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.

Letter #1: Dear Gramma

Dear Gramma,

The day before you died I walked the pier, breathing in the tang of the salty air.  Beneath me volleyball nets stretched taut across the sand and balls popped in the air like popcorn.  Surfers dotted the ocean below in their wetsuits.  They bobbed in the water, feet dangling, black sea dwellers waiting for the right wave to curl up underneath them.  An old surfer paddled alone on a bright red longboard and I thought of the bright red lipstick marks you used to leave on my cheek and then I thought of all the blood that had to be transfused into your body, how the cancer ruined all that pristine blood.

I stopped in a shop on the pier.  It was a kaleidoscope of windsocks and flags shivering in the wind.  The kid behind the counter said “How are you today?” and before I could stop it, the word “fine” fell out of my mouth and broke into pieces on the ground.  Tears threatened to spill onto the floor with it, but then my eye caught sight of a dragonfly flag and I thought of how you are a dragonfly, waiting to break free from your old skin, waiting to soar away.

I walked to the end of the pier behind Ruby’s where you and I used to slurp chocolate milkshakes.  A fisherman baited all of his poles and leaned them in a row against the railing.  I stood between the poles and leaned over the edge watching the gray ocean turn against the pillars of the pier.  And then my tears slid down my face and dropped into the deep.  I watched them fall and wondered how much of the ocean’s water is birthed by grief.  A pair of dolphins porpoised in the water below me and I marveled at how time and again they came up for air and slid back into the water with such ease.  I thought of your breathing machine and I prayed that your lungs would easily fill with air each time you needed it.

I walked in the shaded sand underneath the pier.  I wished that we were walking arm in arm together, but my arms were empty save for the socks I’d peeled off and stuffed into my shoes.  At the shore the water washed my feet and the sand was covered in thousands, maybe millions of shells.  I picked one up.  And then another.  And then another until my hands were full and I poured the shells into my sock.  I fingered each one hoping that by collecting these fragile pieces, I was keeping pieces of you.  I picked the smoothest ones, scrubbed clean by the sand under my feet and my tears in the saltwater.  They clicked against each other in my sock as I approached the number nine lifeguard station where we always met.  I set my shells inside my socks, inside my shoes on the sand and traced the smooth, black nine with the palm of my hand.  I snapped a photo, amazed that the view was the same as the one in my memory.

The day before you died I stood by your hospital bed and told you about the beach and how much I loved you and how much I’d miss you and how you were the best grandmother a girl could ever want.  I talked to you until there was nothing left to say except “I love you”.  And so I said it over and over again.  I kissed your silky forehead and held your hand and rubbed your swollen legs.  Your room was filled with our family laughing and crying, sometimes both at the same time.  Uncle Murray recited a verse about everything coming to an end, except our love for you.  I saw your face in his and wished you could see it, too.

The night before you died, I told you good night and kissed your forehead.  I slept in the bed next to my mother in your house.  I’d borrowed a sweater from your closet and after I’d taken it off, I fell to sleep with the scent of you on my skin.  Under the covers I dreamed that you died and that our family took a trip together.  I wish I could tell you our destination, but the ringing phone pierced my dream and then it pierced my heart.

The morning you died I held my mom as she sobbed listening to the news that you’d taken your last breath while your oldest daughter kept watch, holding your hand.  My mom felt heavy under the weight of her grief and we held each other.  All the words I said to comfort her felt inadequate, falling short like words plucked from a greeting card.  I wish you’d been there to comfort her, to tell her all the things she needed to hear.

The morning you died I brushed my teeth and looked in the mirror to see if I could see your face in mine.  I looked for the smiling dimples you gave me, but they were ghosts.  I pulled on your sweater and drove your car, with the glove box full of peanut M & M’s, toward the hospital.  An accident blocked traffic for hours, and try as we might we could not get to the hospital to see your face again.

The afternoon of the day you died I sat alone in your house, surrounded by your pictures and the memories you collected from the corners of the world.  I willed my legs upstairs into your room where I turned one of your chairs to the window.  The trees bowed their heads in the wind as it coaxed mournful sounds from your house.  With my eyes closed, I pretended that the sounds came from you writing letters in your office or eating ice cream at the kitchen table.  I opened my eyes to see your bed empty, the covers pulled taut.  Everything in your house was still, except for my fingers writing this to you and my tears dropping onto the chair in your bedroom.

The day after you died I rode my bike, crying when I crept up behind the mountains you loved, wrecked by the fact that you would not see these earthly places of beauty again.  I pedaled by a cacti farm and wished you were there so we could talk about that cactus that had a heart filled with liquid that replenishes itself.  You would have known the name.  I took my empty heart and pedaled back to your house, half believing that you would be there to hear about my ride.

The week after you died flashed by with arrangements and plans and flowers and phone calls.  It was so fast and I wanted time to rewind or slow or stop or do anything but whip by so callously.  I put together a photo montage of your life.  You always told me that I’m a writer, a storyteller.  We always said that everyone has a story.  Your life is my favorite story of all and I loved weaving it together.

At your memorial, I spoke about our trip together and about how you used to tell me I was the perfect child.  A lump bobbed in my throat and my knees knocked so violently that I thought I was going down.  I wished you were there because we would have laughed at how grief and nerves almost did me in.  There were so many times during your memorial that I looked for you, to catch your eye during a funny story or to watch you humbly accept the compliments your loved ones lavished on you.  At memorials, people tend to exaggerate about the wonderful qualities of the deceased, but not at yours.  You were such an amazing woman and you lived such a remarkable life that it left no need for exaggeration.

The day after we lowered you into the ground, I went to your church for Easter service.  I cried when the pastor talked about Jesus’ crucifixion and ascension to Heaven.  It always makes me cry, but especially this year because you are in Heaven and I am on Earth without you.  I know I’ll see you again, but the expanse of time between now and then crushes me.

The day after Easter, I returned home.  I took the sweater I borrowed the day before you died.  And I took your mini trampoline.  Terry just shook his head when I asked him to load it into the car.  I always laughed at the sight of you bouncing around on your trampoline.  After all the times I teased you about springing around on that thing, it now sits in my living room.  Twice now I’ve started dialing your number only to get halfway through before realizing you can’t answer.  I read books and think of you.  I watch Amazing Race and wish I could call you to talk about it.  I wish I could call you to talk about lots of things.  I miss you.  I miss you so much.  And do you know what makes my sadness recede to a bearable amount?  Jumping on your old trampoline.  How’s that for irony?

I’m presenting at a writing conference Saturday and I’m nervous.  You always knew the right words to say to make me feel better and now I wish I’d written some of them down.  My mom is saving scraps of your writing that she discovers in your house because I find myself desperate to squirrel away your words, even if they’re in the form of grocery lists and reminder notes.

I love you, Gramma.  I love you in grief.  I love you in joy.  I have loved you all my life and even though cancer proved to be a swift thief, Uncle Murray had it right: my love for you does not end.



I love…

Sometimes after a challenging day at work I need to remember that there really is a lot to like in this world, a lot to love even.  This was one of those days and so turning the corner into this blissful three-day weekend, I’m focusing on the parts of my life I love.  It is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, I’m going to come back and add more over the weekend.  I hope you’ll let me know about all the things you love in the comments section.

  • I love the smell of Terry just out of the shower, wrapped in steam with stray drips of water still behind his ears.
  • I love when we’re laying in bed and Terry reaches over and touches my leg, acknowledging I’m there with him.
  • I love the steady beat of my heart.
  • I love reading blogs in the morning before work to see how friends in other parts of the world are starting the day.
  • I love tucking under a blanket with a good book as the rain streams down my windows.
  • I love riding my bike the long way up to Shasta Dam just because I can.
  • I love the pink casing on my bike that matches my jersey and my water bottles.
  • I love going to church and closing my eyes to worship.
  • I love praying with Terry as we part ways in the morning.
  • I love when my nephew begs for more tickles and kisses me with crackers in his mouth.
  • I love when one of my students says, “I love writing.”
  • I love eating summer blackberries from my backyard.
  • I love writing.
  • I love writing so much I’m putting it on the list twice.
  • I love talking to other teachers about how to foster young writers.
  • I love visiting new places, but I love coming home even more.
  • I love Abby and her candy drawer.
  • I love Nick because he believes I’m a better person than I really am.
  • I love my Gramma because she understands the worst parts of my life and doesn’t judge me for them.
  • I love green vegetables.
  • I love when my principal has my back.
  • I love my grade level team for making me a better teacher.I love my home.
  • I love burritos.
  • I love parasailing over the turquoise Caribbean ocean.
  • I love the Olympics.

Heart of a Warrior

I’m pretty sure I’ll never be one of those girls who bounces out of bed at the sheer prospect of riding my bike.  Don’t get me wrong, I love riding my bike.  I just also love burrowing in my warm cozy bed.  Because my love of cycling can be so easily trumped by my bed, I resort to trickery.  I round up the troops and make them ride with me.  I might stand myself up, but I won’t leave a friend hanging.  So this morning, I set out in the good company of Terry, That Laura, Nick and Abby.

This morning I ate the cycling breakfast of champions: oatmeal, skinned grapefruit and a banana.  The last time I rode, I had eggs for breakfast and almost had a reversal of fortune on the side of the road up to Shasta Dam.  (Note to self: Eggs are not a good cycling food.)  But back to this morning, I slipped on my Team Fatty gear, dismayed that the fatty part, while once ironic, is now just truth in advertising.  I’m working on that.

The weather today was so perfect, blue sky, cotton ball clouds and barely a hint of wind.  It was warm enough that I didn’t even need tights.  We headed out to Millville Plains, my most favorite place to ride.  You can see for miles and miles at the top of the Plains.  The cows grazing there must be the happiest in all of California.  My favorite tree lives there, too.  She was all sticks and bones standing guard over the plains, but I know she’s secreting away green buds for me underneath her black skin.  Spring is coming, spring is coming I told her as I whipped by.

My legs were strong most of the ride leading me to believe that maybe, just maybe, my spin instructor isn’t entirely evil.  My legs were strong enough, but my heart, my heart was fierce.  I had the heart of a warrior today.  It pumped away pressing uphill, screaming downhill, and keeping time on the flats.  It was glorious and I smiled so much my teeth hurt from the cool air.  Not even the five putrid dead skunks I passed or the pair of pitbulls that chased me could dampen my joy.

Thirty three miles into the ride and three miles from home, my legs began to ache.  The sort of ache that feels like my bones are hollow and might shatter any second, but I’ve had this ache before and I know it passes if I just ignore it.  Well, I complain about it and then ignore it.  Same difference.  I willed my legs to circle me back home.  At home I rested in the front yard.  Not even the fact that I’d locked myself out of my house could ruin this ride.  I waited for a friend to arrive with spare key and as my legs pulsed complaints, my heart was steady, calm even.  I sat there making a sweaty print on my walkway and realized I’d just had one of the best rides of my life.  Now that just might make me bounce out of bed to ride next time.