Rolling ramble

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This time of year, I tend to measure the quality of the day by the weather. Spring has been slow to come here, and I have had to adjust my expectations. I’m pretty far north, so a cool Spring is not wholly unheard of, but this year is unique in memory for its refusal to warm up to even “normal” temperatures. It’s almost June and we’re still in the 50s F for the most part. And the rain!

Oh, the rain. So. much. rain.

My window for riding without freezing body parts is pretty narrow as it is, and this year it’s getting even slimmer. My last ride in the fall was in mid-September, due to abnormally cold and rainy weather heading into early snow, so if this year follows suit, I’ll be lucky to get 100 days of decent riding weather. Considering it’ll probably rain for at least 1/3 of those days, the view is grim from my saddle.

So, I have to lean back and  remind myself of two important realities:

  1. I have no control over the weather. Which is really a shame, cuz given the chance I feel like I could do a lot better. (tee hee)
  2. I can’t foretell the future. It could be a lot better than I’m imagining and I’m going to hang on to that possibility with every ounce of strength I have.

Having said all that, I have managed a couple of really nice rides in the last week: a quick one last Wednesday after work when the temps were still in the high 50s after work and there was very little wind and LOTS of beautiful sunshine, and an absolutely perfect ride on the Pretty Purple Bike on Saturday when the temps soared into the 70s.

Last week was a perfect example of the silliness of Michigan weather: Wednesday full cold weather gear on my ride, 3 days later shorts and shorts sleeves, and the next day too cold to ride. I wore a jacket and gloves to mow the lawn yesterday.

…sigh…

Whatever. This is where I live. Complaining doesn’t change the weather, but it does make me feel slightly better to rail at the universe over the unfairness of it all. Believe me, I get how lucky I am to have nothing more than cool temps to complain about while others are dealing with tornadoes and flooding.

Really. I get that.

Still gonna complain, though. 😜

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Good news, too: Hanging out at the gym all winter has resulted in more than a good relationship with the gym dog. (She’s a sucker for treats.) I have increased muscle in my arms and legs, which is noticeable on the bike and in doing yard work this Spring. Hard work pays off. We know this, don’t we? Still hard, when in the winter all I really wanted to do after work was go home and crash. I did it, though. I didn’t let myself down, and now I’m reaping the rewards. I love it when that happens!

It’s bound to warm up sooner or later (I so hope it’s sooner), and I’ll get out on the trail as often as I can. That’s all I can do. As in so many things, my displeasure with the weather has everything to do with my expectations and almost nothing to do with the way things really are. Two choices:

  1. Expect things to be different than they are.
  2. Be happy.

Uh, number 2, please!

See you on the trail. đŸšČ 

Along for the ride

She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.(1)
First “real” bike ride of the season last Sunday, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was sunny and warmish, so I got on all my cold weather gear and headed out on the Pretty Purple Bike. Only 12 miles, but a lovely first outing. My spirit was soaring all the way and for hours afterward. Today looks promising, too, if the temperature nudges up a little. We’ll see.

I’m so grateful for the role cycling has played in my life. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it (and I certainly haven’t mastered life), but it has made my life more enjoyable and healthier. It has helped me manage depression, and given me something to be excited about throughout the years. Something I can do by myself, for my health and enjoyment, outside my house and my head, which sometimes is a very big deal. It’s also just a really lovely way to be out in the sunshine and the air, with the trees and the flowers and the birds and the lake and to feel a part of the world; to be moving and free, and alive.

In Susan B. Anthony’s time the bicycle gave women increased autonomy and was representative of all women sought to gain in 19th and early 20th century America: freedom from dependence on men, equal access to activities outside the home, and visibility in society, not to mention healthy exercise.

Susan B. Anthony has always been a hero for me.  A fellow Aquarian, she never married, so those are the most obvious connections we have, but we share a common world view and hard-core idealism, also. Unlike me, however, she had the drive and the intelligence to pursue her dreams and attempt to change the world, which she did, alongside other women, among them most notably Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another hero.

I had the desire, but not the drive or the intelligence to change the world. Depression throughout my life crippled me and made simply managing my own life an all-consuming challenge. I was lucky that not marrying is not that odd now – it was a much bigger deal for Susan B. Anthony to choose that path in her time. I was able to attend college, Susan was not. I had many advantages she did not, but I fell short of my goals. I admire her because she had so much against her and in spite of it all she succeeded.

Susan B. was not interested in personal success or fame. Everything she did was out of a sense of justice and morality, fueled by her Quaker religion and innate idealism. She was not celebrated in that time for her views. She was an abolitionist, a member of the Temperance movement, and a leader in the fight for women’s rights. She was about as far from a Kardashian as it is possible to be. She wasn’t popular and she and her compatriots sacrificed a lot personally to pursue what they knew to be right, and in doing so they changed history.

That’s the path I want to be on. I have a long way to go and not much time, though. I don’t have anything to show for my life. Yet. There is still a chance I will be able to do something worthwhile for someone other than myself. I don’t think I have it in me to change history, but I could maybe change something for someone somewhere. That’s something to aspire to, I think – just the hope that I could leave this planet having made life better for just one person in some way.

I’ll think about it some more on my ride this afternoon. See you on the trail.

PS – It’s Mother’s Day in America, so if you nurture someone or something, Happy Mother’s Day to you.

Not so fast

Spring made a brief appearance in my little corner of the world on Sunday and I welcomed it with open arms and much rejoicing! It’s cold again here this morning, with snow predicted, but Sunday’s taste of what’s to come will get me through for a while.

The first uplifting sign was little Clover, my resident bunny who lives under the big cedar tree in the backyard, was romping around and checking things out. I was so happy to see her again, and to know that she made it through the long winter. No grass or clover for her to munch on yet, but that will come. I hope to see babies soon.

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After breakfast I went for a shortish bike ride. I had an errand to run on the other side of town, so I dusted off my reliable old errand bike, the lovely Betty, and we sped off into the warmth, enjoying the tiniest hint of sunshine. It was so fabulous to be outside and to smell the dirt and to hear the birds in every tree. It was 63°F! Cooler by the lake, though, so I was glad I had a hood and gloves.

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The ice on the big lake is melting, finally. It’ll take a while, as Sunday was a fluke and temps here for the next couple of weeks are predicted to be in the 30s and low 40s still. It’s happening, though, and that’s enough for me right now. It rained last night and it was so wonderful to hear it on the roof and on the windows. Snow is so obnoxiously quiet and sneaky. I prefer rain; in fact, a good loud thunderstorm would do my heart good right now!

It’s hard to be patient, but I know winter doesn’t give up easily here, and I have to temper my excitement with reminders to self that it’s only April. We have a way to go yet before I’ll be liberating the other bikes and getting out for longer “real” rides. The pretty purple bike has a broken spoke from last season’s last ride, so she’ll have to go to the bike hospital for repairs and a tune-up before she and I hit the road for our first ride in 6 weeks or so.

We’re closer than we were, though. We’re heading in the right direction, and Spring and Summer fly by so quickly, I don’t want to rush any of it. Soon there will be leaves on the trees, and green grass and trillium and trout lilies in the woods, and I’ll be outside as much as possible gathering it all up, like the most scrumptious nourishing food, restoring my body, heart and mind.

Spinning my wheels

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It’s a lovely sunny fall day here; not warm now, and not predicted to get warm, but sunny, nonetheless. We’ve had rain and cool temps for the better part of 10 days so it’s nice to see the sun. I’ve only managed one short bike ride in the last 11 days, not just because of the weather, but also because my daily life has become a long To-Do list, and there isn’t time for much else. Throw crappy weather into the mix and the bikes just sit in the garage for weeks at a time. Fall is here and the party’s over.

By “party” I mean my chance to enjoy an hour or two out of each day. By “enjoy” I mean feel like myself, feel free, feel like I’m going to be okay and that life is worth living.

Over. Gone. Finito. Stick a fork in it…it’s done.

Now begins 8 months of fall/winter and if it’s anything like last winter, I can’t even think about it. The weather was ridiculously horrible and life with my mother equally so. Now here it comes again, and this morning I feel like I can’t go on. I can’t face another day, another week. Week after week, after week, after week…

I will go on, of course. I go on everyday. Every moment of everyday I think I can’t do this anymore.

And then I do.

Nothing changes, and it gets harder and harder, but I go on. I get out of bed every morning before it’s light and I go to the job I have come to hate, and I go home at midday and make lunch for my mom and myself and then I go back to work and then I go home after work and make dinner for my mom and myself and do the dishes and take out the trash and watch TV and go to bed and get up before it’s light and go to work… Somewhere in there I deal with the problems – the millions of problems with my mother or the cats or the house or something – and I go grocery shopping or pick up prescriptions or pay bills, or something.

Everyday. Over and over. The weekends are only different in that I sleep later, do laundry and watch more TV. TV’s all my mother can/wants to do, so that’s what I do. Occasionally we play cards.

No friends. No freedom. Nothing that I like to do. Nothing I choose. No time.

No life.

So I feel like I can’t go on. Not another day.

And then I feel horrible and beat myself up over how ungrateful I am, and how awful to be so miserable over such small things. At least I am alive – I can think of a lot of people who are not who would trade me for just one more day. And what about people who have lost everything in a flood, hurricane or fire, or are ill, or in pain, or living in horrible poverty? What about John McCain all those years in a prison camp? He survived and went on to do great things – to make his life worthwhile.

And here I am – nothing, no one – complaining about my less-than-perfect life. Shame on me.

So the wheels in my head go round and round, and nothing changes and I feel worse and worse. I feel bad about my life and I feel bad about feeling bad.

I just wish I could ride my bike. Somehow when those wheels are spinning, everything gets better.

Maybe tonight, and then I will go on some more.

Balancing Act

I’m not really into working today. It’s gloomy outside and I didn’t sleep well last night. It’s a perfect day to be curled up on the couch with a cat reading and/or napping. I had a meeting with a department director first thing this morning, though, so I couldn’t take the day off, and so far it’s been a typical Monday, which makes me wish I wasn’t here just that much more.

If it hadn’t been for that meeting, I would have called in (actually I email) and rolled over and gone back to sleep for a couple of hours. I took last Monday off (pre-arranged) and it was really lovely. No Sunday night dread feeling, no Monday crap. The weather was beautiful that day, so I had a nice long bike ride and really enjoyed the day.

What was nice, too, was that I had taken the day off just because I wanted to. I didn’t feel the need to justify it to myself or anyone else. I wanted to do it, I did it, and I enjoyed it. Easy peasy. Doing something just because I want to is one of the things I have missed the past few years. My life is not as uncomplicated as it used to be, and there isn’t much time, money, or energy available these days to indulge my whims.

I’m focused mostly on what needs to be done in the next 10 minutes – cuz there’s always a list and plenty on it between work and home – and I forget to have fun. I forget to just be. I forget that there are things that make me happy that don’t require a lot of effort or money or time, and that I need to do them/have them.

All work and no play makes this girl depressed.

I noticed a couple of weeks ago that I was wearing the same pair of earrings everyday and had been for quite a while. Kind of a silly thing, but it was a red flag to me that I was in “robot” mode, and that if I didn’t try to get out of it I would be completely emotionally paralyzed soon enough.

So I got out all my jewelry and picked out things I hadn’t worn in a while, and I’ve been trading off different rings and earrings everyday. Believe it or not, it makes a difference. Ditto food. I bought some different things at the store last week and I’ve been adding a forgotten favorite or something new to every meal.

Friday I went to the fish market and bought smoked whitefish patĂ©, a particular favorite that I don’t usually allow myself cuz it’s expensive and high in calories, but man, is it good!

Saturday night I had a campfire. I made s’mores, and sat outside in the dark watching the flames and drank a beer. Yesterday I had fried potatoes with breakfast.

Just because I could.

Most importantly, I rode almost every evening after work last week and both afternoons this weekend I was out for 2 hours or so in the heat and the sun, turning the pedals and getting happier with every drop of sweat I shed.

It’s summer and this is my favorite time of year. I need more outside-enjoying-it and less inside-working/doing chores. The work and the chores need to be done, and sometimes even need to come first, but there has to be time for the good stuff, too, or life is just too hard.

So I had to work today, but when I get home I can have some crackers and whitefish patĂ©, and maybe even a short bike ride if it’s stopped raining by then. After dinner and the dishes and the evening with mom, I can climb in bed with the good book I’m reading, and then (I hope) get a good night’s sleep. I’ll think of this as a good day, cuz there was time for everything, including and especially me.

Just one thing

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Yep. I would add my cats and books, but essentially this is it for me, especially lately. Not even the beer that much anymore, and I’d say I’m down to 2 people…but the riding

Bicycles. Bike stuff.

It’s what makes me happy. Always. Starting as a little kid on a sparkly green Schwinn Stingray, through the years and many bikes, cycling has literally kept me moving through life. Doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life or my head, if I can get out on my bike, hear the wind in my ears, feel the burn in my legs, and the sun on my face, I’m good.

This has been a fairly crappy week at work, but I’ve come in early and left early the past two days so I can get a ride in after work before dinner, and that has made all the difference. It doesn’t change what’s going on at work, or with my mother, but it changes me – my head – and that’s what matters.

I’ve been following the Tour de France online in the mornings at my desk, and listening to Lance Armstrong’s podcasts in the afternoons. On my breaks I look at bikes and bike kits online, dreaming about something new and shiny. At 4:30 I go home and get changed, fill a water bottle, strap on my helmet, climb on my pretty purple bike and go.

Freedom.

That moment when I roll out of the driveway and turn onto the street is golden. Whatever is bugging me floats away and for at least an hour I don’t have to think about anything but keeping my legs moving, my eyes on the road, and how fast and how far I want to go. When I come back I stretch for a while, change out of my sweaty kit and into something comfortable for the evening, and I feel like a different person.

I can breathe. The endorphins are coursing through my brain, telling me that everything’s okay, life is beautiful, and it is.

When I’m riding I’m totally in the moment, totally in my body, not worried about the future or the past. There is just the moment and the road and my legs and turning the pedals. I think about things, but it all seems so far away, and my attention turns quickly  to the trees, the water, and the rabbits, deer, geese and ducks I see all along the way.

What’s here now.

That’s all that matters. That’s true all the time, but it’s easier for me to remember when I’m on my bike. It’s fun and it’s only me doing what I want – what I love – like when I was a little girl flying down the sidewalk on that Stingray.

So, yeah, riding, cats, books, friends, and beer. Simple really. Why does it seem so hard sometimes, so impossible? Life is hard and I get all caught up in what I don’t have and all the crap that drives me nuts. As long as I have those 5 things, though, it’s mostly okay.

Especially that one thing.

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Every bloomin’ thing

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Ahhhhh, Spring.

First bike ride of the season on Friday after work. I didn’t go fast or far, but it was wonderful, just the same. Yesterday I liberated the purple bike from the trainer and put it next to its siblings in the garage – no more indoor riding this year. Thank goodness. Nothing I love about bicycling has anything to do with being indoors or stationary.

When I got home, mom and I took a walk around the block and in our neighbor’s yard – the one in which they tore down the house this winter – we saw a little bunny. She was hopping back and forth to a bush on the property, under which, several years ago I had found a bunny nest while raking. So we thought maybe she had been born there last year and was now tending her own nest. Maybe there’s been a bunny nest right under our noses for years and years and we weren’t aware! A metaphor for life. I love thinking of her out there taking care of another generation – the future. New beginnings everywhere.

Too cold and windy for a ride yesterday, so I took a nice long walk and had the most amazing encounter with a deer that stayed with me all day. It was a young deer, a doe, I’m guessing, and while she was wary of me as I approached, she didn’t run and she didn’t seem to be afraid. I spoke to her softly, and she cocked her head so she could get a better view of me. We stood and talked like that for 60 seconds or so, then I said goodbye and thank you and quietly walked off. I didn’t hear her crashing through the brush behind me, so I don’t think she ran away. Very cool.

I have been trying to focus on good things lately – trying to train my brain to be aware of everything, not just the bad, which seems so pervasive lately – and these encounters felt like gifts in return for my attentiveness. At least I choose to see them that way, in order to convince the grey matter that there are rewards for positive thinking that are way better than for negative and fearful thinking.

Cuz I’m always scanning for danger. Always. That’s been the default my whole life – not without reason – but especially lately. Probably most people do that. Life is big and scary. But it’s also big and wonderful and lovely and awesome, and that’s the part I overlook so often cuz my brain is wearing itself out looking for the icky stuff.

Part of living in the moment  – mindfully living life – however, is trying to be aware of everything. All of it. The good and the bad, the scary and the wonderful. So I’m trying to expand my vision. There are sooooo many good things! Nature alone is the source of countless amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring things, and you can’t beat Michigan in the Spring and Summer for being in nature. And **bonus** walking and biking – outside in nature – are wonderful and good for me! Win, win, win, win, win.

Welcome, Spring. So good to see you again.

Fat-bottomed girl

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I have bike fever, and I have it pretty bad. I had dinner last night with a equally bike-crazed friend and she got me all riled up. It’s the time of year I think about all winter. My last bike ride was in October, (other than short rides on the trainer in the attic) and nary a pedal has been turned on pavement since then. I am soooooo ready to get outside!

The last of the snow just melted over the weekend – we got 2 feet on April 14 – and it’s still kind of chilly. Still a little too cool for this girl – a high of 46° F predicted for tomorrow – but I will be out there soon, I’m sure. When I was younger I would have been out already, but those cold temps are just too much for my asthma these days, so I have a pretty firm minimum 50° rule anymore. Maybe this weekend…

Nothing is as important to me as bicycling. Honestly, nothing. I love my friends, my cats, my job, genealogy, reading – so many things. I love life. Cycling saved my life 30 years ago, though, and it continues to every single ride. My mental and physical health depend on putting miles under my saddle on a very regular basis the 6 months of the year that the roads and trails aren’t covered in snow here.

There’s nothing like it. The freedom. The movement of my body. The sun on my back and the wind in my face. The smell of the pine trees on the trail along the lake that I ride so often. The sound of the waves and the gravel rumbling under my tires. The beauty of northern Michigan in the Spring and Summer and early Autumn, experienced at a slower, quieter pace. I love everything about it.

To make it all even better, last night my friend gave me a $50 e-card to an online bike store so I can buy some more bike stuff! I can’t honestly say that there’s anything I need, but there are a couple of old things I could replace, so that’s probably what I’ll do with the money. More than that, it’ll just be fun to troll through the catalog and look at all the shiny new stuff. I’ve never been into clothes or shoes, or other “girly” stuff, but give me a selection of new bike jerseys and shorts to peruse and I swoon. Or floorpumps. Or tires. Or water bottles…Be still my heart!

See you on the trail!

Fly me away

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I love bicycling. It’s been a huge part of my life. It’s the one thing I could always count on to make me feel okay; from my first green Schwinn StingrayÂź with the white banana seat, to the 3 bikes I’m lucky enough to own now. There have been a few others over the years, including a rust-colored 10-speed Schwinn VarsityÂź I probably put 5000 miles on growing up before it was stolen after college, and a couple of mountain bikes I rode the wheels off – literally.

It’s the same feeling now as I had on that Stingray 50 years ago – freedom. Going fast and seeing new things, riding to new places; getting lost and finding my way back. On my own, out of reach from everything that threatens to drag me under in everyday life. The wheels spin and my mind calms, dialed in on the road in front of me. Nothing else exists for the hours I’m out there, putting mile after mile under my saddle.

My lungs scream for air, my heart beats out of my chest, my thighs burn, and my soul soars – so happy to feel the wind in my face, to smell the trees and the water as I fly down the trail along the lake. Whatever happened at work, or at home; whatever demon is chasing me that day I ride off my wheel within the first 5 minutes.

Cycling has gotten me through depression, bad relationships, bankruptcy, loved ones’ illnesses and deaths, bad times at work, the loss of a business – everything life has thrown at me. Through it all, I saddled up and rode my way through…that is, of course, if those things happened between April and October.

Because I live above the 45th parallel. Because Winter here starts around Halloween and sticks around until at least Easter, and it doesn’t kid around. Lots of snow, ice, serious cold. Today is the first day of Spring, right? Well, last night it was 16° F, and during the day today it got up to 30-something, but the wind was wicked – straight out of the northwest, so the wind child was in the lower 20s. Actual Spring for us is a couple of months away.

I’m not particularly wimpy, but I have a pretty firm 50° rule. Encountering 50° F at 20 mph is fairly unpleasant. Even with all the cold-weather cycling gear I have – and believe me I have it all – it’s cold, and for me, being too cold overrides the joy of the ride pretty quickly. Actually, the real deal-breaker is that I have asthma, and my lungs just won’t let me ride in cold temps.

So 6 months out of the year, I don’t get to do the thing that saves me, that gets me through, that sends my soul soaring. This is troublesome, in that I’m forced to find other ways to cope. In the past what I did mostly in the winter was eat too much and drink too much, both of which are poor substitutes for the soul-soaring feeling being on the bike gives me, but they do a pretty good job of at least getting those endorphins stirring,

They also did a pretty good job of driving my cholesterol and blood pressure through the roof as I got older. The older I got, the more weight I gained in the winter, and riding all summer was not enough to take it off as in my younger days. Ack. So that had to stop.

I’m happy to say I’ve gotten my weight and the cholesterol and blood pressure under control. Took a while, but I got there, and it’s now an on-going change of lifestyle thing. It’s good, but honestly, eating an apple is not as good for holding stress and aggravation at bay as a nice big piece of chocolate cake or a donut. Ditto beer.

Just sayin’.

So here I am – all stressed up and nowhere to go. What’s a girl to do?

Hurry up Spring!