The Wrong Gear # 2 – Cross Train

This blog series follows me, an extremely average cyclist, as I go all in to complete the legendary Leadville 100 race on a singlespeed mountain bike. 

7 Weeks In:

How tired am I? I made some tea to put into my thermos for work, only this time without the tea. It wasn’t until my last few sips tonight, towards the end of my shift that I realized I was just drinking warm water. I’m nearing the end of a higher-volume workout week, but since I switched some days around to accommodate us going to Fat Bike Worlds next week, I’m only four days in on a nine-day work streak, and that thought alone is daunting.

My job isn’t particularly hard or stressful. It pays the bills, has awesome benefits, my coworkers are fun, and I love that I can leave work at work. But I’m finding that having to be somewhere, not of my choosing, for 40 hours a week is a bit tedious. I’m not lazy, I swear. I want to contribute to society, but a month and a half into my training program, the biggest challenge I have found so far is time management. I am still in the “base” period, so the individual workouts haven’t really been harder than what I have already been doing. They have, however been a lot more consistent. Before, I rode two to four hours, once or twice a week, with a shorter workout somewhere in the middle of the work week, maybe. Now I have one to three hours on the schedule almost every day, whether I’m working or not. So now I’m pinching minutes and wondering how people with busier lives and children manage to do something like this.

I’m stressing a bit, but I’m stressing because I have to go to work, not because I have to go ride my bike, or hang out with my husband (I don’t get to see him much anyway), or cuddle with my cat, or read a book. I think having limited time just really highlights all the things I would rather be doing. Slowly I’m adapting. I set up my coffee maker at night, and sneak in small errands as I have a few minutes here and there. I repeatedly stare at my training schedule and play time slot Tetris before I commit to any appointments. Often, I’ll put on my workout clothing first thing out of bed because it will get me out of the house quicker. Most importantly, I’ve been allowing myself a little time, both in the morning and a bit after work, to just sit; with my coffee, with my thoughts, and with my idiot cat.

In spite of being tired today, I stayed out a bit longer than planned. Today was a cross-training day, so I went skinning around my neighborhood mountain. Being stingy with my time, I have been doing that a lot since I don’t really want to drive anywhere. It snowed the day before, so I felt like I should be hunting powder, so I went looking for anything that looked even remotely skiable. I found nothing, and the old me was slightly disappointed in the new me for missing some potentially good turns. The new me, however, was finding other things to enjoy about the tour. I loved being the first one out on a Saturday morning and laying first tracks in the new snow. I loved trying to improve my really poor navigational skills by trying to figure out where the buried trail was, and paying attention for the first time to how it followed the natural contours of the terrain. I also loved saying “fuck it”, and breaking in shortcuts, and trudging around to get a better peek at something, and going straight up a pitch because I can.

The workouts will get much harder and longer as the next eight months leading up to the race will fly by. When we get back into summer mode at work, the job itself will get much more physical. I am using this time to tweak how I handle a busy schedule, and I hope that I will keep a perspective similar to today’s: I am out here because I want to be, and work is just something I have to deal with so that I can be.

The Wrong Gear #1 -Introduction

A few months ago, I read a 2017 article in The Atlantic, about a man who wanted to test a very interesting theory: Can deliberate practice of a skill, or a set of skills, allow an average human to achieve a high enough level of expertise that is usually reserved for those at the top of their field, those considered most talented? Dan, the man, was his own test subject, and the field he chose was golf. He quit his job, and spent all his new-found time and saved money on coaches and practice, with the objective of playing at the pro level. You should read the article for yourself, but he did not get there. This story was interesting for so many reasons, but mostly, it got me thinking: Am I essentially doing the same type of thing, but on smaller scale? And this is not the first time I’m doing it. Why am I doing it?

I am currently referring to my goal of completing the Leadville 100 MTB on a singlespeed mountain bike. As the name applies, this a 100 (+ 4) mile mountain bike race that takes place in Leadville, Colorado every August. A singlespeed bike, also as the name implies, has one gear, so you can’t shift to gain mechanical advantage based on the terrain you are riding.

Unlike Dan, the golfer in the article, I am not quitting my job. I also plan on staying married through all of this, so that’s at least one relationship I have to maintain. Unlike Dan, my end goal is not quite as lofty. Completion of this race on my singlespeed will be one of the hardest things I will do physically, but it will not upend the cycling world. This will not earn me anything more than bragging rights to the five people in my inner circle that might care, and it certainly won’t earn me any sort of pro-level recognition or sponsorships. Finally, unlike Dan, I actually love riding bikes, and I’m coming from a lot more experience on the bike and with that specific race, than he had with golf before he started his journey. I have completed Leadville twice on my geared bike, and have already attempted it on the singlespeed once last year. I doubted I would finish then for many different reasons, and I was right. I tried it anyway because it was the quickest way to compile a list of mistakes and shortcomings to improve upon for my real attempt: I was under-trained, under-recovered, I wasn’t fast enough, or strong enough. This is quite obvious, and I’ll elaborate on that in another post, but seeing these issues apply in real time was invaluable.

Like Dan, I am throwing everything else I have into this. I hired a coach who laid out a training plan and will help navigate me through it. Lee and I burned a bunch of money on a new bike build that promises to be faster than my old one. I am trying to eat better to optimize my training. And when I am not working, I am training, recovering from training, doing errands, or resetting all my clothes and equipment for the next day’s work and training. As a result, I have become a lot more busy, and a lot less interesting. My social life is sparse and sporadic, and unfortunately, unless you have a bicycle and live with me, or are a bicycle, I probably won’t be able to hang out much. And I have only been at this for one month. My motivation, born from general life stagnation and curiosity alike, is not too dissimilar from Dan’s either. More on that later. Like Dan’s experiment, anything can happen, life circumstance or race circumstance that can quash the whole thing, so the best I can hope for in all of this is that I continue to give it my all, learn something, and then get curious about something else. This is, why, like Dan, I am choosing to document this extremely unoriginal experience. I hope to reflect more on how I got to where I am today, and share my progress, even when it’s in retrograde. If you choose to follow along, I appreciate it and any input you may have. In the mean time, read this article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/the-dan-plan/536592/

The Chronicles of Panic

As I am approaching my 35th birthday and wondering about my place in the world, I am also trying to be better at accepting myself the way I am. I keep thinking, if I learn to do that, I will also go easier on others, especially those closest to me, and just be a kinder, less abrasive person. But one thing I would really like to change about myself is that Default Panic Setting that I have been programmed with. I am far from alone in this, but I am so, so quick to jump to the worst-case-scenario conclusions, and then proceed to act on them, that I inevitably make things worse. Two scenarios come to mind, as they were both recent.

530PM. I just got home from the gym,  and was looking forward to a quiet night in. My dinner date with a friend was canceled due to poor road conditions, and I was determined to do absolutely nothing while mourning the end of my weekend. So naturally, there was a loud, high-pitched, intermittent beeping from an unspecified location in my house. I followed the noise into the hallway, and looked up at the ancient smoke detector, and then cursed it out. Partly because I was hangry, but also because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that this was not going to be as simple to fix as it should be. The smoke detectors are all wired together, so if there is something wrong with one, they all beep to let you know, so that you either change them or kill yourself. I grabbed the step ladder, pulled the device down, and scrounged up a battery that may or may not have been good, and slammed it back into the detector. While I had the stupid thing beeping in my hand in the kitchen, I heard another beep in the hallway, or maybe the bedroom, I don’t know. I reinstalled the detector, hoping once everything was reconnected, the noise would stop. It did not. I continued being mad at my interrupted night while I showered, and dreaded going back out into the weather. I called Lee, and he didn’t remember if we ever changed the batteries in any of our alarms, and he thought it was worth getting the most super-duper batteries that Lowes carried, and replacing them in all four of the devices. I did that. I multi-tasked and changed out each one between turning my food over and restarting the microwave, which also really liked beeping at me.

After I changed the batteries in all four doohickeys, I thought I fixed them, but 10 seconds later I found out I was wrong. So I sat there and grumbled to myself while stuffing my face with cheesy and chicken-y goodness because I was going to have to run back out to Lowes and buy whole new doohickeys. While at Lowes, I was on the phone bitching to Lee because I didn’t like any of them, and the ones he wanted with the little light were battery-only instead of hardwired. I was annoyed that they dared to offer me smoke detectors that were also carbon monoxide detectors, since I already had a carbon monoxide detector. I finally settled on one that had a plug-in adapter (but no little light that Lee liked) so that hopefully I could, you know, just plug them in and not have to rewire (make Lee rewire). Well there was only one of those, and I needed four. So then I just picked some that looked like it might fit into at least two of the old plugs and went home.

I pulled a new detector out of its box, took down an old one, and tried to plug in the new one, and although the pattern was similar, it was not the same. All four would have to be rewired in order to be replaced. Meanwhile, the beeping persisted. I texted Lee to see if he had any last-ditch ideas about how to make them shut up before I just burned the house down. He suggested taking them out to the garage and blowing them out with compressed air. I did that, one by one, while the cat was chasing me back and forth through the house. He likes to help. As I replaced each one back onto their brackets, the beeping continued. I was defeated, resigned, and certain that the universe had conspired to not let me sleep ever again. As I sat there pouting and waiting for the next beep, I realized that I had a carbon monoxide detector! So I sat down next to it and willed it to beep at me one more time. It did. I had one super-duper battery left, so I replaced it, and the beeping stopped. For like more than 30 seconds, it actually stopped! I wasted three hours of my night and approximately $100, disassembling, reassembling, and buying smoke detectors while being extremely mad at the situation, and it was the damn carbon monoxide detector. Feeling both relieved and stupid, I sat back and wondered, “What does this remind me of?”

A couple months ago, a good friend of mine, asked me to take care of her kitties while she and her husband went away for a few days. I have looked in on them before, and knew the general routine…generally. This friend is very thorough, and on top of leaving notes for me on the counter, she texted me with the location of the house key. I showed up on the first evening to feed the cats, and grabbed the key out of the specified spot, the usual spot. I put the key in the lock, but the key didn’t turn. I tried that lock again, then tried the deadbolt. Nothing. I checked the perimeter for other doors, and tried the key in those locks. No dice. I did notice that all the locks looked new. I also saw the old locks sitting in the recycling bin on the deck. I tried the key in one of the old locks, and it worked. “They must have changed the locks, but gave me the old key!” I exclaimed in my head, amused at my keen detective skills. So I went around the house and tried each door about three more times, hoping that magically the key will work when the first few tries it didn’t. I then called my friend, but she was out of cell range by then, and our one mutual friend I also called, did not have a spare key to the house. I then knew that there is only one logical answer. I had to find a way to break into that house and feed those cats, because if they died under my care, I would never forgive myself.

I had to arrange a heist. But first, I texted my cop friend and asked him some hypotheticals about breaking-and-entering, and also whether to call the emergent or the non-emergent line to get some help breaking in. Apparently, they won’t do that since it is not my property and cats do not warrant that kind of drastic action. I then had called my partner-in-crime (PIC), who shall remain nameless. He agreed to help me at nightfall. Because it’s less conspicuous, but also because he was working until then. I waited outside for him, dressed in my ninja hoodie, and jumped into his truck before he barely even stopped. We got to the property, and I handed him the key to try the locks for himself, just in case I’m just really bad at using keys. Turns out, it wasn’t operator error. So we skulked around the house with his tactical flashlight looking for weaknesses in the defense. We saw an extendable ladder around the back that reached the second floor window that may have been left unlatched. We then noticed that a lower window leading into the tenant’s lock-off was also unlocked.  That is how we escalated to breaking into a stranger’s place, in addition to breaking into a friend’s place. Fabulous. I knew (pretty sure) that the tenant was also out of town, otherwise he would be the one tasked with feeding the cats. The window opened just enough for me to jelly on through, and I found myself in a dark, strange, storage space. I fumbled over ski gear and junk, and let my PIC in through the door.

As we were working our way through the lock-off and into the main house, I was thinking about how the only reason no one called the cops on us yet is because the house sits below street level. My PIC was thinking that we were setting ourselves up for getting shot. We approached the stairway that leads to my friend’s kitchen, it was separated by a locked door. So my PIC stuck a grocery card into the jamb, jiggled the lock, and we were through that door in less than 30 seconds. He refused to tell me where he learned that trick, but something about his past life of crime made me more attracted to him than ever. The cats gave me some nasty looks as I fed them and cleaned their boxes, but that was normal since they are cats. Meanwhile, my PIC sorted through the pile of loose keys on the table. He tried every one of them in the main door hoping that one of them fit the new locks. They did not. We also found out that the main deadbolt was not locked, and we could’ve carded our way into the lower lock, and skipped the window entry.

It gets better. After we left, I felt uneasy because I saw only one cat, not two, and we had the door open for a few seconds. Chances are, it was hiding somewhere in the house, as neither one is as ambitious to escape as my own punk-ass cat. But in my mind, he was out somewhere in the pitch black, being coyote bait. I went to work the next morning, and since I was still worried, my PIC went to feed them and confirm the presence of the second cat. We still didn’t have a working key, so when I stopped by after work, I called my PIC and he coached me by phone on how to use my own grocery card to unlock the door. It worked. I continued to break into the her house a couple more days after that. The night before my friend was due back, she was within cell range again and received the 20 panicky texts and status updates I sent her, including an apology for scratching up her door. She thanked me for being such a diligent friend, and would investigate the key situation when she got home the next morning.

I called her a couple days later, I wanted to know if she had any trouble getting into her own house. She said she had no trouble at all, and that the cats were fat and happy. The new key worked fine. It was just where she said it was going to be, in the new location. I misread her text, and found the old key, in the old location, completely mixing up my lefts and rights. Because I found one key, it didn’t occur to me to look for a second. At least I walked away from this a free woman, and with a new skill in my repertoire. Every time I pull out my Safeway card and glance at its little cracks and indentations, I fondly remember that time I committed crimes and totally didn’t have to.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle WTF

54529

A few weeks back we were on standing off to the side of a four-wheel drive road in the San Juans, taking turns looking at one of the five parked motorcycles. We had just basically started the day’s ride, about 40 or so miles from camp, and only five miles into the dirt. “Wow, your chain is really loose,” I expertly remarked. It turned out that John made an adjustment to his bike earlier at camp, and forgot to tighten the rear axle nut. The nut worked itself off of the axle, and the axle in turn, over the course of the few miles we just covered, began jellying itself out. When the rear wheel got squirrely and the chain fell loose, that’s when he noticed the problem. Normally, the inability to secure an axle and therefore a wheel onto a bike while in the middle of nowhere, is considered a big problem. I also tend to worry over much smaller things, and should have therefore been extremely concerned for John and his bike, but I really wasn’t. We nonchalantly, in an almost dad-joke tone told Pat, the new friend in our group, that this is just normal for these trips. It was after Dexter took off back down the road to try to find the nut, that Pat remembered he saw what he thought was a rock at the time, bounce off of where the axle nut would have been and fly across the road into a ditch. That was back at Ridgeway. I still wasn’t worried. We continued taking turns looking at the bike, me nodding my head and saying “uh-hmm” a lot, pretending I knew what was supposed to go where, as I remembered a time on a bike trip that I was a lot more worried.

A few years back we were about 15 miles from Green River, Utah where we had camped the night before, taking turns looking at one of the eight parked motorcycles. This one looked about medium-rare, and was just recently seconds away from being burnt to a crisp. The first 10 miles that morning were on a gloriously fast and easy gravel road. We needed easy. We were two thirds of the way into our 10-day trip, and had already experienced conditions much more challenging than expected, on top of numerous flat tires, broken panniers, and other mechanicals. As one almost laughable patch of sand turned into two then three much more serious sand pits, I ran out of talent and started dropping my bike. The third time I dropped my bike, I decided throwing a hissy-fit about my lackluster bike handling skills was in order and was just beginning to do so when Lee, who was behind me, started yelling something about a fire. I was still sitting on the ground when Lee and Dex were already at my bike, frantically kicking and scooping sand on the flames that were coming from my motor, both their bikes laying on their sides as they didn’t bother with kickstands. The sand worked, they smothered the flames quickly, while I began panic-sobbing. When we assessed the damage and looked for a cause, it turned out that my overflow lines that have been cracking and breaking over the years, were too short to serve their purpose, which was to prevent gasoline from spilling onto a hot engine. As the guys were checking the bike over, I already was dreading having to leave my trusty steed to die alone in the desert while riding away in the seat of shame on the back of Lee’s bike. A few seconds later, the bike started right up. Dex and Nate offered to ride back to town to see if they could find a hardware store to sell them some new line. I had an hour or two to sit with the rest of the group and think about my carelessness and how that almost resulted in the end of the bike and the end of the trip. Dex and Nate returned. In this tiny, middle of nowhere town, they found the right hoses. Lee changed them out, rerouted and secured them, and now my bike was no longer at risk of catching on fire every time I would drop it in the future. The sand proved to be too much. We ended up backtracking onto pavement to continue our ride, but at least I was still on my own beloved bike.

Back in the San Juans, Lee ended up going after Dex to let him know that looking for the nut on the dirt road was useless. When they came back, I was still rummaging through my tail bag, digging through compartments I haven’t opened since the Utah trip, looking for anything that may help in our current little predicament. I found a permanent marker, parachute chord, duct tape, wet wipes (fully dried out), all of which were rejected by the rest of the crew for some reason. And that’s when I finally had my idiot-savant moment. I found three retention clips. Not sure why I had three of them, I only meant to keep one spare, in case I messed one up changing the front sprocket, but there they were. They fit onto the axle thread just snug enough to hold it in place, along with some bailing wire that Pat had in case his homemade luggage racks started to come off. I made some sappy comment about how our group can deal with pretty much anything, and about how the people make these trips amazing, as the other guys nodded in agreement. Anyway, that’s why I wasn’t worried. Lee, Pat, and I continued on towards Telluride, as Dex escorted John back to Ridgeway to look for a more permanent solution. The improvised axle-and-nut combo they later found at a hardware store got John’s bike through the rest of the trip, and I think he’s still riding with it while he’s waiting for the  right parts from KTM.

A Letter to Penny

 

Me now (Left), compensating for lack of horse,  and 16 year-old me on “Legs” at the farm.

 

* Penny, my trainer from my horse riding years, who pretty much became family, needs our help. She is a very kind and trusting person who has been a positive influence in many of our lives, and a staple in the Bucks County equestrian community. It is our turn to give back and support her through a very tough time. This is a Go Fund Me link for Penny.

**This is my open letter to better describe what this wonderful person means to me:

Dear Penny,

This letter is an overdue thank you, a show of appreciation for how much my time with you has shaped my life.

I first found out about you and the farm by word of mouth. One of my mom’s art students was a Bucks County Community College student who rode with you as part of the collegiate equestrian program. The timing could not have been more perfect. I was a poor immigrant kid who wanted nothing more than to be around horses. I had just spent the last three years as a bullied middle schooler who was in the middle of a heartbreaking situation at an inner-city stable, where the owner had taken full advantage of my willingness to give my soul and labor to be a part of the horse world. After just two lessons that my mom saved up for (first one on Premier, the second one on Missy, and she bucked me off), you kindly let me become a part of your world. You let me do barn chores for my lessons, and there have been very few things, even now, that I have ever been so excited about. From then on, my school week was just something to pass the time until the weekend, when I would show up way too early at the farm to feed, water, and ride. During the summers, I would almost literally move in. For a kid who was always out of place, you gave me somewhere to be.

Summer was when I, and the other barn kids, would spend easily 14 hours a day, feeding, mucking stalls, riding endless circles, bathing the horses, and just hanging out. After several rides on Trooper, who repeatedly bucked me off until I learned not to drop my hands or my eyes, you gave me my first two projects, Clover and Spirit, who weren’t getting too much attention. Clover was an ex-racehorse who retired as an ex-showjumper, who at 25 years old was still completely nuts. It was on Clover that I first learned how to actually steer, and get a little respect before I allowed her to take a fence. That grumpy old mare and I became good friends. Spirit was a chronic stopper, who would only go over a fence if I did everything right, and if she felt like it. By the end of that summer, we were doing gymnastic lines. I remember riding her around the indoor, the night before school started again, almost in tears about how much I would miss spending hours on end with her and Clover. For a kid with very few friends at the time, you gave me someone to care for.

The years flew by, and some of my best mornings were spent mucking stalls with you, Lisa, Tina, and Lynn. We would laugh and chat, and on the cold winter days, would go upstairs for a coffee break. There were twilight lessons on Kramer, Little Amber, and LB, and there were occasional horse shows that you were kind enough to let me enter. You let me stay in your house the night before, you worked with me in the schooling ring, as I was wearing your old show kit, and paid my entry fees, even when I was a useless ball of nerves that would essentially get taken for a ride. You have left me responsible for the barn when you went away to bigger shows, and you trusted me to get the work done. You showed up for my last choir concert my senior year of high school, even though it was completely out of your way. You have bought me countless lunches, simply in exchange for picking them up, and have offered me your vehicles to commute with, to lessen the burden on my mom and the vehicle we shared. You gave me yet another friend in a grumpy gelding named X-Rated. You have offered me help and support throughout the years in ways I couldn’t even comprehend at the time, and have put more confidence in me than I could ever put in myself. Your generosity towards me was endless, even when it was not understood or deserved.

It has now been years since I have been a regular at the farm, but each time I visit, you welcome me with open arms, introducing me as one of your many kids, no matter how busy you are. And you are always busy, being one of the hardest working people I know. Your attitude towards life and learning, and your ingenuity to get the job done, is nothing short of inspirational. I was not one of your best riders, but you have taught me enough to be competent on most horses, and instilled a work ethic in me that enabled me to work and ride in various states and countries as a horseback guide. Your propensity to put me in novel situations with the beasts (let Chub-Bub loose in the ring while I’m riding, let’s see what happens), has taught me to embrace the new. Every time I fell off, you gave me a leg-up before I had a chance to tell you I was scared, and you made me work through my fear. Although I am not currently in the position to be involved in horses, I continue to challenge myself in sports where I need to keep my heels down, my legs strong, my hands light and forgiving, and my eyes up. Your many lessons in sport and in life continue to ring true for me today, and your willingness to give me a chance empowered me to continue taking chances. For that, I eternally thank you.

Love always,

Veronika Hewitt (Barn kid 1999 – 2005)

 

This is a Go Fund Me link for Penny. Please donate and/or share.

 

A Mountain out of a Rock Pile- Review of “A Story Worth Living”

I have never written a movie review before, because I typically don’t care about pop culture. This movie was different, though, enough so that I can’t bring myself to do another thing today until I say what I needed to say. This project was done by a group local to Colorado, and on a topic near to my heart – adventure motorcycling. I first watched the trailer, and was immediately drawn to the scenery and subject matter, a depiction of a bunch of riders going over the same mountain passes that I rode a few years ago with my own awesome group. However, when the dramatic music died down and they started talking, I had a feeling that something was off about the people involved, they all looked like they were about to cry. And so, it was with skepticism in the first place that I went to go see it, but hey, there were motorcycles, how bad could it be?

I am always one to give people that benefit of the doubt, that “E” for effort, because believing enough in yourself and your project to ultimately put yourself in the spotlight takes courage. A “story worth living”, as they like to call it in the film, is not necessarily a story worth sharing. Many of us who were interested in this movie in the first place, have had many similar, if not more incredible experiences and bike trips, but most of us have never thought it was worth putting on a full production to share it with the world. These guys did. That takes some cajones. But in the end, there were many things about this movie that were fundamentally wrong, and a lot more that were wrong in a way that is hard to put your finger on.

For starters, I think most people that went to see it were expecting to see a lot more riding, which turned out to be only a small part of the film. Even so, I was hoping for a far more cohesive story (I want to throw up every time I hear that word now), of the actual motorcycle trip. They repeatedly showed the COBDR map on the wall, so it was safe to assume that were loosely following that route, but the geographic shots were completely out of sequence. Instead, the motorcycling took a back seat to a massive effort to convey The Message. I definitely did not expect the effort put forth in shoving that message down my throat.

I completely understand that this project was done to specifically not be another COBDR video, they wanted to present their own take on what has already been done. I also understand the gist of their message, which is to inspire, maybe to marvel at the world, maybe to have the viewer look inside themselves and bring them closer to all that is spiritual. However, they seriously butchered the very thing they were trying to convey. Every single person in the film had the look and demeanor of having drank the kool-aid. That’s right, religion and spirituality are one thing, but their mannerisms scream ‘cult’. The conversations felt forced, overbearing, scripted, and more akin to a Youth Group meeting rather than an adult conversation about what it means to be alive. It was weird watching grown men tear up at the very thought of feeling feelings, and at the same time tout just how manly and adventurous they are.

Now for the stuff that is much harder to pin-point. I think what rubbed me the wrong way the most is how disingenuous the whole thing was. Maybe because every element was done too right. Bear with me.  They tried to present themselves as just a bunch of normal guys, but everything about them was off. They were too goody-two-shoes, too nice, too something. The cinematography was almost overdone. Their gear matched perfectly, they had every farkle ever made; they played the sponsorship game too well. The weather they actually rode in was great. The part where they rode in the rain, or when they set out in the dark – it was staged. They weren’t stranded in the rain the way most of us have been so many times. They were not lacking funds, and that was too obvious throughout the whole film. In fact, the very essence of adventure riding was lost when they had multiple chase vehicles, and base camps set up for them. They weren’t out to find camp in the dark the way we’ve had to before. They just wanted some good shots, and they got them. The ranch scene with their adoring wives, who knew their place was in the kitchen honoring their husbands was just beyond idyllic.As were the shots of them frolicking in rivers, smoking cigars, and pondering important thoughts.  The whole thing was perfectly orchestrated, but the result was still cacophonous because there was no substance.What was this movie about? What was the actual point? Are there really people out there saying “whoa, that was so deep and inspiring”?The project was overly self-promoted even during the actual fmovie, and cleverly marketed as a limited event because ultimately there was no actual story, and if that story got out, no one would come.

 

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Revisited

Well folks, I know I haven’t written anything in a while, but I’m back and I want to talk about babies. Or lack thereof. No, this is not a pregnancy announcement, but this is a topic that has been nagging at me for a while. Nagging me because as of now, at 32, I still don’t want kids. It’s nagging me because I also look the age where people feel comfortable asking me if I have kids, and I get interesting reactions when the answer is no. In turn, I am uncomfortable because I am also the most unacceptable type of childless: married, living in a home where my husband and I don’t really have to be in same room at the same time anymore, and yet childless by choice. Even as my type of heresy is becoming more common, it is heresy nonetheless, and still not the new normal. With that being said, my Facebook feed is increasingly filled with not just babies, but actual little adorable people who go to school, play sports, and look an awful lot like their moms and dads who I grew up with, as well as links to parenting blogs, which I sometimes read out of curiosity. I recently stumbled onto a link to a magazine article (I think it was Outside, I can’t find it anymore) that was almost defensive about, and justifying having kids. That in itself is interesting, I never thought parenthood needed defending, but I guess this reflects the changing times. It was written as a counter point to another article “No Kids for Me, Thanks” in the NY Times, which in turn, linked to several other anti-kid articles complete with birthrate and socioeconomic statistics. Most notably, however, the article cited the anthology by Megan Daum, Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed. Even more notably, the other anti-kid articles also cited the book, as if it’s the The Anti-Kid Bible.

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed, is a collection of 16 essays by established writers on the topic of why they chose not to have kids. The whole premise is that the title is ironic, and these writers go on to prove why they are not any of these above things. I first read a review for it in The Atlantic a year ago, and ordered the book immediately after. To me it was the anti-kid bible. Finally, I could literally throw the book at my family, and Facebook, and all the self-imposed societal pressure that I have been feeling to reproduce. “Here’s why I don’t want children,” I imagined myself saying as I slammed the hardcover onto somebody’s table, “ it’s all in this book, it can explain it better that I can, and it proves that I’m not crazy, there are other normal human beings who feel the same way!” And then I actually read the book. I expected with 16 writers, that I would have 16 new, different, compelling reasons as to why I was right to not want children. Instead, I found closer to just a handful of reasons, all of which I heard before (although they were in-depth and very well-written), to include: Financial (kids are too expensive), Social (not enough of a support system for childcare), Career (kids take too much time), and Environmental (overpopulation, carbon footprint). There were some curious, less common ones as well (“I’ll never be the mother my mother was, so why bother?” And “I wanted kids badly, I tried, it didn’t work out, so nah.”)

My biggest qualm about most of these essays, is that the authors seem to be trying so hard to qualify themselves as not heartless, not selfish, ultra-productive, successful, and lovers of children. Almost all of them mention their wildly successful writing careers, their travel, their volunteerism, their work with children, their deep, unconditional love for their nieces and nephews, and how meaningful their lives are without children. That sounds wonderful, but it gives me the sense that if you fail in any (or all) of those aspects, if you’re an average Joe with an hourly wage rather than a published author, if you prefer to relax on the couch instead of volunteering away your free time, if you rarely see your nieces and nephews due to distance, and therefore don’t quite understand how to relate to them or young children in general- well then you better find some other way to justify your childlessness and prove your worth and purpose in the world.

That is why a cherry-picked combination of only two of those essays actually spoke to my line of thinking. The first is by Jeanne Shafer titled “Beyond Beyond Motherhood” in which she revisits a magazine article she wrote in 1989 announcing her choice to forego having kids. She dealt with the ambivalence about the prospect of motherhood leading up to her decision, and wrote many years later, “the turning point came when, after seeing that I had run out of excuses and still wasn’t enthusiastic about pregnancy or motherhood.” This essay was a check-in on her decision from that time, and it dealt with that common question of regret. She continued to explain that regret for such a heavy choice is natural, but there would have been a lot more regret had she gone the parenting route. The other essay I related to was “Over and Out” by Geoff Dyer. While unlike me, he takes on a rather aggressive stance against children and parenthood, and generalized the motives of parents for wanting children in a very unflattering light, he’s very blunt about not wanting kids simply because he never wanted them, nor the responsibility which they entail. The honesty of that is refreshing, as well as his argument to those who use the “meaning” argument as reason to have kids (or have a really, really successful career). He writes “I’m totally cool with the idea of life being meaningless and devoid of purpose. It would be a lot less fun if it did have a purpose – then we would all be obliged (and foolish not) to pursue that purpose.” And as for regrets in old age, “when it comes to regrets, everyone’s a winner!” he writes.

Perhaps then, the reason the book wasn’t all I hoped it would be is because I don’t have the same justifications for not wanting kids as most of the writers do. Maybe I am selfish and self-absorbed (not shallow, not me). Here is the thing I realized: Not wanting kids does not need a justification because a true justification for something like this is impossible. Think back to all the common reasons I mentioned earlier for not having kids. They are just reasons after all. Too poor? Poor people have children anyway. Or your situation may change. No childcare support? Somehow couples make it work. Want a career? While mothers and women in general are faced with more negative biases and less opportunities than fathers and men in general, many parents still manage a successful career. And as far as the environmental factor, we are over-populating the earth, but that doesn’t stop anyone from fulfilling their genetic destiny if they desire to do so. Ultimately you either want kids, in spite of reasons not to, or you don’t because you just don’t, and societal pressure should be the last reason to have them.

I just want to consider this: The choice to not make babies is conceptually a passive one, in that you are resuming your life, finding your place in the world, forging relationships, and essentially you live and let live. It’s a decision that affects only you and your partner, or maybe just you. So why all the pressure? Conversely, having a kid or six is an extremely active and far more consequential decision that ultimately involves a lot more people for a much longer time. Isn’t that a much bigger deal? So why is it acceptable to ask a childless woman or couple why they don’t have kids, than it is to ask parents why they DO have kids? While I suggest that it is none of your business to ask anyone about the reasons for their children or childlessness, I feel that parenting is not for everyone, and if I ever change my mind about the matter before it’s too late, I hope that I spend a good long time asking myself “why?”

The Ghosts of New Years Past

“Do you smoke weed?” she asks. “No, I don’t, it’s not worth losing my CDL or my job over,” I explain. “My favorite memory of Veronika,” she begins telling her mom and brother, “Oh no,” I said aloud, “Is when she went away somewhere and wasn’t supposed to be back for a few days. I decided I was going to paint the room. So I started painting the room and was half way finished with all the plastic sheets still on the floor, when I went to smoke some weed.” She turned to me, “I came back and you were standing there with a friend in the middle of the room, with that look on your face. You were like you’re going to finish, that right?”

That’s not at all where I expected that story to go with a “do you smoke weed” lead-in, but OK, I didn’t even remember that. I continued sipping on my tea, musing over college life with my senior year roommate. I haven’t seen her for almost ten years, and here we were, a bunch of Russians, drinking tea at an Irish Bar in the Colorado High Country on New Year’s Eve. Ten years, I kept thinking, holy crap! It’s a small world, and she has travelled it, and I have a little bit too, and we were now hanging out, thanks to Facebook, as she was just passing through with her family.

Ten years ago, I responded to a craigslist ad while looking for off-campus housing in Jersey. It was pretty neat to find out that my new roommate was from Moscow, as I was from Moscow too, even though Russians are a dime-a-dozen back East. Finding another Russian where I am today is almost like finding family. “Remember that time when we all went into the City, and Pink managed to parallel stuff her car with like an inch to spare on each end, and we were walking to some party, and she got checked out by some celebrity dude?” Turns out she didn’t remember that at all. Maybe we were both making crap up. We caught up on the last time we’ve seen or heard from so-and-so, and asked intermittent questions about each other’s work lives. When we were in school, I was for sure going to be a journalist. That’s what I was studying, and I was positive it was only a matter of time before I was travelling and writing for National Geographic. She had no clue what she was going to do. I do remember her waking up one day and saying she wants to go to Dubai.

I went to Wyoming immediately after graduating, and took a seasonal lackey job as a horseback guide in the Tetons. She actually went to Dubai. That is where our paths were switched. She continued travelling and writing, and living abroad for a while. She survived living in Moscow (again), and covered the Sochi Olympics- worst job ever, she told me. I continued jumping from job to job in the mountains. “No, I’m not a ski cop,” I explained to her brother, “I’m more like a ski lifeguard”. In the hour and half we were there, I got some text messages from family on both coasts wishing me a Happy New Year, as well as from the in-laws. Then a text from a friend in Philly, reminiscing about how drastically different her New Year’s Eve was now with kids. We agreed to each celebrate the following morning with a visit to Dunkin’ Donuts, our favorite place and pastime growing up.

The old roommate was explaining her current career, when a friend walked in. “Yeah, so I get a call at like six in the morning from my boss yelling at me to go to Jersey because some guy killed his wife and kid, and then hung himself!” She is now a crime reporter for the Post tabloid, as well as an English professor at a college. She described her Post job, as well as everything else she’s done with her life so matter-of-factly, I began to think it’s all normal. “Then we were doing this stakeout outside of this one guy’s house because the preacher was caught using church collections to pay for a male dominatrix.” I asked her if it was awkward just staking out someone’s house to then attack them with questions and photographs. That’s when my friend sat down with us. “No, it would be a little weird if he was using his own money,” she continued, “the church’s money, that’s another deal.” I wanted clarification. “You waited outside the preacher’s house?” “No, the dominatrix. But he wouldn’t talk to us when he came out.” My friend proceeded to introduce himself as if the current conversation was normal as well.

Before long, the group had to leave for Denver, so we began our prolonged Russian goodbyes. After resolving to hopefully see each other again soon, they left and I hung back with more tea to keep my friend company while he had a few beers. Some guy started yelling at the sports on TV, while my friend was wondering about Schrödinger’s crab legs. He left them thawing on the counter, and the dogs may or may not have eaten them. But until he goes home, the seafood is both eaten and uneaten. I decide to call my mother. She and my grandmother were at my aunt and uncle’s house with the rest of the Philly family. It’s loud where I was, and loud where she was. We chat a little bit, and I get incredibly sad that I can’t be there, especially with her 60th birthday coming up. She puts me on speaker, and the whole family starts yelling over each other to say hello. I can’t hear a damn thing, but I miss them and it made me smile. My friend and I talk a bit about what’s next – for him in the long term, and for Hubby and I, as big changes may be coming with the New Year. Soon, I leave as well.

Russians celebrate New Year’s the way most people celebrate Christmas. There is an evergreen tree with lights and decorations, and presents on New Year’s morning. Santa is called Grandfather Frost, but I can’t remember if he has reindeer or not. Earlier in the evening, Hubby and I finally found the cord for our 18-inch fake little Christmas tree that has lights and two goofy decorations. I go to turn it off before bed, but then decide that tonight, the little guy should stay on, as I commemorate those who were and are a part of my life.

 

This is not a Food Blog.

I will never be a food writer. Not a real one, at least. Real food writers eat refined foods and use refined words. I eat everything I see and blurt everything that comes to mind. I imagine real food writers using phrases like “a decadent blend of flavors”, or “complexity of ingredients”, and “playful on the palette”. I use phrases such as “are you going to finish that?” and “don’t judge me for having thirds.” Real food writers taste and savor. I snarf and gobble. Real food writers will sprinkle their accounts with history and bring relevance to the culinary item in question, I am an eater and writer of opportunity. Like this one time that I ate a three pound burrito.

Hubby and I were coming back from Denver after a day of shopping, or attending a bike show, or just driving around. I can’t really explain what it is we do when we go to Denver. The term “putzing” comes to mind. We stopped at a place in Georgetown for dinner on our way back to the County. Looking at the menu, our options included “normal” burritos, and then, they had the “Killer Kilo” burrito. Described on the menu as “three pounds of awesome”, Hubby thought I should order it. I thought I should not. I wasn’t even that hungry. So we went ahead an ordered the Killer Kilo.

The Monstrosity was daunting from the start, especially when compared to Hubby’s “normal” burrito, which was still rather giant by most people’s standards. The Killer Burrito was about the size of a piglet, and it was graced with three meats, not just pork. It wasn’t smothered with anything though, and I didn’t know why. It was decadent? I wasn’t even that hungry.

It was an OK, burrito, but would have probably been better if I was allowed to pick just one meat, or if it had been a steak. I wasn’t even that hungry. I continued eating because I felt I had something to prove now, I was no quitter. Yet, not even a third of the way through, I was painfully aware of how much more I had left to go. As each bite was forced down the hatch, I kept envisioning the glory, a crowd gathering around me, cheering me on, and my reward- that Kilo Burrito paid for, on the house, just like that Man vs. Food show.

I was nauseated and diaphoretic when all that was left on my plate were a few scraps of tortilla. I called it good, I was done! But there was no reward, my tab would not be covered for my valiant effort. And there was no crowd – just a couple of crusty locals who offered to buy me a beer of which I couldn’t drink a drop, and the bartender, who looked at me with equal parts amusement and disgust. We paid our tab, and I spent the short walk to the car thinking about how there were no good bathroom options between Georgetown and home. Sensing my worry and slight disappointment, Hubby turned to me and said “well you’re still holding it down, I’m proud of you.”

 

Kim Davis and the Figgles

This past summer, the United States has survived the great ordeal of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing her religious convictions. Davis, in her heart of hearts, could not betray Jesus and the bible (written by Not Jesus), which does not allow for homosexuality. Her actions, now months later, resulted in new and improved marriage licenses in Kentucky, ones that no longer include the issuing clerk’s name. I found so many things wrong with that whole story, but that is a whole other discussion. What stood out the most to me is that Davis, so concerned with the biblical sanctity of marriage, has been divorced three times. Then she found Jesus, who must have been hiding somewhere this whole time, and he forgave her. As a result of his forgiveness, she finds it is her place in life to act in the name of god, yet as an elected government official, and determine who can and cannot get married. True, she quit issuing licenses to ALL couples before she went to jail, but that was specifically to stop the same-sex ones from getting married. She is basically saying that her own personal (and religious) mistakes no longer count per Jesus, so she can go ahead and point fingers at others, but it’s all for their own good, so they don’t end up in hell. What a bunch of hypocrisy.

But then I remembered that I am a hypocrite too. The other day in Patrol Headquarters, a lonely figgle turned up. It’s ok, I’ll explain. The correct term is snowblade, but they are really just an abomination. It is essentially a miniature ski, not much longer than your ski boots. The idea is that they are supposed to be super maneuverable, and light, and fun, but have zero stability at speed. Typically, you do not carry ski poles when you use them. Their bindings do not release, but that’s ok, there’s not really that much of an edge to catch and twist your leg around…or is there? So what makes them so bad? For one, I have never seen a good skier ski them in earnest, only in mockery. They have no function in 99% of ski conditions you might encounter. If you get even a little too much speed going (over 5mph), you will banana peel on your ass before you can even say “figgle”. Then there’s the real reason. There is no way you can rock figgles and not look like a complete dweeb. No one even says the word dweeb anymore, but that is exactly what you look like if you snow blade. You may as well bring out the fannypack and neon jacket to complement the jeans you’re skiing in.

So there was this one time in high school, before I ever even tried skiing that I remember watching a story on the evening news about snowblades. I think the story was about how snow-blading is a new trend and about how fun it is. “That’s cool,” I thought, “they’re cute, they’re like skis only much, much shorter! They’re mini-skis!” So flash forward a couple years later in college, a friend and I were going skiing for like the third or fourth time ever, and lo and behold, the rental shop had figgles! So we totally went for it, and I even think we liked it at the time. Perhaps not enough to ever do it again. This is also around the time when my ski wear included wool gloves, and track pants over sweat pants (for insulation). I had a hat, and no goggles. I felt goggles were pretentious. They were for real skiers, and wearing them would make me a poser. I didn’t wear sunglasses either. Eye protection was not a concern for me.

Flash forward a few more years later when I am living in Colorado with my boyfriend. I totally had that one syndrome where you’ve lived in a place for like two or three years, and you’re totally a local who knows everything. So by then I knew that figgles were stupid. And yet, not only did Boyfriend have one pair of figgles mounted with telemark bindings, but not even a year into the relationship, he decided I needed to have my own pair of figgles mounted with telemark bindings. He made me watch as he installed said bindings to a pair of stubby snowblades that at the time, were wider than any other skis I had. I was now an owner of tele-powder figgles. To make things worse, I skied them. More than once. Making telemark turns. With ski poles. I still have them. And I married the guy that made me ski them.

So therein lies the hypocrisy. I continue to think that snowblades are the dumbest thing on the planet, as are the people who ski them, and even more so the people who lose just one of them. When figgle skiers stop to ask me questions, I can barely look at them without a condescending smirk. One can say that I have been forgiven for my figgling, as I am now a ski industry professional performing my job on normal length skis. But, I have this disdain for those who snowblade, and I try and convince myself and others that this disdain is for their own good. I am basically a Kim Davis!!!!