Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

When I let Dexter out this morning I was hit by a blast a warm air. I looked at the ground. It's mostly dry. It clearly hasn't been raining. I'm going for a ride! I go inside, eat breakfast and quickly dress to avoid missing this unforeseen dry weather in Portland. Wearing my RAGBRAI jersey over a long sleeved shirt and my tights I take Dexter for his morning walk. I fill my water bottles and go out the garage to pump up my tires.

As soon as I take the cap off my back tire I can tell something is wrong. Air is leaking out the the valve and then BOOM! it explodes. Thankfully it doesn't hit me but I feel deflated just like my tire. I don't feel like changing the tire or riding without a spare. Forget it. But, then I remember. I have another bike.

So, I grab Reilly, my hybrid and head off toward Tabor. I have been painstaking in my workouts this winter. As I ride towards Tabor I can't help but compare riding to the elliptical or cardio dance. For me, anyway, riding is easier. The combination of stoplights, flat riding and coasting downhills means I don't get the sustained high heart rates I get with the other two. But, boy do I feel how much the fitness in my legs has improved when I get to Mt. Tabor. It was so much easier than the last time I did it. How cool. Go elliptical go!

I climb to the top and circle it absolutely surrounded by people that must have had the same idea I had this morning when the rain starts, lashing us sideways as the wind picks up. Everyone's hair is flying all over the place. Leaves scurry across the asphalt. I'm outta here. I don't have a jacket on, I'm a few minutes away from being soaked, I'll finish my cardio at home.

On the way down I see lots of cyclists and walkers getting off the mountain as fast as possible. The wind is just ferocious and the rain stings. I see a dog running full tilt alongside of a car, no leash, and tighten up. Cycling has definitely made me wary of unleashed dogs. At the bottom I call Pho Van and order my favorite Sunday lunch: chicken noodle soup, or pho ga.

Riding towards Pho Van I pass through the smell of a wood burning fireplace. Now, those people have the right idea today. It almost smells like a different time to me. I pass a cyclist holding an umbrella and give him a smile. Then I stop at Pho Van, pick up my soup and head home.

When I get home I open the container and discover that they gave me beef. I give the beef a try but end up feeding half it to the dog. The other half I threw away. Hmmm...exploding back tire, a deceptively warm morning that turned into a fierce, windy rainstorm, and beef instead of chicken in my chicken noodle soup. Eh, could be worse. Oh well, I'm off to finish my cardio.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fresh Air

Sometimes when I ride it feels like freedom, like gliding effortlessly up and over hills, mountains, across streams and rivers in a state of exhilaration. Almost bliss. Sometimes when I ride it feels like an exercise in self-preservation. I'm focused on conscientious, predictable behavior. Look left, look right, signal, check over the shoulder, be one of the cars. Sometimes when I ride it feels like therapy. The left/right motion of the pedals a soothing balm to my troubled, anxious mind; with each mile, with each hill things that seemed so pressing lose their power over me. And, sometimes, well, when I ride it feels like the simplest of things: fresh air and exercise. Today was the latter.

Of course, it was cold, very wet air because we have entered Portland's rainy season. You don't need to check the weather. It's 40s and raining for the next few months almost non-stop. Still it felt good to be out, my cheeks and hands turning rosy pink as the wind whips and the rain bites. I was running an errand and I always do those by bike. It's probably been six or eight weeks since I drove my car. I have only one rule about riding. It's almost like the Star Trek Prime Directive. I don't have to ride unless I want to. I still have to cardio, stretch, do pilates. Those things I will force myself to do. But, I never force myself to ride. I always want to do it out of love. It's funny, though, that when it comes to doing errands, the prospect of getting in my car and driving that beast around always seems like the worse choice. Oh, and parking. I hate to park. Bike racks right by the door (especially the covered ones) are where it's at. So, today, like most days, I zipped up my coat, donned my helmet and hit the road. I may have been soaked when I got back home, but it's only water. I'll dry. It's definitely better than driving.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Relishing the Blue

The sky is thick with clouds. As I pedal through my neighborhood I notice that we're not to the thick, ever-present, soul-crushing, uniform dark grey of winter. No, it's more like a painter has carefully brushed the sky with different shades of grey. And every once in a while, barely peeking through the lightest of the grey clouds, there is blue. A remembrance of summer, of long days and long rides, the hint of blue reminds me that it is still Fall.

As do the leaves and as I wind my way through the bike streets I crush them under my bicycle tires. Many of the trees in my neighborhood have lost all of their leaves, some are nearly there. Others are holding on to their brown, orange and yellow leaves tenaciously and a few even still have green leaves.

As I pass Pho Van I think of my ride there earlier today. When I called to order my favorite pho ga the waitress said, "For Sara, right?" Riding home from their I was so excited about my chicken noodle soup that I started to sing, "I've got pho in my bicycle basket! Tra la la la la!"

I don't have too much time to ride today and I'm still being careful with my back so I'm on my way to Tabor. As I begin to climb I'm reminded of my last month of very little riding. Between resting my back, my husband's accident, and getting sick I haven't really done much climbing. I can feel it as I get to the steep section and you know what, it feels great! What a wonderful feeling to really have to push yourself to get to the top.

I round the top, passing a man with a golf club in his hand. Weird...I give him a wide berth. I carefully make my way down the mountain and through the bike streets home...the whole way relishing those little bits of blue. And, hoping that they stick around just a little bit longer before we are really in the depths of winter.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Riding at Night

It's amazing how quickly time can go by. I know it's cliche to say that I'm noticing this more as I get older, but somehow, in my internal clock, I feel like it shouldn't be mid-November; it should be, say, August 15th. My riding as of late has consisted of trips to the grocery, library, doctor, pharmacy. That kind of thing. I suppose our lives would be considered painfully boring from the outside, but we're trying to save money so we've been sticking close to home. We're both introverts so our favorite thing is to spend time together, cooking and laughing, eating cheap delicious food and drinking wine. A trip to Whole Foods by bike has become quite the outing; about 30 minutes of riding each way, hot mulled apple cider when you walk in the door. A couple of weeks ago we rode home from Whole Foods with 2 cases of a cheap but very drinkable wine called Three Wishes. That was fun.

I did take my road bike out for a ride last week, but sadly I didn't have time to write about it. It was a ride filled with long shadows, slippery pine needles and cool Fall air. But, mostly I have settled into a more sedentary lifestyle. My appetite is a pittance of what it was during my heavy riding weeks. (Which is actually kind of nice). I still get at least an hour of exercise a day, sometimes 2 or more, but I've also been playing my piano and guitar more. It feels like a nice, welcome change in this cool, rainy weather.

Then, last week, my husband had a freak accident. He hit his head really hard on a doorway and because of the severity of the bleeding we had to take him to the ER. It was just one of those crazy things that can happen and luckily we have good insurance, but instantly, in both of us, fear of cycling reared its ugly head.

It's such an uncomfortable thing to be afraid of something you love so much. This seems to keep happening to me, though, so I guess I better get used to it. I actually think a healthy respect for the dangers inherent in cycling keeps you from having accidents. And, if anything, Peter's accident should remind us that nothing in life is completely safe so you should just do what you love and trust that you'll be able to handle it if something bad happens. Oh, how I wish I was a person who could glide through life with that kind of confidence.

Anyway, last night, I had an hour off so I decided to go for a short ride. As I pulled out of the driveway, I thought, It's dark, wet, and there are leaves all over the road. If there is a way to get over fear of cycling, this is it.

Like always, I had a great time. I have fabulous lights. My front Cygolite is like one of those prison lights; it's absolutely blinding. My rear light (Planet Bike, I think) can be seen a mile away. It is so dark here in November, December and January, it seems like you are always riding with your lights on.

So, that's what I've been up to. Simple living, music, food, wine, laughter and an unpleasant dose of fear of cycling angst. I love my bikes, though and I love to ride so I always work through it. Always.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Resting and Playing

My road bike Amie has, sadly, been sitting idly in the garage for the last week. The time has come for me to give my back a rest. If you've been reading my blog for a while you know I have trouble with my back. It started when I was 15, progressed to 4 herniated discs when I was 20 (which were very painful - I hardly sat at all for a year), and has settled into arthritis in 13 vertebrae, and a sticky SI joint. I'm 34 and after 19 years of this I've learned a lot of tricks which keep me happy and active - the way I like to be. I've had some very good years with my back in the last 19 years, this last year and a half has been moderately good. I finished RAGBRAI and that is awesome. Totally awesome.

But, last week, as I was doing that thing where you try to put your pants on without bending know what I mean if you have back problems...where you almost try to kick the pants on, I was thinking, I never really let my back recover from that ride. I just kept going. My back didn't seize up, but it just got progressively more and more exhausted. Every time I try to stand up I groan like an old lady. No, the rain has started. It's getting cold. I'm going do what I very seldom

Of course, rest for me means 45-minute elliptical sessions, 60-minute stationary bike sessions, 40-minute dog walks and riding my bike for errands and transportation. I get all cranky and fidgety if I don't do cardio. I don't sleep well and I have to starve myself because I don't have a naturally fast metabolism. Still, if you knew me well, you'd know that just doing a little cardio 5 or 6 days a week is definitely resting. My husband used to say that I either was moving or in-between. Actually, now that I think about it, blogging has helped me have an in-between.

Which brings me to today's ride. I donned my new favorite, oh so favorite, pink coat and set off to the library and the grocery. It was raining but I skipped the umbrella, wanting to feel the tangible sensation of the rain on my face and my hands. Tat-a-tat-tat, the rain drops patter down, and with the wind blowing I'm reminded of just how alive I am.

I try, with varying results to get a good picture of my new favorite (oh so so SO favorite) coat with my camera. At the library, I run in, grab a book about cycle touring (like the 8th one I've read) and head back out into the pouring rain.

I head over to Fred Meyer for some fruit, coffee, and wine. The coffee I get is Portland Coffee's Mt. Tabor blend. So delicious every morning for my one soy latte.

Riding home, the sun has come out and I get my favorite shot of the day. You can see my butterfly helmet that I bought in Finland, my coat, and my beloved bicycle, Reilly (completely outfitted with every toy you can put on a handlebar including the umbrella attachment that I got in Japan). Well, there probably are more handlebar toys, but Reilly's out of room. :)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Year Two

After spending the last week in Montana, we decided to do a familiar Tabor ride for our first time back in the saddle. For Peter, it was the first time riding in at least two weeks. The air is brisk and cool, the sun gentle as we ride off on this beautiful fall day.

While I was in Montana I had my one year anniversary of this blog and I've spent a little time over the last few weeks reading old entries. I usually write my entry while I'm icing my back and spend almost no time editing. It's clear from reading that I'm not so good with commas and hyphens. But, I am so happy that I've been keeping this diary because I've grown so much as a cyclist in the last year. It's fun to have a record of that. If you've been reading along, well, thanks so much for taking an interest in my little story and in my riding.

As we round the top, we see 4 tourists out on rental bikes. They are taking pictures of the city on our first time at the top. On the second trip up they are posing with the statue of Harvey W. Scott pointing towards Portland. As we round the top, they hop back on their bikes, decidedly more well-dressed than we are in our workout clothes and we all barrel down the mountain.

They stop to look at a map and I pull over to chat. They're from Japan and are here for 4 days and yes, they did ride all the way to the top of Mt. Tabor on those city bikes. "Impressive," I said and asked them if I could take they're picture.

Our ride has been over-run with oblivious parents. "Oblivious...oblivious," I sing to the tune of Aquarius. Screaming kids, kids running into the street, kids yelling at their parents "No!" seem to erase parents brains to the fact that getting hit by a bike would really hurt (both of us). I keep yelling out, "Watch out!," but mostly just slow way down so I can stop at a moment's notice. "Looks like fun," Peter says, tongue-in-cheek, as we pass a kid that is screaming at his dad.

As we make our way down after the fourth ascent, Peter remarks, "I'm really getting better at this." That's the beauty of muscle memory. It takes a little while to build it, but once you have it, you have it. It probably helps that we walked/hiked 30+ miles in Missoula.

We make a big circle, riding down the Salmon side and through the neighborhood bike streets, past the library and the school. The leaves are falling slowly and sometimes hit my cheek or my chest as I ride through them. They make a satisfying crunch sound under my wheels. Riding on a sunny fall day on my favorite mountain with my favorite person. I think as I ride that this is a great way to start the second year of my diary.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The thing I love about riding is that there is almost always something interesting that happens. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's bad. Many times it is just fun or amusing or in some may memorable. But, time and time again, I'm happy I chose a bike ride over time on my elliptical.

Today, as I rode off I was thinking about how my dad always says, "Welcome to the real world," to me. I was thinking about what the REAL world is. Certainly, it is many different things for many different people. For some people, it is constant suffering and hardship. For most westerners, even the hardship comes with some measure of support from our family, culture, government. You don't see a lot of people walking around with dead eyes like I read about the people in somewhere like Nepal looking.

For a lot of people, having kids is part of living in the real world. Kids aren't my thing and since good birth control is cheap and incredibly effective, my world hasn't included a baby. So, does that mean I'm somehow missing out on what real life is like? Maybe, but I also get to save my pennies for trips to Iceland while my friends are saving for piano lessons, braces and college.

Anyway, these were the kinds of thoughts I was having when I saw them in front of me. She was about 5 feet tall, with a scarf on her head. He was maybe a few inches taller, bowlegged, and wearing a smart Irish cap. They were moving along slowly, holding hands and taking up the entire path. They had to both be at least 80 years old. It just killed me. Elderly couples, walking slowly together, hands clasped completely ruin me. They send me into all these sentimental, gushy thoughts about life and my husband and living our lives together until we are old and creaky. I chastise myself for not taking a picture of them as I approached and slowly walk around them.

I stop as usual at Powell Butte for a banana. "Two bananas and an egg," I told my husband this weekend. I can get 3 hours worth of entertainment for 45 cents, plus burn lots of extra calories to be able to eat a fabulous dinner. Such a rewarding hobby.

A couple of Russian kids are playing on the trail. "Da, da, da, da, da!," the little girl says to her brother. I laugh that she keeps saying the only Russian word I know.

Back on my bike, I'm admiring the horses when I notice a long stick covering the right half of the path. Then the stick moves. Snake! Before I can think, Turn! Hard! Fast! I turn hard and fast and miss the snake's head by a centimeter or two. This is the first time in over a year I've seen a snake out here and now every stick is a snake. What's that? Oh, just a stick. What's that? Oh, another stick. I'm just starting to settle down and get back to enjoying my ride when Snake! Oh, geez, now I am officially freaked out. I do not want to hit a snake. At. All. I worry that they are out sunning themselves because it is colder.

At the end of the trail, I run out and take some pictures of the sunflowers for my friend, Lucy. Then head back. I'm still on snake alert and thinking about how this is just the kind of thing that stresses me out. Things I have absolutely no control over do not stress me out. Swine flu, nuclear holocaust, crashing when I'm in an airplane. I am not in the slightest way responsible for those things. When I'm on a plane, I'm utterly relaxed. It's the stuff that I do have some control over that gets me stressed. I think about trying to be the kind of person who would say, "Just relax. Enjoy your ride. If you kill a snake it is it's own stupid fault for being on a trail with so many humans on it." This works for all of exactly 6 seconds before I'm back to diligently scanning for moving sticks. When I turn onto the I-205 bike path I let out a sigh. I decide I need to climb a big hill and head for Mt. Tabor.

The hill climbing relaxes me and I go out of my way to get a nice shot of Mt. Hood. After 41 miles I pull into home, starving because I'm two hours late for lunch. I eat a giant bowl of pho and think about how glad I am that I made the herculean effort to miss that snake. When I rode past that spot, he had long since slithered away. It was a bit more stressful today because of him, but then, without him, it surely wouldn't have been so memorable.

Monday, October 4, 2010


this time last year on Tabor

I ride off today, under-dressed, in my RAGBRAI jersey and Pearl Izumi bike shorts. It's the only pair of shorts I have and my only real jerseys are my RAGBRAI jerseys, so there it is, my uniform. My emotions are a mixture of anger, sadness, frustration, and delight. Life is like that sometimes. I'm not going to go into the first three other than to say that by the end of this ride they were just memory, a happily forgotten result of climbing hills. The delight was because I had made the most delicious homemade tomato soup for lunch and while I was enjoying it my dad called. I hadn't talked with him in a while and it was nice to catch up.

I was moving quickly in the beginning and drivers were pissing me off. One ran me into a parked car after a stoplight and another passed me while I was going around a circle. It was a perfectly ridiculous thing to do on such a quiet street so I guess I wasn't all that surprised when the passenger leaned out of the window, just a foot away from me and takes my picture. What did surprise me was that he was wearing a Jason hockey mask. How bizarre! I've seen this guy before when I did my Bicycling Daydreams ride.

As I pulled into the park, I saw him jump out of the car, run up to these two women and take their picture. "What are you doing?," one of them says, while the other has the presence of mind to pull out her smart phone and snap a picture of him. He poses for it, then jumps back in the car and they speed off.

I pass a road biker, dressed much more appropriately in pants and a jacket and say, "Howdy." I'm freezing at this point and glad I turned on the sauna before I left home. I pedal on to the top, circle it, and scream down in front of the reservoir at 27 mph. Just before I reach the bottom I see the two women and stop to talk about how strange the hockey mask guy was. We decide he was looking for pictures of shock when I tell them about my experience. I think my mouth was open and my brow was furrowed in my picture. Concerned, maybe. Confused, for sure.

Then as I'm riding away, one of them yells out, "Hey, RAGBRAI!" We get to talking and we graduated from the University of Iowa a year apart. "I've always wanted to do RAGBRAI!" she says. Small world.

This is just a short little Tabor ride, but already it has been filled with fear, surprise, mystery and fellowship. It is just what I needed to remember to shake off things that make me feel sad or hurt. And, when in doubt, even if it is for just an hour, go for a bike ride!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Riding with Lori

"Can we meet on the I-205 bike path at 9?," Lori's email said last night. "You bet! See you then," I responded with more enthusiasm than I actually have for waking up before 7am. But, when the alarm went off I popped out of bed. I was excited for our first try at a ride together. To get to Division, I climbed over Tabor and pulled up at our designated meeting site exactly at 9am. Lori wasn't there yet so I pulled out my theraband and did some monster walks while waiting.

When I saw a beautiful brunette approaching on a spiffy little city bike, I was ready with my camera. "I'm feeling a little intimidated," Lori said when she stopped. "Okay," I replied. I get it. A year ago, things that seem intuitive to me now seemed like baffling mysteries to me. I had no idea how to pronounce chamois or derailleur. Chamois Butt'r and it's possible application were a complete mystery to me. Clipless pedals (and why they are called clipless) boggled the mind and why anyone would consider wearing them was beyond understanding. I thought riding jerseys were ugly and bicycle tans ridiculous looking. "Oh, what a year can do," I thought, standing there with my full kit on and well-defined bicycle tan. But, "Okay," was all I could muster in response not quite knowing how to put all that.

Lori is one of my favorite people. She is kind and warm. She loves her husband and her dogs and, like me, has a bit of wanderlust. She is a little older than me and I appreciate her insights and wisdom. Plus, she has a great laugh and when she laughs uproariously at one of my many stories, well, who wouldn't love to be around someone like that?

We rode south together for a while, Lori in front, so I could get an idea of her pace. Then we pulled onto the Springwater heading east towards Powell Butte. We rode side by side and talked like we usually do, some lighthearded topics, some serious, often funny. Then I said, "I'm going to stop," and I started slowing down. "Everything okay," Lori said, sounding concerned. "No, I just want a picture of the cat." "Oh!"

Making our way towards a 4-way stop, we came to a brief pause, but I continued on. A car was just coming around the corner an Lori yelled at me, "Sara!" with a stern, motherly voice. I felt immediately ashamed, but then thought, "Hey, I didn't do anything wrong. They have a stop sign!" So, I told her as much and she instantly switched to her normal ebullient tone saying, "Oh, I didn't see that! Okay."

We stopped on a bridge by a father and his toddler. The father wanted to get back on the bike but the kid just wanted to run! It was cute. I cracked a hard-boiled egg on my helmet and Lori said, "Whoa, old school." I love cracking eggs on my helmet. It's that whole easily entertained thing again.

A little less than three miles from the end of the trail, Lori was ready to turn back. We said our goodbyes as at this point we had been riding together for well over our initially planned hour. (1:20, I think). "Maybe I'll be able to ride to the end and then catch you before you get to Powell Butte," I said. Lori looked skeptical and said, "Or I'll just see you Monday."

I burst off, trying mightily to get to the end so I could catch her before she turned for home. At the end I stopped momentarily to eat a banana and was back pedaling before I was even done chewing. 21 miles per hour, 21.5 miles per hour. In my head I tried to do the LSAT question. 2 cyclists depart heading in opposite directions. One is averaging 18 miles per hour and turns around after 3 miles. The other is going 12 miles per hour. Will the first cyclist catch the second cyclist before she turns for home after 7 miles? Doubtful. At least, by the time I was about a mile from Powell Butte, and really wanted to take a picture of the sheep, I'd waived the white flag. I hope the rest of your ride was great, Lori. It sure was fun to try to catch you.

As I'm taking the picture of the sheep above, I hear the hearty laugh of a not-really-so-young-anymore-but-still-really-fit man coming towards me. His muscular pitbull is striding purposefully ahead of him attached to an eight-foot rope. "It's nice to have them on this trail, isn't it?," he asked. "I love the sheep," I said in reply. He had a long white beard and an Indiana Jones Hat on. He looked like he was the kind of person who could have hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. I liked him immediately. Then he said, "Well, you have a real nice day today, hon." Awww, and he talks like a New Jersey waitress. It's amazing how much more I like people since I started cycling. These short little interactions with people I would normally never see have, in many ways, restored my trust in humanity.
At the Springwater Corridor mural, I called home. "I'm freezing, can you turn on the sauna?"
I rode over Tabor and got this little shot of the city coming down and after 36.5 miles pulled into home. It's a great feeling to be well over my 83-mile road bike goal for the week and my plans are to just keep riding tomorrow with maybe some time on Reilly Friday. A great week of riding seems just mean a great week in general for me, now. I hope in a year, Lori, you feel the same way, too.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I actually wasn't going to blog about today because I did the Springwater again and I'm doing it again tomorrow with my friend (and brand new aspiring cyclist), Lori. But, I had a wonderful ride and I've got 20 minutes to ice my back so here goes.

My back was aggravatingly upset yesterday so no riding. Lots of icing, mobilizing, some pilates and my anti-inflammatories had me up and running again today. I was only marginally motivated to ride today, but my afternoon sessions don't even start tonight until 5:30 so it seemed like a shame not go in a long ride. Nothing interesting was happening until I was crossing a crosswalk and the guy in the truck who stopped to let me go stopped kinda fast. The littler truck behind him totally missed that he was stopping and SLAMMED directly into him. It was loud and taillight glass went flying. Oh man, did I feel bad. I really didn't know what to do so I said, "Sorry!" and just kept riding. I felt so guilty even though I really didn't do anything wrong.

Of course, when I feel bad about anything it makes me want to ride hard and fast. Not sure of the connection there, but all of the sudden I was motivated. I went all the way to the end of the trail then went exploring a little past it.

It was on the way back, though, that I had the experience that makes this ride worth a diary entry. I'm riding past Powell Butte and I heard, "RAGBRAI! Did you do RAGBRAI?" This happens a lot, but this time it seemed extra special. A cyclist just a few years younger than my dad pulls up beside me and we start talking. He's from Minnesota and has always wanted to do RAGBRAI, but has been scared off by the number of cyclists. So, we rode together, a little faster than my normal pace and just chatted about RAGBRAI and Iowa. We discussed Midwestern heat and humidity and how much we love eating after riding. Then we discovered that we both have had herniated discs (he's had one, I've had four) and this immediately turned into telling tales of how we both overcame our injuries and how we keep riding. It was just five miles of the loveliest conversation and when we parted ways I felt like once again I had discovered why doing a bike ride is endlessly more rewarding than doing cardio at home.

So, anyway, that's my story for today. Out of time! Cheers!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Little Things

Just before I was about to leave for my ride, my back did a little thing. If you have back problems you know what I mean. You feel something move or not move in a way it shouldn't and you think, "Uh oh, this could be bad." I've had back problems for 19 years and even after all that time I'm still not quite sure what I should do each time. I have a big tool kit: pilates, PT exercises, SI joint mobilizations (but for this I need a partner to do it right), cardio, rest, ice, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, morphine derivatives, whiskey (just kidding). I did some of my go-to exercises and it was pretty clear. My right SI joint (where my sacrum meets my pelvis) wasn't moving. It needed to be mobilized and that is hard to do on your own. If I had a tail, I could just reach back and give it a tug, but alas, no tail. Darn.

I was having way too good of a day today to not go for a ride so I decided to go for it anyway. Word is that the Springwater is completely repaved and open and I want to ride the whole thing. Riding towards OMSI it seems like my back is going to feel pretty good while riding but not so good when I go to stand up. Once I'm on the trail I pull up behind a very fit, very big (think quarterback build) road biker. He's going a little bit slower than me (like 1 mph) so I decided to pick up some speed and pass him. I ride a little faster than normal for a bit to get some distance between us and then settle into my pace. 10 minutes later he passes me, then pulls in front and slows down again. Oh man, uncool. I hate it when people do that when I'm driving too and I decide to call him Smarmy Bike Dude. He gave me a smarmy look when I passed him and he's got a goatee (which are not my thing) so thus he's been named. I am not in the mood to play leapfrog with Smarmy Bike Dude all day (especially since he snuck up on me and didn't say "On your left") so I just decide to slow down and let him ride in front.

Riding east I happen upon an idea. I seem to be getting a searing pain whenever I stand up, so why not let Smarmy Bike Dude hit all the crosswalk buttons for me. This proves to be entirely too much fun. Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! I fly through all the lights. I'm quite easily entertained and thoroughly enjoying this game. If you know me well, you know I get excited about the little things in life: warm sweaters, a perfect bowl of pho, espresso in a heated cup, a picture of my cat that exactly captures her mood. It's a quality I appreciate in my friends, too. My husband is a great appreciater (if that's a word) of the little things. I love how excited he gets about making his own TV antennaes, or how he loves that his voice gets all hoarse and scratchy after a soccer game, or how excited he got when Homer did a Popeye impression ("I need fuel fer me mule, gas fer me ass!") But anyway, back to my ride.

At Powell Butte I decide to let Smarmy Bike Dude go and I stop to eat a banana. I do a few back exercises which seems to help and decide to keep going. It doesn't seem like my back is getting worse and I'm having a good time, so why not? About 19.5 miles into my ride, I stand up on my pedals to check my back and my SI joint moves a little bit. Ahhhhhhhhh! What a relief. But, I have no time to celebrate because their are slugs everywhere! Slugs left! Slugs right! Slugs in piles! I don't want to hit little guys (mostly for selfish reasons) so I carefully maneuver my bike around them for the last few miles.

At the end of the trail, I crack an egg on my helmet to down a little protein. Needs salt. My back is feeling much, much better now and after I make it back past the slugs I'm riding a few miles per hour faster. I stop at Powell Butte again for another banana. My fender has moved into a whole new realm of squeakiness and when I check it out I see the problem. It has broken in a third place. A few miles later I would place the sound it is making. I rode under a tree with a bunch of little brown tweety birds chirping away and said, "That's the sound!" My bike no longer sounds like the scooter from the Jetsons, or like chirping crickets. Now it sounds like a flock of tiny birds! This has some benefits because I no longer need to say "On your left," when I pass people. Long before I get to them, pedestrians all turn around to see what all the racket is about.

At the I-205 bike path, I turn north and then make my way home via Burnside, Couch and Davis. After a little over 40 miles, me and the flock of birds pull into the garage where I remove the fender. Happy that I got in such a nice ride on a somewhat questionable back day I settle in with an ice pack and some chai and think about even when I'm not feeling great (and the weather wasn't so great today either) I just love to ride.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Three Herons

There are some things that I never seem to tire of. Making my husband laugh is one of them. Traveling to faraway places is another. Pizza, chocolate, Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, you know, the usuals. But, living in Portland, something I seem to be endlessly thrilled by is cycling along the Columbia River gazing over the water at Mt. Hood. I'm not sure what it is about mountains, but those snow-covered peaks attract my eye like nothing else on the horizon. Today, our ride along the Columbia was graced by something else, well, three something elses, that make every pedal stroke to get there worth it (and them some). But, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Our ride started as they often do on the weekend with a trip through north Portland. Unfortunately, Peter got a little tripped up in his toe clips crossing a street and ended up with some nasty scrapes and a turned ankle. This would sour his mood considerably. He wasn't in the mood for biking or cars or exercise or nature as we made our way through some new (to us) bike path that was labeled as damaged. We thought we'd give it a try anyway and got to see this beautiful spot. I'm also pretty sure we saw a coyote as we were riding on the Smith and Bybee lake trail. We cycled through some possibilities: wolf, husky, raccoon, coyote. Coyote seems the most probable. Cool.

Ahh...that would be damaged. We had fun, anyway, and it was cool to have the path to ourselves.
"I think bicycling combines my fear of exercise with my hatred of cars," Peter says. Handing him a container of chocolate milk I ask, "Hatred of exercise, with fear of cars?" "Hatred and fear of exercise with hatred and fear of cars." Hmmm... "I think bicycling combines my love of exercise with my love of travel." The mountain really is something, isn't it?
We rest for a while and watch airplanes fly overhead. They sky is so pretty today.

Riding along the Columbia, Peter says, "This is the best I've felt all day!" "Chocolate milk?" I say. "No, mentally, this is the best I've felt." I think the river and the mountain are doing their magic.
And, so are the three great blue herons we see. I think I just found my favorite bird.

Peter's feeling better so we decide to ride across the bridge into Washington. This is a noisy, uphill treat for my wanderlust and I just can't help but snap a picture of the "Entering Washington" sign.
Riding back, I'm awestruck. A picture will never do justice to the view of Mt. Hood with the Columbia River snaking underneath you. I just coasted down the hill at 23 mph and felt a piece of my heart get fed in a way I didn't know it needed to.

We stopped at Maywood Park for more chocolate milk and granola bars and then made our way home. (I was sure to point out the spot where I nearly got eaten by the Rottweiler). Pulling into the driveway with 45.3 miles, I knew I would hold in my heart this special ride forever. Three blue herons and a majestic mountain will do that for you.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thanks, Susie

I named this diary The Well-Dressed Cyclist after coming home from Finland and being so impressed with how the people rode their bikes dressed so nicely. Over the course of the last year it has more become a journal of my road biking rides, because, well, a 50-mile ride is quite a bit more memorable than a quick jaunt to the library. But, I still make quick jaunts to the library and when I can I always try to look my best. I will, quite literally, ride my bike in anything. You name it. Cowboy boots, white jeans, high heels...I'll ride in it. I have one person to thank for everything I know about fashion and for (nearly) every cute outfit I ride in: my dear friend, truly one of the best friends I've ever had, Susie.

Susie is a consultant for a clothing design called CAbi and every season we do a little trade. I give her pilates sessions and she gives me these great clothes. Truthfully, we probably couldn't afford each other's services without the trade, but I think we do it for more than that reason. It's a way to make each other's lives just a little bit brighter. Susie is astoundingly good at her job and I hope that she appreciates her time with me moving and stretching her body in various assortments of angles and rotations.

Below are some pictures of me on and off the bike in clothes from Susie:

Yesterday, I traded riding time for time spent with Susie at my tiny little trunk show. We sipped prosecco topped with St. Germain and oohed and ahhed at how beautiful the clothes were. It's not just how great they look, it's also how great they feel. And, with each new outfit I saw or tried on I always had the same thoughts: "I wonder how this would be to ride in," or "This would look so cute on my bike." There is a pink coat in this new collection that makes me swoon...I'm truly quite giddy when I put it on. Picture of me riding my bike in it soon to follow.

I only had time to ride for an hour today thanks to a downed modem and a house-wide search for my keys. I rode up Tabor twice and could feel that my ride on Friday has boosted me to a whole new level of fitness. Six months ago I did my fastest Tabor ride (at the time) ever and was ecstatic when I finally punched through to 10 mph. Today I was doing close to 12 mph on a much steeper part. That might not seem like a lot, but on a hill that steep it really is.

The whole ride I was thinking about my party and Susie and how much I love her. She is one of the few people in the world that knows everything about me (both strengths and faults) and still loves me. That is truly a special thing. So, thanks Susie, for being such a wonderful and dear friend and for making me such a stylish, well-dressed cyclist.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Big Dog

"I need to go on a long ride tomorrow," I said to my husband yesterday. As I rode off today dressed in my bright pink RAGBRAI jersey with my trunk bag velcroed to my broken bicycle beam I thought about what it really means to need something. I suppose, truthfully, all you really need to survive is safe food and clean water. Some clothing would probably help if you're not in the tropics. A roof over your head makes sleeping more pleasant. Anyway, what I really mean is that I need to do a long ride in order to be happy. Somehow, road biking has gotten under my skin. It's in my blood and I start to feel the need to ride more than 40 miles like some people feel the need to hear live music and see great art.

So, I decided to do all of the available bike paths on the east side that you can get to without an interlude on the road. I'm not sure how long this will be but that seems like part of the fun. This is mostly uneventful for the first 25 miles. I was feeling happy because my hip/SI joint finally feels better from my fall. Along the way I saw a hipster riding a fixie with a giant pig mask on his head. A lady yelled out, "You go, pink shirt girl!," which was fun.

Then, as I am climbing a rather substantial hill a few miles from the Columbia River (I coasted down the other side of it at 28 mph) I hear a loud whistle (which I ignore) and then "R-a-m-b-o!" I look back to see a hundred something pounds of dog (possibly a Rottweiler - I can't be sure) barreling down the grassy hill towards me. His muscles are rippling with the exertion and with each frighteningly swift stride he gets serious airtime. "Fuck!" I think. "Big dog. BIG. FUCKING. DOG!" Now, I've been bitten by a dog on my bike before and had another dog come really close to biting me and neither of those incidents was a quarter as scary as this gigantic canine closing in on me. This is when my survival instincts kick in and I start pedaling with such fury that a momentary, "Oh, cool!" went through my head when I realized I was going 20 mph up a pretty fierce hill. I have no idea if a dog can go faster than that and I was too scared to look back until I made it to the top of the hill and into Maywood Park.

My legs were really shaking at this point so I stop for a rest. I give a few cyclists a warning about the dog as they ride past and then start up again. It must have been adrenaline fueling me, but from then on I rode faster than I've ever ridden on a long ride.

Little brown tweety birds (LBTB) keep pulling in front of me to ride with me as I move along the Columbia. They would usually ride a foot to the right or a foot to the left, but one plowed along right in front of my tire for more than a hundred feet. "What are you doing?" I ask and it flew away.

My mind is focused on one thing. "I don't want to go back past the dog. I don't want to go back past the dog." I'm pretty sure the dog belonged to a homeless person and I'm weighing the odds that they'll be gone when I go back that way after an hour. It's very possible that they are free camping at the top of that hill, under the trees so I decide to go back the long way, skipping the bike path and riding along 148th. This has a section without a bike lane, but today I'd rather take my chances with the cars.

I leave the bike path, head down Marine Drive and turn right on 148th. There's a lot of traffic and I say to myself, "Own your space. Darryl says to own your space." I sit up straighter and tried to hold a steady line. 1.6 miles later I'm back on the bike lane and have moved into a soaring endorphin high. When I finally make it to Burnside I feel supremely confident and almost giddy.

Burnside is long and straight and I can see that a School Bus is stopped up ahead with the stop sign extended. A very long line of cars is waiting patiently behind them. Kids don't seem to be pouring off the bus anymore but are instead gathered around the right rear end of the bus talking to a kid inside. As I get closer I can see that the bus is shaking. "I can't tell who is fighting," the kid inside yells. Oh man, this could go on for a while. I decide to walk my bike past the entrance to the bus. The bus driver is nowhere to be seen and I assume he is caught in the middle of the tussle. As I ride away, I'm completely alone on Burnside! All the traffic is caught behind the school bus. I think, like all cyclists, I have dreams of being able to cruise all over my city (or even the country) on roads free of cars. What a glorious feeling!

It has been raining for over an hour now, but about 5 miles from home the sky really opens. I'm already soaked to the bone and couldn't care less. In fact, it feels great. I want to shout to the cars passing me, "I feel so alive!" I start to laugh at myself because I think the latest chapter of "Sara's Fear of Cycling" has been closed. Pulling off Burnside and onto the bike streets a postman wearing a full-length rain coat notices my ebullient grin and laughs. "How you doing today?" he cheerfully asks. "GREAT!" I reply.

After 4 hours and 53 miles I pull into the driveway, soaked, happy...blissfully happy and (as I would learn when I got inside) with two giant holes in my beloved Louis Garneau bike shorts. One on each cheek. I must have been quite the sight riding home and we got a good laugh out of this. Later, when we were eating dinner I was feeling sad about my shorts and I accidentally confessed how much these shorts had cost me ($140). Woops, I had managed to keep that a secret from my husband for a full 7 months! "But, I've probably worn them (and washed them) 140 times," I told Peter. At a dollar a wear, that can't be too bad. I'll have to wait to buy myself a new pair as we have put ourselves into Iceland-bound self-inflicted poverty. If there is any money for Christmas presents, those will be on my list (and I can't wait to wear out my next pair too!).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I come from a long line of worriers. My great-grandma Sarah Reilly was a worrier and so was her daughter Rose. My mother is a world class worrier and once told me that in her younger years she thought that if she was up half the night worrying about someone it meant that she had a deeper, closer, more important relationship with them. Thankfully, she has since overcome this (now) laughable belief. I worry a lot. It's just a character flaw. Something I was born with and that the trials of my life have cultivated in me. Worrying has made me into a bit of an insomniac which is not ALL bad. I've read hundreds of books lying in bed while the rest of the world is sleeping. I've learned that after a certain point it is best to NEVER look at the clock because as the hours tick by you are just going to be depressed by how little sleep you've gotten.

I've thought about this tendency to worry and I think it comes from the uncertainty of life. My husband looks at the uncertainty of life and considers it a reason to not worry at all. You are not going to predict what is going to happen so why even bother worrying. On my better days, I am in perfect agreement with this sentiment. (My better days almost always happen when I've gotten enough cardio in. Endorphins are truly the world's best anti-anxiety medicine). But, sometimes, worry gets the best of me (as it did last week) and when it does my friends seem to rally around me. They encourage me to let go of my fear of the uncertainty of life and come to terms with it as a simple reality. I have no doubt (and I've given this a lot of thought) that if I could actually EMBRACE uncertainty with a Forrest Gump "Life is like a box of chocolates" passion I would be happier, healthier and would probably get to sleep a lot easier most nights.

I've really been working on this. Really, I have. And, as I've worked on this I collected an impressive set of stories about how you NEVER know what might happen so just enjoy it when life goes your way. It will most decidedly not always go your way, but just enjoy it when it does. I thought I would share them with you:

-My mother, ten years ago, was walking down the stairs, lost her balance and ended up with 13 screws and a plate in her foot and a torn rotator cuff. It took three surgeries and countless hours of rehab to get her walking again. Her foot will never be the same and you won't see her running down the beach anytime soon. But, seriously, how many thousands of times has she walked down the stairs? She never would have guessed that on THAT trip down the stairs she would end up with a permanent disability. You shouldn't worry. You really shouldn't.

-My friend, R, was just washing his car on a hilly street in San Francisco and a parked car (without anyone in it) started rolling down the hill. It smashed into him, crushing him into his car and breaking his back. He suffered from serious damage to his internal organs and spent 6 months in the hospital. He still celebrates that day as his second birthday.

-My friend, B, has a co-worker who was standing outside a restaurant with a couple of friends who were smoking. A car veered off the road, struck him, and he lost his leg. Now, no one would ever worry about something like that happening.

-My friend, E, also has a friend who lost a leg. This time he was crossing a street in a crosswalk and he was hit by a cop. I'm really not making these up.

-My friend, A's mom was walking on the sidewalk in front of her house and tripped on a miniscule crack in the cement and fell and broke her leg.

-My husband was doing sort of a headstand on our chair in the living room and the chair flipped out from under him. He came crashing down to the floor landing directly on both knee caps. This was a year ago and his knees still aren't the same.

These are all my accident related stories. I have illness ones too and somehow I find them all to be incredibly soothing. Maybe that sounds odd. That's okay, I'm kind of odd. I mean I feel awful about what happened to all these people but seeing how completely out of the blue all these accidents were helps me to just let go of my life a little bit. I hope that makes sense.

Anyway, today I had a great ride. I rode up Tabor 4 times and got that sweet little feeling of accomplishment that for me only comes on hill rides. I wasn't worried about falling or getting hit, I was just enjoying the fresh air and the left/right motion of my pedals. My duct taped together fender now sings to me like the sound of crickets chirping when I climb hills. When I am riding faster and I slow down at a stop sign it sounds exactly like the scooter on the Jetsons. I'm becoming increasingly enamored with these quiet little sounds and wondering if I really want to give up this beat up fender after all.

Some people just naturally let things roll off their back. I envy them. I, on the other hand, almost always have to w-o-r-k t-h-r-o-u-g-h everything. But, you know, I have always been able to work my way through or out of things so I guess that is a testament to how strong I am. (Even though I worry that I might not be so strong). Life might be filled with uncertainty and deep down I know I can't do anything about that. Sometimes life goes your way. Sometimes it doesn't. Today, most everything went my way. I'm just going to enjoy that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Great Blue Heron

I'm not sure if it was the sound of the screeching brakes, the heart-stopping closeness of the car to the bike of the cyclist in front of me before it stopped, the loud crash to the pavement of me, my bike, and unfortunately my sense of confidence in my riding, or the painful deep bruises on my knee and hip, but something about what happened last Monday really had me shook up. I woke up on Tuesday morning (which is my day to ride because I don't have any morning clients) and I did NOT want to ride my bike. At. All. It was a strange and empty feeling because I ALWAYS want to ride my bike and somehow over the last year (it kinda snuck up on me) I have come to identify myself more with my riding than with anything else. I didn't care about my 3000 mile goal or keeping off the weight I lost on RAGBRAI. I was like a turtle pulled back into her shell. I just wanted to be at home. Safe.

Ironically, I've been spending the last weeks doing a lot of reading about cycle touring. And, as I stayed curled up in my bed reading Metal Cowboy: Tales of a Path Less Pedaled on Tuesday I felt like a complete fraud. I was ashamed at how shaken up I had gotten by what was just a near miss. These cyclists I've been reading about have fallen off their bikes hundreds of times. They've been hit by cars, for crying out loud. But, mostly, I felt a sense of loss. I didn't know how to do life anymore with a love of bicycling to shape my days.

Wednesday, I was feeling a little better so I rode Reilly around the neighborhood. But that was it. I was still flinching when cars passed me and couldn't wait to get home. What is wrong with me?, I kept thinking.

Thursday and Friday we went to the beach and we had a great time. I was reminded of my bruised and skinned knee every time I knelt down in the tent, but I was sincerely hoping that a couple of days away to lick my wounds would be all I needed to shake this uncomfortable funk.

"Just do a Tabor ride," I said to myself and was relieved when my husband said he would join me on Saturday. As we rode out of the driveway, all clipped in, I actually thought, "Hey, I know how to do this." My mind was focused, diligent. Car up. Car back. Shift, brake, pedal, shift. Unclip, lean to the left. I was starting to remember why I loved cycling so much, but in the back of my mind stayed the ever present thought, "You're taking a risk. You're taking a risk."

"Maybe the thing is that the ever present threat of death keeps you focused on what you are doing," I said to Peter. "You know, like you can't worry about other things because if you lose your focus, you're dead." Peter looked at me quizzically with his eyebrows raised, "Oh yeah?" He was as unconvinced as I was.

Without a partner to ride with yesterday, I lost my courage. I rode to Pho Van to get some pho, but that was it. And as the hours between my morning sessions and evening sessions ticked by I kept thinking, "You've still got time for a 30 mile ride, a 20 mile ride, 4 times up Tabor, 2 times up Tabor." In the end, a bubble bath and a glass of Zinfandel won out. It turned out to be a crappy, tepid bath because we need a new water heater and laying there looking down at my belly I was quite disappointed in myself for being such a chicken. Okay, tomorrow, however you feel, you're going for a ride. No excuses!!!

"10 days in Iceland for 2100 dollars!" the email from Peter said. I called him and asked if that included our flights. "YES!" he replied. When he got home we found an even better deal ($1900) that was for an apartment so we could cook some of our own food. And then, in a moment of delicious impulsiveness we bought the package. It was a completely irresponsible thing to do since we should probably spend that money getting a new water heater or replacing the pipes, but how often do you find a deal like that for an international trip? "We're going to Iceland. We're going to Iceland!" we cheered to each other as we jumped around the kitchen and then in the next breath I yelled out, "I want to ride my bike!!!!!!"

Like a fish finally back in the water, I rode out of the driveway a new woman. Now, I can't say that buying airline tickets to some far away land is ALWAYS the cure for a fear of cycling, but I wasn't going to question it. I was no longer afraid and all I wanted to do was ride.

I blew up Tabor, noticing that the mountain was completely socked in by clouds and made my way towards the Columbia river. About 10 miles in I could feel like a layer of stress, worry and anxiety from the last week was peeling away. Without my regular endorphin dose, people had been starting to irritate me and I could feel as I pedaled that extra "give" that I had lost coming back. At about 12 miles, I noticed that I was using my full lungs to breathe again.

Little birds were all around me skittering from here to there. There was a pile of birdseed on the ground and on top of the cement structure where I always stop to eat a snack. I added some crumbs from my granola bar to their stash. And then, I looked up and saw him (or her, but let's say it was a him). A great blue heron was no more than twenty feet away from me perched on a pole. The picture below is without a zoom or cropping. That's how close he was.
I looked up at him and then down at the little birds. I ate the rest of my granola bar and switched out my water bottles. He remained perfectly still. His countenance one of complete stillness, of peace. I kept watching to see if he might move and for a little while thought maybe he wasn't even real. And, then I got to wondering what he was looking at and looked to the east. Sitting there in all it's glory was Mt. Hood, a view that I will NEVER tire of. I hadn't even noticed that the mountain had found it's way out of the clouds. I went back to watching him and as each minute passed I became more entranced. How could he stay so still? What is he thinking about? Have I ever in my entire life been that peaceful? After more than 10 minutes, he scratched his wing with his beak and I pedaled away knowing that it was moments like that that are the reason why you ride. You never get to learn about stillness and peace from a great blue heron riding an elliptical, or sitting at home reading a book, or watching a movie. No, this is why you ride. This is why I ride.

I headed back east with a tailwind marveling as the mountain slowly began to be covered by clouds again. And, imbued without my own feeling of stillness and peace I pedaled happily home.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Beginner

I've only been riding a bike as my main form of transportation for about 14 months. I've ridden a lot of miles in that time, probably close to 4000. But, clearly, I have so much more to learn. I think there is a Zen Buddhist belief that you should always have a beginner's mind even if you have been doing things for years. I get that, having a beginner's mind yesterday helped get me up Mt. Scott. As I was struggling up that hill I kept thinking about how my friend Leslie who (along with Darryl of Loving The Bike) is the person I've learned the most about cycling from. "Leslie has probably done this a hundred times," I said to myself as I was riding (I think of her as the Queen of the Hills). Then, she told me yesterday that she has only tried Mt. Scott once and she didn't make it. She had to walk half of it. I wonder if I would have forced myself to keep pedaling had I known that.

Anyway, I'm diverging. Today was a day when instead of being such a beginner (which I definitely still am) I wished I had more experience. I was just going to go do a simple Mt. Tabor ride. You know, stay close to home, get the heart pumping for a bit. I rode away from home and turned left onto the bike street behind a guy riding what I would have called a 10-speed when I was a kid. He had two bright, shiny metal fenders tucked into his messenger bag and as I rode behind him I thought, "That is awesome. He is going to keep riding in the rain." We came to a stop sign at a fairly busy cross-street. I unclipped as I always do at stop signs, but he didn't even give the stop sign the slightest of pauses. He barreled on through and that is why I was so shocked to see two cars coming. One slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting him by inches and the other car (behind the first car) swerved to the right towards me. I gasped in terror at the near miss and before I know it my front wheel has turned, I've lost my balanced and I go crashing down to the pavement. Everybody stops to check on me. I seem to be alright although there is blood pooling on my knee again.

As I ride away I think, "Clearly I am not qualified to be using these clipless pedals." Had I not been following the cues given by the cyclist in front of me and instead assumed that there was a car coming, I wouldn't have fallen. Damn it. The bruise on my hip from last time still hasn't healed.

I experiment with unclipping both feet at every stop, but this just makes me feel unsteady. Climbing Mt. Tabor, my whole right side is protesting. My date with the pavement has left me with a cramping calf and an aching hip. I head back down and, feeling defeated, head for home. Today is just not my day.

About a mile from home, my bike starts singing. My back fender is rubbing and for a moment I think that the duct tape must have come off from where I patched it back together last week. Nope, it has broken again...this time in a different spot. This poor bike. The brakes are all scraped up. The fender is broken in two places now. I haven't even gotten to 2000 miles on her yet. I'm sorry, Amie. I guess it is better than her looking all shiny and new and never getting ridden.

When I get home I sit in my chair and cry. Then, I wipe my tears, clean and bandage my wound, and think about what I learned. My skinned-up knee will heal. My brakes, although scraped, still work. My fender will be replaced (or get another round of duct tape until I can replace it). That rider in front of me hopefully learned to be more careful when crossing that street (it really is hard to see there). I learned not to follow the cues of a rider in front of me and instead that I should just assume there is traffic. And, you know, when it is all said and done, even after falling, I still got up and rode to the top of a volcano. There's probably a lesson in that, too.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

For Barb

Peter had been sleeping for hours when he was awakened Friday night by the shaking of my quiet sobs. "What's wrong?" he said. I just continued sobbing but somehow managed to get out "She......died." "Who died?" Peter asked. "The woman from the book." (Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage) "On the trip?" "No, she died after she got home and wrote the book. She died just as it was going to print." "Oh," he said, rubbing his eyes. "How?" "Cycling accident," I replied. "What a stupid book," was all he managed to say for consolation before he laid back down and drifted back to sleep.

But, it wasn't a stupid book. It was an amazing book. It was an amazing adventure. Barbara and her husband Larry had pedaled 25,000 miles. They'd survived logging trucks and bears and rattlesnakes, Florida drivers, cobras and the chaotic streets of India. They'd summited the Rockies, the Appalachians, the Alps, and they'd even cycled in the shadow of Mt. Everest. They'd battled dysentery, rain, snow, cold, heat. They'd been bruised by the rocks thrown at their faces in Egypt and discovered that even when that reserve that we all keep to get us through the lowest low is gone, that they still had each other.

And, even though I was so sad that Barb had died so young (she couldn't have even been 30), it was clear from her book that she had experienced more on that trip than most of us will experience in a lifetime. She had seen the world in a way that let her really experience the terrain, the weather and the people and she had been kind enough to share it with us. As I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling that night I knew that at the age of 34 I had found a new hero.

The next day I bought a hardcover copy of Miles from Nowhere and decided that I wanted my ride on Sunday to be dedicated to her. Maybe that sounds incredibly cheesy. But, nevertheless, that is what I wanted to do. I started thinking about how I could do that. It had to be a ride that I had never done before. Something challenging that pushes me outside of my comfort zone. To be truthful, going anywhere by myself for the first time is outside my comfort zone because I have a terrible sense of direction. I decided that I was going to try to conquer Mt. Scott and since I really didn't know anything about it and had never been there before it would a little adventure. But, going there and back would only be about a 20-mile ride so I decided to tack on Mt. Tabor and Rocky Butte and call it the Three Volcanoes Ride. I decided that every time I did the Three Volcanoes Ride after that I would be reminded of Barbara Savage, her amazing adventurous spirit and how, nearly 30 years after she had died, her book had touched my life.

Blame it on the 4 glasses of wine I had last night. Blame it on the cool, cloudy weather. Blame it on the smell of smoke still left in my hair from sitting lazily around our outdoor fireplace last night with our guests. Blame it on the PMS that had been over shadowing my last few days, or the wheeze I woke up with this morning (possibly from inhaling too much smoke). Whatever. When I woke up this morning I was no longer inspired. I just wanted to lie in bed, eat chocolate chips and read. And, that's what I did until at around 2pm I decided I'd eaten far too many chocolate chips and needed to get some cardio in. Admitting defeat, I filled up my water bottles, grabbed a gel (at the last minute) and set off to do a Tabor ride. My mind and body are so used to climbing Mt. Tabor that I could do it in my sleep. But, 4 times up gets my heart rate up for about 90 minutes.

Riding towards Tabor, about 2 miles in, a familiar sensation starts to rise inside me. Ambition. I decide that I'm going to go for it. Happy that I packed the gel, I climbed over Tabor and headed south.

There is a little bit of climbing to get to the base of Mt. Scott, but I was not prepared for what I saw when I looked to the left at the stoplight at Johnson Creek Blvd. I've never seen a hill that steep. I start up it. My heart is pounding, my poor lungs complain with a much more pronounced wheeze and my legs start to shake. My front wheel keeps lifting off the ground as I desperately pull on the handlebars. When my hands started tingling I knew I had to stop.

A road biker slowly makes his way past me and he looks a bit concerned. "Hiiii..." I manage to bleat with a slow smile. I'm not going to walk. I am NOT going to walk. I lift myself back up on my bike and pedal another .2 miles before I have to stop. But, after a minute of resting I get back up on my bike and pedal up to the road where the trail ends. The road biker passes me as I ride the last stretch on his way down. He gives me a huge grin. I found out when I got home that I had just climbed 662 feet in half a mile. Potter Hill was 387 feet in 1.1 miles. Mt. Tabor is 377 feet in 1.86 miles. My legs and hands are shaking so I eat my gel, but I think the shaking was just from exertion.

Riding alone is very peaceful and rewarding but I always worry about bonking. Not having someone there with some extra food (or to shove food in your mouth) means that I always bring extra and I eat and drink early and often. I know I can do a 30-mile ride with just two water bottles and no food, but that climb up Mt. Scott really took it out of me. Riding past Taco Bell I have an idea. Picturing those Tour de France riders throwing back the little cans of Coke, I pull up to the drive-thru to order a soda. I'm not getting a response. "I think you have to go inside," the woman in the car behind me says. "I've tried to do this on my bike and it doesn't work." "Will you order me a small Coke?" I ask her. "Sure," she says. I ride up to the window, pick up my drink and pay for the woman's order. Waiting at the stoplight she drives by with a honk and a "Thanks!" and I continue my way north.

I'm feeling good and have pedaled my funk right out of my system. I didn't make it to the top of Mt. Scott without stopping, but I also didn't walk. There is something about it being so hard that makes it feel even more rewarding. Climbing up Rocky Butte feels like a cakewalk and when I get to the top I feel satisfied and peaceful.

When it comes to the adventurous spirit, I think I am endowed with a very measured dose. I like to see new things and especially eat new foods, but I also like to feel safe and secure. I like maps and timetables, clean hotels and amiable locals. I always have more fun if my husband is there to navigate (and share the adventure). I'll probably never do an around the world bike trip, but I think there is adventure in my future. Adventure of a more careful and calculated sort, but adventure nonetheless. "Tackling" Mt. Scott (if you count stopping twice and being a shaky wobbly mess tackling) today will hopefully be the first of many new places I get to ride in this great and wonderful world.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wonderful Portland

"I've decided that I'm going to judge all places and people from now on based solely on how they treat cyclists," I said to Peter 10 miles into our 41-mile ride today. I've been reading Barbara Savage's Miles from Nowhere these last few days and it has cemented in my mind that the way the people of a place treats cyclists says all you need to know about them. If you love to travel you'd love this book. You know...really travel. If you love seeing the people, the culture, talking to locals, then this is a book for you. If you love cycling, you'd naturally love it because it is a cycle tour around the world. Loving both travel and cycling, I've been devouring it, and learned a lot about the world and my own country. Bicycling through the West and Midwest sounds lovely, scenic (except for the Dakotas) and friendly. The East Coast sounds tiring because of the traffic unless you stay in the Appalachians. Florida seems downright suicidal. I stayed up to 2 am, reading in terror the tale of Barbara and her husband, Larry, riding in Florida. They've got 4 kinds of poisonous snakes in Florida and the threat from them is measly compared to the threat from Florida's homicidal drivers. This book was written 30 years ago, so maybe it is better now. But, still,'re on my list.
As we pedaled happily through North Portland, past Smith and Bybee lakes, I explained to Peter that it's like judging a place based on how they treat children or animals. I'd been regaling him with tales for days about the lovely people of Spain treating Barb and Larry like celebrities and how a family in Italy had sent them pedalling away with 4 gallons of wine to "get the through the next few days." Things turned for the worst when traveled through Egypt dodging rocks being hurled at them constantly. Don't ever ride your bike in Egypt.

We were riding on a stretch of Marine Drive where there is a fairly small shoulder-y bike lane when I saw the two men walking ahead of us in the bike lane. This stretch of our ride had had a steady stream of traffic, including semis, whizzing past us so I started to slow down, contemplating how we were going to get around them. I could hear a semi coming up beside us, so I slowed down to let him pass. But then, I looked back and he had actually slowed down all the traffic to let us get around these two men. He had been looking ahead to see what WE were heading into. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I just couldn't believe it. We zipped around the pedestrians, gave the semi-driver a cheerful wave and laughed in amazement at what had just happened.
For the next five miles I was nearly delirious. In that good kind of way. Portland has got to be the single greatest city in the entire United States of America for cycling, I gushed. We've got flat. We've got hills. We've got little mountains, medium-sized mountains, and mountains so big they get lost in the clouds. We've got hundreds of miles of bike streets, bike lanes and bike paths. In over a year of serious cycling, I've only run across two antsy drivers (both of whom passed me in a tunnel), but the thousands of other drivers I've encountered have been patient and courteous. And, we've got all kinds of cyclists. I passed a woman today dressed in a beautiful floral dress while pulling her toddler in a Burley trailer with a giant flag on the back. I chased a road biker up a hill with an Arrogant Bastard Ale bike jersey on. I saw little kids out with their dads. I saw couples on hybrids. I got completely smoked by a hipster on a fixie (this happens a lot). I didn't see any tandems or mountain bikes, but we've got those too. We ARE the People for Bikes commercial.

We decide to pull into Ikea after almost 30 miles for lunch. For 12 bucks we got two GIANT plates of meatballs, mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, salad, and soda. It was the first time we'd stopped and it felt good to get out of the heat.
After lunch we rode over to Best Buy to pick up the newest season of The Simpsons. We bungeed it to my bicycle beam and then headed south in the 90 degree weather towards home. I was still feeling a bit giddy from my I heart Portland experience. "You look so happy," Peter noticed at a stoplight. "I am happy," I replied. There's nothing like feeling that you are in exactly the place you want to be.

We took the flat medium length way home, stopping once so Peter could eat a banana and rolling into the driveway with 40.8 miles. Today, I could have done 80. After a snack and some water, we hopped on our hybrids for a trip to the library and the grocery store which puts us at around 43 for the day. A great day of cycling in the greatest city in America...wonderful Portland.