My Oak Tree

Saturday morning I pedaled to school to co-facilitate a writing session for teachers.  We always begin with a quick write and Saturday’s prompt went something like this: If you weren’t here, what would you like to be doing instead?

My answer was obvious.  Saturday mornings are for bike rides.  In fact I’d pedaled to class and scheduled a bike ride for the afternoon, too.  There is something peaceful about pedaling out of town.  Away from piles of laundry.  Away from my job.  Away from the noise.  Away from everything except my legs turning the cranks and my heart keeping time.

My favorite place to ride is out to Millville Plains, where the wind whips through the tall grasses in the Fall and the wildflowers paint the fields in the Spring.  Some days, the hands of the wind press against my back and lift me up the hills.  Other days the wind rushes against my face and I am strong enough to climb the crest despite the wind’s advances.

There is an oak tree, a lone oak tree, standing atop the plains.  She is impervious to the wind, snow, sun and anything else nature throws at her.  Oak trees can live to be 200 years old.  In fact the oldest oak tree is 400 years old!  I don’t know how old my tree is, but surely she is the matriarch of the plains.  She’s been there as long as I can remember, the umbrella of her crown a favorite resting place for cows.  In the summer the shadow of her crown provides respite from the harsh sun and in the winter her branches are shelter from the rain.

I ride by the tree, pushing uphill, keeping her trunk in my line of sight.  I think of how I want to be like that tree, impervious to things at work that press against me, threatening to uproot me.  I think about standing tall for the things I believe are best.  Best for children.  Best for teachers.  Best for the world I live in.  When I ride Millville Plains, I can’t help but think of that tree all the way home.

I’ve yet to see my tree this season and still she comes to mind.  As Congress cuts funding for education, I think of my tree and square my shoulders as I type out letters to my elected officials.  They need to hear about how class sizes bursting at the seams create little space for relationships with students.  They need to hear how important the NWP is in creating teacher leaders who empower their students to carve out their own voices on canvases of blank pages.  They need to hear about how the NWP rooted me deep in practices that translate into a beautiful writing community in my classroom, in my school, in my city.

I’m blessed that my oak tree is just a bike ride away.  When I need to be reminded to be strong, to stand up for my beliefs, I visit my tree.  She is always standing proud and tall over the plains.  She compels me to do the same.

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.

My Favorite Tree

Today was my first bike ride of 2009.  I’m a little nervous about this cycling season.  Although I am part of the Fat Cyclist team, I don’t have a local team to speak of.

The bad thing about that is nobody will be setting up routes for me, telling me where to show up, and making sure I get my miles in.  The good thing is nobody will be setting up routes for me, telling me where to show up, and making sure I get my miles in.  I am my own woman, responsible for all of my training.  Ok, I’m not quite convinced it’s a good thing yet, but I’m trying to see it as an opportunity for growth.  The other good thing about going solo is that I can just tell my cycling friends when and where I’m riding and they’re likely to show up.

Today I rode in the good company of my hubby, Sir Steve (the bike mechanic), Nick (the captain of the CJD team), my friend Marie, and That Laura.  I piled on layers and layers of spandex and set out to face the unforgiving wind.  It was blowing to the South, which was fantastic when I was cruising South, but otherwise meant I was caught in a nasty crosswind or, even worse, a punishing headwind.  We rode out to Palo Cedro and Millville to my very favorite place to ride, Millville Plains.

Millville Plains is always beautiful.  It’s sweeping views and natural landscape leave me awestruck.  Today was particularly stunning.  The edges of snowcapped Lassen were razor-sharp against the blue sky.  As the wind pushed at my back, I watched the waves of grass and weeds roll like the ocean.  And of course there is my favorite tree.

It’s an oak tree, I think, and it stands all alone watching guard over the plains.  Maybe at some point in your life you’ve been asked that inane question, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”  Hands down, I’d be that one.

As I rode home with the wind blowing dirt onto my teeth and pushing The Rocket around like a kite, I thought of my favorite tree.  It is unmoved by wind.  It is impervious to cold.  It is unfazed by the scorching summers.  It girds strength from roots, pushed deep beneath the plains.  This season I will be like my tree, mustering strength from deep down.  I will stand guard against cancer.  Although I am without a local team, I am not alone.  I am surrounded by friends who stand with me.

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.