A Day for Watering

Don’t take my bike away for saying this, but sometimes walking is better than cycling.  Wait, before you stab my bike tires and spit in my water bottles, hear me out.  Sometimes I need to look at things at an even slower pace.  Those of you who have ridden with me before are balking already because surely there can’t be anything slower than me slugging along on The Rocket.  Sometimes I just need to stroll and inhale the crisp air and squat down on the ground and look at stuff, really look at stuff.

That Laura & I walked along the river the other day, the winter wind whipping my camera strap as I happily snapped away, trying to make some sense of my new camera.  We walked into the arboretum, one of my favorite places on the trail because a new surprise waits around every corner.

Take the Monkey Puzzle Trees for one.  Just looking at their sparse, prickly branches makes me laugh.

And when I start to compose myself again, I think of the name ‘Monkey Puzzle Trees’ and I’m in stitches all over again.

Until the other day, I’d never taken the branch of the path that leads to a little bridge called Charlotte’s Crossing.  I was mooning over it already because I’m the teacher who cries every year when I read the end of Charlotte’s Web.  Then Charlotte herself greeted us and I thought I was going to straight swoon.

So by the time I saw Charlotte’s charming children climbing the sides of the bridge, I was downright giddy.  Not to mention that blue sky in the background.  I love sunny winter California days.

A few steps later I spotted this petite pile of stones.  Something about the balance required to stack stones always makes me stop and pause.

And then I turned a corner and saw these.

We meandered along the trail and ducked into the Children’s Sculpture Garden where “Mosaic Oasis”, a sculpture by Colleen Barry, sits as the crowning jewel in the garden.

I could stay at this sculpture for hours, running my fingers over each tile.  I mean just look at these ladybugs creeping along.  Don’t they make your fingers itch to do crayon rubbings?

Everywhere you look there’s a new treasure to behold, like this little heart marked with love.

Or Lady Liberty standing tall amongst other shining jewels.

And then there are the dragonflies.  Small dragonflies skitter and flit in and out of the mosaic, but this is the one that makes my heart leap into my throat.  It’s staggeringly beautiful.

In the center of the mosaic on the back side of the dragonfly is this gorgeous tree.

And because I adore, adore, adore the plaque accompanying the tree, here’s a closer look.

On a scale of 1-10 how weird would it be to tattoo that quote to my forehead for every parent to see?  11?  Oh well, I’m afraid of needles anyway.

And then, as if the Mosaic Oasis wasn’t full of enough wonder, there are the giant insect sculptures.  Isn’t this ladybug just absolutely begging for a smooch?

And then there’s the giant metal dragonfly statue.  Be.  Still.  My.  Heart.

I’ve died and gone to Heaven.  Look at the details in the face.  I’m absolutely smitten with this dragonfly.

The Children’s Sculpture Garden brims with magic.  Even a glimpse through the spindly branches of Harry Lauder’s walking stick revealed this quaint, blue house.

As the light began to fade, That Laura and I turned back toward the trailhead.  On the path we spotted this stencil of a woman watering her plant.

We hurried up the last hill back to the car and as we did, I couldn’t help but feel that this walk had watered a parched part of me, a part of me in desperate need of a day to slow down and drink it all in.

The Windows Are Mornings and Evenings

Two nights ago That Laura and I went kayaking on Whiskeytown Lake.

I am a clumsy kayaker at best.  My fat little boat yawed back and forth as I slapped my paddle into the water and tried in vain to keep up with the other longer, sleeker vessels.  Truly it’s a wonder Laura doesn’t completely disown me out there.

We paddled out to Boulder Creek and then a little further around the lake.  The moon showed its milky, round face as the sun slipped from the sky.  The mountains changed from green to black and even the bright colors of the kayaks faded into shadows.  I watched the sun settle behind the mountains and for a second the lake was quiet.

I sat in my kayak, eating dinner, watching the moonlight stretch across the water.  The Color Green by Rich Mullins was the soundtrack in my head.  It is my absolute most favorite song ever on the planet.  You should listen to it right now.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Rich Mullins was a beautiful writer and as I sat washed in moonlight, I thought of the first verse.

“And the moon is a sliver of silver

Like a shaving that fell on the floor of a Carpenter’s shop

And every house must have it’s builder

And I awoke in the house of God

Where the windows are mornings and evenings

Stretched from the sun

Across the sky north to south”

For all the times I accidentally bump into other boats, for all the times I paddle so much water into my kayak that I’m soaking wet, this is why I love kayaking on the moonlit lake.  I feel like I am looking through the windows inside the house of God.

That Laura is That Cool

Ok, I’ve mentioned my friend, That Laura, before.  Well, That Laura leaves for a bike tour of Vietnam in six days.  She and her father are going together.  On a tour of Vietnam on bicycles.  I know I already said that, but it’s so cool it bears repeating.  A bike tour of Vietnam.  Ok, I’m done saying it.  I’ve really need to get a grip on my jealousy.

Because I will miss her while she’s gone and also because if you think someone is awesome, you should tell them about their awesomeness publicly, I’m blogging about That Laura today.  Here are the top ten reasons Vietnam is lucky to host Laura for a few days:

10. Laura rode the STP without a team last year.  That’s 200 miles in 2 days on her own, folks.

9. She recently adopted a cat.  The cat came with a name: Little Baby Jesus.  You just can’t make stuff like that up.

8. She kayaks on the lake and isn’t even afraid of sturgeon.

7. She takes me kayaking and doesn’t make fun of me for being afraid of sturgeon.  Have you seen those things?  Those are some freaky looking dinosaur fish monsters!

6. She has an awesome movie theater bag.  It can hold a full Big Gulp and has ample candy space.

5. She seems to attract animals in need and always finds homes for them.

4. Laura is authentically nice.  This quality typically drives me nuts, but Laura’s genuine nature is like a superpower.

3. Laura is one of those people who is up for anything.  Kayaking?  Yes.  Cycling?  You bet.  Movies?  Sure.  Games.  Yup.  Throwing bouncy balls from your bike?  Absolutely.  Whatever you’ve got on tap, Laura is game and happy to play.

2. She watches Scrubs and Flight of the Conchords.   I think sometimes TV compatibility is underrated in friendship.

1. Laura signed up for the LiveStrong ride so I won’t have to ride alone.  Mathematically you would think that a team of two would be only be twice as great as a team of one.  As it turns out, it’s an exponential math problem.  A team of two is like a hundred times better than a team of one.

So, Vietnam, take good care of That Laura while she’s visiting.  On a bike tour.  With her dad.  Darn, there goes jealousy rearing her ugly head again.  Maybe I will have tamed my envy while she’s on a bike tour.  With her dad.  In Vietnam.  Oh, I give up.

Pacelining, Profanity and Dogs

There is a little bit of background information crucial to understanding today’s vignette.  I promise to be brief if you promise tolerate a little cycling terminology.  I know it’s a lot to ask, but I have faith in you.

To begin with, let’s talk about the term ‘pacelining’.  Pacelining basically means riding very close together in a single file line at a uniform speed.  This means the person in the front of the line works the hardest, takes the brunt of the wind, watches for obstacles, etc.  And in an unofficial paceline, the person in the front sets the pace.  The riders in the middle make sure to keep close to each others’ wheels to ensure maximum efficiency.  The person in the back calls out approaching traffic, stays close to the person in front of them, and basically kicks back to enjoy the work done by everyone in front of them.  In real pacelines, there is a lot of “peeling off” which involves a constant rotation of the person in front moving to the back, but that does not apply to today’s story.  The thing you need to know is that it is never, ever, EVER acceptable for the slacker in the back to tell the person in the front to go faster.  Is is bad, bad form.

The second thing you need to know is I rarely use profanity.  I happen to think that I sound stupid when I curse.  Believe it or not, I try to avoid sounding stupid.  On the rare occasion that I employ a naughty word, it is NEVER done seriously.  I don’t curse when I’m angry, frustrated, or any other time I might actually mean it.  The sparse profanity is saved for humorous outbursts and a select group of people who share my slightly off sense of humor.

So, now that we’ve covered pacelining and profanity, let’s get to the story.

On Monday, I went cycling with my friends April and That Laura.  We rode out to beautiful Igo and then took a spin out to Happy Valley.  I was in the front, April was in the middle, and That Laura was in the back.  I was quite enjoying our pace and the interesting scenery that is Happy Valley.  For instance, we passed a house with a white flocked Christmas tree standing proudly in the front yard.  Hey, I had a pole in my Christmas tree stand, so who am I to judge?  There is also the house that is a shrine to Coca Cola.  Everything Coca Cola has come to die there.  Me, I prefer Dr. Pepper, but to each his own.

Anyway, we were happily pedaling along when That Laura yelled from the back of the paceline “Faster!  You have to go faster!”

Did she just tell me, the Paceline Leader, to go faster?  The audacity!  The moxy!  The cajones!  That Laura deserved nothing less than a sarcastic tongue lashing.  The words “You get up here and go faster, bi*ch!” were just about to launch themselves out of my mouth when Laura said these terrifying words, “Faster!  You have to go faster!  He’s gaining on us!”

He?  He who?  I looked back and running uncomfortably close to That Laura was a black dog, the kind that herd sheep and other smelly animals.  The owner was yelling at the little black blur, but the dog was obviously mesmerized by our tasty Spandex clad legs.  This dog was way too close for comfort.  We cranked harder and the dog turned and ran back home.

If you’ve ever spoken to me for more that five minutes, you know I’ve had several incidents with animals while on The Rocket.  I’ve raced with a turkey, been pooped on by a bird, hissed at by a snake, and was spooked so badly by turkey vultures that I almost wet my Spandex.  Never, ever have I been chased by a dog.  And never, ever have I been so frightened on my bike.  After the dog retreated, my heart pounded against my ribs.

So, the next time my friend, That Laura, tells me to go faster I will not think of sarcastic tongue lashings to deliver.  I will tuck my head down, spin my pedals extra hard, and go faster, bi*ch.

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.