A pox on all you road cyclist haters

It seems I’ve been encountering a rising tension between cyclists and non-cyclists, most of which is directed at the cyclists from the non-cyclists, and, also, surprisingly, another subset of cyclists who call themselves “recreational” (suggesting that my type of riding is not recreational, which is totally wrong and I’ll defend that in a moment). Last night on a ride by myself, I once again was verbally assaulted by a motorist on the other side of the road–as in, not the side of the road I was riding on–who chose to shout, “I hate you!” A few weeks ago, another motorist–again, on the other side of the street–shouted, “BITCH!” at me. A friend of mine from Peninsula also reported that she was deluged by this uncomplimentary language while riding through Stow.

My frustration with this building tension reached its pinnacle yesterday on the way back from lunch where a coworker, who brags that he rides a traditional single gear bike with coaster brakes, decided to rant about how dangerous people on these “new, twenty-something geared” bicycles are and suggested that we–“non-recreational cyclists,” as he called us–don’t understand the point of cycling, which, in his terms, was to get from place to place and to view the scenery. In his opinion, no one needs to be going faster than 10mph and if we can’t get up a hill on our own leg power, we should dismount as he does and push the bike like a civilized human being.

Realizing that he was simply a crotchety man and I couldn’t change his mind about why I believe my fancy road bike is the best thing since sliced bread, I let the conversation drop while fuming inwardly. Where did all this unbridled hate come from? Why did he chose to unleash it on me after sitting quietly during lunch while my bosses were asking me about my bike riding this summer? Isn’t that like deliberately perturbing someone with your political views when you know the person you’re talking to has completely opposing views? And why such open hatred?

Amongst his many bitter statements against road cyclists, my coworker claimed that he is getting tired of being passed at “dangerous” speeds by unthoughtful road cyclists. I politely explained to him that passing riders should shout a warning of “On your left!” well before coming up on him and if they weren’t doing so, they were indeed being rude and dangerous. I’m always frustrated by the laziness on the part of my fellow cyclists who do not respectfully warn other cyclists and pedestrians that they are passing and I’m equally as frustrated by cyclists who do not obey the traffic rules and those who ride two-by-two instead of single file when a car is clearly trying to get around them. I don’t think these cyclists understand that this behavior is only increasing the division between cyclists and non-cyclists, causing, in the end, a heated (and potentially dangerous) anger from the non-cyclists.

In columns I read following the death of William Crowley, the cyclist who was killed this year on TOSRV, I was aghast by the comments from locals who claimed that Crowley deserved to die because road cyclists don’t obey the vehicle laws. The commenters to those articles got into endless debates about whose fault Crowley’s death was (the motorist or his own) and continued to miss the point of the tragedy of the death. How could anyone suggest that one person should be the martyr for all the cyclists who have done wrong on the roads? Even more to the point, what motorist can claim that they obey every law, every day, all the time? And, lastly, even if Crowley was in the wrong, does he necessarily deserve to die for his error? No one deserves to die! Sometimes it happens by accident–through your own fault or others–and it sucks. But it surely isn’t deserved by anyone.

I’m just stunned every time I come across more evidence of hate towards road cyclists. I think a lot of people are just in such a state of hurried pace, they just can’t stand slowing down for a little bit to pass a cyclist or two. Like it or not, we do belong on the roads. Sidewalks are narrow, bumpy, and designed for pedestrians. If we took to the sidewalks, the next people to hate us would be the pedestrians, surely.

As for the cyclists riding trail bikes and hybrids who hate us “serious looking” cyclists, please remember that we’re all on the same team here. Maybe you’re in it for a different reason. For me, the point of riding is to test my endurance, to push myself to my limits, to experience the thrills of making it up a very difficult hill. It’s my form of exercise. Perhaps cycling, at your pace, is your form of exercise too (it is exercise to even ride any bike at all). We’re just talking about two different levels of difficulty here–I like more of a challenge as well as the ability to alter my routes as the mood inspires me (because, believe me, I would get bored looking at the same scenery every day).

One form of riding is not better than the other and I would be insulted if you dared to believe that I thought that way. I started as a trail cyclist. When I got to the point where I could ride certain distances in less time, and I got tired of the trails, I took my trail bike on the road. Then, I started finding I wanted to do greater and greater distances. I bought a hybrid and spent my entire time in Colorado riding that hybrid on the streets as though I were a road cyclist. It wasn’t until I moved back to Ohio and tried to ride with the Akron Bicycle Club (getting dropped multiple times), that I decided it was time for me to upgrade to a lighter, faster bike. So I bought my Giant and the rest is history…

I am the kind of person who needs to be challenged regularly or I get bored with something. I have not gotten bored with road cycling because there are always steeper hills and longer routes and faster speeds to attain. I like to hear the sound of my own panting as I push myself to break new personal records. I enjoy pushing myself to that point right on the edge of my endurance, right before I’m outright suffering, because it feels so good to realize that I can do these things I’d never imagined before I tried them. I’ll never be a racer because the only person I want to compete with is myself (and maybe a few friends in a sporty way). To me, it’s not the destination that is so important but how I got there and, importantly, that I did make it.

To claim that I don’t appreciate the beauty of a day as I’m racing past is blatantly an elitist assumption. It’s like someone who walks all the time claiming that someone who runs is not appreciating the surroundings. We’re doing it in our own ways for our own purposes. If we were not doing it for the feeling of sun on our backs, then we would just do our exercise within the four walls of the indoors. Doesn’t a beautiful day fill you with energy? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt gloomy on a summer day only to walk outside and become invigorated with a passion to run (and I hate running!). Exercise outdoors connects us with nature.

I have taken bike trips through Germany and Italy. Each summer, I take various trips to registered rides across my own state, and sometime I’d like to do a registered ride in another state. If I were riding merely to satisfy some impulse for speed and superiority, wouldn’t I be happy simply riding around in the same general area? Cycling is the best way to see the world. You’re not zipping by in a car (also a trapped environment with four walls) or barely getting anywhere in a walk–you’re meeting the world half way and seeing it at a speed at which you can enjoy it. I’m not one of those cyclists who push from start to finish with no breaks, either (though, there’s nothing wrong with these cyclists–they have their own motives and I respect their desires to these motives). If I encounter some scenery that moves me, I’m always more than willing to jump off my bike and observe it, perhaps take a picture.

I think of anyone who gets on any bike you pedal as my kin in spirit. Truly. When you decide to ride a bike, you’re choosing to take a more environmentally friendly mode of travel to actively take part in the glorious outdoors. No matter what kind of cycling you’re doing, you’re partaking in a healthy activity that can only have positive effects on your life. For me personally, cycling has literally saved my life:

Cycling helped me finally quit smoking for good, thus decreasing my changes of getting lung cancer or emphysema as well as improving my lung capacity and my asthma-associated breathing problems.

The activity of cycling made me feel again in the seemingly unending stages of grief I’d been dwelling in for over six years. It gave me something to strive for, something to achieve. Through diligence and determination, I pushed myself to a new level of cycling that made me feel so much better about myself and life. The physical pain of it continues to be a focus into which I can push all my inner anxieties and fears and sadness–I praise the pain because at least I can feel it when others I have loved no longer can. The pain reminds me of what it is to be alive and I welcome it openly. I know that sounds really masochistic, but I think that every person who is into an endurance sport such as cycling carries with them a little masochist.

The endorphins produced by the activity of cycling have managed better than any psychiatric drug I’ve ever taken the bouts with depression I’ve always been prone to. I still get depressed from time to time (just did in the last few days, in fact). But I would get depressed on the psychiatric drugs, too–a little depression is normal in anyone’s life. The fact is, when I keep up a regular exercise routine, I’m more stable and mentally sound than I am when I don’t. You can get this from any form of exercise, I’ve simply chosen cycling as my way to combat it. I firmly believe that you just have to find a form of exercise you love, and then you’ll be able to stick to a regiment with it. (Outdoor activity is unfortunately hard to maintain in Ohio winters.)

Maybe I’ve gone a little off the topic here, but I just wanted to explain how vitally important cycling is to me in an attempt to defend my right to ride around the roads in my funky Lycra shorts. I’m not doing it to piss off motorists or make slower cyclists seethe; cycling is my healthy passion! I know that those among us who are angry about cyclists on the road or cyclists going fast will continue to hate us regardless of what I say. The hatred these days is running deep. But if you were expecting your angered shouts to drive me off the road, you were wrong. I’m not leaving.

I suspect with the rising gas prices, more and more people might be taking to bikes for short commutes across their home cities and I welcome this! Maybe the presence of more bicycles on the roads will force cities to build bike lanes and more bike routes. I hate to always bring up Colorado, but Denver and Boulder had a huge bicycling community. I’d never lived anywhere with such an extensive system of bike routes and lanes. Downtown Denver, in fact, had this bike path straddling the river that reminded me of a car highway in that there were marked exits off the path to the streets. I miss that kind of attention to bicycle traffic.

Colorado wasn’t nirvana, however. Despite the wonderful bicycling community, the state had its fair share of angry motorists. I suppose you’re always going to have those. My snap retort to this sort of behavior is, and always has, been, “If you’d get off your lazy ass and ride a bike, you wouldn’t be so pissed off!”

I’ve had one abiding dream since becoming a cyclist: I’d love to build a city in which you couldn’t travel by car. I imagine that you would have a big parking lot surrounding the city’s parameters so that outsiders could visit, but they would have to leave their cars at the border. Maybe there would be little bike stands with those “free bikes” a lot of progressive cities have these days where you can borrow a bike to take somewhere, and then you can just leave it so that someone else can borrow it another day. Oh, what a paradise my dream city would be!

Until that day, I guess I have to learn to live with the impatience of angry motorists. Hopefully, I don’t get killed in the process.

Apology for abandonment

Hey, all… Sorry that I’ve not updated this blog in awhile. It’s not that I’ve not been drinking wine; I simply have not been drinking new ones to rave about yet. I know, I know–I should get in the habit of categorizing and describing all the wines that I drink. I do have a few bottles–a Merlot and a Zinfandel–that I acquired from a winery in Lodi, CA when I visited in May. As soon as I open these bottles, a review will be written. (I did drink them at the winery, but did not have tasting notes with which to describe their aroma and flavor, and since it’s been a few months, I simply remember liking them.)

I did revisit Emerine Estates to try their Deja Vu, which I did find very good. A write-up is due as soon as I open that bottle I brought home. It’s easier for me to take conscientious note of the wines when I am at home and by my computer.

Right now I have two bottles of wine open: a Chalet Debonne Merlot and a Emerine Estates Caramel Apple. The Caramel Apple is borders on being too sweet for me, but I did open it for a party I had last weekend because I knew my friends would enjoy it (probably more than me). The Debonne Merlot is okay–Ohio is not the best producer of good Merlots–and I knew it was going to be this way, but I got the bottle for free from a bicycle tour in the Ohio wine country that I rode last year. Though, I have to say that by Ohio standards, it’s a drinkable Merlot–not too desperately dry in that “dead” way that I often attribute to Merlot from the northeast states. It’s fine, but not something I’d go out of my way to buy. No, Debonne does a much, much better pinot noirsyrah blend that I love. They also have a great Chamborcin.

Anyway… not much detail there, I know. Maybe later when I’m near a wine bottle. Tonight it’s back to the Winery at Wolf Creek for an picnic dinner and drink (inspired by the description of my friend Diane’s recent birthday visit there with her husband).

Absolutely Rain-Slogged Country Ride

I guess that in mid-summer, I kind of lose patience for rainy wet rides. I suppose it’s foolish to assume that because it’s summer, the weather for riding will always be clear skies and sun. This summer, we’ve had our fair share of rain–too much, in fact. Oh, the flowers in my new gardens in the yard are loving it. I, however, am not. It seems like every registered ride I’ve done this year (excepting the Marietta River Rendezvous) has started with the threat of rain, which eventually became rain, and I’m just frankly getting tired of it. Can I please just have a nice not-too-hot sunny day for one of these rides I’ve paid for? I’m starting to long for the draughts of August, if that’s even going to happen this year!

Well, it was with this cranky attitude that I started yesterday’s Absolutely Beautiful Country ride, which my own bike club holds (and for which I also shirked offering volunteer time so that I could selfishly ride it–don’t worry, Bob, I do feel bad about that!). My God, it was the Sunday morning of TOSRV all over again. As I got up to dress, I stomped around, grumbling to myself about how much I hate Ohio (I love to blame all my woes on Ohio and its weather). On the drive to the ride, I was silent, despite Michael’s efforts to talk to me. I think he’s seen this attitude already several times before–first on some training rides for TOSRV we took in less than ideal weather in April and then later on the second day of TOSRV itself. I feel bad when I get in these cranky moods. How can I claim to enjoy the measured suffering of endurance when I face it so unwillingly? I betray my own ideals!

I guess there’s one element I really cant stand and that is rain. I just hate being wet. I’d rather be cold and riding directly into the wind for hours than be drenched by rain. It makes me uncontrolably irritated. Especially when my feet get wet–once that happens, I’m just completely miserable. So I suppose we could say that rain is my breaking point, my Achilles’ heel.

Michael and I had spent the last two days comtemplating riding the century route on ABC. Back when I was planning registered rides to attend at the start of the season, I had made a deal with myself to do one century a month. I figured this was good enough, as centuries are truly the only length of ride anymore that truly causes me to suffer because they teeter onto the edge of a ridiculous number of miles for a human being to do in a day (unless you’re a professional cyclist). Anymore, 62-75 miles is a nice day to me–good exercise, but nothing that makes me immobile for the rest of the evening.

Anyway, when Michael and I decided to ride ABC, I told him that I was only planning to do the 62-mile route because we had decided to the century route on Annie Oakley (next weekend) since that ride’s century goes into Indiana and we thought it would be thrilling to ride into another state. So my intention was the 62 mile route, to just relax and enjoy myself.

About a week ago, however, some of Michael’s friends started to plant the seed that he should ride the century route. One friend who shall remain nameless, I’d like to point out, was not riding this route, but running SAG along it, and I’ve never seen this nameless friend on a ride longer than 40 miles. So, of course, Michael started to feel the lure of the challenge. I understand this lure–I’ve heard this call to the Dark Side myself.

I started to think that maybe I wouldn’t mind doing the century either. I never totally committed to it, mind you. I told Michael that we would have to see how we felt that day.

You can guess how that turned out. Feeling absolutely and abominably ornery about the less than ideal weather conditions yesterday, I was in no mood to complete a century. But Michael still had that gleam in his eye. When asked what ride he was doing, he said he hadn’t decided yet. I pretty much knew right then that he was going to commit to the century and that I was basically going to have to decide whether or not to follow him in the spirit of togetherness. I contemplated this reality for the first thirty miles that led to the split off in the 62 and 100 mile routes.

During this time in the ride, we suffered an outright downpour. Several miles of rain falling steadily upon us, bleeding through my rain coat and my shoe covers. The sky was a dark foreboding gray. It was dark enough that I almost wished I’d brought my headlight not just so that I could be spotted by oncoming traffic, but also to make the world around me just a little brighter.

At the heaviest point of this downpour, Michael actually started laughing. Meanwhile, I seethed with baseless anger at the elements that was quietly smoldered by the rain falling on my head. My boyfriend has gone mad, I thought. He seemed energized by the miserableness of the moment, while I just became more and more deflated.

The rain did let up but became a constant sprinkle that followed us all the way to the route split-off. In my state of depression, I superstitiously decided that if I turned onto the century route, it would start to rain hard again. Michael said that he was feeling good and was going to do the century. We went our separate ways, but not without leaving me with a feeling of regret for completely wussing out. Of course, I was going to get ribbed later (and more to come) by the die-hards in of our group. Oh well. The price one pays for being “lazy”!

As it turns out, the weather did clear up sometime after the lunch stop at 52 miles. Reminding me of how the same had happened on the Hancock Horizontal Hundred last year, I again felt a little guilty about not going on the century route. (Can anyone feel less secure about a decision ever than me??) My legs were feeling a little burn and I wasn’t feeling up to my normal energy levels. Maybe I’d been up too late the night before or maybe I was still feeling the depression of Saturday when I spent the entire day in my house waiting for the cable guy who never showed up which had somehow turned my thoughts inward into a sullen reflection of the things I’m stressing about with my life right now. Either way, I was really kind of relieved by the end of the ride that I’d done the 62 mile route. It was still a good day’s work.

After I returned from the route, I hung around the ABC registration tent area talking to some people. I then decided to go ride the second century split-off that occurred at the very end of the 62 route route to give the century riders an additional 8-9 miles they were missing at the return to the starting point (Highland Middle School, by the way). The clouds had given away to a downright sunny day and I was feeling a little better after the rest. I figured I might see Michael on the route and be able to ride the last bit with him. That didn’t happen–I was probably too soon to start–but I did manage to tack on 73 miles, which, of course, made me ride back up the last stretch of the century route to gain two more miles for 75 (I actually ended with 76).

Michael arrived about a half hour after I’d finished adding miles. We then packed up and headed to the little shop in Sharon Center for which we had the free tickets for ice cream as part of our ride package. I had butter pecan, which I hadn’t had in years. It was great. I probably just erased all the goodness of my 75 miles (not to mention the hamburgers Michael and I later ate for dinner). Oh well. I think I need to give up on this whole idea that I’m ever going to be 130 lbs again and just submit to the 150 lbs I have. Goodbye forever to the size 10 jeans I wore for the very brief period of time in which I lived in Colorado and was oh so perfect in weight. I like to eat too much and I’m really tired of starving myself the way I used to. Skipped breakfasts and light lunches don’t work for me anymore.

I must say that the ABC route–the part that I saw–was really great. We went to some places so close to home in which I’d never ridden, including a nice little valley outside of Doylestown that even in the rain looked lovely in its isolated loneliness. Michael says the century route provided some even nicer sites of Wayne County. I’m thinking that a ride using some of these roads is definitely in order for some weekend where we aren’t on a registered ride (and could thus wait for nicer weather). Hopefully, we can finally get some summer weather again where it rains maybe just once a week instead of four times!

Lingering anger: the betrayals I still can’t forgive

My mom says I’m an intensely loyal person and that I unrealistically expect this loyalty out of other people. I have always questioned why expecting loyalty from someone who claims to love you–either as a friend or in a romantic way–is so unrealistic. Does love not mean that you would run the world over to help someone you care about? Does love not mean you would risk your life to save someone else’s? Isn’t “love” an implied sacrifice–a giving of yourself to someone else you’ve learned to trust and, at the same time, taking a part of them in your hands? Or do we humans, often superficial and self-serving, merely profess love to one another absently, not really meaning it, or using it to gain access to something else we need?

When I tell someone I love them, I mean it. Maybe when I was a teenager, I tossed the word around superficially. As an adult, I’ve reserve the word like a fine wine, bringing it forth only when the truth of it resonates in my mind so clearly that I can deny it no longer. I have prided myself on knowing the difference between a quick, sudden feeling of a passing moment and the true, sincere longevity of actually loving someone. I have never said it out of obligation or fear. Therefore, when someone tells me they love me, I (mistakenly?) expect that it holds the same significance to them as it does me.

The behavior of my in-laws following my husband’s death taught me all too well the consequences of mistaking the true intent behind a profession of love. I get sick to my stomach every time I think of how I (naively) trusted those people, how I believed them when they said I was a part of their family. The truth is, they only loved me through Mike; when Mike was removed, our tenuous connection to each other was dissolved. My membership in their (dysfunctional) family was only valid while Mike as alive. I was never one of them and they made sure I knew that. This is part of the reason I decided in 2004–after I returned to Ohio shrouded in failure–to take back my family name. I no longer wanted an association to them on any level. Their last name burns bitterly on my tongue. The only example of goodness in that family came in the form of my husband. And, truthfully, I don’t know what motivated his stability and level-headed strength. He knew how to forgive; he forgave his family for harms they did to him as a child.

No matter how hard I try, words they said to me still reverberate in the darkest secluded canyons of my mind, the part of me from whence all my self-criticism comes when I’m weak. The words don’t harass me on a daily basis, but they are always there. And I can’t shake them or forget my anger over them. And it’s not only their words, but the actions that accompanied. Perhaps I didn’t always make a decision that was right by everyone. I admit that sometimes I may have not handled all situations in the best possible way; however, anyone who truly did love me would have shown forgiveness and heart and understanding. Anyone who loved Mike would have had more patience. We were all grieving. There was no reason for us to act like animals and hurt each other. I wonder if, somewhere in the afterlife, Mike is sorely disappointed in all of us. I fear the heat of his judgment on me as well. Maybe I didn’t do right by him as I thought I did.

I cut my ties with Mike’s family five years ago. In a confusing time when I needed the support and caring of a family, my in-laws took advantage of me, abused my confidence, ridiculed my decisions, and then tossed me by the wayside. In my insecure moments, I wonder if Mike would hate me for my decisions, or if he would feel extreme disappointment at his family’s behavior towards the woman he loved. I would hope that in heaven he has gained a new insight, devoid of all judgement of things that happen on Earth, and that he has forgiven all of us in ways that I can’t even find to forgive. I hope that someday in my own time on Earth, I can find it in my heart to let go and forgive.

But today, here and now, I’m too wounded. I have no desire to tell them I’m sorry for what I’ve done wrong, nor do I have the strength to forgive them their trespasses against me. There’s too many emotions. We’re injured, his family and me. We lost someone we loved deeply and we couldn’t act civilized with each other.

I struggle to not let the deplorable behavior of his family affect my relationship with others. I think it will be very difficult for me to ever allow a spouse’s family into my heart. I will always have an inherent mistrust of them, a fear of abandonment, a cynicism towards every promise they make. It’s the last thread of grief that still hangs onto me. I feel I entered into my relationship with Mike’s family with the unguarded trust of a naive child. I believed in the romantic idea that two families could merge into one and that the union would be lovely. I went into everything with my heart exposed and my arms open. I didn’t think love could hurt. I didn’t think people who professed love for me could mean it half-heartedly or with conditions. I didn’t know they would hold me in judgment for mistakes I made. Mike never did.

Maybe my biggest problem is not my expectation of unrealistic loyalty, but the ease at which I am willing to entrust someone with my heart. I am susceptible to charity. I want to help people. I want to believe the best out of everyone, ignoring their faults. I’m too eager to please. My tough skin of cynicism shields the intensely sensitive soul beneath. I become hurt because I too easily allow myself to trust.

Because I’ve been “betrayed” too often, I have the urge to shield myself in thicker coats of cynicism. I’m constantly overwhelmed by the contradicting instincts to both give myself to others and hide myself. How does someone surmount the anger of betrayal? How does someone forgive others who have caused you enduring harm? And, lastly, should I forgive them? Does having this anger protect me from further emotional harm?

I pray every day that Mike has forgiven me. I even pray that he forgives his family in all the ways that I cannot. Part of me believes that it is unholy to live in this state where I can’t allow myself to forgive people who have wronged me. It’s righteous to fight those animal instincts inside of us. To build a cohesive and civilized society, we must work hard every day to fight those baser instincts that drive us to cruel acts. Sometimes, though, it’s so hard to ignore the animal inside of us. I can’t help but feel that if I don’t let go of this pain and anger, I’m no better than the religious factions in the Middle East who continue to wage war against each other. I know that to end a bloody battle, someone has to lay down their arms and forget the wrongs of yesterday. But that’s so hard. And, today, I don’t have the strength to surrender.

Hot searches

Road Runner’s webmail login screen always has this list in the sidebar of what it claims are the “hot searches” of the day. I’ve been finding these very amusing. Today, I’m particularly baffled:

1. Ivan Lattimore
2. Julie Donaldson
3. Tony Stewart
4. Laura Wattenberg
5. VCU Parking
6. Stub Hub
7. Candace Houlihan
8. Roubini
9. Alicia Marie
10. Lively Google

And I thought I was pretty news-savy! Who are these people and these things? Should I be looking them up? I guess I’m just not in the know! What’s going on that everyone’s searching Stub Hub? Is there some epic concert or event that I should be throwing money down to attend? Lively Google?!!

What the frak?!

The build-a-bear experience

Not many people are aware of the fact that I can, in fact, sew. I don’t do it very often, for I don’t have the time, patience, or passion normally. I have several clothing patterns selected for clothes I’d love to make myself, but I still haven’t gotten around to it. Once, I tried to make my ex-boyfriend a kilt, but we broke up before I finished it. I did start and complete two huge (like 2 feet long) pillow dog stuffed animals for my godson and his brother several years ago. That was a great project–the kids slept with those things for a long time. But I never really got that ambitious again.

With all these baby showers on the horizon, I’ve intended over and over again to make these small stuffed animals for which I have a pattern. I’ve always had a soft spot for stuffed animals; I still have a teddy bear my Grandma H gave my mom at the baby shower when she was pregnant with me. I still sleep with that teddy bear, occasionally, when I’m lonely. Even if I don’t sleep with it, it’s usually by my bedside, on the nightstand or in my bed. I’ve taken it on trips with me so that I wouldn’t get homesick. I know it sounds stupid for a 33 year old woman to find comfort in a tattered old teddy bear from her youth, but I can’t help it–I really do find comfort in that old thing. It has a music box that plays a lullaby. Whenever I’m feel especially down, there’s something comforting in that tune rolling from the tummy of my teddy bear. It reminds me of being a kid, of feeling lonely and confused, and finding solace in something as simple as a lifeless stuffed animal bear. To me, though, the teddy bear is not lifeless–he has a soul of his own that speaks in a language only I can hear. It’s going to be all right, Mars Girl, he says, Do not fear.

For this reason, it always seems to me that I have this urge to give new babies a teddy bear protector. I can never find the right stuffed animal in stores. There’s no stuffed animal quite like my teddy bear. None of them feel right when I hug them. I have wanted to sew my own for these future children, but, again, I just don’t have the time to sit around sewing. Plus, I am still a novice and I need my mom’s help to start these projects. We’re both busy.

So yesterday, I did the next best thing: I went to the Build-A-Bear Workshop. There’s one at the Summit Mall, and I’ve always wanted to walk into one. Mostly, I’ve wanted to make a bear for myself. There’s so many beautiful options–all different kinds of animals and clothing and sounds to add to it. I’ve had to restrain myself from going in. You don’t need any more stuffed animals, I try to tell myself.

Well, now with two baby showers this weekend, I had the perfect excuse. I went in and carefully selected the bears I wanted to give Arianna (my friend Debbie’s daughter-to-be) and Grayson (my cousin Angy’s son-to-be). For Grayson, I tried to selected this beautiful fuzzy black bear because it looked like a “boy’s bear” to me. For Arianna, I selected a less fuzzy, but soft and matted brown bear. It just seemed right.

Before stuffing the bears, the Build-A-Bear specialist has you select a heart for the bear from a basket of sewn fabric hearts. She then proceeds to lead you through this ritual in which you rub the heart on various areas of your body to give the bear certain attributes, such as your tummy so the bear never goes hungry. The ritual ends with closing your eyes and making a wish on the heart, and then kissing the heart to seal the creation with love. I wished for happiness and long life–something every kid needs and something I always wish on people anyway.

The heart is then placed inside the bear. You then step on the lever to initiate the stuffing from the big “stuffing blowing” machine and the Build-A-Bear specialist fluffs the bear out in all the right places to make a lovable, hugable bear. I was really touched by the gesture of the heart inside the bear–what a sweet touch and something I would never have thought of doing for my own homemade stuffed animals.

I also had a music box that plays a lullaby (not the same one as my teddy bear plays) put inside of the bears. I don’t think these music boxes are as sturdy as the one in my teddy bear. I think the one in mine is one of those real ones that have the rolling metal tubes with the music indented on them that, when hit by a little metal tab, plays the tune. There’s a knob on the back of my teddy bear that you have to wind so that the music plays. The ones used in the bears I made were electronic–you simply press a button on them. I don’t expect the music box to last 33 years, as mine has, which is actually the only thing I’m disappointed about in this experience. I’m not sure if “real” music boxes are still anywhere anymore.

After the bear is stuffed and sewn shut, you can select clothes for the bear. I just selected simple “It’s a Boy!” and “It’s a Girl!” t-shirts. Kids lose the clothing anyway. My teddy bear came with a bow that I lost decades ago and replaced with a red bandanna sometime during the teenage years because the bear’s neck had an awkward indentation from years of having the bow.

The real pressure in this experience came with the birth certificates that you get to create for the bears. I hadn’t realized that I would have to come up with a name for the bears and the pressure–as a writer who feels names are very significant–was crushing. So, without much thought, I used the names that came to me first (perhaps it was the bears themselves telling me what their names were, like the characters to my stories often do)–Joey for Grayson’s bear and Lila for Arianna’s bear. In retrospect, I realized that I should have given each kid’s middle name for the name of their respective bears–Martin and Marjorie–but I suppose the names I gave them will work out just fine. The kids will probably rename them anyway. Though, I could have used a prompt for my bear–he never had a name, I just called him Teddy my whole life. Most of the time, I just refer to him as “my teddy bear.” And he’s always seemed to me a boy bear.

The last step to this entire process, for me, was to hug each of the bears when I got them home. I couldn’t resist as I looked at them. They were exactly the right fit–soft, plushy, and filled with enough stuffing to make them “feel” right when you held them. Finally, I’d found a stuffed animal that suited my high standards for lovability to a child.

I know it’s kind of a commercial cop-out for me to have used Build-A-Bear instead of my own homemade stuffed animals. Still, I think the fact that I personally picked out the stuffed animal and placed a little heart that I kissed within them gives me “it’s the thought that counts” points. After all, the real reason I’m giving the gift is because my bear has given me years of happiness. I don’t expect these kids to hang onto their bears as long. Maybe it won’t even be their favorite toy. But, hey, if they get even a little pleasure out of the bear for a little while in their lives, then the gift has served its purpose. I have no delusions of grandeur here–Aunt Mars Girl is not the one to bring a child The Gift that is out-loved by all others. I just thought that I could connect with my friends by giving them something that is symbolic of my own warmer feelings of childhood. It’s more thoughtful than buying something off the registry, which I absolutely hate doing for friends. I want to give them something more meaningful than the items they specifically asked for. Call me an old crank, but I just think the spirit of gift-giving–in any situation–is finding that one thing the person needs or desires without ever having to ask for it. The Gift of the Magi has always been one of my favorite stories as it symbolizes a true understanding between two people and their desire to give their loved one the best gift, even if it means sacrificing something important to them. I usually don’t go that far in my gift-giving efforts, but I still strive to provide something special.

I got an $8 off coupon for Build-A-Bear in August with my purchase yesterday. I’ve got my eye on this limited edition purple bear they have there (I want to call her Vivian for some reason). I think I want to go back and make another bear for myself. Not, of course, to replace my beloved Teddy. No, maybe it’s time to give Teddy a friend. My stuffed animal harbor seal, Sandy, which I got at Sea Lion’s Cove in Oregon when my husband I were there on vacation in 2000, sits on my living room couch watching TV. So he’s not much company at all.

Yeah, I know. I’m very silly. But, you know, at this age, if you can hang onto anything that reminds you of your youth, you should go for it. Like I said, I still have a soft spot for stuffed animals. I don’t have a ton of them, but the ones I do keep around are special to me. The good thing about stuffed animals is they never die.

MS 150 2008: A lesson in wind and disappointment

Mars Girl, donned in the new ABC attire, at starting line on first day.

It’s been a week since my fateful ride on the Northwest Ohio’s MS 150 aka Bike to the Bay, and I’m still a little ticked about the experience. I suppose I should accept the fact that of the 6 or so years I’ve been doing this ride, this was the worst weather we’ve had, and, even still, it wasn’t that bad comparatively to some of the other slogs I’ve ridden in. In fact, it was actually pretty pleasant for an on/off rainy with mean-looking-angry skies sort of weekend. What pisses me off about the experience, however, is the fact that on Saturday, the ride organizers closed the ride around 2pm due to the threat of thunderstorms that never came. They apparently came in Toledo, but they never happened to the east. We simply got a hard downpour for about fifteen minutes which transitioned into a slow drizzle and eventually broke with sunny skies and a beautiful evening. Which is why I’m so blasted angry about the ride organizer’s bad decision to close the ride down.

I was at the rest stop in Gibsonburg–the first rest stop past the lunch stop–with 64 miles and a kick-ass average of 16.7, which is not an average I have ever maintained by myself under any circumstance. Only on the tandem have I managed, with the help of Michael’s powerful legs, to achieve anything in the range of 16mph. There must have been a mighty tailwind in some of the directions that Saturday because there were roads on which I maintained an easy 20-21mph for several miles and I wasn’t pace-lining with anyone. Tailwind or not, I was on fire, feeling great and just pushing myself. I was sure to complete the 100 miles I’d signed up for.

Well, while in Gibsonburg, the rest stop coordinators started telling people they couldn’t leave. Mind you, it had been sunny when I left the lunch stop about forty-five minutes earlier and that had no given away to clouds, but I was in no way alarmed until I started listening to the mumblings of the volunteers.

Along Portage River outside of Pemberville (lunch stop) first day.

“Storms are coming! Storms are coming!” they chicken-littled all over the place. Which, of course, made me a bit nervous. I don’t like getting caught in thunderstorms and I’m deathly afraid of lightening (yes, still convinced ole Zeus has it out for me). Now, the skies weren’t really looking that threatening. And as I stood there looking forlornly at the road and some riders who were blowing this rest stop, I contemplated just getting up and leaving. The only thing keeping me back was the fear that I would be out in the middle of that vast Northwest Ohio flat countryside with no place to duck should a storm actually come up. Back home when I’m planning a ride in somewhat iffy conditions, I usually plot a route that I know has lots of possibilities for shelter if I need to seek some quickly. I can wait out a storm no problem–I’ve done it on several occasions, especially in my bike commuting days in Colorado. Thunderstorms usually don’t last that long and once they pass, you can trudge off in the rain if you have to and finish your ride out. I’m not saying it’s fun, but you do it because you have to. The extra bonus of toughing it out in unfavorable conditions makes you realize how strong and capable you are of dealing with discomfort to achieve a goal.

I was a wuss. I stayed an hour at that rest stop, as requested, behaving like a rule abiding good citizen. After that time, the overweight house-frau running the stop informed everyone that they would be bussing us all to Port Clinton (the overnight ending point). (Okay, I admit it was mean calling this woman an “house frau” but she acted like the kind of mother who wouldn’t let Johnny play in the snow without fifty layers of clothes and a chain to his ankle so that he didn’t wander far from the house–you know, the type of overprotective mother who worries about every sniffle and every possibility of something bad that can happen to her child by him simply walking out the door.)

I was livid. That is to say, I was so upset, tears were coming out of my eyes (slowly, not in a rush of panicked girly crying). Which I realize, in retrospect, is a bit over-reactive. But I think it shows just how passionately I feel about not completing a goal I set out to accomplish, especially since I was in such an “on” moment where I felt all the energy of the world and was sure I would have completed the 100 miles without much pain.

So we got onto the bus, and they drove us back, and all along the route people were still riding. And, of course, I was cursing myself for giving in so easily. We passed three weather zones in the forty miles to Port Clinton–driving rain to breaks of sun to drizzle and unpleasant skies. Yet, no lightening broke the sky. My mind berated myself with the single thought, I could have done this. It’s better weather than TOSRV. And it was. The day had started humid and I’d been dripping with sweat before I even started the ride. It seems to me a cold rain would have cooled me off some, despite the discomfort of being wet. Besides, I’d brought my rain coat and shoe covers, I’d have been fine.

We arrived in Port Clinton to a break of clouds. As I erected my tent, still fuming with disappointment and anger, the sun came out full blast and dried the world around me. A few of my century route comrades passed my tent, all smiles, informing me that they’d chosen to pass up all rest stops once they’d figured out that the ride organizers were calling riders off the road. They’d pushed through to the finish and completed the ride. My heart was broken.

After I had my tent up and I showered, I began to feel a little better. Over my spaghetti dinner, I chatted with some people from the Toledo Area Bicyclists (TAB) club and tried to calm my frustration down. I decided I would go Put-in-Bay and hang out for awhile on the free JetExpress pass provided with the ride. I ended up going to Heineman’s winery and having a few glasses of wine. I then spent the rest of my time at a margarita bar by the docks. My legs did feel a little stiff, so I consoled myself with the fact that I did at least get some workout from what I did complete of the ride. I tried not to let the sunny heat mock my failure.

The famous Perry’s Monument on Put-in-Bay.
It has occurred to me that it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to the top.

Of course, the next day, I was bound and determined to complete the century. The day before, at the last rest stop along the century route, I’d received my century patch. I felt like I had to earn this patch now.

As I was donning my bicycle gear in the tent, however, it started to rain. I groaned audibly. Starting in the rain was never fun. Packing my tent in the rain was even less fun. Fortunately (or unfortunately), it only seemed to rain long enough for me to pack my tent up and drag all of my things to the truck for transport. By the time I returned outside after breakfast, the rain had passed and the sun was again peeking through the clouds.

The first thing I noticed as I began my ride was that there as an awfully nasty wind coming from the west–the direction in which we were headed. It started out tolerable, but as the day wore on, it just seemed to get worse and worse. There were points at which I was pedaling away at a mere 11mph. Very depressing. I had no one with whom to draft off. I’d tried a few pacelines on Saturday, but realized I just couldn’t maintain the speeds these flatlanders were far more used to than me. The one time I’d taken my turn in the lead, I fear I greatly disappointed the crew with my slow pace and struggle with the wind. So, on Sunday, I turned down all invitations I received to join passing pacelines (I seem to get invited all the time into pacelines and have my suspicions it has something to do with being one of the rare female cyclists).

Hauntings of Davis Besse in the distance over fields of gold.
A horse munches on grass in the distance (left). Mars Girl prays for the day
when we find safer ways to bring electricity into our homes.

The ride wasn’t all horrible, though. There were some very lovely points that stand out in my head–riding along an old quiet road next to railroad tracks and watching as a train came up on me, passed, and moved along the tracks to curve out in front of me before the road I was on turned abruptly in the opposite direction. This was also a point where you could see the cooling tower for Port Clinton’s Davis Besse nuclear power plant. I, of course, took a picture. There was something eerie about seeing that cooling tower looming in the distance over fields of golden wheat. (Note: I also took a picture of the cooling tower for a nuclear power plant on the Marietta River Rendezvous–I have a sick fascination with the topic of nuclear power… bombs… etc.)

Train crossing in front of road (second day along century route).

Another scenic area was at the beginning of the ride when I crossed a road long some swamp land. We have an area like it along Old Mill Road in the Tinker’s Creek State Park. On the first day, I rode along the banks of the Portage River before the lunch stop in Pemberville. The river looked a little muddy and high, as did all of the rivers and streams I passed along the ride. Some farmer’s fields seemed to be a little flooded at some ends too where the last rows of corn were being drowned. It’s certainly been a soggy summer so far. I hope it breaks.

I completely killed my legs on this second day of windy riding. For once, I realized how nice it is to actually ride with other people who go my own pace. I guess since I’ve started riding with other people regularly, I’ve longed for the old days of riding with myself when I didn’t have to slow down or speed up to keep pace with someone. I was hoping this weekend would give me a chance to let it all out, just push myself to my limits on my own terms. I accomplished this, but at the expense of pushing myself really hard against some difficult wind.

I really wished I had Michael with me for both the company (yes!) and the possibility of taking turns dealing head-on with the wind. I needed some relief that only a paceline can provide. Personally, I prefer a small paceline of a few friends I can trust. I’m not into those groups of twenty bikes all crunched together. When you’re in a group such as this, you only can look at the back of else’s tire because you’re trying very hard to ensure you don’t bump into them. You can’t relax as much and you certainly don’t get to enjoy the scenery any (not that Toledo has astounding scenery, but looking at my surroundings is part of the aesthetic experience of riding that I enjoy, not just pushing myself at high speeds to the finish line). If I’m with friends who ride my pace, and it’s just a couple of us, I can still divide my attention. Michael and I ride at a very similar pace so drafting with him doesn’t demand killing myself to stay at his wheel, and vise versa. Plus, Michael and I have a similar agenda as far as riding goes–we’re both in it for the total enjoyment of the experience, not just completion of the ride.

Anyway, I suppose I’m admitting that it would have been nice to have a friend with me (especially Michael). Instead, I totally wasted my muscles on an unconquerable battle with the wind. Towards the end of the ride, I met up with a guy I’d met the day before–a newbie to riding who had never before completed any ride over 22 miles and then went on to do both days’ centuries. We pulled each other back in for the last 20 miles of the ride, which worked out nice as by then my legs were shot.

Unfortunately, the century on the second day only seemed to be 91 miles. And I’m not even sure it was that, for as I sat at the last stop light before the finish line in Maumee, I noticed that my computer was still ticking off fractions of a mile and I wasn’t riding. Folks, do NOT by those wireless computers. I’ve had the most trouble ever with this thing. If you go under powerlines that buzz or something with a lot of apparent magnetic power, weird things happen, such as the speedometer reading 67mph when you know you can’t possibly be going that speed. It happened to me on TOSRV, too, though I didn’t notice when it happened, only found out later when I checked my max speed reading for the ride to find an unrealistic speed of 72mph. I’m about to go down to the bike shop and go back to the good old fashioned computer with wires…

Anyway, it only seemed to happen that one time and it gave me perhaps an extra quarter of a mile that I didn’t really ride (but was standing still at a light). So, regardless of how you look at it, the second day’s century was at least ten miles short of 100. Normally, I would have tried to get that ten miles, riding around the city or something, but my legs were just too sore at that point. I know, I’m a big disappointment. Probably had Michael been there, I would have found myself circling Maumee streets despite the pain (and I probably would have also completed the first day’s century because Michael wouldn’t have let the threat of thunderstorms stop him from completing something if there were no thunderstorms currently in sight). But, alone, I just simply wussed out, making my bitter disappointment complete.

It wasn’t all that bad, though, I suppose. I did ride both days and I guess I can say that I got some good miles in… I still did a proper MS 150 with 150 miles logged. And I did manage to raise about $815, even if I decided to be less aggressive this year with my bugging people about donating. So I might still hold the status of Golden Spoke for another year (Golden Spokes on this ride get to wear a number with a gold background and the number represents their position in order of donation amount). And I at least get to select a prize from the $500 level of fundraising prizes, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much. It is a charity ride, after all, and the point of it is to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and the assistance of people living with MS in the community. My grandpa would still be proud. He was invalid with his MS and couldn’t ride a bike two miles if he wanted to. I need to keep my focus on the more important aspects of this ride. Also, the weather on my previous rides has been consistently great, so I guess we were due for a crummy set of days. I suppose there’s always next year….

A wind-beaten Mars Girl at the end of the second day. (Yes, I’m wearing the same shorts… seems I forgot to pack a second pair… so, yes, gross, two days in the same shorts. Be glad you weren’t with me afterall…)

NOTE: All of these photographs were taken with my cell phone camera, which has 2 megapixels.

Fourth of July Festivity: Cycling of Course!

I’m leading a ride with my bike club and I just plotted this awesome 63 mile ride loop ride from Stow to Hiram/Garrettsville. I’m a little nervous about leading the ride because I’ve had some backlash in the past from some curmudgeons in the group who have given me scoldings for how I’ve handled rides in the past. I was dismayed to learn that Subway–our club’s old standby for food when in Garrettsville–was closed. Turns out, though, McD’s and Dairy Queen, and two other restaurants that are sit-down style, are open. Since I can’t personally vouch for the quality of these restaurants, I’m immediately on the offensive that someone is going to bitch that I didn’t plan well.

The thing is, I don’t plan my rides around food. Sure, after a ride, I need to eat. And, yeah, I might binge a little on something bad for me (though I’m trying to stop that), but the purpose of a ride for me is not to go to a restaurant, as it seems to be for 90% of my club. I just want to ride. I can eat something to fill my stomach at lunch so that I can continue, but I personally couldn’t care what it is, so places like McD’s or Dairy Queen are fine with me. Actually, I could easily do 63 miles on a few power bars and water. It just frustrates me that the restaurant I choose for my riders to patronize is almost more important than the ride itself as far as club rides go.

I’m worrying like crazy about this ride. Probably needlessly. But maybe not. The grouchy contingent is sure to complain about something I do wrong. On the first ride I ever led, one of the riders complained that I didn’t include an actual map on the queue sheet. Geesh. So now I capture a screen shot of the route and add it to my queue sheets. But it doesn’t matter. Someone always finds something wrong with the ride.

On my ride in October, I had a few complaints about the busy roads I chose. It’s really hard to route anything around here that doesn’t cross a busy road. This time, I tried to make a route that uses as mostly country roads and I confirmed with a Portage County resident who regularly rides these roads that they provide safe passage. I made a few adjustments based on his recommendations. A few parts of my route, however, require passage along state routes–ie, 303 outside Shalersville, 82 in Aurora. I tried to keep these visits to busier streets to a minimum. I don’t think we’re on any of them for longer than a half mile. I hope no one complains! Personally, though, I don’t think these roads are that bad in the areas I have people using them.

Originally, this ride was just going to be me, Michael, and a few select friends we personally invited. As Michael points out, if I’m stressing, it’s my fault because I decided to make it a club ride. My friends would have forgiven me for any mistakes in judgement as far as the route was concerned, and they wouldn’t be as picky about the food selections. So Michael’s observation is right–this stress is my fault for opening the ride to the entire club.

Anyway, I really hope it goes okay… I’ve included the route map below.

I hope no one minds McD’s, Dairy Queen, Cal’s Restaurant and Express, or The Brick. I have never eaten at The Brick or Cal’s. If we decide to patronize one of these “fine” establishments (all of the restaurants and pubs in Garrettsville always look a little suspect to me for some reason), I hope no one gets salmonella.

I am going to spend this evening berating myself for my stupidity of not first choosing a great restaurant, and then building a ride around it to please the masses…

At least I have a fun weekend planned. After the ride, I’m going to relax at my aunt Sue’s house in Amherst. She’s having a 50th birthday party (I hope she doesn’t mind that I just advertised her age to all of cyberspace). I hope to catch the fireworks in Lorain. I’m going to a parade in Wooster on Saturday morning, and then possibly to Emerine Estates winery in the evening. My church’s service is titled “Challenging Apathy” and I’m hoping I make it in on Sunday to hear it, especially since that might be the only Sunday I make it into church this month… (and I will owe them my pledge, which they keep reminding everyone needs to be kept up during the busy and dwindling attendance months of summer).

I hope all you, my readers, have a great holiday weekend doing whatever it you do to celebrate America’s birthday! Hope you see lots of–as I always called them as a kid–“firecookies!”

Fourth of July Ride
Find more Bike Rides in Stow, Ohio

Blame Time Warner Cable

Hey, all… I know you are anxiously awaiting a blog entry about this weekend’s ride on the MS 150 in Toledo. However, my internet at home is totally down. My wonderful ISP, Time Warner Cable, has informed me that the earliest they can get a service person out is July-frakkin-10th!! To top it off, I have become bombarded (finally, thank God, the heavens, and whichever saint is in charge of one’s work life) with stuff to do. So my usual method of procrastinating in my day job is not going to work right now. I’ll try to post an entry ASAP. Maybe I’ll be caught up with work by the end of the week…

You don’t realize how much you depend on something until its little modem lights stop flashing that you are connected. I probably should have threatened the bastards with getting a DSL line through my local phone company, but I’m just not that good at being an a-hole customer. It makes me feel bad about myself. So, generally, I am a consumer who gets screwed often. (I also found out that my boss at work, also a TW customer, is only paying $15/month while I’m paying $40/mo. WTF?)