Roma! Roma! Roma!

Well, two days in Roma and I’m really tired! I have walked to the major sites and some of the minor ones. Each walk anywhere risks my life, as cars are ever ready to run you down even in the crosswalk. You have to show big balls and just push your way through. Peds are supposed to have the right of way, so when you move out into the road, you just have to commit. Hold your breath and hope to hell you don’t get run over.

I noticed a lot of priests running around today and my travel companion Holly dryly remarked, “I think that’s in case you get hit in traffic.” Priests on call to read you your last rites should you get hit… I feel safe now. Unless there are some priests driving on these streets.

If heaven is eternal cycling and wine for me, then hell is forever crossing the streets of Rome.

Enough about that.

The Colleseum was awe-inspiring, even with the mobs of people. Though, we went while it was raining which provided gloomy pictures but pretty open access to all of the views we desired. I did get to touch it, as I always dreamed. This is the oldest structure made by man I have ever touched (and probably will ever touch as I think the Middle East will never be an option for me to visit in my life time… and if it is, there may be nothing left…)

Even better than the Colleseum, almost, was the Forum. This was the center of political life for Rome in the old days of the empire. And, actually, before Rome was an empire and an actual republic before Julius Caesar took it over. I took pictures of everything. Weird as I am, I was most fascinated by the House of the Vestal Virgins. A Vestal Virgin was apparently a high status position women were selected for at the age of 10. They had to commit to 30 years of virginhood and, if they served these well, they were permitted to marry afterwards. At the age of 40. When life probably only went to 50. But at least they created a statue of you and displayed it in the garden of the House of Vestal Virgins.

Of course, if you broke your vow (which I suspect may have sometimes occurred unfairly by a man in heat), you were beaten brutally and publically killed in the streets of Rome for all to see. Gotta love the ole Roman flair for justice and mercy.

But it was a high status position for women, or so my tour book claimed and I’d like to do more research on it. I’m getting the ideas for a fictional historical based story right now and I’ve suddenly got a thirst for knowledge about ancient Roman civilization. I’ve always been fascinated by this period in time, but only from what I remembered from World History class in school. So, I need to refill those gaps. (If you know of any great — not overly dry — books on this topic, please leave me suggestions.)

The Forum also has the old Senate building, the Temple of Saturn (darn, those pagans!), and a lot of other interesting old ruins. The entire city of Rome is like one big archaelogical dig.

The Pantheon was excellent as well. Of course, it’s been converted to a church of somekind (Catholic?). I find it a little odd when they convert an old place of pagan worship into a place for modern religion… Isnt that kind of sacrilege on some level? I don’t know. It leaves me to ponder what it is about that location that makes one want to worship at it… to whatever your chosen diety. Or, I guess it just goes along with the idea that when Christianity came to Rome, it literally replaced the pagan religions with its own, which included using its current houses of worship so that people would accept the new religion.

A lady at the Forum was giving a whole talk about this to a tour group, about how Christian holidays and traditions were superimposed over pagan holidays. It was very interesting. But more on that topic when I have more time and I’m not paying for my internet.

What is it about Rome that makes you ponder religion and the human condition? Well, it’s going to continue for me as the next stop tomorrow is THE VATICAN.

Still in Italy

Hey, folks… I’m still alive and kicking in Italy. So much to say, so little time… as time is ticking away at the internet cafe and I have to pay! Sorry for not posting pictures or stories yet… But, as they say, I’m living the experience!!

I did bike a total of 384 km (you do the conversion, I will later) from Venezia to Firenze!! It was one of the best bike rides of my life… and that includes Germany… Benissimo Italia!

I will be home on Friday June 1st… broke and back to riding the hills of Ohio!! Ciao for now, my amici!

Italy, T Minus 28 Hours to Departure

I depart Cleveland on a plane to Cincinnati at 2:55pm tomorrow. I arrive in Cincinnati and hour later. Three and a half hours of layover in Cinci, and then I catch a 7:30pm flight to Rome. Nine and a half hours of absolutely boring flight time. I’m actually hoping I fall asleep on this flight. I was awake for the entire nine hours of my flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia in 2005, and let me tell you, it SUCKED royally. I had finished the book I was reading on the way to Europe on a train from Amsterdam to Munich. I thought I could pick up another book at the aiport; however, all the books I found in the airport bookstores were in German. My German isn’t that good.

After the nine hour flight to Rome, I will have to change planes for an Al Italia flight to Venice. Whew! Three layovers. That’s going to suck big time. The getting there and coming back is always the worst part of traveling. I’m anxiously awaiting the invention of the transporter. Can you imagine? In the winter, I’d be able to ski in Colorado any time I wanted to, and still be back in Ohio in time to meet up with my friends for a movie in the evening. I could have sushi in Japan during my lunch hour. You wouldn’t have to spend a week with your in-laws for Christmas — you could simply show up on Christmas day, and then run off to your next obligation halfway across the globe.

Of course, if we had transporters and no airplanes, they’d probably charge you an airplane-sized fare for use of the transporter. Nothing fun comes for free. But it would sure save a lot of that nasty travel time and jet lag. No more delays, keeping you from getting to where you want to go. We wouldn’t have to depend on the whims of Mother Nature.

How would you fuel a transporter? I wonder. Did they ever explain that in Star Trek? Supposedly in the future of the Star Trek universe, we have already solved all of our environmental and fuel problems (except the humpback whales are extinct). So you can bet however transporters run, it’s fuel-efficient! We also supposedly no longer use money (reference Star Trek IV and, I believe, it was mentioned once in Deep Space Nine). I couldn’t ever quite grasp how a society could run without the use of money. Did they go back to bartaring? Say, let me take a trip on your transporter; I’ll write you a great review of the trip in the local newspaper (I am a writer, afterall. These are my wares to sell.) Would you do Captain Kirk’s job without pay?

Anyway, so, it’s still the 21st century and I still have to use this barbaric contraption known as an airplane to get to and fro. To get into outerspace, I’d have to light thousands of tons of fuel beneath my ass to muster the velocity to break the pull of gravity. And then where would you go? We dont even have lightspeed capability, or sub-warp for that matter. Getting to Mars (my proported home) would take months. I would love to live in a time where getting to Italy takes 2 minutes and a trip to Mars takes the nine and half hours.

My mom cringes as she reads that. She doesn’t like the thought of me traveling into outerspace. Even though half my family already thinks I live there. ;)

Well, anyway, Mars Girl embarks tomorrow on her trip to Italy. Meanwhile, in Seattle, WA, my friend, Sarah and her husband, Shawn, excitedly await the birth of their first child. The baby is due Saturday (? I think ?). We’re simultaneously embarking on our own exciting adventures where the future is less certain than it is today. I wish the best to them and will be checking my email in Italy for updates. (Although, one of my coworkers just told me that sometimes babies are pretty late, and she might not actually have it until I get back. For her sake, I hope not!)

I’m going to try to write a blog entry or two while I’m out there, but I’m making no promises. They certainly won’t be as long as my normal entry (to which you’re probably thankful). Internet time is expensive when you’re paying by the minute!

I better be buff when I come back. One week of 30-35 mile day riding, and all. And so summer officially starts…


Jersey Quandaries

So I need more bike jerseys. I only have 2. The rest are wicking shirts that I use for other activities where a wicking shirt comes in handy. If you’re a cyclist, you know how expensive these darned things are — like usually between $40 – $60 a pop. More than that, if you decide you want to pretend you’re on Team Discovery. I won’t even go into how much bike shorts cost… I bought some on sale in March and it still cost me a pretty penny. When you get excited that a good pair of Pearl Izumi shorts *only* cost you $75 bucks at a discount, you know you’re in a sport that enjoys sucking up your pay check. Back when I started cycling, I was convinced you didn’t need these things. I rode with cheap spandex shorts and a cotton t-shirt. Then, I would sweat and my shirt would never dry. No padding in my shorts left aches in places that should only feel sore on your honeymoon. Of course, nothing prevents your butt from getting saddle sore; after 50 miles, naked, nylon, or bike shorts — it doesn’t matter, you’re having problems sitting.

Why the tight bike shorts? every non-cyclist asks. Personally, as a single female with certain weight restrictions that separate just guys from potential dates, I’m not complaining too much. You get a real nice idea on whose abdomen is pretty tight. Guy’s legs are only further accented by tight pants. I’m a leg looker; I will check out the legs of every cycling male in the vacinity. I can’t stop myself. The Tour de France is constant gratification for me. I sure don’t keep up on rider’s stats… just imagine myself standing at the sidelines of the race, holding up a sign with my phone number on it.

Of course, the flip side to this is that the guys see every roll on my body. Which makes me a little bashful. I’m the first to admit that I’ve got a few extra pounds I could do without. If my diet didnt include copias amounts of beer and wine, I might be as trim as my cycling prowess and voracity would suggest. And dammit if chocolate didn’t taste so good… and my insatiable lust for cookies (white chocolate macadamia nut is my favorite, if you’re wondering).

The guys seem kind of bashful about wearing those shorts in public. Many of them change into jeans or regular shorts before going into a restaurant after the ride. It’s that old “men in tights” mentality. The same reason guys wont wear speedos on the beach (and some men, I contend, should be required to wear speedos on the beach, I tell you!).

I believe the reason for the shorts, other than padding, is aerodynamic. (You can correct me if I wrong.) I personally didn’t like to wear shorts that blew around in the breeze. Not that it made me much faster, but it did avoid the problem I kept having where the leg of the shorts would catch on the bike seat when I went to stand, providing, I am sure, a nice view for the guys in the vacinity, but consequently making me feel like a dork. Tight pants prevent fabric from getting caught in the spokes of the bike. I learned how easy this is without chain guards on modern bikes when I was test riding bikes last summer. I also learned that tennis shoe laces get wound around pedals all too easily (thus the velro riding shoes). Bear with me, sometimes the obvious is not so obvious. ;)

Our bicycle jerseys are the only way we have to express ourselves. It’s kind of like ties for men working in an office setting. We can display the tours we’ve been on or little aspects of our personalities. For example, I have one jersey with stars and moons on it. Pretty obvious for Mars Girl. The other jersey is from the Great-West MS 150 ride I did while living in Colorado. I earned that shirt for the approximate 120 miles I did complete of the tour (it was really hard… more climbing than an Ohioan can imagine except if you watch the mountain stages of the Tour de France). Some people have wonderful delusional imaginations, so they buy those aforementioned Team Discovery jerseys (and, prior to that, US Postal Service). Okay, I’ll admit that if they didn’t cost so much, there might be one in my closet.

So, right now, I’m pondering the purchase of another jersey. Due to price, I can’t buy both at this time. The first one is one that displays the logo of Wheaties on it. This is pretty much my breakfast staple. I eat it in the tradition handed down to me by the Mars Girl Mom — no milk and with peanuts! Makes a great start to the day. Ironically, the peanuts seem to help fill my stomach, too, cuz when I eat the Wheaties without them, I get hungry again faster. I bought a pair of Wheaties socks when I went on my big bike clothes shopping spree a few months ago. So now I need the jersey to match!

The other jersey I’m stewing over reads Livestrong. Besides being obsessed with Lance Armstrong (I can’t help it, it’s the legs and the look of deep concentration he has while crunching up those mountains), I like the whole philosophy behind his foundation; it’s not just about supporting cancer research, but promoting a healthy lifestyle. I like the positive message of the simple words: Live strong. I’m one of those geeks who religiously wears that yellow Livestrong wrist band. I only took it off last summer for a wedding I was in at the demands of my friend when she bridezilla’ed on me. I guess it wouldn’t have gone with the peach dress…

I tried to find a bike jersey with the Cleveland Indians on it. I guess baseball and cycling do not mix because I was unsuccessful. I had hope for a minute… After all, I’ve seen Ohio State jerseys… I guess I will be waiting until hell freezes over for my official Hiram College jersey. My alma mater – GO TERRIERS! Um, yeah.

You’re welcome to leave suggestions about which jersey I should buy. I may or may not listen to your feedback. ;) If you can find me a someplace where I can get a Cleveland Indians bike jersey, drop me a line… A girl can like baseball and cycling. ABC had a ride that goes to a game in June. It would fulfill a dual purpose!

Vow to Myself (Publicly Announced)

My name is Mars Girl… and, yes, I am a smoker.

Well, a social smoker. One of those people who never smokes until she has a few drinks at a bar or is hanging around other smokers. People are usually surprised when they see me with cigarette in hand. A former coworker once exclaimed, “But you’re so athletic! What about your riding!?”

I had nothing to say. He was right. Adding to the illogic of this nasty habit is the fact that I also have exercise-induced asthma, which also seems to be further aggitated by cigarette smoke.

So why do I do it? Especially when I can go weeks without and the moment I have a beer in hand, I want a cigarette? Because, it’s an addiction and that’s what addictions do.

For me, it’s always been the pleasure of it. I actually like the way they taste (yeah, sick), smell, and the slight buzz they give me. I enjoy the social interaction, the private club with certain people. The smokers — we’re the less uptight crowd, the fun people, the carefree ones. It’s all fun and games until one of us gets lung cancer. Which you have to think is bound to happen, right?

I was dating a guy for awhile who smoked, and, as a result, I was no longer just a social smoker. But this was the second period in my life of full-time smoking. I also did it in my “I don’t care about anything” phase after my husband’s death. I justified it as a grieving crutch and no one got on my case about it.

Ever since I started smoking (back in college), there has not been a single time when I’ve put a cigarette to my lips that I have not thought about what it was doing to my lungs. As Dr. McCoy said in Star Trek V as he watched Captain Kirk climb El Capitan sans equipment, “God damn, irresponsible, playing games with life.” I’ve guilted myself with every drag of the cigarette. I have to be the most self-depricating cigarette smoker who ever lived. Yet, I still did it. Just this one, was my repeated matra. Nothing in moderation can hurt you.

There is no moderation in addiction… Even when you only do it once a week, when you do it in mass quantity that one time a week, it’s just as bad. Plus, it wasnt always just one time per week… As I said, it went hand and hand with alcohol. So if I had a glass of wine, I would often have a cigarette. Sometimes with my morning coffee (another favored combination).

I tried to justify it with the fact that everyone has an addiction of some kind or another. Except I kept avoiding the truth that this addiction cancels out the health benefits of my better addiction of cycling.

I havent smoked in about three weeks, which also coincides with the last time I was at sci-fi night with my group of smoking friends. The real test is not smoking when I’m around them. Still, my renewed, furious affinity to cycling has changed everything. In the last three weeks, my lungs have tasted the pleasure of pure air as I huffed up hills on my bike — and lots of air. My lungs aren’t left with that aching feeling or rasped so much as I struggled for air. My asthma seems to have calmed down a little. I havent woken up on a Saturday morning with a heavy chest and a cough (Fridays were my heavy smoking nights). I can immediately see the benefits of not smoking.

I almost broke down a few weeks ago at a bar… Fortunately, there wasn’t anyone around with cigarettes to bum from and I didn’t feel like paying $5 to a vending machine for the 1-3 cigarettes I would smoke from the pack… or, rather, I knew I would smoke the rest of the pack for the next week because otherwise you feel like you’re wasting it. I have tried that trick before — the old “this is the last pack” trick. Huh. Every pack is the “last pack”. Until you put your foot down and say NO.

I’m saying NO. I’m going to stick with it. Because now I’ve found new inspiration. Every time I contemplate having a cigarette, I need to imagine myself trying to crunch up a hill on my bike (say, Quick Road) with my chest feeling heavy and a wheeze emanating from my air ways. Wheezes are horrible — a noise that says, “I cant give you anymore air, Captain.” I will always have wheezing at some point due to the asthma. It’s never quite so bad, though, when I havent been smoking.

The next test is Europe where cigarettes are sold in vending machines on every corner. My trip to Italy starts next week. You can smoke right in front of the gate in the airport in Europe. I dont think Europeans will ever take up an anti-anything campaign. That’s why liberals like me love Europe — they dont try to dictate to their populous how they should run their lives. However, for a smoker, it’s awefully tempting to buy cigarettes when there is no “non-smoking” section in the restaurant. And you can buy cigarettes from a vending machine outside your hotel.

Of course, it’s up to you to change your ways. No one can do it for you. Our society should not be designed to protect people from their own weaknesses. If you are an alcoholic, it’s up to you to not buy a drink at a bar (or even go into a bar). If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s up to you to not eat at McDonald’s or have that ho-ho. The presence of something is not what encourages you to do it; you have to have the willpower to stop yourself from doing something you know you shouldn’t do. It’s not other people’s responsibility to protect you from yourself. (Isnt this what they teach you in AA?)

I take responsibility for my errorous ways. I have chosen to ignore all warnings and smoke. Now I have to choose NOT to smoke. It’s going to be incrediably hard because I do enjoy it. But I enjoy physical activity a lot more — cycling, skiing, hiking. I’ve decided I need my lungs.

Most importantly, I do not want to encourage a life to end prematurely. I think of all the things my husband would have done if he were granted the years he was supposed to have. He died at the age of 32. He still had things left to do. I’m 32 now and I realize even more that it is far too young of an age to die. My husband would want me to live out as long as I can. I’m not a spiritual person; yet, it gives me comfort to think his essence is still out there somewhere, watching me (it’s hard to imagine an end to all that he was). I know that he would want to see me live the full, happy life he did not get a chance to live. He would not want me to waste it. Of everything I hold dear, my husband’s wishes for me are the most sacred. I would never want to disappoint him.

Kurt Vonnegut called cigarettes “a lazy man’s suicide” or something to that effect in a paper I read by him once. He was not a happy man. In this paper, I remember him describing it as a way of unconsciously trying to commmit suicide because we fear ending it more dramatically. He said that society’s innate problems made this the only way for us to cope.

(Side note: In a later paper, he said that he wanted to sue the cigarette companies because they promised him that cigarettes would kill him and he was in his eighties (at the time) and he was still alive.)

Sadly, I used to relate to this paper on some level. That feeling of wanting to give up because all else seemed lost. In those days, the rememberence of this paper made me feel justified in my method of coping.

But not anymore. I want to live. For every 30 people I see behaving like morons, the one or two I meet who aren’t inspire a hope within me that humanity is not sinking into a toilet. Maybe society is frakked up, maybe the world is a really messy place ridden with war and famon and screwed up politics. But I must remember that buried within us all is a passion for exploration, expansion, and compassion. We do want to better ourselves, but sometimes are too lazy or too scared to do so. I’m starting to believe in humanity again. I hope that’s enough to bring me back to life. And I want to live long enough to see it all out.

As I’ve learned, wanting to live is not enough to make you stay alive (I am sure my husband, who incidentally never smoked a cigarette in his life, very much wanted to live). However, wanting to live will make you avoid unhealthy behaviors. I want to limit the possibility of an early departure from life as much as possible. I can’t control the random (and that is sad, because I’d love to control everything ;), but I can control the things I know to assure a healthier life.

This is my matra, my vow. This is what I need to say to myself every time I think about having a cigarette. The little piece of me that still has hope needs to hang onto life with both hands, letting go of that little cancer stick.

By the way, here’s some interesting facts I learned from the radiation guy at work that should make you think twice about smoking if you do it (this actually prompted my quitting):

* Cigarettes contain radioactive polonium and lead.
* Smoking one pack of cigarettes is equivelent to the radiation dose received from one chest x-ray.
* Second hand cigarette smoke is the equivelant to 12 chest x-rays per year for a non-smoker who lives in a smoking household.

Think about THAT the next time you get an x-ray and the nurse hands you a lead apron and quickly leaves the room while the x-ray is running!

Anti-Rain Juju is Working!

I‘ve gotta hand it to the Akron Bicycle Club. They do some very nice rides. I did 14.8 miles tonight with the middle speed group who regularly meets on Wednesday nights at Revere High School. Some other friends have warned me the ride leader for the fast group rides wicked fast. Word on the street is that he rides at like 20mph on straight aways. To top it off, a rider I know is fast usually rides in that group. So I had to think to myself… Um… maybe I’ll stick with the middle group. Less mileage, but I wont be lost. But damn, you have to know how badly I wanted to risk getting lost to put on mileage. Especially since I felt like I had just warmed up at the end of 14 miles.

It’s not the mileage that counts but the intensity of the ride, I keep trying to tell myself. I guess I’m a mileage nazi. Part of me thinks that if I work hard, I could keep up with that group by the end of the summer… That little competitive part of me that always wants to be one of the best. Who doesn’t like being bettered.

This is a recreational club, I remind myself. You’re out there to have fun. To meet other riders who share your love. Relax.

Anyway, the sky was looking a little angry on my drive from work to Revere, and it seemed to be getting gloomier as we stood around waiting for more riders to arrive. I thought for sure we’d end up in rain as soon as we left the elevated safety of the high school. And, once again, I didn’t have my rain coat. I took the jibes from a few other riders who had a good chuckle about the fateful Two Rivers ride on Saturday (“You bring the rain,” someone remarked. Ha ha! It was accuweather’s fault, I contend!)

I did feel a few rain drops, I admit, hit my nose right after we coasted down a nice hill on Ira. But I said nothing and mentally denied it, which obviously always prevents things you dont want to happen from happening, right? =) Well, it worked!

It cleared up, though, and all was well. We chugged up some hills. I tried to gear down more than usual to try this new cadence thing everyone seems so hot on. They say it will make me crunch up the hills faster than my kamaze method of using the highest gear I can tolerate. Probably saves on muscle wear as well.

The computer on my hybrid had a cadence monitor. I used to set the display to show my cadence in big numbers and my speed in little numbers. I’d stare at the cadence while going up hills to help me focus on something other than the burning sensation in my legs. When I got my road bike, I asked the shop guys for a computer that read cadence and they didn’t have any in the wireless models. “Aw, you dont need that anyway,” they told me. “Why do you want to watch that?”

Huh. Um, cuz, I want to be like Lance? Duh! Because it’s a lot nicer to look at going up a hill than the piddly numbers displayed as your speed… (the speed will make you cry after you were running 16-17 on the last straight away before the hill…)

Well, I’ll never be like Lance. But I’ll still work on my cadence. It does seem a little nicer to go up a hill in a lower gear. But I just cant get the vision out of my head of Lance passing me with a smile on his face and a snide wave as he passes. I wonder if other riders compete with an imaginery Lance in their head…

I’m full of digressions tonight. I’m feeling pretty good, though. Very content. I also rode 24 miles yesterday in Norton with my friend Michael. I’m planning on doing the Thursday ABC ride tomorrow as well (if it doesn’t rain, but it won’t rain because I’ve got the good juju now). This will make 3 days in a row of riding. I don’t have plans Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. So, you can probably take a good guess at what I will be doing on at least two of those three days. I need to get into one of my 35 or 45 mile routes this weekend, since I’ve been being a little light on mileage lately. Another friend from ABC who lives in my area gave me a suggested 23 mile route I will need to try (with 14 bonus miles if I feel like committing suicide for a mile or two on Rt. 43 in Streetsboro). So… if you are driving around Streetsboro this weekend, don’t hit the hot chick on the red and black Giant OCR 1. If you see another chick on a red and black Giant OCR 1, don’t hit her either cuz that’s probably me! =)

The Theory of TPL

When I did the MS 150 ride in 2001 — the year my husband died — I had a lot of time on the road to think to myself. Especially since I was riding a mountain bike (those were my simple, slower days). During the ride, I was thinking about a lot of things, of course. My husband had only died 2 months earlier, and I was trying to put my life in context. (Little did I know, I still had a good load of grieving to deal with.) It’s on this ride that I invented the theory of TPL.

TPL is “Tolerant Pain Level.” You see, riding a bike in long distance rides, for me, has always been about finding that level of physical pain that just hurts enough to feel, but doesn’t overwhelm you. When the pain overwhelms you, you will give up. You can deal with overwhelming pain in little spirts — fast sprints to catch up with the crowd or to get back some speed you lost in a weak moment climbing a hill. But sustained for a long period of time, the pain will become too much and overwhelm you. So you have to find that level just on the edge, between being uncomfortable and outright suffering. You cant let yourself be too comfortable, or else you will never get anywhere. And you cant let yourself suffer too much, or you’ll wear out.

I learned this principle of suffering early on when I started climbing mountains with my husband. I may have learned it even earlier on in my life when hiking with my Uncle Mart in California (my Uncle Mart, affectionately nicknamed by me as “Uncle K-Mart”, was the one who introduced me to outdoor pursuits). Regardless, I’d done enough endurance sports by this point in my life that I had it figured out. I have always been good at budgeting my pain, conserving my energy, and keeping myself going at all costs. It’s my strength. It always has been.

I’ve joked with my friends that I excel at suffering, that it is my talent. If you know me, I’m not being overly melodramatic… just kind of ironic… Because it’s true… It is my talent. And it’s a good thing it is. It’s what got me through the roughest times in my life.

As I was riding the MS 150 that day, I started to realize that the principles of TPL could be applied to dealing with life’s rough spots… Anyone can coast the downhill parts — the rare moments of elation, the longer stretches of contentment. Those other parts, however — the struggling to keep yourself afloat financially, socially, mentally; all the hard work it takes to better yourself, to work towards a goal, make a small spot for yourself in the world; the loneliness and sadness of watching loved ones around you disappear and being unable to control it. Losing the only person in your life who really knew you almost better than you knew yourself, the one person who completed you. The emptiness. The struggle to rediscover yourself in the face of that tragedy. All of these are things that require you to take the loads of pain thrown at you and parse them into bits you can handle… to discover your own tolerant pain level and manage it. That is how I survived.

I am trying not to make this another young punk’s melodramatic “life sucks” blog. So bear with me a minute because there’s a happy ending here (which, if you know me, you would think must be a major breakthrough). Because, you see, I had an epiphany and it only fully hit me recently (prompting me to create this blog). For the last several years, I’ve tried everything I could to ease the pain of loss. Most of this involved a lot of running. I ran to Colorado, thinking a different location (albeit my dream location) would change my frame of mind. The problem was, that was our dream, not my dream. It could only have worked with the both of us. I had to make new dreams and find myself again. But all I knew how to do back then was run.

Not everything in life is a mistake, though. In Colorado, my passion for cycling was ignited. Because it was a bike-friendly state (and just about any outdoor sport-friendly state), I found myself becoming more and more involved with riding. I started riding three days a week to work (which was 20 miles each way). I did the Great West MS 150 (which I always say was like the Tour de France — straight through the mountains, several hours up slopes only to zip down them in 20 minutes at 40 miles per hour). I am proud to say that I did complete the entire first day’s 75 miles, and on a road hybrid (Trek 7500Fx). I only made 45 miles of the second day, as my legs were shot… But, the point is, throughout this entire tortorous venture, I gained a confidence in myself I didnt have before… and I discovered that I enjoyed the suffering of a strenuous ride. It gave me somewhere to focus all of the mental anguish, anger, and frustration I was feeling. While I was riding, I only felt the physical pain, for I had little thought to spare for the mental. By the end of the ride, all the endorphins running around in my brain prevented me from feeling anything other than pride for what I’d accomplished and joy over the relief from the physical pain.

Cycling still gives me focus. Whenever I am feeling all the highs and lows of life, and they are getting to me, I have the desire to ride. If I am anxious about something, I ride; if I am upset about something, I ride; if I am feeling inexplicable joy in appreciation of a beautiful summer’s day, I ride. The anxiety, the upset, the depression all get worked out on the ride (and I tend to ride harder on these days, pedaling until all I feel is the physical pain). The joy gets pushed to even higher levels when I ride. It is, as I said in my summary of the blog, my drug.

Years and years of trying to find the one sport I could do without looking awkward and I’ve finally found it. This is something I’m good at. And I’m good at it because I dont need to compete with anyone else but myself. The ride is all about celebrating life, feeling the emotional ups and downs with the very physical stress of driving my legs at a pace that is just between uncomfortable and suffering… matching my emotional TPL with my physical… working it all out in the ride.

As time passes when you’re riding, you can watch your TPL increase (and this happens yearly because you always have that winter haul of not riding). I’ve learned that I can take on more emotionally, too, when I’ve taken on a little more than I thought I could handle. I’m not saying widowhood is surmountable; it was the single most horrible thing to happen to me in my life. I am often sure I couldnt handle such a thing again (of course, as you read this, you’re probably saying, “Oh, Mars Girl, from what you’ve said, I think you can.” But it’s hard for me to imagine.) I’ve merely found a way to cope with what I feel now. Strangely, for the first time in years, I’m starting to feel alive again. And that’s saying a lot. I havent felt — really felt — in a long time. But my body is defrosting and I’m coming back into the summer light. I can smell the breeze, hear the birds, see the sun glinting through the trees. I can survive. It took me six years to get here.

Maybe I just have spring fever. I really feel like I’m coming out of a hibernation. I’m sure I’m still going to have those moments all my friends know so well… those times when I miss my husband still so much that it hurts… But who wouldnt? He was a wonderful man… and those who have touched our lives never leave us, really. They always own a piece of your heart that no one else can possess. I shouldnt be judged for this. It was a rough winter, but I’m working really hard… I’m managing my pain and finding a new strength in it through cycling.

TPL. It’s the secret to endurance.

Waterlogged on the Two Rivers Tour

On Saturday, I did the Two Rivers Tour in Columbus, Ohio with two friends from the Akron Bicycle Club. It was quite a water-logged adventure. When the tour started, it was cloudy and a little chilly. So we set off. Then, the rain came. But it kept coming and going, so we pressed on. By the halfway rest stop, it was pretty much raining continuously. I was freezing because I was in a hurry in the morning, and I couldn’t find my rain jacket.

“Well, it probably won’t rain,” I thought hopefully.

This is Ohio. This is spring. I should have known better. Especially since was reporting showers for that area. But I was optimistic. Maybe it was wrong?

Ugh. I should always rember to bring my rain jacket. Shame on me. While I was riding, I wasnt that cold. As soon as we stopped at the end of the ride, I started to shiver.

The rain during the ride was the worst I ever rode through, in fact. All I kept thinking in my head was the line from the movie _Four Weddings and a Funeral_ where at the end, the Carrie character is standing in the rain trying to woo back Hugh Grant. She says, “I’m all right. There comes a point when you’re so wet you cant get any wetter.”

That’s how I felt.

I also got the song, “Dont Fear the Reaper” stuck in my head because of the one line that goes:

Seasons don’t fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun, or the rain (we can be like they are)

Funny, the things that go on in your head when you’re trying to forget the suffering.

We did complete the ride, which was supposed to be 40 miles, but turned out to be 48 instead (registered rides always do that.)

I included a picture of myself and my “team” – Michael and Bruce. The picture was taken at the start of the ride. Before we knew the hell that lay ahead.

Oh well. As they always say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Right?

I hope this adventure loaded me up on my ride rain karma for the year. After that rain, I shouldnt have to get caught in the rain while riding for the rest of the year… Right?

Huh. Somehow I think not.

In my next entry, I will begin including my total ride mileage for the year. I dont know what it is yet (I need to go look at the computer on my bike and do the math from what the number was at the start of April.)

Until then, remember: Two wheels propelled by your legs is more environmentally friendly than gas-driven vehicles! And much better for your health, too!