Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fat Biking in the Wind and Staying Grounded

I really hate going to the gym to work out.  I'd rather go to the dentist than to the gym.  Also, I don't like the cold.  I was born on a July day in Tucson, Arizona when it was 115 degrees outside.  I'm a desert rat at heart. But still, I was jonesing to ride since we'd had two weeks of snow and sub zero temps.  So last Saturday with a break in the weather I rented a fat bike and headed out of town.

My first half mile was a hike-a-bike up a steep ravine.   There was an actual trail before a flash flood washed it away a few years ago and left a jumble of rock and scree.  The ravine was icy and I was slipping all over in my old pac boots trying to carry the beast. Once out of the ravine I was exposed to the beginnings of a stiff breeze.  But it's pretty up on the 'flats' where the trail winds through juniper and limber pine along a red rock rim. The only tracks I saw were those of deer, antelope and an occasional moose. 

The wind picked up to 40-65 mph gusts which kept pitching me sideways into the sagebrush.  I couldn't stay on the trail. Fighting the wind was like trying to slay a dragon and I finally admitted defeat and turned around.

I was too annoyed with being tossed around so I walked the bike, which turned out to be ridiculously hard because I was caught in a crosswind.  I put the bike between me and the crosswind and then leaned my body weight on the bike to keep it grounded. But the wind kept changing directions and once it lifted the entire bike completely off the ground.  I was simultaneously cussing and laughing.  The tires were like balloons.  I needed a tether from me to the bike, like when you were a little kid and your mom tied a string from your wrist to your helium balloon. Or a surfboard leash thingie to my ankle.

My face hurt from tiny stinging bullets of blowing snow and my hair whipping it.  I was feeling sorry for myself that it wasn't a perfect bluebird day like yesterday - when I was stuck in the office.

The universe was laughing at me, except I don't know when to give up. Back at the truck I decided to I head toward the mountains for another ride, this one in Sink's Canyon. It was raining at the mouth of the canyon but slowed to a light drizzle at the trailhead.   Truly, rain on snow is just plain yucky but the trail was actually pretty fine. There was wind but once I got into the trees it was almost balmy.

Then, ta-da! The sun came out and there was a beautiful filtered light through the pine trees. It was a nice reprieve before another squall moved in and the sun started to set below the canyon walls.  Despite the not-so-perfect weather, being on a bike is always better than being in the gym, or anywhere else for that matter.  There's something about biking in the winter that makes you feel like you got one over on the 'man.'  Then there's the beauty and quiet of the trails... and another season or riding. Hallelujah!

On Chain Reaction and out of the wind.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mountain Bike Joy - Grief and Healing

So yes, of course I bought the bike! (The Rocky Mountain Altitude - that I fell in love with in August, see my Confessions post.) I have to say that it changed my riding completely.  I am shredding trail I wouldn't have dreamed about a year ago.  And I'm conquering my fear.  Each time I push the envelope and achieve a new level it's exhilarating.  But mostly it's pure unadulterated fun.

And that's why I ride.  I love to ride.   It makes me feel like a 10 year old kid. A lot of times I am smiling to myself all the way down the mountain.  I'm living life in the moment, I'm in the zone, and it's all GOOD.  If you don't ride then you should know that there's a little bit of OCD I think with mountain bikers.

Must. Ride.

Not that I haven 't taken a few spills.  One pretty good hit to the head earned me a new helmet.  My legs look like a disaster zone.

The pain on the outside is minimal.  Truthfully, part of the reason that I bought the bike is because sometimes, especially this past year, I have a sadness that I can't shake  I know that we all have our stories but mine is this.  I have lost my share of loved ones in my life...

We lost our beautiful infant daughter Anneliese 13 years ago.  Although her memory is woven into the fabric of our daily lives, we still grieve for her and miss who she would have become.   Our lives have never been the same since.

Eight years ago my best friend from childhood, Sharon, died of cancer at the age of 37. She was a beautiful person, inside and out and one of the nicest people I've ever met.   All my grandparents are long gone and also my most special  aunts - my Aunt Vicki and my Aunt Shirley.  They helped me through the worst of times after losing my daughter.

Last year my mom died of cancer at 69 so this year has been hard.  And you'd think I'd know grief.

Right after mom died, I ran.  I ran on our local mountain trails - obsessively and long.  I think I was trying to outrun my grief.  Frankly I was sick of grief and in complete denial.  I should know better.  The result was that I injured my back and I could barely walk for about a month and a half.  And the pain settled in my hip and leg, too, in the exact place that my mom hurt from her cancer.

Thankfully spring came and I was back in shape to ride my bike.  Biking is way more fun than running.  Although if I'm completely honest then I might admit that I was trying to outride my grief too -- if I could only ride fast enough!  I just didn't want to do the grief thing again.  But the funny thing is that there is a kind of healing that happens when you are communing with nature.  This kind of healing comes of it's own accord, without too much effort on the part of the griever.  You just simply have to step outside.

But sometimes its hard to make yourself take that step.

I've always thought that 'nature healing' happens with long introspective walks in the woods.  That's what I've done in the past. But indeed healing can happen on a bike.  You pedal, climb, breathe.... pedal, climb and breathe.  At the top you stop to thank God that you made it and take in the view.  Then you race down the mountain with the wind in your hair and a great big smile on your face.

It seems like a contradiction but with grief work you can and should soak up life's joys - because they are a present to you, from Life itself.   Joy gives you balance and helps you heal.  I couldn't do this when we lost our daughter.  There was no balance to the sorrow I felt, at least for a very long time.  With my mom it's different and yes, there are levels to grief.  Not to lessen the grief of others, but it's the truth.

Stay with me here, this is not all about grief and sorrow!

Maybe because of my losses, I feel blessed in this life and so very lucky to lead the life I do.  My story is just one of many.  There are untold families that have endured deep sadness that I can't even begin to fathom.  But I do believe that when you've had significant loss it means that the joys of life are, well, even more joyful.

So what does this have to with riding?  On the trails where I ride there are blue grouse and mule deer and wildflowers.  In the fall, the yellows and oranges of the aspen trees are stunning with blue skies and a dusting of snow.  Every time I ride I am celebrating the here and now -- because I can. I am thankful for the day.  This is the way I honor my loved ones that aren't here, by feeling grateful and by living in the moment.

When I ride I don't think about work, or kids or relationships, or the past or future, nada.  I just meditate on dirt on sky.

Take all of what my life is and has been up to this point and mix it up, shaken not stirred, and there you have it.  This is me and my new bike.


I will have loved my life with passion, embraced it with fervor, cherished every single moment of it. I will have contemplated with wonder the sky and its running clouds, my brethren the humans, my sisters the flowers and stars. I will have feasted unceasingly on the treasure of life in all its forms. I will not have dwelled in mediocre ambitions, vain hatred, and useless complaints.  

I will depart with the belief that there is no end to the flow of life in the universe, that there is no death but only an unceasing change of worlds.  - Robert Mullen