June 30, 2013

So, you ride here often?

Biking is a social sport.

This was my excuse for not riding much while I was down in San Diego. Though there was constant dry weather, and a fair number of good riding routes, I didn't know anyone who rode, so I set the bike aside and spent my time running.

Lack of a group did ring a bit false as a reason not to ride, but short of actually going out and, you know, meeting people, it was just easier to lace up my shoes. The excuse gets a bit weaker when you go back to the basic premise that it is so social. While I am not great at meeting new people, and terrible at the small talk that gets the ball rolling, I find it much easier to connect when wheels are rolling.

When I moved back to Seattle, I had some friends who rode, but they hadn't been riding much either, and they had their sights set on a fall marathon instead. Another friend said, "You know, my boyfriend rides, and he is looking for someone to train with." And it was just that easy.

We met up at the Logboom Park in the middle of February for our first ride. I didn't know what he looked like, and it turned out there were 20 other bikers there on a different group ride. Many had matching jerseys, so I assumed Joe wasn't among them. We eventually figured each other out in the crowd, and set out down the Burke-Gilman.

And it was freezing! For three years my bike mostly gathered dust in the sunshine, and my first ride out it was 32 degrees. The cold temperatures probably added a little commiserative bonding, a joint bit of "what were we thinking?" so conversation was pretty easy

Other friends-of-friends have joined in, and each weekend it was a new mix of faces and riding experiences. As we rode together stories were swapped, histories filled in, and a loose riding group was formed. Plans were made, challenges thrown out, and events put on the calendar. We have been out in one form or another each weekend since the end of April, with the miles adding up in preparation for our crazy July.

On these weekend rides, we have picked up random riders along the way as well. We will fall in pace with a group or a single straggler, and people join in and leave as easily as picking up different conversations at a party. We rode with Mosha for thirty miles one Saturday, and then ran into him at the start line the next week. We were all a bit late in leaving, and another rider Ken joined our little group. We spent the next eight hours and hundred miles riding and chatting our way up and down hilly country roads.

I am not sure why it is that much easier on a bike. The shy and awkward doesn't disappear completely, but it definitely fades to the background. Maybe it is the instantly recognizable common interest as an ice-breaker, the fresh air and changing scenery, or maybe it is as simple as speaking side by side rather than face to face. Whatever it is, the social aspect is definitely part of the appeal, and it makes the miles go more quickly and the hills a bit easier to climb.

The miles have been adding up as July ticks closer. In the five Saturdays in June, I rode 519 miles and climbed 25,000 feet. Add in a few mid-week rides, and the mileage for the month was 580. This is more than double what I rode in the past three years combined.

While that it is a pretty big June, it is more a sad statement on how little I rode the last three years. Though I knew biking was social, I used it as an excuse instead of a way to meet new people while I was in San Diego. I should have trusted it and seen more faces and places in the sunny state.

We are two weeks out from the Seattle to Portland ride. This is our STP group, plus one. Front to back on the right side are Joe, Tom and Matt, and back left is new riding buddy Kevin, who showed us around Whidbey Island on Saturday.

A well-deserved beer after 111 hilly miles in the heat. Cheers friends!

June 23, 2013

Courtesy wave

You let someone in, allow them to get in front of you in line to wherever you are going. It only means a car length to you, but it could mean several to them as they wait in a driveway looking at a packed roadway. Sometimes it is on the freeway when someone didn't plan ahead enough, or maybe they intentionally sped past the backup to get to the front of the line. Hard to tell their intentions behind glass and steel, but if there is no courtesy wave, it is more likely the latter.

You come to expect it as a small acknowledgement of the courtesy you extended them. Sort of a social contract, a 'thank you' for an unspoken 'please'. When you don't get it, you don't necessarily regret letting them in, but it does feel like they dropped the ball on their end.

I received one of the most effusive courtesy waves this afternoon. A car swept out in front of me today, left turning into my lane without so much as a glance in my direction. I didn't have to skid to a stop, but evasive maneuvers were necessary. I gave her a one second blast of my horn to let her know I was there.

Almost immediately her hand went up to wave an apology. "Sorry, didn't see you, my bad, I swear I am not normally a jackass." We pulled up to a stop light a couple blocks later, and after a moment, up her hand went, waving another apology. I waved back, "no big deal, just be more careful."

The light remained red, and after another ten seconds, she stepped out of her car. She turned to me, patted her heart, and with regret and embarrassment on her face mouthed another "I'm sorry." I smiled and waved to her again, no damage done. And thanks.

After I parked my car and walked to the bookstore, still smiling from the strange exchange, I thought back on a conversation with a friend a few years ago. We were driving together, and he made some sort of inattentive move and cut someone off. After waving our own apology, we drove on.

We got to talking about it, and agreed there should be some sort of parole period after making a boneheaded move. A moratorium on getting angry at other drivers for six months, realizing that everyone makes a stupid mistake now and then, having just proved it yourself.

The hand on the heart apology will pop into mind the next time someone cuts me off, and will earn the next person a little more understanding in our little social contract.

June 20, 2013

I'm a Maniac, but I'm not crazy

Crazy is relative.

To some, running is crazy. I get it. Actually, I get it that they don't get it. It is hard to explain. When I head out to run in the rain, people wonder about my intelligence. When I mention I run marathons, most shake their heads, wondering if I was dropped on my head at some point. Even though I can't adequately explain it, paying to run 26.2 miles makes perfect sense to me..

Last winter, I ran two marathons in two days. It was born of a friend's challenge, a lark really, and it the most satisfying finish line I have ever crossed. I have been more spent, and I have pushed through much greater pain, but the wash of emotions that crashed over me that day as I finished in just over four hours was amazing. I alternated between laughing and crying, unable to catch my breath between the two.

And it made me a certifiable Maniac. A Marathon Maniac, that is. You may be suffering if:

  • Do your thoughts switch to the next scheduled race immediately after finishing a marathon?
  • Are you signed up for more than one race right now?
  • Do you plan all your vacations around a marathon race?

I have seen the Maniac singlets in many races, and had looked into what it meant, but had never really considered it my thing. But here I am. There are many ways to qualify, and different levels of achievement within the ranks. At the lowest Bronze level, you need to have run 2 marathons within 16 days, or 3 marathons within 90 days. Our little feat of two marathons in two days jumped us past Gold and Silver and into the Iridium level. It is silly, not why I did it, but kinda fun just the same.

But even as I was stretching the boundaries of sanity, I was surrounded by people crazier than I. While Brett and I were running, we chatted with several people who were running the Quadzilla, four marathons on the four days of Thanksgiving Day weekend. There was the cheerful gal who encouraged us on our first round when she already had two marathons in the bank, and this guy I met while huddled around the makeshift fire at the finish line

This was not only his third marathon in three days (and he obviously had several years on me), but he had also taken a serious tumble the day before. Even with road rash and a butterfly bandage keeping a facial cut closed, he showed up to do it all again. Crazy is relative.

My running has take a bit of a back seat since that crazy Thanksgiving weekend. A new friend has me back on my bike again after a long layoff. I was looking forward to getting back out on the road, and boy have we ever. He has challenged me to jump back in with both feet (clipped in) because we have a couple of big events to train for.

We kicked it off with the Chilly Hilly ride in February. It is a hilly, 33 mile ride to shake you out of your winter hibernation, and make you regret that second piece of pecan pie. We went on some more weekend rides but then tax season intervened. Since May, however, the miles have ramped up quickly. Memorial Day weekend we did the 7 Hills of Kirkland (actually 11 hills on the 62 mile route). For the five weekends in June, we have hilly rides of a hundred miles or more on the training calendar.

Why all the miles? Four of us are going to attempt the Seattle to Portland ride, 205 miles in one day. A week and a half later, three of the group are going to attempt the Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day (RAMROD). It is a 155 mile ride with 10,000 feet of climbing. Even though the permit allows 800 riders, there are enough people trying to get in that they have to hold a lottery. So many crazy people lining up. We signed up, hoping to improve our chances for future years, but all three of us "won" the lottery on the first try.

Maybe I am moving a little farther along the crazy spectrum.

June 17, 2013

Where the hell have you been?

I know, I know, the apology/excuse post has almost become a trope in blogging, short-lived as the medium is. Why after five plus years did it all come to a screeching halt.

I wish I had a better excuse for my excuse post. 

Truth is, I just lost it. The energy, the motivation, the belief that I had anything worth saying at any moment in time. Work was crazy while we made the mad dash to April 15th. In the weeks leading up to our deadline, it didn't feel that I had the time to pause and get anything down. Truth is, there is almost always time, but I didn't make any. I will say that my brain was pretty fried, and though there may have been time, I didn't have the mental space for anything creative, much less insightful.

And of course there have been events that shook me. Sierra's passing was difficult. Not only had I lost a great friend and companion, but I was actually lost in her absence. After three years of routine, I woke the next morning uncertain what to do. She was not downstairs waiting for me. No breakfast kibble to serve, no shot to prepare, no morning amble out to the front lawn. I actually stopped in the hallway, unsure that I even needed to go downstairs before getting in the shower. (I did, only to flip on the coffee pot).

Then on the day of our metaphorical tax finish line, finally able to pull up after weeks and months of leaning into it, the bombings happened at a real finish line on the other side of the country. Feeling rather beat up myself that day, and having run that kind of race in person, I could clearly picture the joy and relief of the finish area seconds before. What I couldn't begin to understand what happened next, and the stupid, misdirected anger behind it. 

People suffer, bridges fall, children and other innocents are brought down, and we argue over trivialities and do nothing. For fear or opportunity, we entrench ourselves further and understand less. Friends have turned on each other and have become unrecognizable. It has all been disheartening and I suppose I pulled back too. I stopped writing, stopped reading, stopped checking in on others who were still writing. 

Time passed, and getting started again became that much harder. I lost the habit, and imagined failure before taking a step (that first post back better be good). Silly, and no excuse, but that is some of what has been going on. I have probably lapsed long enough that people have stopped checking in, so I can just blather on until I find a rhythm again. 

Some good things have been happening while I have kept my head down and eyes away from the news. I have met a few new friends, reconnected with old ones, and my bicycle no longer gathers dust. Work is steady, summer is just around the corner, and I may have my next home lined up. 

I have described this time to a few people as Life 3.0 (sounds much better than 'mid-life crisis'). Round two began when I was shaken awake and then regenerated in the sun. I am home again, ready to start anew. Some things have changed while I have been gone, but I am different too. There are still empty spaces, but the slate is also pretty clean for a new picture to take shape. The first steps don't have to be perfect, and I will just stumble forward until I find a rhythm again.