Monday, July 31, 2006

le monstre

okay, so mrs. crashco is irritated with me since i pointed out to her irrefutably that we are now middle aged. well, babycakes, when you can point to events in your adult life as happening twenty years ago, you are middle aged, at least.

i started going to the international fireworks competition at la ronde in, what? 1988? '89? anyway, it was a while ago, back when it was "l'international benson & hedges". now the prime sponsor is lotto-quebec, which only makes me feel marginally better, staring at the sign across the lake.

i have never in my life purchased a lottery ticket. i have been given a couple of scratch-offs, some of them even have been small winners, but i've not redeemed them. it seems to me that lotteries are nothing more than a tax on stupid people and i'm morally opposed. maybe i should be morally opposed to more important things, but i will never forget the day i was standing in the convenience store near exit 16 in winooski and this woman came in with three kids hanging off of her, begging for something to eat and it was the kind of begging where you realize that these children are no strangers to hunger.

so anyway, she says to the clerk that she'll have the usual. the clerk knows without being told that this is a carton of marlboros and fifty dollars in lottery tickets. one of the tickets was a $500 winner and they were all so happy but i couldn't help thinking that if you buy that many lottery tickets and a freakin' CARTON of marlboros every friday five hundred dollars is a pretty poor return.

so anyway. i think i've just gone on a rant that's pretty far off-topic, even for me.

so i used to go to the fireworks twice a week at one point in my misspent youth; i've watched them from inside la ronde with gen-you-wine tickets, but back in the day we sat on the hill outside, where you can't actually see the low elements, or from the opposite bank of the river (you also can't see the low elements, but you smell the gunpowder plenty strong) and my favorite place was out on the pont j-c, almost directly opposite the paid seating. you're much higher up and you see it backward, but it's a pretty good view and you can see everything. if you plan to get a good view from the bridge, you should plan to be there around 1930h, because the bridge fills pretty fast. and bring your walkman, because the fireworks are set to music and they broadcast the music on one of the radio stations and it's pretty fabulous.

i used to go on wednesdays and on saturdays all through the summer and i'd park on the island and walk up the stairs in that great art-deco tower and find my place out on the bridge before the crowd came.

i knew the competition rules and became pretty good at picking the winners. one year i was out on the bridge for the night the US was presenting. there were ten thousand of us up on that bridge and who knows how many more all around the city and the program was entirely set to the music of aaron copland. to the music of appalachian spring we saw shells that exploded with leaf green and sky blue. there's a part in the music where a two-note figure is carried down through the brass section to one long note in the tuba and for this they sent up rockets one to a note, in pairs, progressively lower down and when that tuba note came red fire spread all across the pond and for just one moment on that bridge i could feel ten thousand people all suck in a breath at the same time.

and they ended up with a gold willow shell bursting on beats one and three for the entire end of the piece and the effect was so stunning that what followed was complete and utter silence for longer than one might think possible.

the australians that year managed a second place finish with what in another year might have won them gold. the australians are especially good at novelty shells; ones that explode into spirals or happy faces or stars and such.

but no matter where you watch from, you're going to be caught in the monumental traffic jam that follows. you can get all het up about it or you can relax and have a good time, but you're not getting off the island until well after midnight.

i used to pack quite the little picnic; caviar and cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off. other little treats.

but i can't keep up that kind of schedule anymore. for one thing, i have a standing date on wednesdays. so these days i try to make it once a year. since i'm only going once, i spring for tickets in the silver section, which is where the good seats are. you can pay ten dollars more for stupid perks in the gold section, but you can't see anything from over there anyway and you might as well stand on the bridge. maybe the point of being in the gold section is to be seen, but if you're that special they have better seats for you near the judges anyway. just behind the silver section.

i rest my case.

it turns out that rumblestrip has never been.

"well, we must go.", i declare. turns out between this and that and the other, the only night she has available is the final night, when instead of a competitor's presentation, they announce the results and a team hired by la ronde presents a show. it's never as good as if they're an entrant, but the hired team this year is panzera SAS and i've seen them when they're competing and they're very good.

i have a hunch it will be better than whatever rumblestrip has ever seen anyway.

and i have an opportunity to pack a picnic. i LOVE to pack a picnic. mine is a cooler of wonders. and lately there's a lot i owe to rumblestrip, so the theme of the day kind of becomes "let's spoil rumblestrip a little and have a really good time".

i'm trying to get to bed by ten on friday, but i know it just isn't going to happen because it's ten o'clock and i'm frantically trying to process my PQs, including one run on the route to montreal, which is a feature that uses google earth and is new, so i don't quite know how to work it yet. but it's very cool.

and the phone rings. it is Flyingfisher, who is probably one of only three people in the world i would have been willing to talk to at that moment, but much as i miss her, i'm kind of distracted by the running and processing of the PQs and the fact that morning will come roaring up early.

the idea is to be on the road at seven, because we thought it would be good to spend the day in the city (we both lovemontreal; what's there not to love?), maybe geocaching, maybe doing something else. it doesn't matter. it's all going to be good.

i've been having some problems getting up in the morning, so the plan is that Rumblestrip will come to my house and tear me out of bed and put me in the car, which will already be packed.

but the night is kind of warm, so i don't want to pre-pack the cooler. i actually get up at 0630h to do that, and i also have some breakfast. or at least leftovers from dinner, because if there's one thing i know, it's that anything that's good enough to have for dinner is good enough to have for breakfast.

we think that probably after getting home prettty late, we will not be up to waking for a nine o'clock service (summer schedule) at richmond, where we are both members. it's been my habit when i am on the road to go to church wherever i happen to be. you have maybe heard me say this before, but i am certain that God is not at all fussy about place or denomination; what is important is that you come to be in attendance among the Living Body of Christ. so on weekends when i have sunday bike races, i find a saturday Mass near where i am and that's just fine. i stand out pretty clearly as not catholic, but they take you pretty much how you are and for the most part people are very kind and welcoming.

so our plan is to find a saturday Mass near the city, preferably one in an english-speaking parish. we both have some command of french, but i'm still kind of out of my element at Mass, and i need those audible cues to keep up with the service.

and in an entire morning of geocaching, we realize that we have not seen a church since we passed through the towns on route 133, pretty early in the trip. we start looking for churches, but then rumblestrip (who i think is smarter than i am) gets the brilliant idea to find a phone book and she starts to call around to parishes that have english sounding names and we find one in brossard with a five o'clock Mass. so we cache a little more and then we find our way (hooray for mapping software and GPS) to the church. we're a little early, which gives us time to change. hey, we race mountain bikes, so one thing we have learned (or i have learned and rumblestrip, who is still new to it, is learning) is that the world is our locker room, and that with the aid of a changing skirt, one can wash up and change for almost any occasion if only one has a parking space.

but then it's very close to five and no one else is arriving. blast. on the SUMMER SCHEDULE (which is not posted) there is no five o'clock Mass.

i am at a loss. i can't face trying to get to an early service in richmond.

but rumblestrip is smart. she starts calling other churches, looking for one with a five-thirty Mass and she finds one where a LIVE PERSON confirms this fact by phone, but it's in longueuil, so we'll have to book. we make not one but two wrong turns (one to each of our fault) and THEN i make an error in setting the route in the navigational software and we end up in the wrong place but in sight of the steeple but just too late to make Mass.

but, see, rumblestrip is not only smart, but she has a cool head and can think in a pinch. and she thinks that maybe what we should be doing is calling churches NEAR HOME to find a service that starts later in the morning.

and that's where i get the brilliant idea: let's drive around a little and see if we can't pirate an open network. we find an open network. it's only one bar, but for some reason it connects right up and stays connected. i take a moment to answer my email, in which is a note from cornflakes, who are trying to solve my newly reactivated cache, the shrew, untamed. somebody last summer called me a shrew and this was my preferred vengeance.

let it be a lesson to you. do not cross me; i will only turn it into a puzzle to torment innocent people and then make oblique references to you while i giggle.

so anyway, i got on the web and we searched just about every church in the burlingtoareaan and we found one with a service that starts at 11:15! i am so happy that i grab rumblestrip's head in both my hands and kiss the top of it, pulling her for a moment out of her usual vertical position. lucky for me her head is fastened on pretty firmly.

so we go on out to la ronde. we're debating getting on a rollercoaster; we're both a little nervous about it. i have not been on a rollercoaster since the days just before my gallbladder and i parted company, so i have some memory of a nearly constant nausea being uh, somewhat "tickled" by the added spatial chaos of a coaster, but yet i also remember the first time i rode le monstre.

my friend john had taken us up to la ronde to see the fireworks and the rides are included in your ticket. he loves le monstre and he got me to go on it with him. as soon s the car we were in engaged on the track to climb up to the top, i lit into him:

how DARE YOU, i demanded, allow me to get on this thing?!? what were you THINKING?!?

but then we were at the top and all of a sudden i was screaming. and i realized an amazing thing: when you are engaged in a good, well-supported scream, your innards are not free to bounce around in your body cavity in response to your sudden positional changes. in short, i have found the secret to really enjoying the ride.

can we go again?

so rumblestip and i find ourselves walking out toward le monstre, as if it has some gravitational pull. we have not decided that we will ride it. but then we're there, so we get in line. and while we're in line, rumblestrip is a good sport and listens to the story of my sudden parting with my gallbladder, but more importantly, as i go on and on (it is a long, slow line) about my job, which i love as much as i love anything and to which i have not been since i became ill in december. i have not even returned to the building. and i'm afraid to go back. i want it more than anything else, but yet i'm still afraid.

but as i'm talking, i'm remembering all the things i love about the job, and all the things that made me good at it. and i miss it more and more.

and then it's our turn. it's scary, but we are on le monstre. it is sunset and as we climb we can see the lights of the city all around us, and all the boats on the river. it is beautiful and perfect and suddenly our train goes over the top and we are screaming, hurtling through the summer evening and we scream and scream and laugh and we are alive and indestructible and i think of this one, critically important thing:

every year for labor day i go caching in montreal. i go with the crashcos and our habits begin to border on ritual. i am very much looking forward to going again this year.

but you may remember that i've been fighting my own monster: i'm struggling to stay alive. or more precisely, i'm agonizing over whether i can go back to the job i love, or whether i should suicide now, while i still have the chance beforehand.

but i have plans to go on that trip. i would not miss it for anything. and i realize: labor day is AFTER work starts up again. so now in this moment i realize that i am going back to work. it's so small, and maybe i should not depend on little things the way i do, but... i'm not sure how i want to finish that, so i'm just not going to.

on the way home we make it out of the city and through the border without incident. we're tired, but we're doing ok. well, actually, we're pretty wrecked. but i know the way home is faster by about a half hour if we get off the interstate and go through fairfax. rumblestrip, bless her heart, for some reason suggests we go by the building where i work. you know, so she can see it.

i'm not fooled, and neither, probably, are you. of course we go.

rumblestrip and i are increasingly of the belief that we are being called to something, but we do not yet know exactly what. rumblestrip is of the conviction that her first task is to do whatever she can to help me return successfully to my job, to help me be well again, which is an astounding task because i was already quite ill when i met her.

it's really late by the time we get back to my house; rumblestrip is too wrecked to continue on, so i install her on the couch and i retire upstairs. she's asleep before i am; even though it is late i still have to have a shower and evening prayer. even ten thirty will come early, so i'm a little worried about sleep.

i don't remember the dream, but i know in the morning i was screaming, and not in the benign way i screamed on the rollercoaster. it is a very bad feeling to wake crying in the morning; already you are overflowed with sorrow and the day has not started, even. but rumblestrip is there; she wakes me from the dream and comforts me.

i'm prepared to have leftover sandwiches for breakfast, but rumblestrip is of the "breakfast food" mentality; she knows i have waffles in the freezer. "how many do i want?", she asks.


"how many do you think you ought to have?"


so. breakfast and out to church. it's the essex alliance church, which is pretty far off of what we're used to, but we are grateful to be at a late service and we both find something sufficiently moving that we are certain that it is no accident that we are there.

rumblestrip goes home and then off to other projects and for most of the day she does not have the opportunity to sit still for more than ten minutes, but i get home and call the craschcos to see if they want to go out and play on this beautiful blue day, but i don't want to go berry picking and we can't quite decide exactly where we want to go bike riding.

i kind of want to go for a LONG ride, but mrs. crashco does not, and crashco is suggesting a compromise ride. he REALLY wants to ride today because he has a really spiffy new bike.

"go have a nap.", he tells me. "we'll call you when we're done berry picking."

so i do. i have very dense dreams which, in a surprise move, i'm not going to tell you about. and i've been lying awake faboutout a half hour, trying to puzzle them out, trying to recount them, so i can retell the story later, when the phone rings.

sleep has put things in better perspective for me, and we decide on an easy rolling loop from jonesville to richmond on route 2 and back on cochran road. then we go for a lovely walk in south burlington and find a couple of geocaches. by now it is the end of the day, so we go have something to eat.

pretty soon after arriving home i sit down with a bottle of very good ginger beer and begin to write you this account and now it is nearly three in the morning and i am hopeful of a sound and gentle sleep.

i hope that you are sleeping already; and i hope that your dreams are sweet and gentle. i hope you wake easily and well-refreshed.

tomorrow is monday; technically it's been monday already for a couple of hours. i won't go to work, but someday soon i will stand in my rightful place and i will claim my life back forcefully, and with authority.

there will probably be difficult days. what has changed is that tonight i expect to come out on the other side still standing, still drawing breath.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

wheel sucker

i'm five-foot-four, about. in october i weighed 135 pounds, which is a pretty good weight for me. it's not my best fighting weight. my best weight is about 125, but i haven't been that thin since about my sophomore year of college, more than twenty years ago. i shouldn't weigh less than that, because i look too thin, but it would be an ideal weight for bike racing.

i only mention this because when i got sick i started to put on weight and i was afraid to look at the worst of it, but at some point when i finally did get on the scale, i weighed in at 185. i won't even tell you the body fat content.

but there's this thing about gettting on a bike and hauling your fat ass up a mountain; you burn a lot of energy. if you go out and keep climbing often enough, the first thing that happens is not that you lose weight. the first thing that happens is that your fat ass is much more solid and jiggles less when you move. sometimes you even get heavier.

but you keep doing it and you do start to get lighter. there's less of you to haul up that mountain.

i weigh about 175 pounds now. it's still pretty heavy for a woman of my height, but every day i'm getting stronger. more solid. my uniforms are starting to fit again.

i'm still slower than i was last year and everybody keeps telling me that i should be more forgiving, that the real vicory is that i'm managing to show up on the start line. it's hard, though. i used to win things. i used to place respectably in time trials. i have been state champion more than once. it's really hard to let go of all of that and return to the state i was in before i was fast.

there's also this other thing: if you ride hard on monday and then race on tuesday, wednesday and thursday every week, your times for each individual event are not as speedy as they would be if you concentrated on one. it does wonders for your overall fitness, though.

maybe i will come back stronger than i ever was. i can hope.

last night i rode my bike from texas hill road in huntington up to the top of the gore road, and then i turned left and rode a ways up mccullough turnpike toward app gap. i stopped about 2k from the top, before the really hard climb, but let there be no mistake: it's still a climb.

coming through huntinton proper i was passed by a pair of riders and i asked if i could hop on and suck his wheel for a while. you can do this; when you're out and people riding together pass you you may ask permission to get on the end of their train. it is not polite to just hop on.

but then she came off the front and we hit a climb and i couldn't pull through. i couldn't keep up with them, nevermind doing any of the work, but for a while it was nice. then they turned off toward hinesburg.

so i kept riding. you find a gear you can turn and you keep turning it. and from where i turned around, it was a really cool descent. a car passed me and boy, i could smell his brakes burning. i was not using brakes.

that's not entirely true; there are some places where you have to use brakes. but i went as fast as i could and there's no feeling like it on this planet. i rode like i was being chased by the hounds of hades until i saw rumblstrip, coming to pick me up. then i rode a little ways, i think to van dine road, where there was a decent place for her to stop and turn and park. the map almost shows the trip; for some reason i couldn't get it to show quite how far up the gap i rode, but it's probably not important.

then i washed up a little and put on reasonably clean clothes as a courtesy to rumblestrip, and we went off ostensibly to do a little geocaching, but we didn't find a thing and we didn't care.

and tonight when we ran, i felt like i was running slower than usual; i didin't feel like i was suffering as much, and crashco caught up with me earlier than he usually does. he and rumblestrip paced me in to the end and i have no idea how this happened, but it was my best time by two minutes. two minues is kind of a big improvement.


anyway, i'm gong to try to get some sleep, even though it's comparatively early. i'm having some difficulty with takeing enough sedatives to get me to sleep. but not enough to make me hungover in the morning.

and lately i'm noticing that i get sluggish when the barometer drops. and if i have too big a hit of sugar. today at my house there was a maple syrup emergency: i'm almost to the end of the jug and i screwed on the lid and turned it upside down but it leaked anyway and there's only one thing to do in such a situation: get a spatula. i tried to scoop it off the counter and onto a waffle with limited success, but in the end it just came to eating it right off the spatula.

then i slept until two-thirty. i almost couldn't get up, even then.

little lessons.


today i put fresh sheets on the bed. ordinarily it wouldn't be worth noting; i adore crisp clean sheets. if you are getting into bed with me (and i realize this is not a problem for most of you) (hah. most, she says. funny.)

anyway, if you expect to get into my bed you must shower first. it's a rule. fine, then. sleep on the couch if you'd rather.

but i've been too worn out for the project; it's all i can do to keep the laundry done so i have clean uniforms to wear. so my sheets haven't been changed sincce the last time my mother changed them, while i was still having ECT.

it'd be really yicky except for the aforementioned shower AND that somhow in the last year i've taken to wearing clothes to bed. i think it's probably because agter i shower i put on some clean clothes before i go to evening prayer and i just go to bed the same way: tights and a technical shirt of whatever thickness seems appropriate for the night.

but today i was all full of energy and actually dusted the bedroom, fluffed the featherbed and turned the mattress. quite a project.

and i didn't really mean to tell you all this, except that it will be good to fold myself in clean sheets. the night is cool and i will be able to sleep the way i like: under a down comforter and two blankets besides.

but this is the important thing: when i lie in bed on a clear night, i can see stars.

"the wheel keeps on turning, the stars reel and spin
they don't miss a step in their ages old dance
they yield up the sky when the day rushes in,
but they'd keep on going if they had the chance.

i will sing to you softly, stand watch while you dream
good night, go to sleep, you are loved."

Monday, July 24, 2006


yesterday was eastern cup. i went out saturday with the crashcos to inspect the course and preride it. actually, i was supposed to have met with them at 0900 to help set up the race stuff, but i was too hungover from my sleeping meds and didn't wake up until they called me on the phone sometime later.

so i got there in time to ride. course conditions were good, too, but it appears that i only have a finite amount of courage, which is being used for simply living, so a lot of the technical elements of the course are beyond my reach. and not just the ones i always have a hard time with; elements that i have had a good handle on for years are suddenly ouside of my ability.

for instance: after you come out of the old BMX course, you get deposited on bee tree hill. it's fairly straightforward. you keep your balance and you fly down it. it's rough, but completely do-able. the surface is all loose dirt and rocks and roots and old leaves, but there are no turns, no "must-do" moves, and it opens up onto a straight easy uphill. nothing to worry about, right?

except i get there and i'm paralyzed with fear. you see, if you use your brakes here, all that happens is that you skid out, and at a pretty good speed, too. you have to be able to trust your balance and to trust gravity.

but i can't. i'm paralyzed with fear. which represents a dangerous situation, so i have to get off and walk. granted, i cleaned little ridge run, but i usually can clean it. and i cleaned that nasty little uphill singletrack over on the hillside, which i never can do. and i nearly got over the rock wall, but when i was almost over i wasted my concentration by thinking "hey, i'm getting over this!" and i had to foot down.

but then it started to rain. it rained all afternoon and all night and all morning. when it rains, due to some unhappy geology, at catamount what happens is that the top layers of soil, due to their high clay content, become very slick.

and i am frightened.

let me recap my week for you: for the first time in a long time i was feeling good, so i rode like i feel good.

monday i rode my road bike twenty-some-odd miles up the huntington road.
tuesday i ran my 5 k so hard i collapsed at the end.
wednesday i rode two thrirds of the course with no seat.
thursday i rode my time trial hard.
friday i sat at home and didn't do squat.

saturday i rode with the crashcos and then we went unsuccessfully geocachiing in what started out as a light drizzle and ended up being a soaking rain.

sunday i manage to wake up in time to get ready for my race, but i am still hung over from my sleeping meds.

at the beginning of the eastern cup course we always go down and around the elbow; there's a small trench at the bottom of it, and there's loose gravel on both sides. because at eastern cup there are often racers who have traveled from far away, it is my practice to hant to the back of the starting pack and ask if everybody knows about the gravel.

often they don't all know, and it is useful information. i have seen more than one promising season come to an abrupt end at the bottom of the elbow.

anyway, out of the start, i can't even keep up with the back of the pack to ask. by the time i emerge from the elbow, i have lost contact completely with the pack, and about a minute later on the gravel road i am overtaken by the next wave of riders.

at the first hairpin (a technical element i have been riding easily since my first year) i am overtaken by the next wave of riders. i am slow, slow, slow. by the time i get to moosepoop, i am very nearly at the back of the entire field, not just my start. and i am completly out of contact with even the tail end of the pack.

and i'm having to use my granny gears. i feel like i'm dying. i have to walk little ridge run, which i habitually clean. i'm really pushing my limit by the time i get to the oven. now granted, the oven is a long gradual climb and in some conditions it can really take a wide strip out of you. it was very slippery, and a little difficult to maintain control.

and i came out of it, having finished about the first 5k of the 15k course and now i'm facing all the hard climbs and all teh really technical riding. but i am at a major intersection one leg of which leads out of the woods.

i didn't have it in me; i quit the course and turned in my number.

it nearly broke my heart. but you see, it's not just a bike race for me. bike racing has become for me kind of a metaphor for my life: it's difficult and it just hurts and hurts and you have to stay out there and keep going until you get to the end.

and i quit early. made me feel like i could quit early at that other, more important race. i didn't feel like goign out to lunch with the crashcos or caching or doing anything. i wanted to go home. but rumblestip came with me and was very kind and patient and sat with me for a time while i cried and cried.

it was an astounding amount of pain. and finally when she had to leave, i was afraid of what i might do, but somehow i managed to get online and play some cards and then after a while i watched the final tour coverage.

and by some miracle i slept soundly and woke up at eight, feeling pretty good. maybe today i'll go reactivate an old disabled cache i have. maybe i'll go find some things. it won't matter. it's going to be a good week.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

back in the saddle

i get ready to go to my race tonight and all of a sudden i feel like i'm ready to ride well. i decide to wear my eastern cup championship jersey; you know, the one they gave the winners.

i have a full collection of catamount jerseys, right back to the first one and right up to the current one, the second in the post-merger era. this is all of them except this year's; the one in front is my eastern cup championship jersey. its design is based on the red checkerboard jersey, which is my favorite.

and i feel tonight like i can ride as if i deserve to wear that shirt. so i head out of the start como un pipistrello d'all' inferno and things are going good but i hear this kind of knocking noise going over roots and things and i just had my shocks overhauled and i think maybe there's a problem with that, or that maybe while we were messing around getting rumblestrip's bike ready i maybe neglected to seat my own front wheel properly.

there was a bit of a to-do over rumblestrip's bike. she's riding my spare bike, my old blue rocky which is still a very fine bike. it is a precise carving instrument. it is raceworthy. for me the problem is that i'm not getting any younger and my back couldn't take the punishment and i needed something in a full suspension so i have a rugged-looking red rocky.

but we're getting the bikes ready for the night- crashco is replacing some old brake pads on his bike, and i'm re-inflating rumblestrip's tires, because last week when it was so muddy i took a lot of air out of her tires (and mine) because your wheels grip better in slippery conditions if they're soft. tonight the course is hard and dry and the idea was to fill the tires up for speed rather than grippiness.

but her rear tire won't inflate; turns out it's blown out at the valvestem and crashco, bless his heart, takes time from his own pre-race chores to change the tire for me. i might ought be able to do it; i used to do it all the time. but how to change the tire has fallen into the chasm of memory loss. some of it i'm sure i could figure out, but we just don't have all that much time.

so anyway, i'm hearing that noise. a knock. and i'm worried it might be my new headset. i just don't know. i know it is not a good noise, so i'm not going quite as fast as i might.

but here's the thing. at the start line i took a moment to ask bob to help me keep my courage, to help me ride strong. i know i said it in an earlier paragraph, but it think it bears repeating: to ride as if i deserve to wear that shirt.

and about a mile in (the course is 3.1 miles, and i was signed up to go around twice) there was a terrible crack and my saddle came right off of the seatpost. for a little way i managed to hold it by clenching my butt cheeks, but i ended up putting it in my pocket.

one of the bolts that holds the seat on the post had gotten sheared off. the saddle itself is still fine. which is good, because i'm very fond of it and i paid a lot for it.

but i have two miles to go and now i have no seat on my seatpost, which has sharp edges. which means it's a little harder to ride. usually when i stand on the pedals i have the seat to help stabilize me. and you know that it's just a little harder to clip into the pedals if you can't touch the seat.

but i had to think: what would i do if i had committed myself to riding my best ride? quit and walk in the shortest way?

not hardly. strength and courage demanded that i at least finish the one lap.

so. two miles. no sitting down. i got off and walked all the technical bits; there are some injuries i just don't want to have to explain in the ER, but wherever it was straightforward trail i rode. and where it was downhill with few obstacles, i rode. weight on the hands and feet. just hover. carefully.

and coming up to the chute and calling DNF, you get to hold your head high. you ride the two miles to the finish standng up. your legs and arms hurt. but you have ridden the best you can. you have ridden with strength. you have ridden with courage.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

two-fifths done, but half dead.

so a couple of weeks ago when i was standing at the top of belknap mountain i felt as if i was going to be better. i wanted to be all better, i wanted it to be true.

so it's been kind of hard for me that i'm oscillating in and out of depression. and i get in this really dangerous state where i just don't care and i think i'm going to suicide just because. no particular reason, and i simply don't care. it's probably the most dangerous state of all.

but i wanted so much to have been all better. i wanted so much for it to have been true. i could not admit it to anyone and left it half-whispered here, in the hidden corners of my soul.

but i've been going about living as if i'm all better, and sometimes it helps. i feel like i'm taking my life back by force.

i've been out caching a lot; i've had some really good days. days that are joyful and fully in sunshine. days that are easy and good and i am so far from the center of all that pain that sometimes i cry just out of thankfulness to be alive.

so. last week running i set a new PR on the course by nearly a full two minutes, which is quite a significant improvement.

but it's been hot lately and i don't do so well with hot weather. a couple of nights ago the heat and probably some other things combined t give me the kind of nightmares that not only keep me up all night, but are so sickening that i'm caught in swirling nausea that's hard to shake.

sometimes on nights like that i send out a lot of email, not necessarily cogent. i sent notes to rumblestrip at 11:19, 12:42, 3:02, 3:42, 5:14, 5:31, and 6:42. then i fell asleep and stayed that way until noon. then i was up for an hour or two and then staggered back to bed, collapsing on it sideways and remaining inert for another couple of hours.

yesterday afternoon i kind of felt like playing russian roulette. when i'm in a mood, often a hard, punishing ride is just the thing. on a hot day, i don't even notice that it is a hot day, and when i get off the bike, no matter what happens, nothing will feel worse than being on a hard climb.

but i was kind of hoping to get run over, maybe. not in the amusing way that i was run over on route two in richmond all those years ago and got only a pressure blister to show for it (i have a small quarter-sized scar on my left elbow), but the real deal. splattered. and it would look like an accident, too. so i left the house and started to ride.

wasn't sure if i had enough daylight to complete the route. wanted to leave it to chance. when we ride our huntington time trial, we ride up from pretty close to center huntington to where the main road ends at mccullough turnpike. it's pretty steep in places, too.

and i decided to do this ride, except i decided to start down in Jonesville.

but the thing happened that often happens when i am out on a punishing ride: it restored my will to live. so instead of turning right on rout 17 and coming back through hinesburg, i turned around and came back down the gore road.

it's a fabulous ride, especially now that there's fresh new pavement. big gear. pedal where i can. stay out on the bars. stay aero. and go fast.

i didn't have my computer on, but i know from the feel of it that i was egregiously in violation of the speed limit for a lot of that descent. it's the one place where being fat is an advantage. if you can haul your fat butt to the top of it you can hurtle down. no hesitation. no brakes. and i'm particularly lucky in that all of my bikes have fast hubs.

but i got just above center huntington and i'd lost the light. i don't have so much as a reflector on my bike. sure, i have all kinds of lights, none of which i have brought with me. and i no longer feel like taking my chances.

so i call up rumblestrip and ask if she will meet me in huntington and cart me safely down to jonesville. i'm pretty close to texas hill road, so that's where she picked me up. i only mention it because it's marked on the map, in case you're the sort of person who wants to see exactly how far i went.

and i owe rumblestrip a huge apology because i have deliberately put myself in a dangerous situation and then asked her to bail me out. i think she is too happy that i WANT to be bailed out to care, really.

i got home and made myself a nice piece of fish under some bearnaise sauce and some sweet corn and some of rumblestrip's pickled beets. very fine, those.

at the end of the day i had some terse words with bob. sometimes i am not a quiet, gracious child. sometimes i rage and rail.

and i did.

what is the point, i demanded, to all this suffering? huh? every day i come and ask you to be made your good servant, to do your work, to hold your strength in my hands, to do good in this world. and what i get in return is pain. a LOT of pain. am i maybe asking the wrong questions? should i be asking for pain abatement? and what about (proper name), who is always in pain? what did she do to deserve THAT? can you back off on that, please? can you send her some comfort? what can i do to help? and while we're on the topic, what about (proper name) who does not seem to be able to recognize that she is loved? well, she gets it intellectually, but not down deep. and she always assumes fault. can you work a little on that for me, please?

all right. i'm going to trust that there is some meaning to this.

and i said my usual parting words and went to bed.

so today i went out to run a few errands and do a little light caching with crashco. some light shopping, i needed some bloodwork, he had an appointment with an insurance adjuster. and then we had to pick up mrs. crashco (it surprises some people to learn that i am not mrs. crashco and maybe someday later i'll tell you a story about some funny rumors that were being spread by a small little person with too much time on her hands), and go out to the race venue.

let me tell you, i could still feel yesterday's ride up in my glutes and it was still pretty warm and i was not looking forward to running a 5k out in the field, on the hillside. but then we got out there and even though we ran in the woods last week they had us in the woods again, and that made me glad.

a few years ago on july 3d or 4th they had us out in the field at a temperature in excess of 100 degrees and that was a pretty painful race.


rumblestrip showed up just as the race started and she paced me for probably most of the first kilometer. i told her to come back and get me at the end, when i'd have nothing left. and then for a while i was on my own.

well, not really alone. if i'm paying attention i'm never really alone. once rumblestrip leaves me i have a chance to have a few words with bob.

every step i will turn over to you. i will trust you to watch over me. all of this suffering i will offer up to you. please bless (proper name) and (proper name); help them and ease their pain.

i had a few other things to say, but i also had to keep running. it was a hard run. i was two kilometers in and i felt half dead. but i kept running. maybe it's too goofy, but i offered each stride up to God. and when you do that, you're obliged to make it your best run. there is no slacking off. crashco came out to meet me and then rumblestrip came too and they ran with me up to the chute and then sent me in. i hadn't saved anything for a sprint, but somehow i sprinted anyway.

twenty seconds faster than last week. a new PR.

it sucked everything out of me and i staggered over to the car and sat down and cried and cried.

after a while rumblestrip came and sat beside me. "you're going to be all right", she said. "it's going to be fine." i did not believe her, but she kept telling me and the warmth of it crept into my soul and maybe she's right. i don't know; i hope she is.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

if a tree falls...

well, it was a branch, actually. probably not any closer than twenty or thirty feet, but i was running toward it and i was alone on the trail when it fell. scared the willies outta me. and when crashco came out to meet me, it started to pour again. and then rumblestrip came as well and we ran in together and i ran so hard that when it was over i just staggered a ways and then fell headfirst into a puddle. i meant to sit down, but i was having some trouble with the muscle sequence.

crascho took some very funny pictures of it, including one of rumblestrip with her foot on me as if she'd just bagged me and now had to take me to a reporting station for tagging.

i feel i ought to catch up on my geocaching logs, in which i am a full threescore behind. christine, geocaching is a worldwide game. many of us play it as a sport, and many of us play it as a casual pastime. my mom is a casual player. my dad is an obsessive player. i insist that it is not about the numbers but yet i play it obsessively and i will deny under oath that i said this, but i am secretly very pleased that i would have a very respectable worldwide ranking IF i allowed the people who keep these records to include me in the rankings.

what is certainly true about the way i play is that for me it is very much about the story of the trip; it is an amazing thing to spend an afternoon immersed in maps, looking for an unpublished trailhead and then snowshoeing up a mountain an hour and a half from home and sitting on a granite cliff looking out into white snow and cobalt blue sky, being totally alone and holding in my hand a logbook and a cache container.

it is a singular day; i am alone in it. and yet dozens of other people have sat on that exact spot with that very box and that logbook. we have all signed it. it's as if we all trace an invisible web on the surface of the planet and you can follow the patterns, the passages of people and things from place to place.

so i love to tell the story more than anything else. i am tickeled to death when somene i meet knows me from my logs; i like to be famous in this way, but not for the number of caches i've found (a lot; i don't know how many) or for the number of caches i have been first finder on (also a lot; it used to be i first found everything, along with crashco. at one point we started to feel the sport had gone out of it) i used to be able to solve the harder puzzles, and i liked being known for being smart, but now i can't solve the puzzles anymore.

today i was standing on top of belknap mountain, which was kind of a surprise to me in the first place; i had been going to visit belknap overlook, but for some reason i wasn't really paying attention and i went right where i shoulda gone left and had gone almost a quarter of a mile up the wrong trail and then thought: what the heck? i might as well go to the top and then over to the other cache.


so that puts me still over in the lakes region at about a quarter to three in the afternoon and i KNOW i have a 6:15 start at catamount and i would sooner DIE (ok, maybe a bad choice of words, considering the level of suicidality recently) ok, i would sooner eat (nevermind; there's not much i won't eat. ever eaten a grasshopper? they're nice and crunchy, and they have a nice nutty flavor.)

uh, anyway, i am not willing to miss a start at catamount. i'm just not. crashco and i have a pact wherein if one of us DIES on race day the other will drag him/her around the course in the "half lap dead guy division".

tuesdays i run number twelve; wednesdays i run 97. i have run this number now for nine consecutive years. i like it because it reminds me of the wreck of the old 97, and i feel like that some days.

i don't have a regular thursday number, even though i regularly race on thursdays.

so anyway, i was standing on the top of belknap mountain and all of a sudden i felt better. not "better", as in "i had a bellyache but then after a while i felt better", but BETTER, as in "i feel equal to the task of returning to work and maybe i'm all done with this".

hope is perhaps the scariest thing of all.

it was raining buckets and there was lightning when i left home on saturday morning. the forcast all weekend in the lakes region was for scattered thunderstorms, but i never saw one. until i got to exit 11 tonight and the sky opened up and of course it poured on the course, making everything all wet and real slick.

but i was running pretty good (for me) and having a talk with bob about the dangerousness of hope and suddenly around kilometer three i was thinking about haimar zubeldia, who rides for euskaltel-eusakadi. for no particular reason, i love euskaltel-euskadi. they're kind of the unofficial basque team in a world where teams are corporate rather than national. i love to watch when the tour goes through the basque region and the crowd goes nuts.

and there actually is a lot of team tactics in cycling. there's usually a main guy on the team and the others work for him. they wear out the guys on the other teams. if they can, a team will ride as a pack and draft off of each other. you'll see that in any breakaway, but when the guys sharing the work of pulling (that's the guy at the front of the paceline) are from different teams, they play a lot of psychological games, trying to pull out alone at the front at just the right time.

a paceline is a thing of beauty. you don't have to be a professional cyclist to enjoy one, but you do have to have some skills. all the riders line up very close, like with just a few inches from the back wheel of the front guy to the front wheel of the next guy.

there's this beautiful quiet spot real close in where you can hear the absence of wind resistance. that's what you want. it saves you something like 30% of your energy.

so you pull at the front for a while and then you kind of flick your elbow, which signals the guy sucking your wheel that you're coming off. then you drift back to the end of the line. if your line is long enough, by the time you reach the back, the next guy is already coming off, so there's a constant rotation. nobody pulls very long. you all go wicked fast.

you have to be real alert, though. if you screw up, it has the potential for a really BIG crash.

when crashco and i ride team time trial (our club only allows two to a team) i insist he wear a clean shirt. this is important.

watch the teams for guys who could be winning stages, but instead are working for the team leader. there's a name for this: domestique. there was actually a flap a couple of years ago where lance armstrong was seen on tv passing water bottles. the traditionalists were appallled. he was wearing the yellow jersey. domestiques pass water bottles. the tour leader does not domestique.

yet it is a badge of honor to be a good domestique: i love the story of king rené.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

beyond belief

basso and ullrich are both out of the tour!

nothing is going to seem right.

and since there's a lot to go wrong, this is what i want to see just once: i want to see a rider wearing a eusakaltel jersey with phonak shorts. just once.

anyway, tomorow i am going old-style caching, which means i'll miss he first few days of the tour oh, well.



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