Thursday, May 29, 2008

I have been thinking about thinking about....

I have been thinking a lot of late about the concept of a soul mate, perhaps because I have been asked about 15 times in the past two weeks if I think I'll ever find mine. I find myself answering each time differently, always sometimes sarcastically, sometimes thoughtfully, but I have been admittedly perplexed about what that exactly the terminology "soul mate" means.

Couple this with a very interesting conversation I had last night with one of my dearest friends about a book I'm reading and today I am one contemplative chiquita. Fittingly, this morning I stumbled upon this quote by one of my recent favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert. It sums up perfectly how I feel about the subject at hand at this very moment and I thought I'd best record this somewhere in fear of never finding this moment of clarity again:

"People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life..."

I like this definition. For all practical purposes, it means I have a handful of soul mates who I've held in my hand a moment or two along the way. To each of you: thank you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Weekend: A Little About A Lot of Riding

Saturday we had ourselves a lovely ride on the Great Western Trail on the stretch from El Bait Shop to Cumming. The call to wait out the morning gloom and forego the "official" start time of noon was a wise one; the afternon/evening were a lovely mix of sun, libations, laughs and of course some interesting characters met along the way.

El Bait Shop actually sponsored a ride on the same route that day and dubbed it the Fat Tire Ride; we were just four hours late so missed the on time/responsible ones.

Nonetheless, there were still some straggling members of Team Bar Fly hanging around the Cumming Tap when we arrived and also a couple baggers who had loaded their bikes down Friday night and planned to troll the Des Moines area trails for the weekend. The drinks were stiff, the sunset a fiery mix of rays of warm goodness alongside the occassional threat of a wet adventure, and the company was plain and simple...the best.

We also stopped for some pretty damned amazing pizza on the way back at Bambinos in Orilla. We found ourselves there just long enough to pull out the lights on the way back; one the truest indications of a ride gone perfectly right.

And as if the day wasn't perfect enough, we saw the first of this year's fireflies lighting the path back and had to slow several times for deer leaping into little train. There were a lot of moments that day where I looked around at the scene, my bike and especially my company and did my own little happy dance.


And thankfully so, because the next two days' rides were of the type that make me wonder why in the hell I ride a bike at all they hurt so bad. But such is life. And such is cycling.

For those of you who sleep under a rock there were tornadoes all over Iowa on Sunday, and I was on my bike a good portion of the day. I decided to ride to a family reunion, but rather than take the direct 25 mile route, tacked on an additonal 20 or so. Except the "additional 20" were wrought with gusts of up to 40 mph and some of the shittiest roads I've ridden. Nonetheless, there were plenty of hot dogs, jello salads, and deviled eggs waiting for me upon my arrival.

Yesterday I stayed true to my idiotic little promise of a week ago to ride that dumb long Ledges hill again and again and was a bit like I'd never ridden a hill in my life. But I am happy to say I gutted it out and will not be caught doing that little ritual again...until next week.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Perfect Storm

This morning at about 5 a.m. I was awakened by another perfect storm. It came complete with lightening striking at a thousand angles, a great exhale of heavy wind, and then the smell of rain. The thickness of the air and rain coming. And then there was the rain; the kind of rain that pounds down and sounds like a river suddenly running along the side of your house it comes down so fast.

The build up and subsequent release is a bit like a good cry/meltdown. You can stuff your "stuff" down all you want, but regardless of how well you may appear on the surface, there are little signs all around to alert you to what's to come. And whether you're ready or not eventually the dam breaks and it all comes pouring out.

It took moving to WA and watching it rain day after day to ever really appreciate these midwestern storms. While it seemed to never stop raining there sometimes, it never rained/stormed like this morning. I like to experience my sad moments in much the same way of these storms; building up quickly after what seems like months of sunshine, with a violent burst, purging of all that's there, and then nothing but a raw, cool meditative calm.

Today's cool, grey, blustery skies are likewise something I never appreciated until I lived in Washington. These are the days to wrap yourself in something or someone warm, reflect on release and be grateful that all that needed out, therefore came pouring out.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ride of Silence Not Without One F-Bomb

Yesterday was the annual Ride of Silence.

The ride has quickly grown in participation and is held annually in hundreds of cities throughout the United States. It is meant to memorialize and raise awareness for those killed or injured while cycling. Ames had its first official ride last night, and while I was unable to partake because of Little League, I did get out and have my own silent/solo ride yesterday afternoon. At least it was kind of silent. Ironically, or perhaps there is no irony in this at all as it seems more the norm than not: I narrowly missed being hit by a car.


Scott, my riding companero has been out of commission the past few days; protecting our fearsome county from knife wielding murderers, and in the meantime he's ditched me. Needless to say, I've been flying solo, and have subsequently seen brushes with death three times in as many workouts; twice by bike, once running.

Clearly, I've not yet figured out which county roads are the ones less traveled (and when) and I know Scott's guidance in this regard likely helps our riding safety exponentially. However, the past few days have left me wondering if I've just not noticed other near death experiences when we ride since usually I'm staring at his ass or laughing at some joke he cracked? Regardless, the sheer number of near misses is eye opening, alarming, and downright scary.

We call ourselves a bicycling state and yet there are few if any bike lanes. Motorists just don't seem to have a clue about bikes and proper road etiquitte/laws. The population of Whatcom County, WA is 170,000, and Story County, IA is 79,000, covering roughly the same surface area. Sadly, in three years of riding I never had as many close calls in WA as I have on the Story Country roads in the better part of three weeks. All have come at the hands of motorists, most of them either young kids or women driving LARGE SUVS. The one thing they all seem to have in common: cell phones.

Monday I headed south on R38 towards the previously mentioned new/smooth Slater bike lane. Except the first time we headed this direction, we accessed the bike lane differently. This time I headed towards it more directly, on a hilly, nary shouldered and crack filled nightmare. We had done some ridiculous climbing (which is another story) the day before, and my legs were feeling a little worse for wear.

I started down the first ascent and tried not to eat it, legs shaking, dodging cracks everywhere, wind howling sideways. Yikes. Next thing I know I am knocked off the road and into the dirt as a car comes whizzing by at what had to be 90 mph. It was close. Closest I've come to bending over and kissing my hind goodbye. I wouldn't have stood a chance. As they swerved hard to miss me the car began to fishtail and I watched in what felt like some slow motion movie scene as they tailed back and forth and back and forth, finally straightening it out and screechily heading their way.

The culprits: five young kids stuffed into a tiny silver car, windows down, music blaring, shouting and screaming the whole way. They seemed nonplussed at their near roll or my near death experience. In fact they hadn't slowed down a bit when they passed me a short time later headed in the opposite direction. I was so nerved up I had to turn around and head back to town. I went to kickboxing. Seemed less risky and I needed to get all that adrenaline out of me somehow. My partner that day, Russ, asked me during roundhouses if I had an anger problem. ;)

Wind is blowing a hundred miles an hour and I have been threatening to run this half marathon. The dog and I set out. I have this new ipod loaded with the most lovely mix of tunes and soon the dog and I have settled in to a comfortable run. At about mile 6 she about tears off my arm. I was in the zone/completely oblivious, but alas, a German Shepherd was biting her in the ass. Poor baby. There was a scantily clad colleged aged gentleman scurrying down the sidewalk barefooted. I am a dog person and try hard to not profile dogs, but I can say I nearly shit myself. And my poor dog did pee a little right there.

Near death experience one teaches me that perhaps I'll ride north instead of south. I take off on what I hope will be a quick 25 mile loop. I don't have much time so will be moving at a decent clip. I am headed north on North Dakota right before it T's into Cameron School Road and another teenaged culprit comes blasting out of his long driveway/road, blows a stop sign and about t-bones me. I see him too late or I could have either sped up or slowed down as there was no intent to slow or look. This is where the f-bombs come in. His window is open and I'll be the first to say I let him have it. He looked at me, eyes bulging, in complete shock that there could be a bike there?!?? and without one word or look sideways, revved his engine and headed on his way.

Granted, instances two and three were hardly near death...regardless, I have told a few of my people that it'll be some kind of miracle if I make it to the end of this biking season alive with all the crazies on the road around these parts. I mean every word of it.

I find a great deal of solace in the fact that at least if Scott and I keep riding together the chances of my dying happy and laughing (a lifelong goal) are pretty darned good.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Suns Out, Corns In, Lilacs are Smelly

I planned to take today off as I have been hammering away at my legs for 11 days straight.

We hibernated for six long months here in Iowa throughout the winter though, and now it's nice and it's sort of akin to someone lifting up a giant rock; all the people come crawling out. At this particular moment, I cannot be outside sweating enough hours a day to stay satisfied. I also have a bit of backlash leftover from my years spent in Northwest Washington; where if there is an inkling of sun, you'd best get your ass outside or you might not see it again for weeks, if not months.

All was well with this lovely Hump Day off plan except I went to bed early last night, the birds got me up at 5 and I figured, what the heck, might as well hit kickboxing class this a.m. It's bags day and I find hitting and kicking things very satisfying. I had one of the best bag workouts I've had since...well Monday night's workout; complete with the near puke, arms shaking, stomach wrenching, legs trembling stuff.

And now it's six hours later and the damned sun (cannot find a cloud anywhere) is out for what feels like the bazillionth day in a row, there is no wind, no humidity and no mosquitoes the size of crows so I really now need to get on my bike. For the love of Pete.

Sure, there's not much to look at out on the road around these parts, but I DO have the greatest company most days. And riding and laughing might be one of the sweetest simplest pleasures of them all.

And as I sit here and relish in my new found endorphin fueled occurs to me that it's my people that makes my world go round. And soon enough, just when my people are all getting sick of my shit, the corn will be up, the sun will still be up, the mosquitos will be all around, it'll be humid as all get out, and we'll all be on Ragbrai.

In the meantime, I'm taking some time to smell the lilacs. I had forgotten about the lilacs around here--so many of them and so, so smelly.

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Slater Bike Lane is Smooth But What Ever Happened To Good Times?

There's a newly paved bike lane beginning just outside of Ames running through Slater, to Big Creek, Polk City and through Des Moines. We checked it out the other night and it's nice; a welcome change from fearing for your life as cars honk and sputter by. It is even wide enough that we were able to ride two abreast and it's clear; no glass, road kill or other treats. And in perhaps the biggest bonus of is smooth as a baby's butt.

We figured we'd ride to Polk City, have a beer, ride back. Naturally, this early in the season when the wind blows, a big ride can quickly be diverted to the closest tavern. Such was the case last week when we forayed out after work on what we'd hoped would be a cool 50 miler. The wind hurt, our legs hurt, and we were not really feeling like winning, as they say, so we decided the best thing to do was drink beer.

We stopped in Slater at what I thought was "Good Times Saloon." I'd spent nearly five miles talking about all the memories I had in this place from years past: previous bike rides, the infamous and now defunct "Sleishea" (Slater version of Veishea), stops on the former Wallaby's Employee Party excursions, and the Halverson crew...really, need I say more? That place always had, in my mind at least, always oozed good people and of course, Good Times.

Except this time it wasn't good times at all, it actually kind of sucked. Our problems began when "no cash Ali" produced nothing but a debit card and three bucks for the good will of the team. They take no cards. Thankfully, Scott had $25 in cash so we were good for awhile at least, until we had a bit of a mix up with the bartender in our funds, and he shorted us five bucks for one of our rounds, and hence our we were unable to buy our subsequent round. Granted, we could have been wrong, but when you come to a bar with $28 it is not so difficult to do the math. And really, we could have taken or left the beer, but this seemed to set the stage for the rest of the experience which we kept saying was just plain, weird. And later, when I ran into a friend of mine who is a Slater local, he echoed our sentiments by saying, "oh, that place is weird now."

Ahem. Yes, weird.

Perhaps Good Times vibe and love of bicycles left Slater when the bar was purchased a few years ago; as it is now called the Take Down...not something that brings to mind a positive visual as I roll in on two wheels. Perhaps we caught the fine folks there on an "off" night. Perhaps we smelled. I can speak for myself, I probably did. Regardless, everyone in there was less than friendly, less than willing to resolve our missing $5 complaint, and oh so willing to move their cars into the opened doorway to blast exhaust into the bar as part of a car show of some sort they had going on. It was very, um...loud. And exhaust like. Mmm. So we left.

Given that the Take Down will indeed become a stopping off point for many a cyclist from Ames venturing South on the new path, we hope that the new owners can take come pointers from the previous owners of the Good Times Saloon and bring happy back to our pit stop soon.

Until then, we want our five dollars….

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Ride...and the Partner in Crime

When I was in Bellingham, I spent a disproportionate amount of my road miles by myself. I had riding partners in crime, but logistically it was difficult to arrange rides with these folks with the frequency I'm able to now. It is also more necessary to ride with others in Iowa, as the terrain isn't nearly as exciting--sorry, love Iowa, but dirt and red winged black birds ain't gonna cut it by my lonesome on a 50 miler!

My boyfriend at the time hated it, but more often than not when I rode by myself in Bellingham I'd ride out to Lummi Island, one of the San Juan Islands near my house. There is a ton of broken glass on the reservation roads, few to no services, and crazy drivers. He hated the idea of my breaking down coupled with my subpar bicycle mechanics skills. I was lucky and never flatted out there. I also found that when I was by myself the drivers kept a very respectable distance.

I kept going back to Lummi because if you could get over the litter and broken glass, the ride offered majestic views of everything that makes Washington magical: salt flats, high and low tides, some great little climbs, fresh wild berries on nearly every road, a few lovely decents and the sweet reward at the end, Gooseberry Point, to make it all worthwhile. No matter what route I took I always ended it the same, climbing up that hill, rocketing downward and at the bottom, hard left at the Point; and boom--there was Mount Baker and the twin sisters, a full panoramic of Bellingham Bay, maybe a sea lion, a view of the other islands, a smattering of birds I could rarely identify and a few sailboats.

There was rarely a day when I didn't nearly crash watching some bird, usually a bald eagle, as it would skim across the water, diving down to pull out a fish. Riding by myself became this near spiritual experience; I didn't have to pay much attention to anything but each crack in the road, the clouds, my breath...or lack thereof. It was a great excuse to be wholly present and go as fast or as slow as I wanted, whenever I wanted.

Riding with others is totally different. Anyone who has ridden previously, and then begins riding with a partner will likely appreciate my saying that riding with aanother person is a whole other adventure. I have come to believe that you can learn more about a person on a bike than you can about anywhere else.

I will use this space from time to time to pay tribute to my biking partners and try to shed a little light on what I learned from these fine folks as they each, in their respective ways, made me into the cyclist I am today. I don't want to get all mushy and stupid, so I will try to reflect on the little moments that somehow stick out. I found myself on my bike. It is only through the collective experiences of those I've piled on the miles with that I can say this.

Here, I'll thank them each in this small way.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Yoga Obsession Heats Up

I have a bit of an obsession with hot yoga. Stick me in a hot room and within seconds I'll immediately begin the detox and feel my body systematically let go.

Get me talking about what happened when I began a regular practice four years ago, and I will passionately with hand gestures and grandiose fluxuations in tone tell you that my yoga practice undoubtedly changed my life. The physical benefits were and are immense. I found relief from: migraines, allergies, ear infections, sports injuries, carpal tunnel among many other common ailments. I also lost a lot of weight, toned up, and learned to trust my body and touch my toes. Bound up from pounding athletic ventures, the biggest miracle of all may be that I can bend over and pull my face to the floor, or do a pretty lovely standing bow pulling pose, bend over backwords, etc. all huge feats given that I could not touch my toes, lock out my knee, nor could I make it up the two flights of stairs without everything clicking furiously. Truly the physical accomplishments and progress are enough to raise an eyebrow, but it is the psychological benefit that was truly life altering for me.

I miss my Bellingham Bikram family immensely, and can honestly say that the fine folks there likely single handedly kept me in Bellingham as long as I was there; the idea of starting anew in a place without a "home" for my practice, seemed well, entirely stupid when it had kept me entirely sane for so long.

I have done lots of other stupid things too, as my friends can attest. So move without a net/studio I did. There is not, in fact, a single Bikram studio in the state of Iowa. And the closest Barkan/Bikram studio is 2.5 hours away. So eventually, I will bring one here.
I've tried to do this for several years now, but whenever I travel I try to seek out the closest Bikram/hot studio for a good workout. This has taken on a whole new meaning/drive now that I don't have a 5 day a week practice. Hence, I have practiced the Bikram series all over Europe, Canada and the United States. Every studio is entirely different and while the dialogue and series are essentially the same, the energy from studio to studio varies immensely, as do the students and the instructors. Some instructors bark, some are so annoying their shrill voices are enough to cause nausea (another part of the journey!), some are so gentle and kind that it's a struggle to stay awake, some are militantly focused on form, some are so caring you want to hug after class, some could care less.

I begin each and every practice with the single goal of staying in the room. Four years later it is still sometimes difficult if not impossible to do. This started with the physical idea of "stay in the room" several years back and after I quickly learned what happens when I did leave and try to come back in, I found that lying or standing there doing nothing was a better alternative to leaving the heat and trying to come back in the room and regain concentration without puking or cramping up.

Try as I did though.

Now my "stay in the room" is centered more wholly on quieting my monkey mind and the idea of trying to concentrate wholly on myself for the entirety of the 90 minutes. This means completely disregarding outside noises, conversations and distractions. It is a helluva lot easier said than done. I like to escape--face it, we all do. In my mind in the midst of an intense practice I'll find myself cooking dinner, taking vacations to New Zealand, writing lists, remembering work tasks, thinking about my latest date, my son's baseball practice, the laundry I forgot in the washer (for two days)...a thousand things to keep me from staying there, in the room. And so I practice. And practice. Breathe.

One of the great first lessons of my practice was to not to judge myself too harshly, as I've found that the days I feel like I am going to have an amazing practice and bound in to the studio, many times quite the opposite happens, and the days when it is truly a struggle to put my sports bra on, I have the best days and my body/heart open up. In some of my darkest moments, I found myself laying on the floor of that Bellingham Studio, sometimes doing nothing more than laying there, breathing and letting the tears stream freely. There was never any judgement, never any ribbing. It was totally safe.

Likewise, I have pulled myself into a camel, or rabbit and felt my entire heart open up and release a load of pure emotion that is inexplicable in words alone. For all these reason, among others that I cannot put into words, it has been my intention for years now to attend an intensive teacher training and eventually take my practice to others--hopefully here in mid Iowa. I can readily admit that there is a part of me that wants to go to the intensive for selfish reasons alone, as I cannot imagine giving up what has become my "church" and sharing that space and time as it is so intensely personal and sacred. Yet at the same time, I trust in the idea of those who have gone before me when they tell me that truly after you've experienced the intensive training experience that there is literally no way that you cannot imagine anything but sharing it.

The experience I had in Nashville at Nashville Hot Yoga was among the best of my remote yoga travel adventures. The studio was clean and spacious, the temperature was right, and the instructor was deliberate, and yet lovely and light.

I had an amazing practice that day, drained my body of all sorts of interesting toxins and emotions, and I stayed mentally present until about five minutes before the end of class. I also experienced the typical sway of emotions and rawness that often accompanies a good hard practice after not having done one for awhile immediately thereafter. Thankfully I was surrounded by my most loving and accepting friends.

I once again have renewed vigor about getting myself to an intensive, practicing more regularly, and eventually sharing this gift with others. It is also interesting to note, that I am having an incredibly, incredibly difficult time trusting in the present moment and not wanting to shove the training in front of some other relevant and arguably more pertinent intiatives in my life, like completing my thesis before the university clock stops ticking. I want to quit my job and life and run away NOW.

But it all does make perfect sense at the same time. Because this idea of staying and being present and trusting in each moment for what it is happens to be the most amazing gift of this practice. It is also an idea that you never quite master and exactly why they call it ...a practice.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Pony Up

I recently spent some time with my adopted family in Nashville. It was a much needed and welcome escape on a whole bunch of levels but I was particularly struck by a couple things:

1. This kickass little boutique advertising agency that totally defies the idea of the ad agency being some: work your fingers to the bone, eat you up and swallow you whole work environment that might have cool digs, but really just comes in an attractive package agency. I really had to resist the urge to link a couple of "those" agencies in here, but I shall stay on the cautiously optimistic side. The folks at RedPepper were gracious enough to let me mull around their digs for a morning and I was awestruck by the post-its, intelligent banter, the comps, the finished pieces, the nooks and crannies, the stories from the night before, and especially the fact that not one person had a weiner handshake.

If there were more places that fostered a work environment that encouraged and required spending an hour a day learning...whatever you want and need, the world would be a much, much better place.

2. I have a thing for exploring subcultures and will go anywhere once. About ten years ago I went to my first SteepleChase event and have been going back whenever possible ever since. The Iroquois SteepleChase was last weekend and it did not disappoint, although I am certain I have never been to one of these events and actually seen LESS of the horses. Details. Percy Warner Park is one of the most lovely in-city parks you'll find and the weather typically is a sunny 80 degrees. This year did not disappoint. The mojitos were cold, the horses ran, and never once did my betted jockey fall off, dammit it all to hell, as there's always extra cash for that!

These Southern folks have a few things figured out when it comes to doing a tailgate or a party at such an event; and while I will forever be more comfortable in my Teva's and tank top over those fancy dressses and hats (when in Rome) I am happy to report that it was another epic day.

It sometimes takes a trip or time spent with great people to get yourself back into a happy spot after some set backs, a kick to the gut, or other set back. I am happy to report that with my quick getaway I killed both the birds; and then some and then some. I will be back....

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bike’s still out, idiots don’t appear to be going anywhere, I am over it

Bike’s still out, idiots don’t appear to be going anywhere, I am over it

In the interest of not coming off as sarcastic, bitter, cup half empty and all those b.s. sayings I thought it prudent to post publicly that I have:

1. been on my bike on the ROAD (some of you will find this mild ribbing totally appropriate--you know who you are) multiple times

2. encountered multiple idiots resolved to not let these idiots pee on my Wheaties and ruin my ride(s) at least.

Kill me they may, but you read it here: I shall go down happy; blissfully so because I am getting my ass handed to me doing something I love, and hopefully I will manage a good catapult before I land.

Little League calls. Then the bike. Daylight savings and the SUN have arrived!

Half Marathon Anyone?

Well, one of my gym rat friends talked me into signing up for Dam 2 Dam, a 20K later this month. Small detail: I have not run in months. The Hal Higdon's Half Marathon Training guide insists 12 weeks of preparation for a novice. I will take five. I will not under any circumstances run every day. I am already a bit behind in my posting, but will use this space to post my workouts.

I had to take about two and a half weeks off from working out altogether in March/April, so have my doubts about the feasibility of this little project. Nonetheless, I need something to keep me going and Jen insisted that if I could go out and run 10 prior to the race that I'd be fine, fine. Whatever. We shall see.

DAY ONE: Sunday, May 27
Run 8 Miles
Thank goodness for my dog. She pulled me the entire way. I am in desperate need of some tunes. Feet hurt.