Thursday, March 14, 2019

My Hearing Journey

Have you ever been on a cell phone where there’s a poor connection and you’re only getting fragments of what the other person is saying?  Then it’s like a puzzle with you trying to string together and make sense of the few words that you could understand while at the same time trying to listen to the bits and pieces that are  forthcoming?  This is what my world is like on a daily basis because I am hard of hearing.  

My hearing loss falls into the “severe” category (a loss of about 70%, slightly different for each ear) and is a special kind of sensorineural* hearing loss often referred to as “cookie bite” hearing loss.  My audiogram shows some hearing at the low and high frequencies and almost none in the middle.  The ‘bite’ that is missing are the middle frequency sounds.  Mid-frequency sounds are where you can intelligently determine human speech (and music). My loss in the mid-frequencies is 70-80 decibels (normal hearing is 10-15 dB).  Above 90 dB is considered “profound” hearing loss where the use of hearing aids is no longer effective and cochlear implants can be considered.  Low tones are also a problem, so I typically can hear/comprehend female voices better than male voices. Sound has a tinny quality, which is something my audiologist works to correct.  But at the end of a long day, most sound comes across as unintelligible noise and often I can’t wait to take out my hearing aids.  But the benefit is that I sleep through everything.  Noisy hotel rooms, not a problem!

A cookie bite hearing loss is very often hereditary, and is probably the case for me because my paternal grandmother was completely deaf by the time she was in her mid 60’s.  Often, such as in my case, a person experiences some hearing problems as a child but it worsens slowly but significantly later in life.  For years I had a manager whose husband is hard of hearing and so she spoke loudly as a matter of course.  This worked to my advantage but at the same time, it insulated me from my hearing loss.

According to, this type of hearing loss can lead to social problems when individuals struggle with holding a conversation.  Music is  harder to listen to.  Warning messages can be missed in public places, and sirens and alarms can be more distressing to the ear when you have cookie bite hearing loss.  This hearing loss can go from being frustrating to severely limiting to a person.   For example, when I travel, it’s hard to hear flight attendants or when they announce gate changes or boarding groups.

About 8 years ago I finally acknowledged that my hearing was in serious decline.  I received my first set of hearing aids and have had several upgrades since, including special in-ear molds to channel sound more effectively.  It’s a scary and stressful thing to lose your hearing, one of your key senses in interacting with the world.  It affects every aspect of your life: mental, physical and emotional.  It affects all your relationships.  But thankfully, technology keeps improving. 

Last Saturday afternoon I took a walk to City Park.  It was cold, but the sun was shining, and I was marveling that there was so much bird song in the air on this February day.  I stopped walking and closed my eyes.  I could hear the wind in the tops of the cottonwood trees, rattling the hundreds of dried leaves that held on through the fall.  It wasn’t just the generic wind-in-the-trees sound that I heard.  I could hear the sound the individual leaves made in the wind, plus the birds singing.  A car drove by on the street behind me.  I heard it, plus the wind in the trees, plus the leaves, plus the birds. There were kids playing on the other side of the park.  I could hear them laughing and shouting.  I thought, the world is so rich, and I am back in it.

Flash back to a couple of weeks ago when my audiologist recommended a new class of hearing aid that is specifically engineered to clarify speech.  She offered me a free one-month trial.  I was hesitant at first because if I decided to purchase them, they would cost $6,890.  Hearing aids are not covered by health insurance.  My audiologist said that she thought that I would be less tired at the end of the day by having improved hearing, especially with the boost in speech clarity.  

Being deaf isn’t just a problem of volume but of comprehension and clarity.  Talking to people is exhausting as I hang on every word, trying to figure out if someone said “coat”, “boat”, or “float.”  My son is great about providing context.  For example, if he says the word “float” and I don’t understand, he will say, “You know Mom, like a root beer float.”  Depending on who I am talking to, sometimes I only understand a few words per sentence and am continually trying to play catch up.  Because of the energy it takes, I avoid unnecessary conservations with friends and strangers alike.  I find that in group conversations, I’m quiet but one-on-one I am more outgoing.  And using the phone with voice is one of my biggest challenges.  I have a captioned phone, but the live transcribers only correctly interpret about 60% of what is being said, and that’s for “social” calls.  For work calls the percentage is lower because the subject matter is technical.

A huge thank you to the transcribers. It must be challenging work.  For instance, take a recent phone conversation that I had with a girlfriend who asked, “If I say $#@!, will the transcriber type $#@! ?”  Ha-ha, yes, they type whatever they hear!

Making small talk is an exercise in frustration.  But it also takes energy to avoid conversations in the first place, so I am constantly weighing my options.  I bumped into an acquaintance at the library over the holidays and because I found myself face to face with this person it would have been rude to pretend that I didn’t see him.  So, I put myself out there and I asked how his holidays were.  After several rounds of asking him to repeat himself, I walked away from the conversation still not knowing if he said that one of his parents had died!  Of course, I nodded and made polite generic verbal responses hoping they were appropriate.  (I have an entire repertoire of “faking it” – smile/nod/raise eyebrows to feign interest.)  I think that he was also trying to tell me about his caving adventure somewhere in a foreign country, but I could have gotten that entirely wrong as well.  My kids and I laugh at my hearing misadventures.  Once my son was trying to tell me that he wished that wooly mammoths were still roaming the earth, but I heard “I miss going to the bowling alley.”

Work meetings and social situations are the most taxing.  Even with decent hearing you only have so much energy to listen, process, integrate and respond.  Most of my energy budget goes towards listening and comprehending and at the end of a meeting I am exhausted and want to crawl under the table.  Nowadays there is a myriad of ways of being trapped on a bad ‘sound stage.’  I work for a global organization and routinely interact with colleagues who are on headsets, cell phones, speaker phones, and group internet meetings.  There are a number of webinars where I’ve called in, only to hang up due to the inability to hear.  Even though my organization is supportive and accommodating, there are no captioning services for the many webinars and trainings that we have.

Social situations are a different problem because in work meetings, people make an effort to speak clearly and professional meetings are usually held in an adequate hearing environment (compared to a noisy restaurant).  In social situations, for example, I never get a joke because they are said as an aside.  At the beginning of a new situation, I will usually start by telling people that I am hard of hearing.  But most of the time people laugh and say, “oh yeah, me too.”  Lately I’ve switched to “I am deaf” because it’s more to the point and is taken more seriously.  What I need is not for people to simply speak louder but also to speak slowly and clearly.  I am not always up front and clear about what I need, because sometimes the situation doesn’t warrant it (the grocery store conversations) or I just plain don’t care – being an introvert as well as being tired of the hearing battle!  And sometimes I just want to feel normal and fit in. I don’t think that most people really understand how hard it is to hear words and what is being said.

For social situations I go through 3 stages.  I start out engaged (if I’ve had time to recharge after work), then quickly get tired, then give up.  You can only nod and smile (and pretend to have fun even though you can’t hear a thing) for so long before you want to run screaming for the door.  The killer is that if I don’t muster the energy to nod and smile, then I appear disengaged, aloof and humorless.  For people who know me, they understand what is happening but in new situations it’s tough.  It’s also a learning curve meeting new people and understanding how they pronounce their words and getting used to their particular voice.

I live in a small town and you can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know.  I can only guess how many times people have said hello to me when my back is turned and it seems like I’m ignoring them.  This happened recently, and I only clued in when I randomly turned in their direction and caught the person walking away and rolling their eyes as in “what a clueless ditz.”  I tend to annoy people with my deafness – such as when I mishear a waitress and respond with the wrong answer.  Waitress: “What would you like to drink?”  Me: “Blue cheese dressing.”  I don’t get anything that is said in a restaurant and rely on my family and friends to interpret.  Most of the time it doesn’t bother me that I’m inadvertently annoying other people, but some days it gets me down.

Then there’s the most significant and disheartening part.  The less you hear and comprehend, the less you try to be in the world.  A few years ago, for the most part, I gave up on phone conversations with friends and family.  Thankfully, there is email and chat, but I really missed the sound of my loved one’s voices.  Whenever I called my best friend, who lives in another state, I would end up asking her to repeat everything 3 or 4 times.  And often after the 4th try, I still didn’t get what she was saying.  After hanging up the phone, instead of being buoyed up after a good talk with my BFF, I would break down in tears.  Or throw the f’in phone across the room. 

There’s also the problem of communication with my two wonderful, and mostly patient, teenage children.  There have been countless misunderstandings, disagreements and even all-out fights because of my hearing loss.  Things that they think I forgot which I never heard in the first place.  There are the dinner table conversations where everyone is sharing their day and laughing about something that only makes sense after I ask so many times that everyone ends up slightly annoyed with me. Then the moment is gone.  I can’t hear either of their voices without my hearing aids, making nighttime and mornings challenging.   With them in I can hear my daughter better than my son so when we are out and about she is kind enough to act as my interpreter.  But the upside is that in order to communicate, we have to stop what we are doing so that we are face to face and really connect, a rarity in our busy world.

Recently my children took a sign language class with me.  The instructor is Deaf, since birth, and she was funny and engaging and we learned a lot.  Since I have some hearing it’s hard for us to commit to practicing.  But having a few signs in our back pocket has cut down on miscommunication.  The class was a reminder of what a strange space I inhabit.  I’m not part of the Deaf community, and will never be fluent in sign language but rather I am expected to be part of the hearing world, slugging it out day by day which isn’t 100% workable either.  Prior to getting my new aids I wanted to take them out forever and be done with the struggle.  I figured if anyone wanted to communicate with me, they could write a note (which is how we talked to my grandma).

So… back to my recent experience at the park.  My new aids aren’t perfect, but they have helped enormously at a time when I felt like giving up. 

First and foremost, they have brought my loved ones’ voices back to me.  I called my Dad on Saturday and after the call I shed a few tears.  Not tears of frustration but tears of gratitude.  I thought, “oh, that’s what my Dad’s voice sounds like…. I remember!”  We have special challenges between the two of us.  He lives in another state and has Parkinson’s, which has made his voice faint if he’s tired it’s difficult for him to enunciate.  It’s hard for him to type so we don’t connect as often as we should.  The new hearing aids, besides the improved voice clarity, pipes phone calls directly to my aids.  There is no substandard phone connection, headset, or other intermediary device to distort the sound.  I didn’t track everything that he said but the frustration level on both ends was much less and we enjoyed the conversation.

The other milestone is that I participated in a staff meeting via phone and I could hear everyone on the call, differentiate who was speaking, and comprehend almost everything.  Instead of being on the edge of my seat, I was relaxed and listening.  It was wonderful and I felt like part of the team.  In the afternoon I had another call, which normally would make me nauseous just thinking about two calls in one day, but it went just as well as the first.  And my audiologist was right, I didn’t feel as tired at the end of the day.  It’s estimated that people with hearing loss spend 40% of their daily energy on trying to hear!

If you’ve read this far, here are a few other antidotes that might seem minor to a hearing person but were major to me:

I ran into a friend while out cross-country skiing and struck up a conversation, something I would normally avoid because I can’t hear her soft voice.  It was fun to catch up on our kids and life in general.
I went to a going away party for a co-worker in a loud bar and didn’t hate it.

I went on an epic outdoor adventure with friends in less than ideal conditions, but I was able to wear my hearing aids when normally I would have had to leave them out.  We biked 30 miles over snow in gale force winds for an entire day, but the new aids didn’t cause “wind feedback” so it didn’t make me crazy like it usually does.  They are comfortable enough to wear with sunglasses and a helmet, which the old ones were not.  It’s a safety concern – I need to hear snowmobiles coming up behind me.  I enjoyed the company of my friends and even listened to music via Bluetooth connected to my iPhone.  It made what could have been a mentally challenging day not so much.

In the last few years, without even realizing it, I voluntarily and involuntarily retreated from the world.  To save myself and others from frustration.  To avoid feeling left out and dumb.  To avoid being viewed as humorless and aloof.  Reflecting back, I can see that it was especially challenging because it was a time when I could have used the support of others as I went through some major life changes.

It wasn’t only the “big” things that I was not fully engaged in – family conversations, social situations, and work.  It’s also the small interactions that I’ve missed, such as small talk with the nice teenager that makes my Subway sandwich.  These tidbits of social life contribute to mental health in larger ways than I’d expect and are not to be taken lightly. 

Imagine that every sound that you hear comes to you by way of a radio station that you can’t quite tune in.  And everyone sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher, but she’s on a cell phone with a poor connection. Most days were like that.  Thankfully, now I have a clearer connection.  To my family and friends. To the birds in the park and the wind in the trees. And the practical stuff: I can hear water boiling on the stove so that I remember to throw in the spaghetti.  I can hear the doorbell ring or the dog barking.  

I can hear my kids laughing, even in the next room.  It’s not perfect but it’s better.  Someday I may be completely deaf like my dear sweet Polish grandmother but for today, I am grateful for every little thing that I can hear. I came into 2019 with a goal of taking charge of the aspects of my life where I can make a difference and ended up with improved hearing, a better attitude, and a more hopeful outlook.

This last tidbit is a funny story – a week ago while I was grocery shopping an elderly gentleman grabbed my buns.  That is to say, he was passing in the opposite direction with his cart and grabbed the dinner rolls out of my cart.  We laughed as he explained that in the big cities, it’s a “thing” where teenagers steal random items out of other peoples’ carts.  Before my new hearing aids, I would have never been able to hear/understand a word that he said and would get frustrated.  But we had a fun, brief connection that left me smiling.  Something that I might have missed, although I still would have had to get my buns back.

* Sensorineural hearing loss means that you have damage to the hair cells in your inner ear or to the nerve pathways that lead from the inner ear to the brain. While much of sensorineural hearing loss is age-related, there are other factors that may cause it, too. Many people with sensorineural hearing loss report that thecan hear, but they cannot understand speech. This is especially true in the presence of background noise. There are two types of sensorineural hearing loss: congenital and acquired sensorineural hearing loss. ( Mine is likely a combination of the two. 

What hearing aids do: Hearing aids don’t correct hearing in the same way that glasses correct vision.  Hearing aids boost volume and the better ones try to approximate what noise sounds like with normal hearing.  But everyone’s hearing loss is different, including differences between the right and left ear.  That is why working closely with your audiologist is important so that she/he can adjust the volume to a comfortable level, tinker with the settings for clarity and try to minimize the areas that are grating.  Be patient, it will likely take repeated visits to get it ‘right.’  If you or a loved one suspects that you have hearing loss, please get your hearing tested.  Sooner is better than later because the longer you delay the harder it is with regards to comprehension.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Rock Star Enduro Rider on the Bog Slayer

I am a rock star.  I rode my fatbike 70 miles in the Laramie Enduro race last Saturday. Some things went wrong and some things went right but the things that mattered the most went right. There was a good amount of luck involved too (cool weather, no mechanicals).  Most importantly, it was FUN, and I learned a few key things for next year.

Holy shit, did I say “next year”?

If you are a racer looking for beta on the Enduro, you won’t find it here.  I am not a racer, I just ride…. 
Non-racer status aside, here are the stats:
Bike weight: 41 lbs including gear and two water bottles
Rider weight: 126-127 lbs, soaking wet, which I was for the last 15 miles of the race
Rider age: 47
Time: 10:27
Place: 198/200 (yes, third to last)
Foggy cool start, a lucky break.  Last minute decision to mount another water bottle cage.

There were 5 aid stations on the course, the first one at mile 17.  There is a cutoff time for each aid station and if you don’t make the time then you get a ride back to the finish line and a DNF.  This was my biggest worry.  I have the endurance to ride that far, but I’m not fast so I was worried about making the cutoff times.  My race strategy revolved around getting to the first aid station because the first part of any ride is the worst for me.  I thought that if I could do that, in decent time, I probably had a good chance of finishing the race.  
Let me just say here that the volunteers for this race were AMAZING. There were super helpful at each aid station and they were stationed at various spots along the course.  The course was extremely well marked, too.  Everything about the race was top-notch.

The breakdown by aid station:
Mile 0 to aid station 1 –The first 3-5 miles were horrible (at least on the uphills), just as I expected.  I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt like my heart was going to explode. Maybe it was adrenaline, or maybe it was because I am always slow to start and need a warm up.  I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home.  I hated it. 
To top it off, my gas tank bag blew up on a section of singletrack, spewing gu’s, chamois butter packets, etc. onto the trail.  I overloaded the bag at the hotel, then meant to transfer the extra gu’s to my jersey but forgot.  Rookie mistake - I knew I was forgetting something when I left the truck that morning.  It was a crummy place to have to retrieve my stuff but leaving the chamois butter was not an option.  Head Freak was behind me and it was a bummer because it put us behind some slower riders on the singletrack log jam. But, whenever we hit flat or downhill on the singletrack, it was way fun -- following behind the Freak and feeling like I was actually racing.  Probably one of the best parts of the race.  Once on the dirt road, though, I couldn't keep up and just settled into my own pace.
A forever image of the race will be of the next section when I was following fellow fatbiker Josh down some fast dirt road with whoop-de-dos where he was blazing alongside a herd of wigged-out cattle that had just seen 200 riders come screaming through.   It was wide open country, really pretty.  I wondered for a split second if Josh was going to shoot the gap and risk broadsiding a cow. But clearly he’s from Wyoming and has good horse sense.

Aid station 1 (mile 17):  When I hit the first aid station my stomach hurt, not bad, but I couldn’t eat anything - no gu’s, no bars, nada. So I paused just long enough to refill a water bottle and grab some food for the road.  Whenever I tried to eat something my stomach would tie up in knots.  I was plenty hydrated, making a few pit stops, so that wasn’t the problem. But the harder I pushed, the more my stomach hurt so I slowed down to see if I could recover.  Finally I leaned my bike against a tree and curled up in a ball in the woods and did some deep breathing.  It seemed to help but as soon as I was riding again it was awful.  I was just hoping to make it to the aid station 2, where I pretty much planned on calling it quits.  I didn’t even care.
To add insult to injury there was a stretch of not-fun gravel grinding road.  No part of me is a road rider.  There was a headwind and I was demoralized and lonely, wondering what the hell I was doing with some 60+ miles left to go.

Aid station 2 (mile 30): At aid station 2 they had some Tums!!! I was at the aid station for longer than I had planned but at that point I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  I ate a couple of crackers which seemed to help.  After a trip to the most beautiful porta-potty ever, I was feeling at least mentally better so I decided to keep going.   The folks at the aid station said that the next 10 miles were fairly easy (fast and flowy downhill with no particularly hard sections.) I decided to do an easy 10 and then reevaluate. 

Aid station 3 (mile 40): From mile 30 to 40, I was super happy.  Mile by mile I started feeling better and by the time I got to aid station 3 I was able to eat something substantial (PBJ squares, boiled potatoes and yessssss – some coke and ginger ale!!!!)  Finally my legs were going to get some fuel, they were tanking.  I spent more time here too than I had planned but I knew I need to eat something, and slowly.  When I left this aid station I felt like I was finally in business! I started reeling in riders that left the aid station before me and that gave me a mental boost.

Somewhere… I came across a monster truck heading in the opposite direction.  It was a really, really cool truck – beautiful piece of machinery, gorgeous paint job. It wasn’t just a cowboy in a Chevy with a lift kit; it was a real monster truck that was as big as a house.  The driver and I paused for a second to admire each other’s rigs.  I would have loved to shoot a photo but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t, it literally would have cost me the race since my time was so close. 
Aid station 4
Aid station 4 (mile 52):  Going into this race I couldn’t decide which bike to ride. I trained on the fatbike, my Salsa Mukluk, all summer for two reasons: 1) because it’s super fun and 2) I can carry what I need for long self-supported training rides.  Most of the advice I got was to ride my 29” hardtail which is light and fast.  I fully planned on it until the last second and then decided I wasn’t excited about the race unless I pictured myself on my fatbike.  I decided to stay true to myself and ride the fattie.  I’m not a racer and it’s not about the time.  For me, it was about finishing and enjoying the ride.  The longest ride I’d ever done on the fattie was 6 hours and I only went 28 miles.  There was over 6600 feet of elevation gain. 

So…. if I could make it 50 miles on the fatbike, it would be a major accomplishment.  I wasn’t even dreaming of finishing once I decided on the fatbike (well, maybe a little bit!)  I hit mile 50 on a pretty stretch of two-track that was on a high open plateau with amazing hoodoo formations that looked otherworldly.  I did it!  50 miles on fat, fucking A!  Then it was just a few more miles to the aid station 4, with nasty storm clouds threatening and a pounding headache (complete with little blinking white lights in my right eye).  I was kind of out of it with the headache.

I took a long break at aid 4 and it started pouring as soon as I got off the bike.  Volunteers refilled and cleaned my water bottles and a friend of a friend gave me a beer (he might just be my new best friend).  I took Tylenol with the beer, ate some watermelon and more boiled potatoes, etc. and I was good to go.  I left the aid station in a slight drizzle that turned into hail that turned into a driving rain.  No problem, I would much rather be sopping wet than have 90 degree heat!  There was some really fun trail and I reeled in a few more riders who were pushing bikes up steep and rocky singletrack.  I heard that this part of the ride was pretty hard but luckily it wasn’t as hard as I expected - another mental boost.  I was starting to feel a little fried physically and not super confident on the technical sections so I walked more than I usually would.  It was fine, though. I was in my own groove, enjoying the scenery, basking in the fact that I cleared the aid station in time and still had a chance for a finish.  Funny, but I still wasn’t expecting a finish.
Somewhere after a boggy stream crossing (manned by a volunteer) I was headed uphill when my left inner thigh cramped up.  I had a life-flash-before-me moment of sheer panic.  I’d had a blood clot 15 years ago when I was pregnant with our first daughter in the exact place that was now cramping.  The blood clot was about a foot long from my knee to my iliac artery.  It nearly killed me, and I spent weeks and months in recovery going from wheel chair to walker to crutches.  And after that it took years before it wouldn’t swell up and hurt when I exercised….I pushed the bike slowly up the hill and tried to calm myself down.  If it didn’t subside in a few minutes I planned to ride back to the bog and ask the volunteer to call for help.  Luckily, it did clear up in a few agonizing minutes and I didn’t have any problems the rest of the day.
Aid Station 5 (mile 62):  There was a guy on a flatbed pickup giving away beers to riders at aid station 5.  He asked if I wanted a beer and I asked him if I made the time and he said yes, by two minutes.  And I said, “Hell yes! I would love a beer!”  I was talking to him and his wife when one of the race volunteers yelled that riders had 30 seconds to clear the aid station.  I grabbed more gu’s and was off.  My stomach still couldn’t handle anything like bars, honey stinger waffles, etc.  but holy cow, I made it!  I rode at a steady pace and caught a guy just before the Headquarters Trail parking lot.  At the parking lot the race volunteer told us that we had to be at the finish line by 5:00 or it was a DNF – we were cutting it really close.  He also said that we had 2 miles of uphill singletrack before the downhill to the finish.  I thought I had made it but really I hadn’t?  It was still a crapshoot? WTF?

I didn’t have it in me to ride all of the Headquarters Trail – it was rocky and I was tired.  I figured either way, even with a DNF, I rode the whole damn thing.  At the top of headquarters there was a super nice family and they said that I had it in the bag, that there was indeed no cutoff time at this point and I was not going to have a DNF.  At that point, I fully relaxed and enjoyed the rest of my ride.  I stopped at an overlook and took a few pictures, ate a snack saved just for the occasion, peed, and cruised the rest of the way to the finish.  I know I could have shaved a few minutes off my time by not dallying, but the light was so pretty – the way the sky looks after a storm clears and the sun dipping lower in the west.  I wanted to bask in the moment and enjoy the quiet stillness of the forest and the success of the ride.  And it didn’t really matter if my time was 10:20 or 10:30 when you are out that long!  At the finish I did a stand up sprint and was psyched to see people STILL out cheering racers on.  And of course, the BPR crew was at the beer tent.

Somewhere along the homestretch.

The thing that I am most happy with, besides actually finishing the race, was that I did it my way. I rode my favorite bike, on my terms, and had an awesome time doing it. The fattie was a blast; I am rechristening her the “bog-slayer.”  She climbed like a demon… she blasted through the stream crossings and plowed through the bogs – all with grace and style - or at least as much as I could muster.  The big fat tires simply hummed on the flowy downhill.   And while not particularly fast, she did make me feel like a warrior.  Besides, being fast is overrated; and time is an illusion….
The illusion of time is akin to the old world idea that the earth is flat, and we seem to be completely ruled by the concept…. Quantum studies are showing science, at the fundamental level, that our concept of time as thought of as a linear passage of events is totally wide of the mark, and in fact there is no mark.
All points of reference are arbitrary, they are conveniences, they are non-existent in fundamental reality.
What’s actually happening when we denote a point in space is we are collapsing a fluctuating field of vibration into matter.
--From The Illusion of Time by Larry McGuire

Back of the Pack Racing, Wyoming style.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Happyness and Fatbikes Explained

Yes, it's a cliché that happyness means different things to different people.  A tailwind, a windfall, Wind River Mountains or wind in your sails.  But trying to explain or defend your particular brand of happiness to someone else is annoying.

This weekend I was on my fat bike and ran into another rider that I know.  Inevitably they always say something like "'re on that bike…"  Or they ask "how do you like your fat bike?"  Well, duh, it's like explaining cold beer on a hot day.  It just is.

Perhaps they are jealous....

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Feeling Stuck

When I was out riding on Sunday I came barreling down a steep hill where I could see a mud puddle at the bottom.  I didn’t want to slow down so I took my chances with the mud, thinking that just maybe the muddy ravine had a hard bottom.  I skirted the edge, but naturally it was a full-on bog.  As soon as my front tire hit I was sucked down, hard.  Then my left foot went in deep.  

Yes, I can read dirt and mud and I knew better -- but I did it anyway.  I guess in the back of my mind, against reason, I thought if I could just ride fast enough I would sail through.  My own fault.  So I paused, said a few cuss words and then pulled and pulled on the damn wheel till it broke free. 

There’s a moment when you break free that puts you off balance.  But if you wait too long to pull yourself out you just get sucked down deeper.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beautiful Nora

After several long days of travel, worry, sleep deprivation, and endless frustration, I broke down in tears in a restaurant in a small town in Colorado. I had been with my dad at the hospital for several days before and was exhausted. He was admitted for heart trouble and on this day I had driven him 6 hours back to his hometown after getting up at 3 am.  But Dad, having more energy than me apparently, insisted that we go out to dinner -- when I was ready to pass out in bed.  He wanted to go out to eat with his good friends, a couple in their early 70's.

I don’t think that Dad even noticed when I burst into tears and excused myself to the bathroom to try and pull myself together.  When I got back to the table, Nora (Bill’s beautiful wife who has Alzheimer’s), asked if I wanted to share her chocolate cream pie with her.  I was surprised because she and I had just sat through the entire dinner not talking - she being locked in the netherworld of dementia; and me - I didn’t have an ounce of energy left to puzzle out conversation that I couldn’t hear.  (My dad's Parkinson's has made his voice soft and garbled and with my deafness, the last 48 hours put me at the end of my rope.) 

I felt like both Nora and I were invisible through the entire evening, nodding and smiling the best we could.  But then in a way that only happens when two souls really meet, she reached through both of our barriers with the chocolate pie.  One plate, two forks - and we had a real conversation.  I told her that she made my night and she nodded and smiled back in complete understanding.    She told me a few things in my ear, just for me, that saved me that night.  I so wish I’d known her back in the day, but I see her, still.

Monday, February 22, 2016

WYO Back of the Pack Operating Instructions

WYO BPR Operating Instructions

  1. Promote Peace, Love, and Harmony and total commitment to The Alternate Reality, Wyoming Style.
  2. Always bring beer for the Leader.
  3. Office of the Leader.
    1. Always bring beer for the Leader (see #1).
    2. The Leader, being a Dudette, can arbitrarily change the Operating Instructions at any time without prior notice. See 5.2 and 5.3 - Back of the Pack Operating Instructions  (The BPR Operating Instructions are ONLY applied to Dudes.)
The Crew is under the Leader’s sole reign and power, a.k.a. The Leader’s Realm.
    1. 1.4  The Leader shall not be referred to as the Leader (for obvious reasons) but as The Goddess, The God-less, Bad-Ass Biker Chic, hey Fatbiker, or other appropriate term of endearment.  For purposes of this document the term The Goddess will be used.

  1. Uniforms.
    1. Must be naked under your uniform.
    2. Dudes attired in spandex are discouraged; dudes wearing tight green leather pants wielding bow and arrows are encouraged.
  2. WYO Crew.
    1. WYO rolls phat and rigid.
    2. Phatbikers are sexy.
    3. Any potential Crew member must undergo the Initiation Ceremony.
    4. (a) There is no safe word for the Initiation Ceremony and personal safety cannot be guaranteed.
  3. Persons with Disabilities and Metahumans.
    1. The Goddess is deaf.  Any crude or inappropriate remarks, dirty jokes, politically incorrect statements, or sexual innuendos must be uttered in a clear and loud fashion for the enjoyment of all.
    2. Anyone consistently riding at the front of the pack on uphill grinds is a show-off and a metahuman will be ridiculed accordingly.
  4. Morale.
    1. No pissing and moaning (COWBOY UP), unless the wind is blowing, and only The Goddess is allowed to P & M.
    2. Whilst operating in the Realm, talk of jobs, spouses, children, in-laws, or other so-called ‘realities’ will NOT be tolerated.
  5. Deviants and deviations.
    1. Any disagreement with the WYO BPR Operating Instructions or proffered changes must be submitted to The Goddess in Time Lord writing.
  6. Firearms and alcohol.            
    1.  Lock and load: this is Wyoming. 

*Fatbiker/phatbiker is one word.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

November light through the pines

Yesterday I was biking in the canyon and the afternoon light coming through the pines seemed like a gift - an extravagant gift on such a chilly, snow-dusted November day. This time of year the sunlight doesn't reach parts of the canyon until late in the day. The single shaft of light was so subtly beautiful that it was almost heartbreaking.  But maybe it was just my mood.

I ride and hike this trail in every season and never tire of it.  The shadows are different depending on the time of day and of course, the plants and flowers change with the seasons and so there's always something new.  There is a peace and comfort in knowing a place this well.  And since I usually mountain bike it, I sometimes feel like I could ride it blind, like the Jedi force ~ bumping my way down it from sheer memory.  Groove and flow.

The trail is a steady and steep uphill climb to a meadow.  Yesterday I wanted to make it to the meadow where I knew I'd be flooded with light and rewarded with a beautiful view.  But the snow got deeper the higher I climbed and turned to a sugary consistency - I couldn't get traction.  I had to turn around just before the meadow, I was out of steam to push my bike the rest of the way.  But here is the reward - I pointed my bike downhill and let 'er go. First without any regard for the skiff of snow until I had one scary skid that made my legs shake. I stopped to put on a jacket and my chin bar and rode the rest of it a little slower.  But still on the edge of control, letting it rip on the bare dirt, careening over the rocks, popping over obstacles and feeling every molecule of my being entirely alive and in the moment.  When I got back to my truck at the trailhead the sun was low enough in the sky to hit me full on and I finally warmed up, hot tea with honey, sitting on the tailgate of my truck -- and feeling like the luckiest person in the world.