Thankful Thursday #15

This week I’m thankful for…

  • days when the rain holds off until after recess
  • a darling former student who bought me a dragonfly windchime with her own money.  I can only imagine how many chores she had to do to earn enough money to buy it.  I was so touched.
  • the kid who came to school with the Batman symbol shaved in his head, proving that everything old becomes new again.
  • getting my report cards done ahead of time instead of scrambling at the last minute
  • Girl Scout cookies
  • my new little one who asked the class to pray that his family would find a house
  • The Fat Cyclist for making this photo of my brother and I his new blog header.  Go, Team Fatty!

In Which I Am Famous

Today my friend, That Laura, sent me the following text:

“Hey, did you know you are on the back of ‘Biking the Best’?  How cool are you?”

Biking the Best is a booklet of maps of twenty-four of the best road rides in and around Shasta County.  I did not know I was on the back cover and I have to say it went to my head a little bit.  This was my reply.

“Send me a photo of it.  Wait, am I upright?”

Unfortunately, that is a valid question on my part.

“Yes, you’re upright.  It’s a picture of a bunch of people at a rest stop.”

Laura sent the photo to my phone but I couldn’t quite make it out.

“Oh good.  I was afraid it was when I fell over or something.  How do I get my own copy so I can brag about being big and famous?  And do you want me to autograph yours?”

Laura called a minute later and asked if I wanted to meet her at the bike shop because she was going to buy a copy.  Of course I wanted to buy my Very Own Copy.  I think she was actually buying it for the routes.  I, on the other hand, felt compelled to buy it because I was obviously the star of the book.  And bike routes are nice, too.  That way when I get lost because I didn’t look at the map in the first place I can still find my way back home.

So I puffed up my chest and strode into the bike shop.  Funny thing is, nobody in the shop stopped and asked for my autograph.  They didn’t even recognize me.  Didn’t they know the back cover model of “Biking the Best” was in their presence?

I swaggered over to the counter and picked up a copy.  I didn’t bother to flip through the routes.  Instead I turned right to the back cover.  And sure enough there were a bunch of my cycling friends.

“Are you sure I’m in this picture?  I don’t see myself.”  I said to Laura.

“Yep, you’re right there in your Fat Cyclist jersey.  See?”  She pointed.

I squinted.  A lot.  And sure enough there I was.  Looking like an idiot.  True, I am upright in the photo, but that’s the best thing I can say about it.  I apologize for the grainy quality of the photo.  It’s a photo of a photo, but you’ll get the gist.

Do you see me?  No?

I’m the one on the right.

Further right.

Yeah.  That one.

I have no idea what I was reaching for back there.  My only guess is that I had a sock stuck in my jersey or something.

Still, I’m happy to autograph your copy of the booklet.  In fact, you probably won’t mind if I sign in big, black permanent marker, right?  And I have a long name so you might not even be able to see my photo underneath the autograph.  And wouldn’t that be a shame.

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:

Fondly,

Alicia

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.

Hollow Legs

Saturday was my first road ride of the season.  I’m just going to cut to the chase and say I got my, uh, my, um, pride, yes let’s say pride, handed to me.  The morning of the ride I woke up extra early to prepare.  I put on layers of cycling clothing.  Then came the all important jersey selection.  I peered at the rainbow of jerseys stacked neatly in my cycling drawer.  (Yes, I have a cycling drawer in my dresser.  I also have a cycling drawer AND shelf in my garage.  It’s okay to be jealous.)  I decided to go with my favorite pink Fat Cyclist jersey.  It has FAT CYCLIST emblazoned across the back pockets.  Awesome.  I slipped on my jersey and then headed over to the mirror to tame the bedhead.  Irony stared back at me.

I’ve grown squidgy around the edges and there’s no hiding anything in Spandex.  I’ve got muffin top.  I’m too fat for my Fat Cyclist jersey.

Then me and the muffin top headed out to the garage to give The Rocket a little attention.  She was sleek as ever, bright pink wire casings looking all happy at me.  I gave her a little air in her tires.  By a little, I mean her tires were at 30 PSI and I had to pump fiercely to get them back up to 100 PSI.  As I was pumping, I noticed cobwebs laced in the spokes.

Muffin top?  Flat tires?  Cobwebs?  Had it really been that long?  Not good.  Not good at all.

My friend, That Laura, met me at my house and we headed out toward Millville Plains, my favorite place to ride.  On our way out there we saw some pretty cool things like a field full of itty bitty goats.  Then we saw buffalo.  Buffalo are so cool looking.  They are unimpressed by everything.  I tried to snap a shot of a buffalo right next to the fence, but as I got closer he moved away, no doubt freaked by my muffin top.  Sorry, buffalo.  Just a little ways beyond the buffalo we passed a manger scene.  It had Joseph.  It had a handful of animals.  It had Mary, but no Jesus.  This led me to wonder WWJD?  What was Jesus doing?

We continued on, That Laura speeding ahead of me and then graciously hanging back so I could catch up.  She could have totally stomped me and left me to my own devices to get home, but she didn’t, so that was nice.  The weather was perfect, sunny, crisp and with winds at about four miles per hour.  It doesn’t get better than that.  In Millville we stopped at the Post Office and scarfed down some snacks.  Well, I didn’t actually scarf.  What I thought was a whole Clif bar in my saddle pack was actually half of one I’d opened last season.  Clif bars are tasty, but this one had taken on the consistency of concrete.  Don’t get me wrong, I ate it.  It just took a long, long time, meaning That Laura had to wait for me.  Again.

We reached Millville Plains and I was loving the sweeping views.  That Laura raced ahead of me, and with the exception of one or two cars, it was blissful solitude.  The kind of solitude that quiets the mind and steadies the heart.  I was turning the cranks pretty slowly, but with snow-striped Lassen to my left, I didn’t care. I chugged along with a ridiculous grin on my face.  I love riding my bike.

That Laura had mapped out a thirty four mile ride for us.  I’d ridden most of the roads before and thirty four miles is usually a pretty easy ride for me.  Not Saturday.  At about mile 25, I got what I call hollow legs.  Hollow legs are when my legs start to ache, not muscle ache, not cramping, but a deep ache in my bones.  Each pedal stroke feels like my legs are empty aluminum cans, ready to crumple at the slightest strain.  I have ridden with hollow legs before, but usually at mile 75 or 80.  To be greeted with hollow legs at mile 25 was disheartening.

This is the part of the story where I get philosophical.  Feel free to skip ahead.  I’ve learned a lot from cycling.  For example, it really is all about the journey.  The destination is just icing on the cake.  Another thing I’ve learned is that it’s possible to cry and ride at the same time.  In fact, it’s quite rewarding, even invigorating at times. Fortunately, I had no need to cry on Saturday because the most important lesson I’ve learned on my bike is that my mind is stronger than my body.  Much stronger.  If I can convince myself to just keep pedaling circles, then I know I can ride beyond the pain.  Hollow legs are no match for a strong mind.  My body listens to my mind and my mind is one tough cookie.

After nine miles of mental fortitude, we were back home eating minty ice cream sandwiches.  I slumped on my couch for a few minutes until I was confident my legs could carry me to the bathroom.  I eased my salty, sweaty self into the shower.  My shower is about as big as a refrigerator.  Single occupancy only.  No tub.  No frills.  Not even room for big ideas.

As the scalding water ran down my head and turned my flesh pink, I sunk to the floor of my shower.  I closed my eyes and the water swirled in rivulets down my cheeks.  The water pounded my head and legs, massaging the aches away.  A singular thought rose from the steam.  I can’t wait to ride my bike again.