my unfatness, I started replying a little differently.  Instead of just saying thanks I’d say things like “It’s more of a state of mind.”  People would laugh and then I’d tell them how I came to join Team Fatty.  At mile 99, with Creamsicles dancing in my head, another cyclist rolled up next to me and this was our conversation.

“You’re not a fat cyclist.”

“Thanks.  It’s more of a state of mind.”

“Oh, like p-h-a-t cyclist?”

“Yeah, sure.  That and if I beat you to the midline festival, I’m going to eat my Creamsicle and yours, too.”

He sprinted to the festival and I sprinted right after him, passing him just in time to grab a Creamsicle.  He gave me his Creamsicle and I happily ate them both.  One for me, one for Gramma Betty.  Sorta like pouring one out for my homey.

1 Awkward Moment of Chivalry

I am a big fan of chivalry, specifically of men like Terry who hold doors open for women.  At each rest stop there were rows of port-a-potties.

Did you catch the manufacturer’s name?  Honey Bucket.  Has there ever been a more ill-fitting name for something?  I think I’ve just found a new curse word.  “Oh, honeybuckets!”  or “Aren’t you just a little honeybucket?”  Yup, it totally works.

So there I was on deck for a Honey Bucket, waiting for a door to pop open.  A man exited the last one, and I hurried over.  And then he held the door to the port-a-potty open for me.  It was awkward.  I just stood there for a second until he let the door go.  I don’t really know why I felt so awkward except that nobody has ever held a port-a-potty door for me before.  I feel kinda bad because I was stunned by this act of chivalry and I’m not even sure I said thanks.  So, let me just say thanks to that guy now.  Thanks, nice guy who held the door for me.  I’ll try to be less of a honeybucket next time.

1 Drawbridge

One of the best parts of the ride was crossing from Washington into Oregon.  We crossed over the Columbia River by riding over a drawbridge.  Joan snapped this photo as ride volunteers closed off traffic and let huge groups of cyclists go at a time.  Crossing the bridge shoulder to shoulder with hordes of other cyclists was thrilling.

1 Good Cry

At around mile 160, I passed a sign for Prescott Beach:

My grandfather’s name was Prescott and when I saw the sign, I immediately thought, “I’ve got to call Gramma and tell her about this!” And there it was.  Grief bleeding through the scab that had begun to form in the months since my grandmother’s death.  Most of the time, I’m aware that she is gone, but every now and then I’ll see something that makes me think of her.  My reflexes react and I am left raw, missing her in a whole new way, grieving for all the things I will never get to share with her.  I pedaled and cried.  My legs were weary and my cadence was slow.

And then I thought of my mom.  The same weekend I was riding for Gramma Betty, my mom was closing up my grandmother’s house for the last time.  Packing up her furniture.  Sitting in the backyard one last time.  Driving away with her heart in her throat.  Riding a double century is hard, but I thought of how my mom was doing something so much harder.  I thought of how my mom has been so strong and brave these last few months.  I thought of how my mom is so much like my grandmother and how I want to be strong and brave, just like both of them.  My legs began to pedal faster, my tears dried up and I sailed across the finish line.

32 Donors & 1,243 Dollars

Maya Angelou says “I will be myself.  I will speak my own name.”  This season I have taken my hobby and used it to speak my grandmother’s name.  And now I speak your names because you have spoken for cancer patients and their families.  Together we raised $1,243 for LiveStrong.  You have overwhelmed me with your generosity.  Thank you Adam C., Amy H., Andrea & Jeromy H., Anita J., Betty C., Cheryl P., Chris F., Christine W., Dale M., David & Vickey P., Debbie S., Diana P., Hayley L., Heather F., Jill S., John P., Katie G., Kathy V., Katie L., Krystle J., Marla M., MaryKay, S., Melody A., Nick W., Patti L., Peter K., Sallie C., Sam O., Sara S., Stacey R., Sue H., and Tracy H.

1 More Thing

It’s been a fantastic, heartbreaking, beautiful cycling season.  Thank you for being a part of the journey.  I couldn’t do it without you.  Oh, and there’s just one more thing before I go:





Even the name brings goosebumps to my arms.  It’s one of those words that I feel like I have to utter in hushed, reverent tones.  Honeyrun is the towering mountain on the Chico Wildflower bike ride.

We go way back and my memories of Honeyrun are anything but sweet.  There was the time I couldn’t ride all the way to the top and had to hoof it for miles.  Then there was the time my pants kept falling down, showing a full moon in broad daylight.  These memories are punctuated by frustrated grunts and unchurchly words spewed while my legs and lungs threatened to collapse.

Today I faced Honeyrun again.  The morning was cool and the fog that sometimes masks the valley below was nowhere to be found.  I’d begun the ride early enough that I had Honeyrun mostly to myself.  I dropped into my lowest gear, spinning slow, careful circles, craning my neck to see the pieces of the valley that had previously been kept secret from me.  The green of the trees was the deep green of growth, of roots pressing down into the soil and drinking deep.  Everything was hushed, save for the quiet rhythm of my legs pressing and pulling my pedals.

Each year, people spray paint messages over the gritty asphalt of the road.  This year someone had spray painted the words “hope and serenity”.  As the words passed underneath my tires, I pondered them, savored them in my mouth like a rich chocolate.  Amazingly enough, I was not out of breath and I chatted with other cyclists who passed me or the occasional cyclist that I happened to pass.  But mostly I kept to the quiet of my mind, thinking of hope and serenity.

I thought of how I hoped the crest of the hill was just around the next corner.  I thought of how serene Honeyrun really is before she is crushed by throngs of neon clad cyclists, carving her corners and cursing her voluptuous hills.  I thought of how hope is hard to have in the envelope of grief.  I thought of how serenity has eluded me so much of the year.  And yet here they were, serenity and hope, rising up from the pavement to greet me on Honeyrun.

Further up someone had painted the Olympic rings and the Olympic Creed “Citius, Altius, Fortius.”  Swifter.  Higher.  Stronger.  I know the Olympic Creed because my grandmother and I talked about it during the last winter games.  I wished I could send her a picture of the Olympic motto, painted yellow against the black asphalt.  How appropriate to be pressed with being swifter, higher and stronger here on this particular road that was carrying me higher until I touched the top of the treeline.  And the simple act of turning the cranks over again and again was making me stronger right here, right now.  As for swifter, well there’s just no hope of that.

And there I was again, thinking of hope and serenity.  I thought of how serene my grandmother looked when she was asleep and I kissed her goodnight one last time.  I thought of Psalm 31:24.  “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.”  I thought of how my heart was keeping time so effortlessly up this climb.

Before I knew it all of this thinking and pedaling brought the crest within sight.  I was sorry to leave the beauty of the valley, sorry to turn onto a regular road void of words to ponder.  I looked over my shoulder at Honeyrun splayed out behind me and for a second I thought about riding back down and pressing up that mountain again.  Instead I took my heart, full of hope and serenity, and pedaled to the top, making sure my pedal strokes were just a little bit swifter than before.