Monday, September 7, 2020

Hot Guys on ATVs and Failing Big

 I've heard Pop describe me as a fearless kid on numerous occasions. This is usually preceded by a story about me jumping off our sailboat when I was three. We'd taken it from Lake Huron down the St. Clair River to anchor and swim to Stag Island for a picnic and fishing. While Pop was prepping to drop the anchor, he heard a splash. I'd jumped in alone and was headed for shore. Since Mom wasn't a good swimmer he was left with a dilemma that he likes to describe as, "Should I save the kid or the boat?" 

He saved the boat. 

Now, before you get on the outrage train and call Pop out for his past transgressions, let me clarify. I was wearing a life jacket. The dilemma was then not so much that I would drown but that I might not be able to fight the strong current in the river and would miss the island altogether. The next body of land was Canada, at least a quarter mile away. This also explains why he couldn't just jump in and save me. He'd be leaving Mom and my sister on a boat rapidly moving downstream. Thankfully I made it to shore and, as Pop tells the story, turned around, put my hands on my hips and looked at him as if to say, "What the heck is taking you so long?"

This story pretty much sums up my childhood, which is probably why Pop likes to tell it. I was a learn by failure kind of kid. In the case of Stag Island, the story ended well. There were others that did not. The summer I was six, I "failed" so many times I ended up with a broken arm that was masked by so many other bumps and bruises no one knew about it for two weeks. Thankfully I had parents who understood that, as long as the injuries stayed minor, I was the kind of kid who needed to try until things went awry. All those "failed" attempts at trying new things really just became lessons in my own limits. 

Thankfully, as I got older, I learned to back up my love of trying hard things with hard work. At the end of my junior year in high school, despite being a mediocre runner (at best), I decided I wanted to qualify for the state meet in the two mile my senior year. Never mind that my PR was over a minute slower than the qualifying time. I'm pretty sure everyone else, including my coach, thought I was nuts, but I knew I hadn't really been working all that hard so I decided to work harder. I paid attention to what the fast kids at other schools did. They ran all year, so I convinced my mom to join a health club 20 minutes away so I could run on their indoor "track" in the winter. They ran twice a day, so I got up and ran every day at 5:30 before school, even convincing the principal to let me run in the hallways in the winter before school started. The girls from the fastest team ran with rocks in their hands to build strength, so on my early morning runs I plucked rocks from the window wells and carried them for three miles. 

The first meet of the track season my senior year, I ran a PR, but I was still 30 seconds from the time I'd need to run at regionals to qualify. I kept up my routine, running in the morning and then going to practice after school. After every meet, I'd write down a time goal and tape it to my bedroom mirror. At the next meet, I'd go to the front of the race early on and run the pace I needed to hit it. That night, I'd take the old time down and put up a new one. Right before regionals, I finally broke the qualifying time by five seconds. All I needed to do was run that again on race day. I went home and made a faster goal anyway. When regionals day came, I did what I always did. I went to the front after two laps and ran my pace. Only this time, I didn't want to take any chances. I ran every lap a couple seconds faster than I needed to. The coach had probably told me not to do this, but I needed to see how fast I could go. 

I had a huge lead going into the final lap. It looked like I might actually win a race for once, in which case time wouldn't matter because the top two got an automatic spot to states. About 100 meters from the end it all unraveled. Two girls sprinted by. I got third. No automatic spot. 

Thankfully I PR'd by 13 seconds, beating the qualifying time by 18 seconds. My coach had been so sure I'd never pull this off he had to break the bad news after my race- he wouldn't be able to go to the state meet with me. He didn't think anyone on the team would qualify so he'd already made other plans. 

 A week later, I PR'd again at our local Meet of Champions, beating my long time rival for the only time ever. A week after that, in over my head with the talent at the state meet and unable to front run, I finally broke my streak of PR's and had a pretty horrible race. The disappointment was temporary. I'd found my limit and knew I could learn from it. A few months later I got to walk on to the cross country team at the University of Houston. A mediocre runner who wasn't afraid to try. 

 That "fearlessness" Pop saw as a kid, it wasn't fearlessness at all. I was terrified of a lot of things, just like a lot of kids. I just wasn't afraid to try and fail. As an adult, I strive to keep that attitude. Big E can attest- I am definitely not fearless. I'm terrified of sharks, carrying my bike through moving water, driving in heavy traffic.... Hell, the other day there was a hornet in the house and I hid in the bedroom until he killed it. 

But two things I'm not afraid of- trying something out of my comfort zone and working really hard.

This leads me to the end of the Crusher saga started in the last post. Less than two weeks after the 225 bike, I finished off the races needed to get the coveted FIST trophy by running the 50 mile. Three weeks later, not long after re-riding the 40 bike to fix a mistake I'd made on my first go around, I decided to try the 100 run. 

 I knew this was a long shot based on my sore feet from the 50, but really, what did I have to lose? No one had even tried it yet so worst case scenario I'd be the first quitter.

I headed out at 8am the day before my 49th birthday, figuring it would be really cool to end it on the last birthday I intend to let anyone acknowledge. I had my crew, Amy, and friends Dan and Lisa set up to pace me through the hardest of the night sections. (Because who really wants to run Mosquito Gulch alone in the dark?) 

 Twenty miles in the foot pain started. Amy met me a few miles later on her bike. She tried to cheer me up, but the pain was starting to win. She escorted me to the car at mile 27. I sat down in a lawn chair and the pain subsided enough I could at least eat. I took off my shoes to change them for the harder section up Wilson Creek Truck Trail, only to discover my right foot was so inflamed the vein in my ankle was bulging. Amy braved touching my nasty feet and rubbed them with her essential oils. At that point we figured it couldn't hurt. I put a fresh pair of trail shoes on and hobbled up the road, with plans to meet Amy and Lisa on the other side, only four miles away, to reassess the pain. 

A quarter mile up the road I knew it was over. I was hobbling. I continued on, knowing I would drop when I finished the truck trail. With about a mile to go, I heard ATVs. Not long after, four guys passed me on their side by sides. I noticed one of them was easy on the eyes. They stopped a bit up the trail for a beer. I was really hoping they'd offer me a ride. Instead they asked where I'd come from and at least acted really impressed that I'd made it this far, even though now I was practically crawling. 

They eventually drove off ahead and I was left in my misery for the last mile. As I approached the car, Lisa set up my lawn chair and got out my coveted cherry Pepsi. Amy explained that they'd actually been waiting in the wrong place and the ATV guys had told them where to meet me. 

"One of them was pretty hot," I said. Then I laughed and followed it up with, "I'm never in too much pain to check out a hot guy on an ATV." 

I sat down in my chair, opened my Pepsi, let Lisa add a little whiskey and just like that, I was done. There was no question. When you get to the point where you're hoping that four strange men who are drinking while driving ATVs will offer you a ride, you have probably reached your limit. 

We had a little impromptu birthday party right there in the woods, even though I didn't even make it to my birthday or run 49 miles or anything cool.  Sometimes, you have to celebrate the "failures" because really they're wins-  over the voice in your head that tells you not to try, over the excuses you fight to get out the door, over the people who tell you you're too old, too small, too slow to even try. To me, every day I beat those things is a win, even if I'm still kind of afraid of the dark and mountain lions and lampreys....

So go ahead, fail big. At least you'll know your limit.


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Best of the Bad Decisions

The beginning of a story is always the hardest to write. I like things to be perfect and words are hard to get perfect. This one is especially tough because I don't even honestly know when the story really started. Like most people, my 2020 has been rough. When it started, the house I'd bought last May in the UP was still torn apart from water damage and my truck was still banged up from a freak accident where a woman on drugs drove through our yard. Enter COVID and rioting close to our MN house and I'd pretty much lost faith that things would get better. Add to that a foot that just wouldn't let me run on it anymore and by June I was pretty much at a low. I had to make some choices. The doc said I could ride my bike on the foot, so I started riding.  I decided to shut down my MN practice at the end of June and move to our UP house. Not long after, The Ringmaster asked me to coach at Marji camp. Sometime around then he also made The Crusher into a "choose your own adventure" date kinda race. I figured, screw it, I might as well jump in head first and coach at camp, ride the 40 and 100 of The Crusher as training for the 225 and get them all done. What can I say? I suck at half assing anything.

So, I coached Marji camp the last weekend in June, rode the Crusher 40 on July 1, rode the 100 on July 7 and then crewed for Eddie and his crazy group of buddies while they rode the 225 on July 11. I mean, how better to train for a 225 mile bike adventure than to ride a bunch in a short period of time, get sleep deprived while crewing and drink a lot of alcohol with friends? Thankfully, I was at least pretty fired up to ride since I'd been on the race course 3 times in 11 days.

I'd picked the 18th to ride because I thought there might be enough people on the course that I might not have to ride alone at night. I'd even made plans to start with the McBrides and hope to keep up with them. It seemed like a smart thing to do. In case you haven't figured it out yet, this whole adventure wasn't necessarily filled with smart choices. So, for details I won't bore you with, I decided the day before to start in the middle of the night. 3:20am to be precise. Yes, I know that meant Hogback in the dark and that seems stupid.

Anyway, Big E arrived into town around 9pm the night before. We inhaled some dinner and I hit the hay to try to at least sleep a little before our 1:40am alarm. As always, I was awake long before the alarm went off, willing myself to sleep just a little longer to no avail. We got to Forestville around 3am and got our bikes ready in the dark. I'd convinced Big E to at least ride up Hogback with me, not to assist with my bike, since I'd done it on my own in the 100, but mostly for moral support. I didn't want to slip and fall off the damn thing and be left there dying until the next riders came along.

We headed down the road at 3:18 and hit the singletrack not long after. I rode as long as I could, but eventually had to dismount and start the long slog up the trail. Thankfully, with company it went by a lot faster than it did in the 100. I'd also learned a few things since then (and Big E had been given strict instructions not to help), so when we got to the final slab, instead of struggling to push my bike up, I picked it up, put in on my shoulder like I'd seen Charles do the week before (hoping I didn't nearly slip to my death like he did) and walked up the last bit. There was some cheering at the top. I was happy to be done and I'd forgotten how much difficult downhill hike a bike was still to come.
While it would probably have been pretty darn scary alone, this whole starting in the dark thing was kind of fun. It was our own little world out there so it was easy to focus on just slowly moving forward. Somehow, I kept convincing Big E to ride just a little farther until 10 miles in when we finally hit Big Bay Rd. and he needed to head back to the truck. By that time the sun was starting to rise and I was actually feeling like this starting at 3:20 thing was pretty smart. I figured at the pace I would ride people would start passing me soon enough and more importantly, I'd hit Mosquito Gulch the next day after the sun rose so I wouldn't have to ride it in the dark. See- I really had thought about this at least a little....

As I neared the end of that quick stretch of pavement, I saw this guy and hoped he was an omen of the good day to come.

 I mean really, how could an albino deer be anything but a good omen?

I turned onto the next stretch of gravel in great spirits. Even when the lightning started to show in the distance and the predicted storm seemed inevitable, I was feeling pretty upbeat. When the rain finally started, I was probably in one of the best spots I could be, ripping down the last few miles to the second Big Bay Rd. turn off under the cover of trees. Unfortunately, as soon as I came onto the road and out of the trees it was a different story. I could barely see. I was cold. Big E drove by in the truck, looking concerned but I waved him on, not wanting the temptation to stop.

When I finally turned onto Wilson Creek Truck Trail to get some water and food from the truck, the rain had finally subsided a bit. As I refilled water, Big E explained his concerned look. As he came down the road, he couldn't see either, which meant I'd just ridden what was probably the busiest road on the course in weather where the drivers couldn't even tell I was there. Good thing there wasn't much traffic at that hour!

The next section of the course went by quickly. I love the adventure of getting over the downed trees section and the sand that followed it was much easier in the rain. County Rd. 510 had turned to peanut butter in the rain, but I knew it wouldn't last long. I met Big E again around mile 40, then headed off on Northwestern Rd., one of my favorites parts of the course. I'd met Lois here during the 100 so it had fond memories, plus it's my kind of up and down type of riding. As an added bonus I found my snorkel and DEET that I'd lost on the 100, just when I was getting attacked by flies. Nevermind that I accidentally sprayed myself right in the face with 99% DEET. It at least kept the flies away for 3 minutes.

At the end of Northwestern Rd., I made the right turn onto the part of the course I hadn't ridden during the 100. I was pretty excited for something new even though I'd driven it when crewing the weekend before. Little did I know how much the road had changed since then.
I attempted to pretend this mud riding was fun, but when I finally hit mud so deep I sunk my front wheel to the fork and had to step off in mud over my shoes, I admitted it wasn't really all that fun. I walked through a puddle to clean off my shoes and cheered to myself when the road got better a couple miles later. Of course, by then I was on the uphill to Mt. Arvon so it wasn't necessarily easier.
I got to the top feeling a little low. I'd honestly expected people to catch me by now so I was a bit lonely, especially after having ridden with Lois the week before on the 100. Thankfully Eddie got me fed and cheered me up, pointing out that the other truck at the top was waiting for some other riders. I hoped they weren't far back.

Not long after I descended Arvon and headed toward Skanee Rd., I heard the familiar sound of bikes finally approaching. Two guys came whipping by, sharing just a few words before riding away like I was standing still. Ok, so maybe this whole having people to ride with when they caught me wasn't going to work out like I'd planned....

Not long after, another group of four guys passed as I pedaled down the road. Again, their speed seemed twice as fast as mine, but at least a few words in passing were better than nothing. I hoped the next group might be slower. At this point the heat was kicking in and I couldn't wait to get to the Huron River crossing and go for a swim. When I finally arrived, I put my swimsuit bottoms on and took my shoes for a swim in Lake Superior to try to get the sand out.

Then I scrubbed the sand off my butt, because I'm pretty sure there's not a whole lot more uncomfortable than riding a bike with sand in your shorts. If there is, I'm thankful I haven't experienced it.

I rode away from the lake feeling so much better I didn't even realize my GPS had stopped working. I had the line to follow, but no cues. Thankfully, this section of the course is easy to follow and I'd studied the map quite a bit in advance so I just focused on following the line and getting to L'anse. Thankfully, L'anse came quickly and I made it before dark, but unfortunately I had a few realizations once I got there. One, based on what Big E was seeing on the trackers, no one was right behind me so I was going to hit the dark alone and two, at this point I was riding much faster than I thought so I was going to hit Mosquito Gulch in the dark. On top of that, there was another storm coming. We checked the weather and deduced that I could probably make it to the McCormick Outhouse before the storm hit. Once there, I could hunker down in the truck if need be and wait it out, which would also add enough time that I could hit Mosquito Gulch at daylight.

I headed out of L'anse with a little light left, perfect timing to adjust to the dark before the more remote sections. Of course those remote sections had to come eventually and by the time they did the wind and lightning had come too. I checked incessantly for lights behind me, hoping the McBrides would come along soon and take pity on me and ride with me to the outhouse. As I would learn later, the opted for a longer stop in L'anse so I was left on my own in the creepy darkness. I sang, discovering that when I'm tired all I can remember the words to are a few select Christmas carols and "You are My Sunshine." I rang my bell just for noise, hoping it would scare off Bigfoot. When I finally saw a baby mountain lion with about five miles to go, I nearly lost my cool. I tried to tell myself that the eyes I stuck to the back of my helmet would scare off Mama, but in all reality, I knew I should just pedal like hell and get out of there. That was probably my fastest five miles of the whole ride! I got to the truck just in time-taking my required selfie, changing my clothes and crawling into the truck just as the storm hit. Maybe this 3:20 start wasn't such a bad idea after all....

Before I laid down, we'd decided I needed to be riding again by 3:20, leaving me 12 hours to ride the last 77 miles. I know that sounds like a lot, but I didn't want to cut it close. We set the alarm for 2:50 knowing I'd be slow moving when I woke up. When it went off I'd probably only slept for an hour. To be honest, getting dressed in the warm truck and back on the bike in the rain was probably the hardest part of the whole ride, but I convinced myself I might catch some of the few riders who passed while I slept so I headed down the road after the first group. I made it less than a mile before my Garmin quit all together. I stopped, restarted it and since my lights had also been acting up in the rain, prayed for no more technical issues!

When I turned onto Dishno Rd., I knew it would be hilly. I'd been warned by the always wise J. Stamper. I'd also been told by someone else that it was driveable so I was completely caught off guard to find it flooded and covered in downed trees. The on the bike, off the bike game it caused was pure torture. I knew Todd was somewhere laughing with Mother Nature. Only he could convince her to send a hurricane to the UP. I did pass a few people in here, but no one seemed like chatting. I missed Lois. I probably started talking to myself.

Thankfully the sun rose long before I hit the Yellow Dog River 30 miles later. Anyone who knows me knows my biggest fear on a bike adventure is having to get my heavy bike across moving water. Honestly, I hadn't worried about the Yellow Dog. It had only been mid-calf deep the week before. I probably should've taken it as a bad omen when I hallucinated Little Big Foot on the ride down, but even then I didn't think about the river. Then I saw it. What had barely been a creek the week before was now a raging river. I tried not to think about it too long. I threw my bike on my shoulder and plunged in, hoping to get it over with quickly. Instead, I nearly fell face first in the thigh deep water  with a bike that weighed nearly 30% of me on my shoulder. Thankfully I regained my footing and made it across. Of course, those who have been here know that doesn't provide much relief, because once you cross the Yellow Dog, you start Mosquito Gulch.
 I won't even try to describe the decimation that occurred in Mosquito Gulch during the storm. Let's just say this- it even scared off the mosquitoes so at least there was that. I'd ridden a lot of it during the 100 so I was determined I would try again, but one nasty crash early on pretty much convinced me that today Mosquito Gulch would be a hike, and a slow one at that.

By the time I made it out the other side to Big E, I was actually getting worried I might not make the cutoff. I knew the next part of the course well and I knew it wasn't hard, but what I didn't know was what havoc the storm had wreaked on it. We did the quickest resupply we could and I set off with my crazy hair.  Who needs gel when you can ride with a bike helmet and get this look?
Thankfully, the rain had actually made the next section easier since it was usually so sandy. I made up some time, but the hallucinations that had started on the way down to Yellow Dog continued. I saw every animal imaginable, even fish in the puddles. Of course, once I got close I'd discover these were stumps, shadows or rocks. By the time I hit 510 for the second time, they were nearly constant. Thankfully, other riders' crews were out on the road by then cheering me on even though I had to carry my bike across the bridge because the wind was so scary. When I finally made it to the turn off to Chunky Summit with 12 miles to go, I had planned my speech to Big E. I informed him a 15 minute nap was non-negotiable. He laid my blanket down, I told him how to prep my pack for the final miles and went to sleep.
At least two dreams later, I woke up feeling like a new person. I had well over two hours to make the cut off, I knew where Chunky Summit was and I had some energy back. I stashed a final Pepsi in my pack and headed off for the final push. Since there were a few other crews at the turn off, I hoped maybe now someone would finally catch me. No such luck. I pedaled alone, just my hallucinations and myself. Two miles from the finish I was certain I saw Big E, but even that was just my imagination. Thankfully, a mile later he was actually there to ride me in. After a quick few words with my friend Will, I made a beeline for the truck. Once again all I really wanted was to be out of my sandy shorts. Of course minutes after I arrived, before I could even change, The McBrides came rolling in. For 250 miles I'd been hoping for them to pass me and now here they were just a few minutes back. I should've taken an 18 minute nap at that turn off!
At least we finally got to chat while I showed off my now even cooler hairdo. And truth be told, as torturous as riding alone for the last 240 of 250 was at times, I'm gonna count the 3:20 start as a smart decision. Why? Because I finished and that's what matters, even if there were some naps and hallucinations and singing and talking to myself. In the end, I made the decision work to my advantage and maybe that's the difference between a bad decision and good one anyway...

Friday, June 5, 2020


This is one of those posts that took me a week to write. First I was too emotional. Every time I even thought about the words I cried. For hours. By the time I could think the words without crying, I had that "I've been crying for a week headache" that kept me from writing them down. Finally when I thought about writing them down, I was afraid to because I was worried if I didn't get them just right someone would think I was insensitive or racist or out of touch.

Finally, I realized this whole story started with me being scared and I'm really fucking tired of being scared. The last thing I want to feel right now is scared of my own words and perhaps sharing them is the only way to get over that. It might cost me some name calling and lost friendships. Sometimes the price you have to pay for getting your voice and soul and life back is high. So this is my story, the way I lived and felt it.

Last Friday, I sat on our living room couch in St. Paul bawling. Riots had started near our house the day before. I'd gone to work with Eddie then because it didn't feel safe at home, but now I was here without him, terrified in my own living room.  I turned on the TV and happened to switch to the news at the moment George Floyd's fiance learned his killer was charged with murder. She sunk to the ground, bawling.

I bawled too, overcome with compassion for her.  I remembered all the moments I sunk to the ground after my mom's accident, most of them caused by learning something about the man who hit her. One when I heard he was the fire commissioner and his many friends in connected places had helped him get off on accidents before this. One when his manslaughter charge was reduced to "cutting in" because there "wasn't enough evidence." One when he was later charged with multiple counts of child molestation and I realized one of the dates was after her death. That one came with the guilt that if maybe I'd done more to get him sentenced perhaps I could've saved a child some pain. There was another when he was later released from prison because, of course, magically, the children wouldn't testify. The big one came when I looked back at the court record of the accident and realized it had been changed to "non-fatal" just like she never even existed. I remember thinking when I saw that, "He gets to live and she doesn't and that's so fucking unfair."

It was at that moment, though, that I also realized something else- I wasn't living either if all I was doing was spending all this time curled up in a ball, crying. They could erase her life from a court record, but they couldn't erase it from me. And I could spend the rest of my life bitter about a man who got off too easy, or find some sort of forgiveness in my heart and go back to living.

So I cried with this poor woman because I know all that is ahead. All the moments that are going to bring her right back here on the ground and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

At the same time I had the police scanner running on my phone. The looting had moved to within 1/2 mile of our house. It was my only way to know if it might be time to flee. So I cried for that feeling of fear, because I'd fled this house in fear once before too.

I ran for office in this district four years ago, hoping to make a positive change. Crime was moving in, businesses were moving out. I thought maybe I could change that. So I knocked on doors, hundreds of them, often in neighborhoods so dangerous people would tell me I shouldn't be there alone. I kept at it for months, actually hopeful I might change some minds even though the incumbent always won this district by over 70 percent. A few weeks before the election, I came home in the middle of the day to find our door damaged and slightly open. All of the hair on my entire body stood on end when I realized there was someone in the house. So I fled. It was all I knew to do.

Later, after the dog searched the house and the police left, Eddie and I were finally allowed in to survey what we had lost. I didn't realize it then, but I had lost so much more in that moment than stuff. I'd lost the ability to feel safe there alone. On election night, I was secretly relieved to lose, because honestly, I'd lost hope too.

Four years later, here I was last Friday, sitting in that same house, terrified again. We'd tried a lot in four years to make me feel safe. Security cameras, motion detectors, Jiu Jitsu lessons. As I sat on the couch crying, I realized none of it had worked. I was still scared if Eddie wasn't home. I was still scared riding my bike to work. I was still scared running on the trails nearby. To be honest, I couldn't remember the last time I hadn't been scared. That's the thing with fear. It follows you. It hijacks your brain and your body and before you know it you're just scared all the time. And I was exhausted from being scared all the time.

So I kept crying, partly out of compassion, partly out of fear and partly because I didn't think I could express this to anyone without seeming really selfish and insensitive. Perhaps this last one is the saddest for me. I knew that people would be outraged that a white woman would compare her mother's accident to the murder of a black man. I knew that there would be people who would read that I was scared and remind me that since I'm a white woman at least I don't have to be scared of cops. To those people, my story doesn't matter. The way I got to this place of being torn apart by fear and grief while also trying to find compassion- it won't matter to them, the same way George Floyd's story clearly did not matter to the cop that killed him.

We are living in a world right now where we pay a lot of attention to words but very little attention to stories. We are so busy telling each other how to act and how to speak that we have forgotten how to understand. We share memes and quotes online, but rarely share the story behind why that particular saying matters to us. Our thoughts and opinions are based on what our "party" tells us to think, not on who we've become because of the life we've lived.

This morning, I actually saw something on social media that basically said even silence is racist. I'm sorry, you can call me whatever you want, but I cannot consider silence a negative thing. Why? Because when we are finally silent, we can actually listen. And when we finally listen we can understand. And hopefully once we understand, we can move forward toward something positive.

Thankfully, we bought this crazy old house in a small town in MI a year ago, so this week I was able to escape here. I won't lie. I didn't just show up here and stop being scared. I wish it was that easy, but the mind doesn't work that way. So while I enjoy sunsets and bike rides with friends, hold hands with little kids and join a lonely neighbor for dinner, I'll remind myself to be silent sometimes. I'll take some time to listen to people's stories because that's the only way to truly understand them. If I do that, we can all move forward to something more positive together. That's what my mama would've wanted. 

Sunday, May 3, 2020

24 Hours of Friends

Today, there is one last square to cross off on my 906 Adventure Bingo card- write an adventure story. At first I thought this one would be hard, since travel is restricted, races are cancelled and it's hard to get friends together for these adventures. But since I ran for 24 hours from my house yesterday, I guess that counts as an adventure.

The adventure started at 8am, just Big E and I in the front yard for the send off. The first 5 laps were a cruise, which is unusual for me. It usually takes me 20 miles just to warm up! I tried hard not to push the pace too hard, knowing that this high definitely wouldn't last if I started too fast. Of course, as the heat kicked in midday, I started to feel it and instead of feeling warmed up and ready to run at mile 20, I hit that point feeling hot and a little crabby, which Big E found out.
Pizza between laps 5 and 6.

A few laps later, after the running into Ray Ray and his cowbell on the trail, the heat finally took its toll. I'd stayed under the pace need to run 24 laps at that point, but when I returned from lap 10, I knew I needed to rest, deal with my already throbbing feet and get out of the sun for a bit if I was going to make it through the night. After a quick shower to rinse off any ticks, I tossed and turned on the couch for an hour before abandoning my hopes of sleep. I added some gel arches to my shoes to try to stop the arch pain and headed back out to get a sunset lap in before Ridge, my first escort, showed up.

In the meantime, Big E set up quite the base camp in the front yard to entertain friends who came to escort and cheer. 

It was a welcome sight at the end of lap 9 to come home to a fire, friends and little boys who attacked me with nerf guns. After a quick restock of fuel, I headed out with Ridge for the first lap in the dark. At this point, I'd quickly shifted focus from trying to run 24 laps to just surviving the night. With all the isolation in the last few weeks, I was much happier hiking and chatting with friends than I would've been trying to push the pace for 12 more hours. So, we pretty much hiked two laps and got out all the words stored in us for weeks, stopping in between laps so I could refuel with a pizza s'more. That's right. Marshmallows and pizza actually go well together, at least when you've been moving for 13 hours.

We returned to one last nerf gun attack around 10:30pm.  After a brat by the fire, which instantly made me dizzy as the blood rushed to my stomach to digest it, Dustin, who ended up riding 250 miles round trip to partake in the festivities, headed out to escort me for a lap on Big E's bike. His own rig was a bit packed for a lap on trail.
More chatting ensued and we finished lap 14 about 12:20. My next escort wasn't scheduled until 1am so I headed inside to attempt another quick nap, which again ended in just some tossing and turning.

Thankfully, Lisa Lisa arrived to escort me and keep me awake for 2 more laps. Again, more chatting and hiking. It was at this point where I realized that while I thought for sure I was "power hiking", a glance at my escorts proved that really we were moving more at a "wandering" pace. By the end of lap 16, the wandering started to become sleep walking so after a quick picture, I headed inside to hopefully actually get a nap before heading out for the always coveted "dawn lap".
Since I needed another shower to remove any ticks I had to take my socks off, which led to something I always try to avoid during ultra running-seeing my own feet.  I knew my left pinky toe was hurting, but the sock removal revealed the entire toe had become a blister. After some quick blister drainage, I laid down just after 4, hoping sleep would come quickly since I needed to be up by 5 to get out the door to catch the sunrise and fit in two more laps, which would push me over 70 miles. Thankfully, exhaustion finally allowed me some shut eye and when the alarm went off it ripped me out of a deep sleep. Of course, my first thought was, "Hell no, I just want to sleep and no one is making me do this."  Somehow I pushed it away and got dressed to hike in the now cooler weather. My toe was now so sore I could barely put shoes on so I had no hopes of running. I choked down some of Eddie's tar coffee and limped up the street to the trail.
Honestly, at this point I had no idea how I was going to suffer through two more laps while limping. For some reason, at the first downhill, I convinced myself that running might just push the pain in my foot over the top and make it hurt less.  Of course, for some other weird reason, this actually worked, probably because it just made everything else hurt more so I could ignore my foot. It didn't really matter. I was just happy to be making faster time so I wouldn't be cutting it close to fit my final lap in. I finished lap 17 faster than any lap since lap 10. Of course, this meant I was completely overdressed so I took off some layers and bid goodbye to Big E for the final lap.
The running high didn't last long and finally, with two miles to go in my final lap, my body flipped me the bird. My eyes would shut without warning and I'd find myself swerving. By the last downhill, I was seeing dead people coming out of the trees and the last turn onto the street revealed a zombie in the neighbor's driveway. A few moments later, the whole thing ended how it started, with Big E and I in the driveway.  I barely made it onto the stump one last time to record my final lap time at 23:47:47. As we headed inside, I saw my cooler, which I'd decorated for the occasion.
I tapped it and said, "That's right, I'm the storm." Then I laughed as Eddie had to help me into the house, where I collapsed on the kitchen floor to try to extract my feet from my shoes.
In the end, not nearly as many laps were done as I thought I could handle, but clearly I pushed myself to my current limit and more importantly, I connected with friends, which was sorely needed and much better for my soul than running 24 laps. Sometimes having a conversation, hearing a friend ringing a cowbell, playing with friends' kids and getting a hug are the most important things.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Stump to Stump

To keep ourselves amused during these times of isolation, some friends and I are participating in the 906 Adventure Team bingo challenge. We have 14 days to do this:
When I saw "do something hard" I decided this was a good time to replicate my cancelled May race (  on my own. I'm barely working right now so really, what better time than now to run for 24 hours and be left hobbling for a few days. So, next Saturday, May 2 at 8am I'll start running 3.89 mile loops on the trail near my house and see how many I can do before 8am Sunday. Info for the "event" is as follows:

RULES-  I'll be following the rules of the original race as much as possible.

1- Only full laps count toward the distance. So, if I don't finish my last lap by 8am Sunday it doesn't count.

2- Breaks are allowed, but I'm not allowed off the course for more than 2 hours. If I take a break longer than that, it's over.

3- Pacers (I like to call them escorts)  are allowed after dark. I'm lucky on this one since most 24 hour races usually don't allow pacers. Because the neighborhood I'm running in has had its share of crime and I'll be the only one out there, I'm choosing to stretch this rule to allow escorts on the bike after dark too. Safety first. I like to follow rules, but I also like to be alive. As is the rule with any ultra, escorts cannot carry my stuff or assist me physically. They're bodyguards, not sherpas!

Staying active right now is tough for a lot of people. Staying connected is even tougher so the point of this 24 hours is to do both- to show that we can, despite tough times, keep putting one foot in front of the other to make forward progress and we can keep connecting with people, even if it's in different ways.  So, if you'd like to come out and connect with me here are a few ways you can, each with a varying level of "distancing" involved. (But that doesn't mean we can't be social!)

Escort: Obviously this one will have the least amount of distancing involved since you'll be either running/hiking near me or on your bike. That said, you're welcome to stay 6 feet away from me or wear a mask. All you need is a good pair of shoes and a headlamp. You don't need to be particularly fast. I won't be using escorts until after dark (8:30) so I'll probably be moving slow since I'll be 12+ hours in. It will likely be a lot of hiking! If you'd like to do this, send me a message with your preferred time. (Keep in mind we can't plan the laps exactly so you may have to wait for me to finish a lap once you're there.) If you really want to see me suffer this is your chance!

Hang at the aid station: I'll have an aid station set up in the yard. You're welcome to hang out there and drink beer, etc. as long as it doesn't become an "against the stay at home rules" party.  Again, you're welcome to wear a mask. There is a huge field across the street that's great for kite flying, frisbee, etc. St. Paul Parks are open to the public so feel free to use this space as well.

Cheer from your car: At the beginning and end of each lap I'll be cutting through the Battle Creek Elementary ( school parking lot. If you park there or anywhere along Ruth St. between the school and Upper Afton Rd., you can heckle me right out your car window.

Surprise me somewhere on the course: If you want to hike/bike part of the course or hang out on it, most of it can be easily accessed from Battle Creek Rd., Ruth St. or the Battle Creek Rec Center. Send me a message if you'd like a GPX file of the course.

I'm confident I can connect with as many friends as possible while trying to respect everyone's level of distancing. Just be warned- as I get tired I might forget all the rules and try to hug you. Feel free to yell at me as I charge you. I won't be offended.

If you do come out, keep in mind that stopping and going again is really tough so if you want to chat, the best thing to do is move along with me. We just won't count this as "pacing" if it happens during the day and it's unplanned.


If you're interested in escorting or just want to know about the course here are the details per lap:

3.89 miles

400ish feet of elevation gain

1.3 miles of singletrack, .25 miles of pavement, the rest grass/woodchipped ski trails

I will start and end at the stump in our front yard so I'll be calling this the Stump to Stump. A lap begins from the stump and doesn't end until I touch the stump on my return.
 Hope to see you all soon! Until then, stay happy and hopeful!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

We Are All Essential

At 9am yesterday I was already done working. I sat outside the grocery store and texted Big E, "Need anything from Byerly's?"

I didn't hear back by the time I'd procured the elusive roll of paper towels I'd been hoping to find so I headed to the next stop on my list of errands. Minnesotans had been told to "stay at home" after 11:59pm. Only "essential" business were to stay open, and like many people, I wasn't sure what would be considered essential, other than the obvious, like this grocery store.

When I heard back, I was sitting outside the library, waiting for my turn for a librarian to come out and place the items I'd reserved on a table. He sent me his list, to which I responded, "I left but I have to go by there to get home so I'll go back. Not like I have a lot of other stuff to do today."

Not like I have a lot of other stuff to do today.

Normally I would never say that on a Friday. I'm usually turning appointments down on Friday. I joke that if I could just have three Fridays in the week, I wouldn't need to work any other day. But this Friday, I was done working before 9am. Like many small business owners, I was now left wondering whether or not I was "essential."

The day before, I'd watched a man move out of my office building. He'd already laid off 30 employees. With the stay at home order looming, he could no longer afford rent, even for a small office for himself.  I wondered what he did that was so non-essential. I didn't have the heart to ask.

When I headed back to my office to drop off some supplies after my library stop, more people were moving out. More people who could no longer pay the rent. More people who did something non-essential.

By the time I made it home, I was exhausted. I'd spent most of the night awake, worrying whether my business would make it, worrying what my landlord meant when he said the office building was now on "lockdown",  worrying about whether I was essential.

I took a nap, but mostly I just laid on the bed and worried some more so I finally got up and made myself go for a run. It started as a hike, because I was still so tired I felt strangely similar to how I felt in the middle of the night at the Marji Gesick 100. Basically a zombie stumbling through the woods.

Moving woke me up a bit though, cleared my head. It's hard to worry when you're focused on literally putting one foot in front of the other. I thought about this essential thing and wondered if perhaps what so many of us were feeling right now was similar to how many people feel when they retire (albeit with a lot more stress about money). I've heard stories of people not knowing what to do with themselves when they retired. They feel a bit lost, wondering what to do now. So I wondered, did they feel this too- this emptiness because they weren't sure if they were "essential" anymore?

I thought about my parents and when they retired. Were they less essential then? I smiled, because to me, they certainly weren't. If anything, they were probably more essential, even if it was in a different way than when I was a child. Once they were both retired, I had finally reached that stage of being able to appreciate them, of wanting to share bits of my life with them, of enjoying time connecting with them.

 Not long after Pop retired, they came with me to Europe. I'd qualified for the age group duathlon (run, bike, run) world championships in Hungary and we decided to make a trip of it. Unfortunately, I tore my plantar fascia five weeks before the race. Since we'd already planned the trip, we went anyway. I searched out a podiatrist who literally made me a custom orthotic out of foam while I sat in his office because there wasn't enough time to order one. It certainly wouldn't make me fast, but it would protect my foot enough so I could finish the race.

I met Mom and Pop in Vienna. After a few days of sightseeing and incredible food, we headed to Prague and then to Gyor, the small town where the race was held. We shared small hotel rooms, lingered while talking after dinners and made an adventure out of getting my bike case onto and off of trains before the doors closed, always pleasantly surprised when someone helped us without asking. The night we left Prague, a complete stranger realized we didn't understand the messages coming over the loudspeaker and were going to miss our train.  He pointed me to the correct platform and then, when he realized I would never make it in time with the bike case, he threw it up on his shoulder and started running. I chased him down one flight of stairs and up another, with Mom and Pop close behind. We made it to our platform with just enough time for him to throw the case on the train and hold the door for us. Mom called him our guardian angel for the rest of the trip.
With Mom and Pop in Prague
By the time we arrived in Gyor the next morning, my entire leg was a mess from limping around on my foot with my luggage. The team chiropractor covered most of my leg in the only color KT tape she had left- hot pink.

My parents laughed and said, "Well- at least we'll know which one you are."

The race had been set up to run and bike on small loops to make it more fun for the spectators. Mom and Pop sat in the bleachers the organizers had set up and cheered while I limped around the course with my pink tape. I found them there after my race. Of course I was disappointed that I didn't race to my potential. On my own, I would've just gone back to the room to sulk. They were having none of that. They informed me they'd being staying to cheer for Margaret, a woman in her 70's who was competing for the U.S. Not only was she the oldest woman in the race, she'd been hit by a car while training and battled through the injuries to get here.

As we sat in the bleachers waiting for Margaret, many of the older athletes started to finish. I was still sulking a bit when my mom leaned over and said, "You know, this is a lot harder for them than it is for you because they have to be out there much longer."  I smiled. She had a point. After we cheered them all in, we went out to celebrate. Suddenly my race didn't matter so much.

That trip with my parents, it was essential to who I am. That moment in the bleachers, it was essential to who I am. They were essential. Without my parents there, it would've been a trip about a race, my race. Instead, it became a trip about connection, about the goodness of other people, about being there to cheer on every last person. My outlook on racing changed a lot after that. So did my appreciation for my parents.

As I thought about all this on that run, I thought back to a conversation I'd had with my only client that morning. She had said, "I know what we do here is not essential, but seeing you is important to my mental health."  I realized that while the services many of us provide are not essential, we all need to be careful not to think that means WE are not essential. It's easy to confuse the two.

Our place in this world is not based on what we do for work, what we do in races, what kind of house we own. Our place in this world is based on who we are for others, on how we show up for people, everyday, even if we don't have to, even if those people might not know we're there, cheering for every last one of them. 

Times are hard but we are all essential. All of us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Hope and Happiness

Lake Huron, sometime in the 70s or 80s
After not writing on my blog for over a year, I figured my first post back would be about my greatest distraction over the past year- buying a 120 year old building in the UP. My first property purchase in my 48 years surely could warrant that attention. Unfortunately, with the state of the world as it is, I'm guessing sharing that story now would likely get me shamed in the social media world for being "out of touch" or some other phrase people use to describe anyone right now who chooses to find a glimmer of hope or happiness in the world. Instead, I'll share a story I told a friend yesterday that perhaps explains why I am one of those people who chose that hope and happiness.

It was 1981. I was 9 years old. My sister and I decided to launch our little bodies off the family sailboat and into the still frigid Port Huron water sometime in May. We squealed as we hit the water, barely allowing our bodies to be fully immersed before we raced for the boat ladder. We scrambled out and wrapped our shivering bodies in towels. Nothing unusual for kids who grew up on this lake.

Shortly after, Big Sis got pneumonia. Of course she missed some school, but antibiotics had her back to normal soon enough. Then it was my turn. Pneumonia settled in just as school was ending for the year. I took the antibiotics too, but I didn't get better. Eventually Pop's recliner chair become my bed, because lying down caused so much coughing no one in the house could sleep.

One night, propped up there in the middle of the night coughing and trying to breathe, I became terrified I would die. I started to cry so loud Pop could hear me so he came out to check. When I explained that I was scared I would die, he did what any parent of a nine year old would. He assured me this wasn't going to kill me and told me to go back to sleep. Then he left to try to get some shut eye of his own, probably assuming I'd fall asleep too. I didn't, because I hadn't told him everything. It wasn't just that I was afraid I would die, what was really bothering me was I'd realized that if I did die, the world was going to go own without me. I was afraid to tell him because I was worried he would think I was selfish. Of course, it didn't occur to me until many years later that he'd probably already had this existential crisis himself at some point in his adult life and would've been able to help me process the terror it was instilling in my 9 year old mind.

A couple days later, after some desperation measures (including one incident with peppermint schnapps that Pop and I still laugh about), the situation came to a head when I woke up with a full body rash. Back to the doctor we went. I grew up in a small town so I knew the clinic well, mostly because I was prone to stupid stunts like shoving beads up my nose. Like many small clinics, you saw whichever doctor was available that day so I knew them both. This day I also saw them both. They took turns examining me and then met outside the room, clearly not aware that I could hear them. All I remember is, "I don't know what's wrong with her, do you?" This was not assuaging my fear of dying.

With neither doc able to diagnose the rash, we were sent to the hospital. Blood was drawn but it would take a couple of days to get results. In the meantime, it was decided that I should be put in quarantine. This rash of mine looked suspiciously like the measles. I'd been vaccinated for the measles so if I did, in fact, have the measles, it was possible that I could give it to other kids my age that had also had what was possibly and ineffective measles vaccine.

A room was readied for me in the children's ward. I was not allowed to leave. Only my parents and medical staff were allowed to enter. My grandma, who volunteered at the hospital, could only peer at me through the window in the hallway. Of course, so could all the other kids, who tried to entertain me through the glass. Toys from the hospital playroom were off limits so my mom brought books and games from home. She kept me entertained as best she could, but she also had my sister to take care of, and Big Sis wasn't allowed in the room. This meant some time alone there, quarantined with my 9 year old thoughts of dying.

Needless to say, although the family probably finally got some sleep while I was in there, I didn't get much better. On the third day, when the doctor came in to break the news to my mom that the lab had accidentally ruined the blood tests, I finally lost it. The possibility of more time in this room alone drove me to hysterics. Through my tears, I begged the doctor to just let me go home.

I have no idea what made him change his mind. Maybe he already had the sense this could be an allergic reaction to the antibiotics. Maybe he realized the only extra person who would be exposed to my "possible measles" at home would be my sister, who'd probably already been exposed and would've been vaccinated nearly 3 years before me. Maybe he realized that the mental trauma of more time alone might just be worse than whatever else was ailing me.

He let me leave. As preparations were made for me to go home, someone accidentally left the door open to my room. The teenage boys from across the hall, assuming I was better, carted a big stuffed animal from the play room in in their wheelchairs. Our laughter as they propped it up on my bed drew the attention of the nurse. She stormed in, snatched the stuffed animal from my bed, and snapped, "Now we will have to throw this away." The boys wheeled out as the hysterical crying started again.

Home and on a different antibiotic, I slowly got better. There were some long nights for my mom while she stayed up with me trying to cool my burning skin. Gradually though, the rash faded and the cough lessened. The doctors decided this must've all been an allergic reaction to the first antibiotic. I stopped worrying so much about dying.

I will never forget the first day I got to go to the beach. My uncle had purchased my grandparents "cottage" years prior and made it a permanent home for his family. It was on Lake Huron. My mom took my sister and I to visit for the day. I still couldn't swim. I had to wear my aunt's big floppy hat to protect me from the sun because of the antibiotics. None of that mattered. I sat there on that beach, in the warm sand, breathing in the Great Lakes air and I knew I would be okay.

I still joke that I have water from the Great Lakes running through my veins. It's still nearly impossible to keep me inside for an entire day. Warm sand will always soothe my soul. That day in the sunshine will
be a part of me forever because on that day, instead of worrying about taking a breath or being near my parents or dying, being outside with my family brought me hope and happiness.

We're in some trying times, I get that, but I won't lie. We were already in trying times. We were already spending less time outside and more time connected to a screen. We were already texting instead of calling, waving instead of hugging, judging each other online instead of trying to understand each other. If we aren't careful, it will be hard to get any of that back. We'll become comfortable with less human interaction, until we realize that without each other, we are all less human.

Before you get outraged over the suggestion of a hug, no I'm not telling you to go touch a stranger. What am I saying then? It's simple- hold on to hope, to happiness. Remember you have a choice. There are people in hospitals right now who would love to have as much freedom as you have under your self-imposed "quarantine." I get it, changing your routine sucks, but if you are in your own home, you at least have the luxury of making a routine of your own. Get your spring cleaning done. Cook some healthy food. Go outside. Quit using "social distancing" to avoid eye contact or speak kindly. You can do this from a whole heck of a lot of feet away. And, for goodness sake, quit judging others for finding a bit of happiness in the world.