Slumps Happen

Well, folks, it’s happened: the Mars Girl has been in a slump. As you’ve probably deduced from my slowly climbing mileage counter, I’ve been off my game. Over the last two weeks, I only rode one week night. I went to Pelee Island (an island in Lake Erie) on July 21 where I bummed around on the beach and visited the winery for two days. Using my bike as transportation, I did manage to ride a total of 40 miles during that weekend, but they were pretty easy miles and broken up by multiple stops to gawk at the scenery (or sit on the beach or drink wine, as explained earlier). My cycling prowess was not helped by the fact that the last Harry Potter book was just released. I still haven’t made it through the whole book due to an over-committed social life, but I’m making my way through it. I’m on a media blackout so that I don’t unintentionally learn of spoilers before I’ve finished reading it. It’s been a hard task.

As for my cycling, I swear I’m headed out of my slump. I have to get back into the swing of things so that I can attack the Roscoe Ramble with gusto. This ride is supposed to be hilly; or, as we cyclists say, “challenging.” If I was smart, I would have done Eddy’s Sweet Corn Challenge yesterday for practice. I attended a wedding on Saturday, though, so I was not really prepared to wake up for a 7 am ride of climbing hills, if you know what I mean *wink, wink* *nudge, nudge*

So it’s hopefully back to 100 mile weeks for me. As long as the weather holds out. We just went through one of Ohio’s prolonged “rainy patterns” — weeks of drought relieved by two weeks of on and off rain. Ohio is bi-polar. You never get anything in between — it’s all about the extremes. Rain or drought. No snow at all or blizzard. It makes me bi-polar — I love Ohio or I hate it. Crazy place.

So how about those Indians? We traded a player for an old fart who bats well. I hope it works out for us. We sure could use a few other pitchers so that on the days we don’t have Sabbathia starting, we don’t get womped. I was at the 14-9 game against Boston last week and nearly cried. I thought, “Gee, I missed ABC’s monthly picnic for this torture?”

Oh well. I had a night out with the father. We bonded. We plotted. We drank some beer. I guess you can’t complain about that.

It’s in the Blood

A young Mars Girl poses with bike at her grandparents’ house.

Every time I was at my grandma and grandpa Emhoff’s house, I would make my grandpa pull out one of the bikes he had in his garage so that I could ride it. He had a few — they were the bikes my dad, uncle, and/or aunts used to ride when they were kids. I loved these old rickety bikes. They felt so different from mine, they rode different. I’d ride them up and down the sidewalk in front of their house and sometimes (without my grandparents knowing) I’d explore around the block as well. I had to do it quickly so that my grandma wouldn’t loose track of me. I had a few tiny routes that I rode whenever there was a party going on and my parents weren’t paying attention either. I still see that neighborhood in my head, but it’s probably changed. I haven’t been by there since my grandparents passed away.

I’ve seen remakes of these retro bikes around and in bike shops. I’ve always been tempted to buy one. They bring a warm feeling to my heart, like the urge I get to hug a stuffed animal whenever I see one. It’s like reclaiming a piece of my childhood, the innocent and playful little girl that still resides inside of me. I’m dying to feel the skid of coaster brakes on pavement. I forgot what that feels like. And the simplicity of riding without gears, of just going as fast as your legs can pedal. Mind you, I probably wouldn’t ride far (I’ve been spoiled by several years of riding with gears). It would be fun, regardless. It would be nice to just have the bike sitting there in my garage to admire. The curviness of the frame was elegant and pretty. They don’t make them like they used to (and probably for good reason).

I wish I’d been a little more cognizant of my love of those old bikes. I wonder if they were still in the garage when my dad cleaned it out after Grandma E’s death in 2001. Had I known, I would have taken the red one (shown above) and refurbished it. These old bikes are the only type of antiques I would like to own. I wouldn’t just admire them, though; I’d take them out for a spin around my block every once in awhile. Like the old days.

MCBC’s Ice Cream Odyssey by Tandem

Team Purple: Michael and I Pose w/ Tandem

On Saturday, I did my first long tandem ride with my friend, Michael. He has a tandem and I’ve gone out on it with him for a few short rides. At first, the tandem rides were a bit frightening for me. As the stoker (in the back), you give up some of the control and independence you are used to on a regular bicycle — you don’t change the gears, you don’t use the brakes, and you can’t really see what is ahead of you. As I am someone who values control (and struggles for it more ways than just bicycling in my life in general), you can understand why submitting some of my control to trust someone else is a huge commitment of energy and, as I already stated, a bit scary. However, there are some benefits to having an extra set of legs to pedal along, despite the extra weight of the heavier bike: speed, my favorite attribute, being one of them. It’s also kind of fun when you get over the scariness of it.

I never bow down from a challenge. In the back of my mind, I’ve been kind of tempted to do a longer rider for the last month since I first rode the tandem. So when Michael mentioned a desire to do the Medina County Bicycle Club’s Ice Cream Odyssey, I dropped the suggestion that maybe I would be willing to try it on the tandem.

It turned out to be a good decision. Saturday was a beautiful day for riding — not too hot, but a little on the windy side. Somehow the wind seemed a little less disruptive on the tandem. This, however, is coming from the perspective of the person in the back, though… Michael might not quite agree. The route itself, through Medina and Wayne counties, was rolling and challenging at times. I’m told that this is actually the sort of route a tandem excels on.

We, of course, elected to do the longest route — a metric century (62 miles) that actually turned out to be 65 miles. Our completion time was a little over 4 hours with a 15.7 (!!) average speed. If there hadn’t been so much wind, perhaps we could have hit the 16 mark (which I think we did once on a shorter 20 mile ride last month).

The ride started and ended at Buckeye Woods Park in Medina. The first five miles follow a bike path that I never knew existed along a marsh — very nice. From there, we rode into Chippewa-on-the-Lake, which I’d never seen before and didn’t realize was actually a respectable sized lake — also very nice.

The first rest stop was at Hartzler’s Family Dairy & Ice Cream in Wooster. This is the Ice Cream Odyssey, after all! I enjoyed a flavor called “Heiffer Trails” — as described on their placard, “Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Reese’s PB Cup, chocolate chips, and peanut butter swirl.” Yum! Michael enjoyed “Ditch Tea Delight” — mint ice cream with pieces of Oreo cookies. This would have been one of my choices, as my favorite ice cream is and always will be mint chocolate chip, but I decided to go with something different (I had mint chocolate chip the last two times I have had ice cream this summer. Gotta change it up every once in

After our 9:30am ice cream (some people complained about this — it’s never too early in the morning to eat ice cream, in my books!), we continued to ride through West Salem, Burbank, and Westfield Center. The most harrowing part of the ride was the drop into valley. I nearly peed my pants as we spend to a 40 mph drop along a twisty, windy road. I held the handlebars tightly and silently repeated to myself, “Michael knows what he’s doing. He’s familiar with the tandem. It will be all right.” I tried not to think about those random events that can occur, causing you to flip, such as dogs running out into the middle of the road. Or deer.

Hmm… You really need to have faith in your driver when on a tandem. Some of my friends have asked why I haven’t taken the front position. At this point, I understand the responsibility of the person in front and I’m not yet sure I’m ready for that. The tandem has an extra disk brake that I do not have the feel for how to use (since I haven’t tried to ride in front) and, up until yesterday, I didn’t even know how exactly to work it. The weight of the responsibility for not only keeping myself up but also another rider is heavy. I’m also not the best at shifting gears. I’ve tossed myself on my own bike while taking on too high a gear up a hill, and then not having the ability to continue pedaling, and thus, falling over while clipped in. So if we look like the typical “guy-in-front-chick-in-back” tandem team, I am perfectly fine with that. On a tandem, both positions are just as important… Both riders need each other to make it work…

So I’ll stay in the back for now, where my main responsibility is signaling turns, warning the front person of the cars coming from behind, and, of course, pedaling my legs off. One of the nicest things about being in back and not having to watch the road so much is that while you’re pedaling in a stressful spot — say up a hill — you can just keep your eyes focused downwards, watching your legs turn the crank and the road spinning by below the chain. You can get yourself in a zone of pedaling since you don’t need to look out for impending danger. That’s how I got myself up the toughest hill of this ride. It was nice to not have to look ahead where you’re forced to see how far you are from the summit. Instead, I could focus 100% of my power on pushing the pedals and the bike forward. That was kind of nice. It was like being in spin class (which I’ve taken once or twice in the winter).

The ride concluded with a return to the bike trail along the marsh and back at Buckeye Park. The wind seemed to pick up majorly toward the end of the ride. While we enjoyed our wonderful BBQ dinner of hamburgers, the wind tried to whisk away all of our plasticwear, half empty cans of pop, napkins, and plates as they became less full. It was like trying to eat in one of those wind tunnels where I saw Trek testing bikes for Lance Armstrong on the Lance Chronicles.

It was a really nice ride. Kudos to Medina County Bike Club — it was a lot of fun and I definitely would do this ride again next year. I’m having such fun learning all these area rides… The ABC has really gotten me exposed to the bicycling community and all its rides. I’m having a blast. Unfortunately, not much work is getting done on my house this summer (to my neighbor’s chagrin, I am sure, as they watch all the plants in front of my house die… I am sure I am the neighbor who everyone hates because I fail to landscape anything in my yard).

I guess I should also add here that after the ride, I had to rush up to Brooklyn to meet up with my friend, Diane, for her birthday. Of course, I was running late, as I am ALWAYS running late (maybe because I try to jam-pack my day with too many activities). My lucky streak with traffic violations has ended: I was finally pulled over on I-71 and ticketed for going 83 mph in a 65 mph zone (I told you have a need for speed). The last five times I got pulled over for speeding, I was let go with a caution. I think this was mainly because I was pulled over by male cops. Not to overstate my looks or anything, but I suspect I may have been let go because I was female. Not that I should I think get special treatment for being female (and in most cases, I’d fight for equality)… but if it gets you out of a ticket, then, hey, I’m not complaining.

This time, though, I was pulled over by a rather stern chick. And I think she was mad because I didn’t immediately stop when she signaled me. So I own up to my mistakes. However, I was more than a little irked when I realized she also charged me with a seatbelt violation. I had taken it off before she got to the car so that I could root through my glove compartment for my registration. I am so dumb! I could kick myself. When she got there, I didn’t have my seatbelt on. All said and done, the Medina government just got a “donation” of $160 from me (and a donation it is — I know because I used to work for a company that installed court software into local, county, and state courts. I helped them set up their accounts receivables. I know where that money goes… usually into the salary of the Clerk of Courts. But that is a bitch fest for another day). Whoo-hoo. By the way, seatbelt violations are $83 in Medina. My traffic violation was $77. I guess I won’t be buying that Terry seat I wanted for my bike quite yet…

The weather’s smoldering; I’m sick; I rode anyway

The last two days have been HOT HOT HOT! in Northeast Ohio. When it gets to 90+ degrees with humidity, it sure is NOT pleasant. When I turn my air conditioning on (I hate having to close my house up), you know it’s hot.

Still… my philosophy has always been that so long as it isnt snowing, I won’t complain. Clevelanders have a problem with never being happy. All winter long, they bitch, “It’s too cold” and “Where’s the sun?” and “I hate driving in this crap.” On this point, I’m singing with the choir. I hate snow. Snow is only good for skiing in, and here in NE Ohio, there is no good skiing to be had, so it’s completely useless to me here. In Denver — yes, my Nirvana — it rarely snowed but it was always snowing in the mountains. That’s the way I like it — snow up there where I can choose to go to it, rather than live in it.

So I agree with the Clevelanders all winter. I freely bitch as I am an outdoorsy sort of gal and — let’s admit it, folks — Cleveland is no place to be if you like the outdoors in the winter. I can’t be like my mom and look out my window and say, “I like my seasons.” If I had my druthers, I’d rather it be 75 degrees all year. I’d love San Diego if it didn’t cost so much to live there. But I digress.

I get frustrated all summer as Clevelanders continue to complain, “It’s too hot!”

You can’t make a Clevelander happy. You will never hear me say that it’s too hot. There’s no such thing, in my books, as “too hot.” As long as it isn’t snowing and the sun is out, it’s not too hot. I can say this despite the fact that I’ve lived through a lot of hot. I’ve experienced 100 degrees in dry heat with no shade (Colorado) and I’ve experienced 80-90 degrees plus humidity with plenty of shade, and I’ve learned it all comes down to this: hot is hot. Stop whining and go outside. To me, cold is immobilizing. Heat, I can handle. In three months, the clouds will cover up the Cleveland skies and the snow will return. So I’ll take the heat and the sun in whatever form it appears, thank you. I’ve made a vow to only complain about one season and I’ve picked winter. I will find something to be thankful in the remaining seasons.

Anyway, so it’s been hot here. And I’m not complaining. In fact, I rode my bike despite the heat. In the evenings after work, it’s cooler, but you still sweat before you start pedaling. To top it off, I have a cold that has given me a horrible, rattling cough. But the sun called me to my bike. I’m trying to ride 100 miles a week. Illness, be damned. I’m riding.

Nope, not even a simple cold will keep me from riding. Last Friday, despite a sore throat, I rode 39 miles. I did my normal 35 mile route, but added 4 miles by riding a circle around my neighborhood to ensure that I hit 100 miles for the week (as I had done 62 on the 4th, remember). At points during that ride, I was just in a mindless grind.

Monday was a little tougher. The sore throat was gone, but was replaced by a lot of coughing, especially as I exerted myself. I didn’t feel very energetic about it, but I rode a 25 mile loop suggested to me by Tom Wilson from the ABC. In this ride, I discovered some farm country just practically in my backyard.

The city of Stow is pretty much like any other suburb, but you forget sometimes that it’s newly built up. It’s pushed up against Portage County which is less densely populated. The space between Stow Road and Route 43 is crossed with roads stretch into a pocket of farm land and newer houses for people who desire bigger plots of land. My favorite part is along the rolling Seasons Road, which hits 43 in Streetsburo right before the main 303 intersection. Before you reach the end of Seasons at 43, you find yourself in a completely different world. The first time I drove down this road, using an alternate route to get to work when there was a detour on Stow Road, I was awed by scenery that, for some reason or another, reminded me of Germany. With its hills, I knew this road would be fun to ride my bike on. It certainly was. But it is extremely bizarre when you come to the end of the road and, suddenly, you’re in the middle of a sprawling city (Streetsburo was once a nothing place in Portage County — now it’s one of the up and coming places for young people to move and buy their first house).

There are a lot of other secret roads in the same general area that are great for riding — all rolling and not highly traveled by cars. Alas, I don’t need to go down into the Cuyahoga Valley and back out to get a good workout. These roads are both pretty to ride along and sufficiently challenging (for sickos like me who enjoy riding up hills).

So I took my bike out on them again on Tuesday. This time, I made my own 25 mile circuit that went back along Seasons and used more back roads into Kent. I like to ride on Ravenna Road in Franklin Township by the Akron Watershed. I usually turn off at one of the roads that eventually hit Lake in Kent.

On Ravenna Road, someone on a non-road bike started tailing me and actually started to gain. I could see him in my rear view mirror. It irked me because I absolutely cannot stand it when a non-road bike passes me. It’s just not right. He was sprinting a lot, too, so I could tell he wanted to attempt to pass me.

Oh, no, I was not about to let that happen. Keep dreaming, determined one. I kicked up the gear and pushed harder to prevent this ego-crushing event from occurring. When I turned on my side road towards Kent, I was sure I’d loose him, but, to my disappointment, he turned as well. I thought he’d turn onto the Portage County bike path (for that is where bikes of his ilk belong). But no, he continued to follow me as I turned up Lake.

Now, Lake Road is a long upward incline. While I like hills, they are not my forte. I’m still working on cadence and efficient gearing to give myself the umph to kick butt on hills (for I’m in constant admiration of my friend Michael’s crushing ability to climb a hill as though it wasn’t even there). My non-road biker pal continued to tail me and again began to gain significantly. At the toughest point in the hill, in fact, I was sure he was going to reach me. In my head, I pictured him passing and laughing at me. He seemed pretty determined to crunch it up that hill and, I was determined, pass me. After all, it is a matter of pride on his part to pass a road cyclist.

But I was determined. Despite all my handicaps — a cold with a bad cough, lack of good hill climbing skills, and drowsiness from cold medicine — I continued to push. Oh, he was NOT going to pass me.

Right at the top of the hill, as I was slowing down for a traffic light, he got the closest to me. I could almost see the make of bike he was riding. I could see him just two cars behind. Fortunately, the light turned green and I pushed forward through Kent and turned left onto Route 43. I checked my rear view mirror. At last, he was no longer following me! I’d lost him. Thank goodness. I geared down and relaxed the rest of the way home.

The lesson here: I don’t like people tailing me on trail bikes or hybrids. I’m a road cycling snob with an obtusely swollen ego. I need to be stopped before my head inflates anymore.

Well, at least I got a good workout. Hopefully exercise aids a cold and doesn’t hinder it.

Patriotic Bike Ride – Vandalia Freedom Tour

While most people probably chose to vegitate by the BBQ to celebrate July 4th, I found it an opportunity to jump on my bike and ride! A day without work is a day spent sitting in the saddle.

This year, I chose to go attend the Vandalia Freedom Tour. I had seen it advertised in the Ohio Bicycling Events Calendar last year and I had wanted to do it, but hopes of having a Fourth of July BBQ with friends had prevented me from signing up. Since the BBQ fell through last year, I figured this year I wasn’t waiting around for any invitations — I was just going to sign up for this ride, try something out of my usual Northeast Ohio Territory. Fortunately, my friend, Michael, was also game for some Southwest Ohio action.

Vandalia, I learned, is located north of Dayton, an exit off of I-75. A nice suburban community from the looks of it. The tour is run by the Vandalia-Butler Optimists Club (follow the link to learn exactly what this is). The Freedom Tour offers two bicycle routes: 50K and 100K. Of course, we selected to do the 100K (a REAL metric century!). 50K is roughly 31 miles… I can do that in approximately 2 hours in a week night after work. No, no, I must challenge myself with a full 62.

The weather forecast the night before seemed a little shaky. The weather channel was predicting “scattered thunderstorms” in the afternoon. We decided that we should get up early in hopes that we could finish the ride before the storms came in. At our speed, we know that 62 miles should take approximately 4 hours. We decided to get up around 6am so that we could begin the ride around 7ish.

I preface this story with the note that my back tire had a flat that appeared after I rode to Vermillion with the ABC last Saturday. I had thought it was a slow leak, so I had refilled the innertube and rode 29 miles on Sunday through the Cuyahoga Valley. Monday morning my tire was completely flat. Because I was busy Monday, I was changing the tube on Tuesday evening. Besides the fact that I realized the tires that came with my Giant were crap and going to crappier, Michael pointed out a nick. I was a little nervous about whether this tube would hold. Michael, who owns an OCR 2, ominously warned me that after the first 1800 miles with his bike, he started getting several flats…

The next morning, I obsessively checked the tire to ensure that it wasn’t already going flat. I had checked the inside to ensure there wasnt a piece of something imbedded in the tire that might pop the innertube, but you never know. I just had one of those feelings.

The morning looked a little ominous as well, as we were greeted with a blanket of cloud cover. I changed the lenses in my glasses over to the ambers and hoped for the best. (The amber lenses always give me a sunny view of the world!)

The ride began at the Vandalia Sports Complex and rambled out of a residential neighborhood… Then, suddenly, we were in a parklike world of roads with a corridors of trees over them. Immediately, the ride went from flat to rolling and I was excited. I like a challenge and the last two rides I did — the MS 150 and ABC’s Vermillion ride — were in flat country. The route followed a river and went through some metroparks. Michael and I both were impressed by the beauty.

Four miles into the ride, right after coasting down a nice long hill that would have helped launch me part of the way up the next hill, I felt the back of my bike sway unsteadily. I looked down to discover my tire hanging off the wheel hub. CRAP. Immediately, I groaned. Was my entire 62 miles going to be filled with trying to pump up broken innertubes? Worst yet, was I going to have to quit? Why hadn’t I bought new tires yet?? I could kick myself.

So I hailed Michael and we stopped to change out the innertube. He’s faster at it, so he offered to change it for me. At first, he figured he would just patch the tube since I’d just paid $16 for two new backup innertubes and I was already going to blow through them if this trend continued. So he hurriedly tried to apply a patch to the hole and get it to work.

Meanwhile, I paced around, internally cursing myself and the passers-by who made comments such as, “Oh man, that sucks, already got a flat.” (Which, ironically, I had said myself 2 miles in to another rider who was at the road side changing a flat. Instant karma got me.)

That’s when I noticed the road sign for the crossroad we were standing in front of: Chapman. Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with my biking life, there is a certain man out there by the last name of Chapman who occasionally leads rides with the ABC, some of which I’ve been known to ride (see “Waterlogged Two Rivers Tour” from the May entries). Well, this Chapman chap happened to be leading an “officially sanctioned ABC ride” on the Fourth and he was somewhat miffed that not only was I riding on “some other” registered ride instead of his ride, but I had apparently also enticed away his friend Michael. At the June ABC picnic, we were hurling rain hexes at each other about our respective rides.

So… it was particularly funny that I got a flat four miles into the ride, right next to a road called Chapman. Talk about ears itching! I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t take the picture — Michael bent over my tire with the street sign reading “Chapman” in the background. It would have made for great laughs at the ABC. At the time, though, I was fuming about all the time I was losing from the ride while changing the tire… I felt the time crunch of impending rain and I wanted to ensure I finished this tour.

Well, once the flat was fixed (we ended up putting in a new innertube anyway), we continued on. Of course, I lived the rest of the ride in fear of another flat. It never happened, thankfully. But at every bump in the road that I went over, I nervously checked.

The route was very nice with some long slowly inclining climbs. Unfortunately, the brisk headwind from the south made travel to the south extremely challenging, especially since some of these roads also were slowly inclining uphill. Michael and I alternated drafting off each other and it helped a lot. I started to get the concept of using a paceline.

The ride provided ample rest stops. Michael and I blew past all but two of them. We almost stopped at the last one, but we were at mile 54 and figured we could just press on to the finish.

When we crossed the finish line, it was only 61 miles, so, like complete bike geeks, we rode a little further and doubled back to ensure we got the whole 62 to complete the “metric century.” Yeah, I’m really starting to get a little obsessed with this bad habit too. It’s all about the miles, after all, when you’re trying to complete 2,000 by the end of August.

Overall, the ride was great and very casual. I enjoyed it a lot and think I would go out of my way to do it again next year. According to the ride promoters, there were 600 riders this year, so it’s a moderately attended ride. Maybe I can get a few more ABCers to go with me next year, especially since it’s not all flat.

In the end, I did end up getting to enjoy a July 4th BBQ as well. So it was a day complete with traditional as well as “crazy cyclist” desires. Well, and as they always say in the ABC, “I bike to eat.” Unfortunately, I think I completely canceled out the health benefit of my ride with the eating that ensued after the ride, which also included a chocolate malt… I’m never going to loose weight from this pastime…

I Dream of White Picket Fences

Here’s a fact not many people know about me; in fact, it is something I try to deny about myself.
I want to be normal.

I want to live a “normal” life, the kind old ladies chitter-chatter about in their rocking chairs as they knit socks for their grandchildren. The kind of life filled with a completeness about which my grandmother, when she was still cognizant of the world, used to extoll. “I’ve had a great life,” she used to tell me. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

For a girl who has lived her whole life trying to stand out in the crowd — calling herself “Mars Girl” and claiming to be from Mars, tattooing her leg with outerspace motifs, never backing down on her “non-mainstream interests” — this is a shocking revelation. One I arrived at while riding my bike in a new housing development near Kent, where I almost bought a house. I didn’t buy a house there ultimately because it didn’t fit the life I currently lead. It seemed to be a place for families. Or at least for a newly married couple. I would have felt out of place.

When I was a teenager, I used to call all my peers conformists and praised myself for being “non-conformist.” It became such a matra, my father and brother used to mockingly say repeat it whenever I started the rant. Perhaps the non-conformist in me was a way of accepting the title that had already been placed upon me and embracing it. By grade school, I was already the “odd one.” My mom used to tell me that I was a leader… but no one followed. I was always that girl who had different interests than the rest of the crowd, and I refused to surrender my interests for ones that made me fit. Therefore, I was automatically the “non-conformist.”

But back in the day, I wanted to be in the in-crowd. I wanted to be a cheerleader and have boyfriends and get invited to all the cool parties. I wanted to have a huge list of girl friends from which to chose whenever I wanted to go out. Still, I didn’t want to like the “in” music or love the “in” movies or stop being an “A” student. I wanted to have the popularity and be appreciated for my interests.

I didn’t get any of that. But I held onto the dream that someday, somehow, everything would change for me. I told myself that someday I’d find my Prince Charming, have the perfect high-powered job, and everything would work out great. I’d attend the class reunion and shock everyone with my glamorous life. They’d really wish they’d been kinder to me when I was younger. The school nerd becomes the envy of everyone. I’ll be everyone has had this dream.

In college, I embraced the odd ball. I found that people finally DID appreciate me for who I was and what I was interested in. I fell into my own group of people and really let out the sides of me I kept safety hidden. I was continuously surprised by how much acceptance I received. I became “Mars Girl,” which was my way of explaining away some of my “oddities.” I’d tell people that I was from Mars (my favorite planet). This is why I may not be quite what you expect.

Those who got Mars Girl and weren’t put off by the weirdness of it became friends. I guess it was like a test. Those who couldn’t even play along with a cute nickname just weren’t even worthy of my time.

The brief period of my life in which I was married were probably the most normal years of my life. My husband and I constructed our own white picket fence dream. We wanted an A-frame house on the side of a mountain in Colorado, overlooking some majestic view. We would have three kids (we named two of them already: Sabine Patrice and Korbin Michael) and a few cats. We would ski all winter long. We’d spend our off-time hiking and camping, and teaching our kids to do the same. We would retire in the Virgin Islands and run snorkel boat tours.

Maybe it wouldn’t have all worked out exactly as we dreamed… but we laid out a plan together. It didn’t matter what really happened because whatever we did, we would do it together. We may have had some grandiose ideas, but ultimately, it was pretty normal. Love, a house, kids, pets, stability. It was a plan we would work together.

One of my ways to deal with the pain of my husband’s death was to tell myself, “Well, that’s okay, because now I’m going to live the life that no one married can.” I will travel. I will spend all my evenings out. I will move to Colorado and live a continuous adventure. I will become the envy of married people with kids because I have all the time in the world to do whatever I want. My time is mine now.

In other words, I became the best I could from the fate I was given.

Still… a part of me wants to do the things “normal” people do. I want to live in a house with the proverbial “white picket fence.” I want to go to block parties and know all my neighbors. Go for walks around the neighborhood with my husband in the evenings. Maybe even have kids. Yeah, kids. In another life, I might have done that.

It’s weird to realize that about myself. I thought I always wanted to be different. But different was really state that was thrust upon me — I learned to embrace it and enjoy it. I don’t regret that because that’s what you have to do in life: when things don’t go the way you plan, you have to work the plan that fell into your lap. You have to tell yourself to accept it and make the best of it. It’s all you can do. It’s what you have to do to survive.

No matter where my life takes me, I still hear my grandma’s voice in my head, cheerfully exclaiming, “I’ve had a great life.”

I always wanted to be just like her. I know that her life was by no means easy. She had eight kids and she had to make the money stretch. The family moved a lot because of my grandfather’s job. My mom has described to me life with seven other siblings. Christmas presents were small (and sometimes handmade). Privacy was sparse. And divided parental attention. It’s not quite the life I had, being raised with just one brother.

To make matters worse, my grandfather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 35. Now that I’m in my thirties, the reality of his diagnosis — the whole scary reality of it — hits me full force. My husband died when he was 32 (same age as I am now). These numbers mean something to me now. Too young, too much life ahead. Tragic.

My grandmother went back to school and became a teacher — a career which turned out to fill her life in ways I’m not even sure she imagined when she started her education to become to bread-winner for the family. It’s one of the only things she still remembers about herself through the haze of her dimensia.

“I was a teacher,” she will still say proudly. “I loved my job. There was something new every day.”

They should bottle up my grandmother’s spirit and sell it on the streets. If everyone had her attitude, no one would know of depression or pessimism. Even in her dimensia — even though she can’t even remember the names of her own grandchildren (me, included, which hurts so much, as we were very close) — she still inevitably says that her life was good.

I want to be like that.

I’ll tell you, over the last several years, it’s been hard. There have been many days when I couldn’t even press myself to say that life was “okay.” After six years, I’ve finally reached a point where I can say that life is good. Sometimes through gritted teeth. I try to tell myself while it may not be fantastic all the time, it’s better than the alternative. The end of everything. Nothing.

So as bad as it gets, I’m still here.

I attended a UU (Unitarian Universalist) church service yesterday. The speaker talked about appreciating each day and described an old man he knew who had said that if he opens his eyes in the morning, he thanks God that he made it to see another day. Similarly, my own dad is always the most cheerful in the morning. He explained why to me once, “Well, it’s a clean slate and I haven’t screwed anything up yet.”

In this spirit, I have this urge to place a sign over my headboard that reads, “Be thankful you’ve woken up to live a new day.” No matter how crappy and down-trodden I feel in the morning (and, not being a morning person, this describes how I feel most mornings), I should remind myself that I still have more chances to experience this beautiful planet, another day to ride my bike. My husband didn’t get that.

Still, I long to have what I don’t have. And maybe that’s the fatal flaw of humanity — we always want what we don’t or can’t have. I had it for a few seconds of my life, when it seemed the road of my life stretched out before me to the horizon and I could see everywhere it went or could go. Now, my roads are filled with curves and intersections and I rarely know where I’m going. Some of these roads may be headed away from the white picket fence, into the country and away from civilization. Maybe these are the roads I have to travel.

Some might say that the less direct route is always the most interesting. If I look at it that way, perhaps I can smile and appreciate it, like my grandmother would. Is it better to know exactly how to get somewhere, or stumble upon it by trying a bunch of scenic routes? It’s certainly more comforting to have the map… but sometimes it’s more fun to view the scenes that can only be found when you’re off the main route.

Still, I hope the ending destination leads to that white picket fence — my dream of completeness and love and family. Perhaps my lot in life is to travel always alone. I have wondered about that since the only two seconds of normalcy I had ended so abruptly. Maybe it’s just rotten luck. I try to tell myself that there is something I will learn as a solo traveler that I could not otherwise.

I’m still trying to work this plan. I tell myself daily that it doesn’t matter if I never find love again. I did love once, and loved intensely at that. Some people never even get to experience once what I did. I couldn’t be so fortunate as to have that twice in my life. I try to convince myself that I really could feel fulfilled with a life that finishes without the love of a spouse. If I could find some other way to fulfill myself — a great job, lots of cycling, seeing the world — then maybe I wouldn’t miss love.

Sometimes you just don’t get what you want in life. My husband’s death proves that.

Still, a girl can dream of white picket fences. Even if the best she ever gets is the house next door.