Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Caught in a Vortex

Sometimes life smacks you hard. Really hard. While I'm sitting here wondering how in the world I'm going to manage financing my bike shop dream, I find out a good friend has been dealt a double whammy: first her mom is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and then she finds out the umbilical cord of her unborn child has two vessels instead of the normal three. While this happens and a large percentage of babies with two-vessel umbilical cords are born without any complications, just knowing a chance for complications exists creates fear. My friend is full of fear right now, for her unborn child and for her mom. No words can comfort her. Even a hug seems trivial.

Life. Such sadness sometimes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Conquering the Tour de Shawnee

Two years ago, Hubby and I traveled to Cape Girardeau to participate in the Tour de Shawnee. The Tour being in southern Illinois, I knew there were going to be hills since this area of Illinois is tucked very nicely in between Kentucky and Missouri. The first hill we came to slammed home the fact that the Tour wasn't going to be easy. I looked at Hubby, saying, "See you at the top" and put my head down, intent on making it without having to get off my bike like so many other cyclists were doing. I did make it to the top that day without having to get off my bike, which was the hybrid I'd bought to compete in my first sprint triathlon, and I felt pretty darn good about my accomplishment. That day, Hubby and I finished the metric century together, battling a southerly headwind for 15 miles. I had wanted to ride the 100 miles, but Hubby asked me to stay with him since he was beginning to get tired and bonking at the 50 mile mark. I vowed then and there I would return to the Tour one day and conquer the 100 miles. Two days ago, Friday, we arrived back in Cape Girardeau to spend the night then get up and ride the Tour on Saturday.

The day started out very chilly, around 38 degrees, and the wind added further chill at 13 mph. As we stood in line, ready to roll out, I felt pretty good as I'd made sure to put on the fleece leggings along with the wool socks. Only my cheeks were cold, but I was hoping once we got going, I'd warm up. Not long after 8 am, we followed the leaders out onto Rt. 3 and began the Tour de Shawnee.

Hubby had decided to do the hilly 30 route to ride with me for about 25 of those 30 miles. When we reached "The Hill" as we'd started calling it, I again said, "See you at the top" and started up. I'm pretty sure a smile was plastered on my face as I climbed--all I was thinking about were the many hills I'd climbed all summer and how this one was now just another hill. There really wasn't anything special about it. I stopped at the top to wait for Hubby, and while I waited, I joked and laughed with those reaching the top. Many were gasping for breath, some coughing, some having to get off their bike to lean over and get more blood flow to their head. One woman exclaimed, "I didn't know there were hills in Illinois." One young man belched then looked at me and apologized. I just laughed, asking, "Feel better?" He shook his head no. When Hubby arrived, we started off, gearing up for the next hill.

Through the next 10 miles, we climbed, with me waiting at the top of each hill while Hubby made his way up, and we rode along, enjoying the fall colors. Hubby wasn't feeling the greatest, but what can he expect after not riding for quite some time now? He did make it to the first rest stop where he decided to call it a day, and I started off to finish what I traveled to Cape Girardeau to do. 

For the next 85 miles, I rode through beautiful countryside, most of my thoughts on the summer ride: the train rumbling by in Mineral, the moon over Vesuvius, the vistas of Kentucky, the ferry ride across the river to Illinois, the bridge over the Mississippi, the cyclist hostel in Farmington, the night ride from Chanute to Cassoday, the heat of Kansas, the sunrise in Haswell, the climb of Monarch Pass. And so many more memories. Dealing with a northerly headwind that made riding difficult even while going east and west, I found I simply kept going. I never thought about packing it in, cutting the ride short because of how difficult the going was. I knew I could do the 100. It was just like any of the days from the summer ride.

At mile 64, Hubby met me at the rest stop. There, I told him I was going to pass up the next rest stop scheduled for mile 84 and just go to the one at 94. He would meet me there to see how I was feeling. When I rolled into mile 94 rest stop, Hubby was stunned to see me, as he put it, "so soon. You must have been hauling." Not really, but having the wind at my back for a longer stretch definitely helped. I was able to shift to the large sprocket and just roll along at a smooth 21 mph which was quite a difference from the 13 mph into the headwind.

The six miles from the rest stop to the finish were again into the headwind, but I sat back and enjoyed. I was one of the few who'd taken on the challenge and not backed out because of the wind. I fulfilled my vow: I conquered the Tour de Shawnee, loving every second of it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Empowering A Friend

Part of following through on the decision to make a change, to take the leap into a complete unknown, involves having to write up a business plan. One section of the plan is to examine the "competition," so I've been researching existing establishments similar to what I want to do. Not only am I gaining valuable information about what's already out there, but I'm also finding more and more angles to take with my idea. Even just talking with a friend will spark another A-Ha moment, and I scramble to write down what occurred to me in order not to lose it. This happened yesterday when a friend texted me, asking about reflector vests and lights for her bike. When I replied, offering a couple of suggestions, I wondered how many others have wanted to use their bicycles for running errands or commuting to work but don't because of not knowing where to start to ensure comfort as well as a high degree of cycling safety. Then the idea occurred to me to have a clinic on what to wear as well as how to outfit the bike to enjoy running errands and commuting. I've seen clinics advertised--and attended one--on changing a bike tire, cleaning and lubing the chain, and learning the basics of braking and shifting, but I've never seen an errand running/commuting clinic offered. Seems to me that one of the obstacles to trying something is just not knowing where to start. My friend did what I suggested she do, texting me afterwards, and the exclamation point along with the smiley face were all I needed to know she was on her way to using her bike more often for transportation.

Having helped another woman overcome a cycling problem is the exact reason I want to open a women's specific bike shop. I spent the entire evening thinking about how this friend can now cycle with the peace of mind that comes from being prepared. And this morning, her FB status update showed her excitement about the new found freedom of riding in the dark but feeling safe in doing so. I, in turn, felt excited and happy for her. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Tug of Emotions

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love it for how I can keep up with friends and family. I love it for being able to see pictures and videos. I hate it for how much time I find myself spending on it. Because I've committed myself to changing my life in several significant ways, I decided less time on Facebook and less time online all the way around had to happen. One day I'll be able to stay on track. The next, I'm a train that's a catastrophic derailment. Then there are the days, like this morning, when I get on Facebook and find a comment in response to a post, a comment that helps me in several ways, and I'm head over heels in love again.

Such was the case this morning. Yesterday, I posted how I'd come across an injured hawk and found myself unable to help it. While I wished I could make sure it was in a safe place, getting the help it needed, I just didn't know where to turn. This morning, I checked in at Facebook and found a comment from JRA of One Speed: Go. He listed a link to people around the area who were licensed to take in wildlife and rehabilitate them. I found the number for a woman who lives close, so I called her. Though she only rehabs an animal after it has received veterinary care, she advised me on how to capture the hawk then where to take it. After talking with her, I gathered the necessary equipment--our old dog crate, a broom, and some leather gloves--and set off with the hope that the hawk was where I'd left it. I knew this might not be the case, as nearly 15 hours had passed since I'd come upon it.

When I came up over the rise and looked for the red post marking the spot, finding it with no problem, the hawk was nowhere to be seen. I pulled the truck into a drive leading to a turbine and parked. For the next half hour, I walked both sides of the road, scanned the bare fields stretching away from the grassy shoulder, and even walked the rows of a still-standing cornfield to look for the bird. Nothing. Thankfully, I never found traces of a fight either, no feathers, no blood, no tracks in the muddy fields. My hope is that either someone who knew exactly what to do when he came across the hawk did exactly that, or the hawk's feathers righted themselves enough after its resting yesterday that it was able to fly away.

While I couldn't help this time, Facebook, for all its drawbacks, put me in the position to help next time. I now have a website with valuable names and numbers bookmarked. I now have three immediate options for where to take an injured wild animal. I have the equipment to capture and transport an injured animal at the ready if needed. Though I feel sad for the hawk (but I'm going with the hope that it is flying high above the Illinois prairie right now), I also feel empowered all because of Facebook.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


On my way back from the lake today, I came across this beauty. I slowed when I was about 15 feet away, thinking it would spread its wings and whoosh up into the air, but it stayed put. I got off my bike, all the while waiting for it to take flight. It merely looked at me. I stepped closer to it. It began to raise its one wing, so I edged around behind and could see the wing on the other side was in pretty bad shape, several feathers sticking out away from its body and several feathers appearing as if gnawed by whatever got hold of it. I called Hubby who gave me the number to animal control, but when I called, no one picked up. Their hours are M-F. I called Lovely Beautiful Daughter to see if she had the number for her aunt, the one person I knew who would know who to call to help the bird. Lovely Beautiful Daughter didn't have her aunt's number. Neither did I since we downgraded our phones yesterday, going from smart phones to those that just call and text. So much for simplifying. In the end, I had to say good-bye to the hawk, leaving it to fight for its life on its own.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Taking the Leap

I am so full of joy right now after reading that one of my BTUSFMS teammates signed up to do the ride again for summer 2013. In his bio on the BTUSFMS website, he says the ride changed his perspective on so many things. I know exactly what he means.

Yesterday I was chatting with a colleague, and I found myself thinking about the day we cycled the Blue Ridge Parkway. Out of nowhere came memories of cycling up the hill at Afton with three of my teammates. A little later in the day, while in class, thoughts about how hot it was the day we cycled to Tribune, KS filled my mind. Every day, the summer ride intrudes, making me stop whatever I'm working on to reminisce and dream of being back out on the road. I find myself impatient with my "real" world. Much of what makes up this "real" world seems purposeless now. I want out. I want to feel that sense of purpose I experienced all summer.

So, I made a decision. I'm going to take the leap, leaving what makes me unhappy to begin a new chapter in my life. This change is going to happen slowly, but I decided June 1, 2013 is the "due date" for the new chapter to begin. I chose this date to align with the one-year anniversary of the day I began my cycling journey across the US, the day that truly started an awakening in me. At this point, I am in the process of writing up the plan, talking with people in the know, and gathering information. Everyone I have talked to has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, which helps allay the terror I feel when I think about leaving the known for the unknown.

Having made the decision to make this change, I again feel like I have purpose in my life. I'm excited and scared and determined, just like I was when I signed up for the BTUSFMS ride. I know without a doubt I'm making the right decision, and I look forward to what the future will bring. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Successful Silencing of That Voice

The scarlet trees!

Yes, I stopped on the way to work this morning to capture the three trees I passed by yesterday. As soon as I pulled off the trail, I notice a fourth scarlet tree. The sun was just coming up, so I walked around, taking shots from various angles. The worry about being late to my office didn't poke at me. The unease that I might have to rush to my 8:00 class never surfaced. No. Instead I stood in the silence of the morning, delighted with how I'd missed the fourth tree all this time, and the fact that a beautiful yellow-orange leafed tree added a colorful splash amidst the scarlet beauties.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Silencing That Voice

This morning, during my commute to work, I came across three trees covered in scarlet leaves. I've ridden by these trees every single morning and afternoon since August, but it wasn't until this morning, when the sun just started to rise, pushing away the gray of dawn, that I truly noticed the three trees. I slowed, telling myself to take a picture, but then that other voice, the one that tells me I have to hurry, I have to get to work, I have to finish up student work, yeah, that voice, took hold of my feet and made them pedal on. As soon as I was past, a sadness came over me. I'd let that voice win again. I've been working hard to silence that voice, so I'm not sure why it won out this morning. 

This afternoon, as I was sitting in my office, I heard the tell-tale sound of rain against the building roof. I stepped out to see just how hard the rain was falling. Torrents of water rushed off the roof, spilling out into the drive where students were arriving for their afternoon classes. That voice whispered how uncomfortable the ride home would be. Just then, Lovely Beautiful Daughter walked up, laughing at me watching it rain. When she found out I'd cycled to work, she offered me her car. I didn't even give that voice a chance; I quickly declined, saying I had my raincoat and would be just fine. Lovely Beautiful Daughter shook her head then set off for class.

By late afternoon, the sky had darkened, and a fine, steady mist fell. I pulled on my raincoat, turned on my bike lights, and set off. A mile into the ride, between the mist (which is much more like a shower when the bike is in motion) and the 20 mph winds, my hair was slicked back and soaked. Water ran down between my eyes and dripped off the end of my nose. Motorists laughed when they saw me, and I just laughed with them, thinking how sad it was they all were trapped by that voice.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Here it is October 13, 2012. The days of this year have slipped away so quietly, so quickly, and now I'm sitting here stunned. The trees are cloaked in red, yellow, and orange. The cornfields and soy bean fields lie barren. Frost sparkles on the lawn in the early morning sun. While I can sift through memories created during the last 10 months, probably the most vivid memories in the last ten years, I'm still amazed over how time has passed in a blink.

I've always loved the change of seasons. This fall, I feel another change happening. Me. A new direction is opening. Slowly. But slow suits where my mind is right now. Slow helps erase the fear that clings to the idea of change. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

From Anger and Disappointment to Complete Happiness

"I can't get the pump to go beyond 10 psi. All the air just comes right back out," Hubby said, coming into the kitchen where I was fixing my pancake breakfast before setting off for a group ride.

"You broke the valve." I wasn't happy. I only had one spare tube. Now I had none to carry with me on the ride.

I ate while he worked on the tire then went to the bedroom to get dressed for the chilly morning. With temps in the 30's, I knew the only way to stay warm was to wear the wool socks and thermal leggings. A longsleeved undershirt was a must, too.

"You need a new mechanic," Hubby said when I returned to the kitchen.

"Really? You broke that one, too?" I could feel the anger churn. I'd been looking forward to this ride all week since I'd not been able to get a ride in because of all the "stuff": work, dentist appointments, more work. I'd had my heart set on riding Sweetness, but now, if I wanted to go,  I had to take "The Bette," my new mountain bike (yeah, I finally named the new one when I was rolling along, thinking about my mom, and it occurred to me that my new bike was beautiful and tough, just like my mom).

Because of the whole valve issue, I arrived at the starting point late. Very late. And still feeling the fluster of things going wrong. Thankfully, the guy handing out cue sheets had just started to pull away when I rolled up, so he stopped and asked if I was there for the ride. He handed me a cue sheet, saying there were maybe a dozen others who'd already started off. To me, knowing others were in front of me set up a challenge: could I catch them? I figured there was no way since I was on the mountain bike, so I set off hoping to just meet up with them in Mackinaw and have lunch.

I've found that I truly don't mind riding in any kind of weather these days, which is definitely one of the by-products of the summer ride. Rain, wind, cold, heat. The weather doesn't deter me from getting out. It used to. There were days before the summer ride when if it was raining I wouldn't cycle. If it was windy, I dreaded being on the bike. Today the WNW headwind registered at 14 mph when I left, adding to the chill of the morning. But I didn't think about the cold or the wind. I just rode. And the further I rode, the happier I became.

A couple of miles before reaching one of the small towns on the route, I came around a curve and saw another cyclist ahead of me. I was pleasantly surprised. Not long after passing him and after leaving the small town behind, I saw a group of cyclists beginning to climb one of the hills on the route. I caught up to them at the top and rode the rest of the way to Mackinaw with the group. At the restaurant, I ran into a couple of people I work with, so we had lunch then rode the return ride together, enjoying the wind at our backs for 20+ miles.

And to think that two broken valves almost kept me from riding.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Those Irritating Writing Police

Nothing will get me going more than to have someone, be it an English teacher or a student or a tutor, rip a beginning writer's (I say "beginning" because I truly believe the majority of the students I work with don't have a clear understanding of the tools available to writers) paper apart by doing or saying any or all of the following:

  • Crossing out the writer's words;
  • Crossing out the writer's words and replacing with something else (this one makes me furious);
  • Crossing out an entire paragraph;
  • Writing a negative comment in the margin and adding three exlamation points after it.
  • Don't use contractions (oops! I just used one myself, and I'm an English teacher);
  • Don't use I, we, or you in the paper;
  • Don't italicize a word unless it comes from a source you are referring to and is italicized in that source;
  • Don't use one word as a sentence;
  • Don't start a sentence with because;
  • Don't start a sentence with and or but;
  • Don't ever all-cap a word;
  • Don't write long sentences because they'll be run ons (huh? long automatically equals run on?).
Sheesh. Really?

Nothing will crush a beginning writer's spirits more than having a person (English teacher, peer, tutor) cross out her work, effectively silencing her voice, while simultaneously wagging the index finger at her and telling her NOT to do all of these things. If a sentence is awkward and confusing, just tell the writer it is so. Let the writer tackle the sentence and rewrite it, hopefully clearing up the awkwardness and confusion. If the writer uses a contraction, simply ask if the assignment allows for such informal language. Same goes for all the other don'ts on the list--ask the writer what her intentions were rather than slamming the door closed all the way around.

End of rant.

To my student whose spirits were visibly crushed today because another student did all of these things and more, I believe in you and your writing abilities. When I read your paper, I smiled from beginning to end because you took risks and played with the language. In the process, you also offered me a glimpse into the extraordinary life of a man who has touched many lives. Even though I read your paper three weeks ago, I still remember the way you turned a phrase and brought life to the words on the page. You communicated with me, and  that's exactly what good writing does.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Day for Angels

When they were living in Tennessee, my parents became very close friends with the parish priest. Fishing, eating meals together, and sometimes just sitting on the front porch of the cabin happened frequently. This priest baptized Lovely Beautiful Daughter and Funny Delightful Son, and at times was called upon to be a member of the audience when Lovely Beautiful Daughter performed the little shows she wrote and starred in. He always graciously complied. Then we moved away, and he moved away at the Church's bidding, and we lost touch.

Today, after nearly 14 years of life interrupting, our parish priest friend arrived to offer a memorial Mass for Mom at my parents' home. I cancelled my classes, called the kids out of school, and we drove over to participate. As soon as we walked through the door, he looked at Lovely Beautiful Daughter and asked, "Where's your tutu?", a ballerina costume made of muted gold satin Lovely Beautiful  Daughter wore for days on end when she was three and four years old. She wore it so much that the voile skirt began to tatter and the satin bodice thinned to the point of splitting. She wore it with bright blue socks and red slip on tennis shoes. She wore it to bed, to play in, and to her Mimi's. Lovely Beautiful Daughter laughed, saying the tutu had long ago been retired. "Those were the days," Parish Priest Friend mused.

After marveling over Funny Delightful Son's height and commenting on how Angel Baby shares my facial structure, Parish Priest Friend prepared the Mass. Two of Mom's closest friends, my sister and her husband, my family, and Dad gathered in the living room. When Parish Priest Friend began, he commented on the fact that today's readings were for the Guardian Angels. I had to smile. Mom talked often about believing in angels. She asked me once when I was visiting if I believe in angels. I kind of think she orchestrated today's arrival of Parish Priest Friend just to have her memorial Mass on the day of the Guardian Angels readings.

And in answer to her question: Angel Baby is named for one of the archangels.