A younger Kerbe at Christmas

I remembered I had a few pictures of Kerbe from the Christmas of 1999–my first Christmas as a married woman with Mike. So I went through my photo albums to find them. I was surprised with how different Kerbe looked from the dog I was used to seeing over the last several years. As you can see, he’s very spry in these pictures… And, of course, he’s smiling.

Above, my brother Christian and Kerbe. Notice the subtle touch to the leg. You know, because he wouldn’t want to look too affectionate. (I’m teasing, Christian.)

My husband and Kerbe. I don’t think Mike was much of a dog person, but he did seem to like Kerbe. Kerbe sure liked him–look how he’s got himself inched up between Mike’s legs. That’s how Kerbe liked to sit next to “his people.” Most of the time, he ended up sitting on your feet.

My mom put the ribbons on his collar. Hey, if you can’t dress your pets in festive bows and ribbons (or hats, collars, clothes… etc…) every once in awhile, you have no sense of humor. Parents do it to kids, too. Personally, if I had tried this with my cats, the bows would already be torn to shreds and the tattered remains would have been scattered across the floor. And they don’t even have claws.

Anyway, I’ve been contemplating Kerbe’s life over the last couple of days… He was a good dog. He did live a full and happy life with the E’s. That’s more than any dog could ask for. My parents even paid for him to have knee surgery when his knees went bad early on. We treat our pets well. Too well, my dad always jokes. It’s a lucky pet who ends up with any of us.

NOTE: Kerbe’s nose changed colors seasonally. It seemed to go from pink in the winter to black in the summer. It was one of his remarkable features that we always pointed out. In addition to his “whirley butt,” “spotty tongue,” and “wiggle-waggle.” These are all adjectives my family and I understand to describe aspects of Kerbe.

RIP Kerbe the Dog

A picture of Kerbe taken about a year ago. He is smiling!

My parents had to put their dog, Kerbe (pronounced: Ker-bee), to sleep this weekend because he had become too old. He could barely stand for longer than a minute and he was unable to get up for himself to go to the bathroom. Says my dad, Kerbe could only get up one time in a hundred by himself; my parents had to lift him to his feet. My parents had taken really good care of him over the last few years despite all of his medical problems, but they finally realized it would be better to let him go than keep him around in this state. It was a hard decision because he still seemed to take some pleasure in life. He still waged his tail when he saw you and he had a voracious appetite. But he was in pain–he had arthritis in my legs and was on aspirin and steroids constantly for the past several years. He also would start barking at nothing and I pictured that were he an old man, he’d be shouting incoherent sentences any time anyone passed too close. I also don’t think he could see or hear quite well. He always jumped in surprise if you came from behind to pet him.

While not my childhood dog, Kerbe was a big part of my family life and I am saddened by the passing. Kerbe had been a member of our family since the summer I graduated from high school, 1993. I helped my parents pick him out. My dad and I had been on a mission that summer to get a new dog. We hadn’t had a family dog since we had to put our dog Bruno (who was really suffering horribly) to sleep when I was 16. Despite my dad’s original determination to never get a dog again, a few years later he found himself wanting one. I always wanted one.

We looked around at a lot of kennels and animal rescue organizations to find the perfect dog. We were originally looking at grown ones. My mom was resistant to the idea of getting another dog, stating that she liked being able to walk around her back yard without looking for “land mines.” However, we decided one day to take Mom with us on our search because we knew we could appeal to her love of animals. If she saw a dog she liked, she would not be able to resist taking it in. So we took her to the Humane Society in Cleveland where we found Kerbe.

Kerbe was just a little puppy, no bigger than you could hold in both hands. His mom, I think, had been hit by car leaving him an orphan. He was in a little cage with another puppy orphan, not his sibling because it was a black and orange colored puppy of another type. My mom took one look at Kerbe and she started cooing. Poor Kerbe was all scared and dispondant in his little cage.

Being a puppy, Kerbe was on a waiting list. The Human Society would wait until an appointed day, and then they would call, in order, each person on the list and if the person didn’t want the puppy anymore, or they could not come in when called, the next person on the list would get called. We were the fourth people on the list. Puppies are popular and everyone wants one. We were kind of sad because we thought we would not get him.

However, he was our lucky puppy. They called my dad on summer morning on a work day and my dad, being self employed, was able to leave his job site to pick up the dog. He had me and my mom meet him at the Rapid station on W. 150th to pass him off to us so that we could take him home. Afraid that he was going to pee on me doing the car ride home, I brought box to put him in. Kerbe was shivering and scared the whole way home. He looked like he thought the world was ending.

But it didn’t take long for Kerbe to find his place in our home. When he realized he had a nice cage-free life running around a backyard, he soon became king of household. I still remember my brother–the last hold out on wanting to accept a new pet in the yard–trying to ignore Kerbe while he kicked a soccer ball around the yard. Kerbe, the chipper little puppy that he was, kept jumping at my brother’s feet. He would make my brother love him and eventually my brother did. (My brother went on to become one of Kerbe’s most ardent trainers, making him a very obedient dog.)

Kerbe started out as an outdoor dog, like our Bruno was, but my mom–like a mother with a newborn–couldn’t stand his cries outside (and probably was fearful the neighbors would get annoyed) so she started taking him in. He was the first indoor dog in the E household.

For fun, we used to put him in boxes when he was a puppy to watch him try to climb out. He’d stand on his hind legs with his big paws against the side and his ears hanging over his face as he looked out at us. It was so cute. I think he have a picture of that somewhere.

Kerbe was a fun dog. He was very obedient and smart. You could leave a full plate of dinner sitting on a coffee table in the living room and he’d never touch it. My brother taught him to go to the corner of the living room whenever we were eating and there he would stay–looking at us with sad, dejected eyes–until we were done. (Yes, the E’s ate dinner in the living room in front of the TV…)

Kerbe was always glad to see us. Whenever we came home, he had to find something to put in his mouth to bring us when we walked through the door. I used to tease him by saying, “Mama’s home” when she was gone just to see him run crazily around the house, ripping up newspapers, and frantically trying to find something to put in his mouth to bring to her. (My dad used to tell me that was mean… okay, it probably was.) But whenever one of his people came home, Kerbe would greet us at the door with a gift–a chewed up nyla-bone or an old plastic liter pop bottle or bits of newspaper he’d freshly chewed. I think this was the Lab in him. He never chewed our shoes, though, or anything that I remember he wasn’t supposed to (maybe not the newspaper).

Even though I no longer lived with my family, he always seemed to recognize me. He seemed happier to see me than regular non-family guests. My mom used to say that he knew his sister. He never jumped on anyone or became overly imposing on guests. He was just a good, easy-going dog. He also liked to sit on your foot, as if he couldn’t get close enough to you.

Even in his old age and with all his ailments, he still tried to get up to greet me when I visited my parents. Sometimes I’d watch him struggling to get up and I’d just feel so bad. He was so spry and energetic in his youth. It stinks that pets don’t live as long as we do. They make us grieve over and over again. People like me, though, can’t resist getting more pets. In the short time they have on Earth, they give us so much warmth and companionship. I’d hate to live without that.

Kerbe was a good dog. I hope there’s a pet heaven and he’s running around in it, free from arthritis and pain. I hope he’s chasing my childhood cat, Crystal Mew, around. Maybe Tanya’s (my cat who died a few years ago, the one my husband adored) there too. In that pet heaven, there better be an endless supply of things to chew, for Kerbe was a master destroyer of dog bones and plastic liter bottles. (I had to buy him the size bones that you buy for a German Sheppard.) I will miss him–his spotty tongue and wiggle-waggley tail.

Life’s blind corners

When I was riding home from work on Tuesday, I chose to go down Columbia (shown above) over Snowville because there’s less traffic and it’s generally more scenic. However, Columbia does have a rather roaring pitch to the bottom, though it–unlike many of the roads in the valley–does not end abruptly at a stop sign. Technically, I could ride it at speed and enjoy the drop. However, the road twists a few times during the descent and I’m completely uncomfortable with speeding around blind corners. Mainly because I’m afraid I’ll turn the bend and find a deer or something standing in the middle of my lane. It’s weird, too, because the highest speed I’d probably attain would be around 40mph. Fast on a bike, but really kind of slow in a car or on a motorcycle. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’d be more comfortable taking those turns at 35mph on a motorcycle than on a bike. If a deer did happen to be standing in the middle of the lane around the corner, the end result on a motorcycle and a bicycle would probably be the same:

Crash. Uncoordinated dismount. Pain.

On a motorcycle, though, you can stop on a dime. Stopping on a bicycle is much less precise. The faster you go, the harder it is to stop abruptly. In fact, pulling the brakes hard on a bicycle has the less desirable side effect of pitching you forward (which I think is how I must of fell during the Dog Incident of 2004). And once you stop on a bike, you have less than a second to put your feet down because gravity will begin working again and the bike will tip sideways. It seems that on a motorcycle you have a few more seconds to put your feet down before it will topple. It seems it takes more work to balance a bicycle.

So am I saying that I’d rather be doing speed around a corner on motorcycle than a bicycle? Or that I’m more comfortable? Maybe it’s all an illusion and both activities are equally as dangerous.

I get mad at myself when I don’t let myself get up to speed on my bicycle. So I brake a lot down roads such as Columbia. And while I’m doing that, I worry that I’m wearing out my brakes and that they will give out on me. Yeah, I find something to obsess about constantly. How am I enjoying these activities if my mind is in a constant state of worry?

Some people would say that I should just roll with the punches. Ride safely, but if a danger is encountered, do your best to avoid it. If it is unavoidable, deal with the consequences. It usually turns out all right, especially on a bicycle. You just end up bruised or, in my case with the Dog Incident, bumped up quite a bit with a concussion. But I am still alive. Over the last several weeks, four people in my bike club have tossed it and all of them have ended up in the hospital. But no one died. So the odds are in my favor, right?

I don’t know why I am so deathly afraid of injury. I think my fear is more immediate than everyone else’s. I think people are always aware of the possibility of danger, but they aren’t thinking of it constantly. In my mind, during any given day–during any activity–I’m thinking about every possible scenario in which something could go wrong and I could get injured or die. My head is polluted with these thoughts constantly. It’s very wearing. I just can’t stop focusing on it. And it keeps my fingers gripped on the brakes of my bike on all downhills. When I can tell my speed is accelerating, my heart jumps as though I’d just seen a deer cross my path.

It’s hard to live in a constant state of fear. I guess, I don’t know, I’m obsessed by my mortality. I see all these deaths around me and I always feel like I’ve narrowly escaped something. I worry about getting cancer or MS… I mentally see oncoming traffic crashing into me when I’m in my car. I wonder sometimes if I just won’t wake up in the morning. I know it’s illogical because I’m healthy. But Mike was healthy too. And his death never made sense in my head. Most death makes no sense. It seems that only when someone is old does death make sense in our puny human brains.

At least I don’t let my fears rule me. I live with the fear and I am embrace its warnings. But I don’t let it stop me from doing those things I want to do. I will never let it stop me from doing what I want to do. If you think about it, none of us is going to live forever. I’d rather die having turned my life into a fun, exciting adventure than having sit at home afraid to leave the house. So if I ever do die participating in an activity I love–skiing, cycling, motorcycling, traveling–then at least be comforted with the idea that I did not go down quietly. Be assured that I was having a good time. I know it’s cliche, but I’d rather die doing something I love than the way Mike went, dying in bed on a Saturday morning from a heart that couldn’t handle the intensity of his love.

Scenes from a morning bicycle commute

Sometimes when we tread on familiar ground day to day, we forget to take notice of the familiar. On my bike, I tend to notice scenery I never notice in my car. I feel a part of the environment, whereas in my car I feel separated from that outside world. So today, on my morning commute, I took a few shots of some of the finer points of the familiar ground I tread both in my car and by bike. I don’t stop to smell the roses as much, even on my bike, when I’m trying to keep up with my ABC buddies on our weekly rides, either. It’s nice, sometimes, to be by yourself, going your own pace!

Below is a shot of the wonderful paved Hike & Bike Path owned by Summit County. It pretty much looks like this the whole way through with even nicer spots when you go along the rock-walled ledges. Sometimes this path is actually running parallel to a road, but you’d never know it because of all the buffering by trees. Trees and greenery are what makes Ohio beautiful (I actually missed all the green and shade in Colorado).

I stopped this morning to snag some shots of the mighty Cuyahoga River along Riverview Road in the valley. This is actually quite a beautiful little spot. Too bad when you pull over to take pictures, you get passed by speeding traffic. The glint of sun covers the picture in a heavenly haze, which gives you some indication to the kind of weather we had this morning. In contrast, yesterday was foggy for most of my commute, especially in the valley.

The train tracks are for the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which is a touristy passenger train that goes, I believe, from Canton to Independence near Cleveland. I’ve never ridden it, shamefully. I’ve wanted to, though. The wine tasting rides are booked all the way through the year. I suppose I could just go on a normal ride and take my bike to ride back from some point (which is something else they offer). I just want to avoid having the rides that involve being locked on a train with millions of screaming kids…

Here’s the same shot with more sun.

More sun to get blinded by! But I love the way the light makes rainbow lines on the picture. It’s like I managed to catch the rays of the sun. What a beautiful morning!!

Here’s my bike pounding the pavement. Please disregard the 12mph shown on the computer. You try taking a picture of your front tire on the road while going 15-20mph! (I was generally doing about 17-18mph on the flat areas–the bike path and Riverview Road up to Snowville).

I’m definitely in heaven with commuting by bicycle to work. The last time I felt this great was when I used to bike commute in Colorado. It’s just a great way to start off the morning and get the blood going for work. I don’t mind sitting in a chair for eight hours in front of the computer with my nice morning workout and the anticipation of a longer, ambling ride home. I might ultimately end up doing this more than twice a week if the weather holds up. It’s really not a big deal to ride 16 miles to work and I love crunching up Snowville knowing that I’m only improving my muscles for climbing.

I thought it would be a big deal not having showers here, but it’s been great so far. I take a shower before I leave home, and with my hair still wet, I put it in a ponytail for riding. When I get to work, I wash my face and scrub my arms and legs, put my still-wet hair into a twist and tie it off with a clip. Then I apply my face makeup–foundation–and curl my bangs with the hair dryer I leave at the office and then top off my hair with a little hair spray. I don’t think I look any different than I do when I come into work fresh without a ride. And I don’t think I smell… Hopefully my coworkers agree!

And, as a side benefit, I’m not wasting gas to drive 16 miles. I almost made it through yesterday without using my car. I’m going to try to skip the car all together today. I guess I’m helping the environment as well as my health! Yay, me!

The high life

Move over, Miller Crappy Beer: This is the real high life. Good wine. A fire. Comfy chair. My yard rocks. What a way to spend a Sunday evening… You can’t top this, gals and boys. And I could care less that my clothes, hair, and skin smell like smoke…

Motorcycle Endorsement

First, spare me your concern and do not deluge the comments of this blog with platitudes about how dangerous motorcycles are (“Be careful” counts as one of these comments, it’s reminiscent of a worry-wart mother). It drives me nuts how people feel obligated to pipe in their views about the dangers of motorcycles–without provocation–whenever they are mentioned. It is as though I’d lit a cigarette in a room full of non-smokers; suddenly, I’m the one who’s “willfully killing myself” and the do-gooders have to let me know how they know someone who died in a motorcycle accident. There’s three reasons why this won’t work on me:

1) I used to jump of airplanes. I’ve done this seven times (six static line and once tandem free fall). At one point in my life, I actually wanted to take this up as a hobby. Now I know that statistically one has a better chance of getting into a car accident on the way to the drop zone to go parachuting; however, I think most people would agree that motorcycling is a bit more sane than jumping out of an aircraft that is flying perfectly well. So if you want to talk about risk behaviors, let’s talk about that.

2) I don’t think you fully realize how dangerous road bicycling is. Sure, it’s great exercise and it means I lead a very healthy lifestyle. However, down a good hill, that little piece of flimsy metal between my legs is capable of going up to 50mph, if I let it (which I rarely do because I’m coward). But falling off your bike at 35mph is just like falling out of a car at the same speed. Both will hurt very much. Not to mention the fact that motorists enjoy the presence of bicycles on the road even less than than “enjoy” the presence of motorcycles. Furthermore, they are less likely to see bicycles than even motorcycles. For this reason, the average road cyclist drives very defensively. I have the keen ability to judge potential accidents and react to them in a timely manner. I’ve had to do so on more than one occasion.

3) You can die just choosing to leave your house. You can die when you haven’t even left it. I am completely impervious to all sputtering arguments about how closer to one’s death a person brings themselves by their actions. Smoking cigarettes would be a deliberate act of suicide because the outcome is fairly certain since we know cigarette smoking does cause cancer. Riding a motorcycle does not necessarily lead to death. I know many motorcyclists as well as cyclists who have lead long, happy lives. Same with cigarette smokers, but the difference with cigarette smoking is that I chose to be healthy. I can still consider myself healthy on a motorcycle.

Motorcycle riding is something I’ve always wanted to do. Do you have something that you’ve always wanted to do and never done? Have you not seen people doing something and felt deeply within your heart, for years and years, that it was something you wanted to learn to do, but you never brought yourself to try? Well, I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines drooling over other people’s motorcycles and wondering what the freedom of the road feels like as I pound the pavement on some beautiful sunny summer’s day; I wanted to give it a try.

So this weekend I attended the Basic Motorcycle Safety Course given by the State of Ohio. If you take this course, and successfully pass the skills tests at the end of the 12 hours of riding exercises conducted in the safety of a parking lot, then the state waives having to take the motorcycle driver’s test at the BMV and you get your endorsement. Today, I passed.

It was not an easy feat. I spent 12 hours–Saturday and Sunday–busting my butt to learn how to ride what turns out is a complex machine. It reminds me of the time when my parents bought me that pink Schwinn bike with a banana seat–my first bike without training wheels–and they took me to the elementary school parking lot to learn to ride on two wheels. Motorcycling is not like getting behind the wheel of a car–or maybe it was a little, I’ve been driving so long I forgot how hard it must have once been. Learning to ride a motorcycle was just as all-encompassing. It takes every bit of your brain to learn all the motions–pulling the clutch instead of pushing one with your foot, tapping the gears with your foot, braking with one side of your body performing the action. It’s very hard and it took every bit of my concentration constantly. And I’m not even on the road yet!

I guess I was a little disappointed in myself. I am really a slow-learner. I remember getting disgruntled when doing practice scenarios in sky-diving. In my first jump video, Mike had gotten a shot of all of us taking the sky-diving class as we eating lunch on break, and you can see a very disappointed, irate Mars Girl. I was with people who seemed to get everything right away and as soon as that happens, I get even more down on myself, which, of course, makes it even harder to perform. I don’t get things until they are demonstrated to me first. So you can speak directions all you want but I won’t understand them until you show me what you want me to do. I think words get kind of meaningless for me. Maybe I can’t form good mental pictures of events through words, which is kind of sad, when you think about it, for a writer to say.

Anyway, the class was stressful. I was overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to master the controls. It seems like it took me a longer stretch of pavement to change from first gear (down) to second gear (up 1.5 half steps) and I kept getting stuck in neutral (between gears 1 and 2). Which made it extremely hard to get up to speed in the segment of pavement in which they wanted to get up to speed and then do something. At one point, I had mastered gear changes after I’d completed an exercise. I would ride a wide loop back to the end of the line for the exercise and in that loop I would deliberately practice putting the gear from 1 to 2. But I don’t know what happened the second half the day… Well, I think I got a little frustrated because I missed an instruction and the Rider Coach shouted at me, which caused me to start crying (behind my sunglasses so no one could see). I think that ruined my concentration for the day because in the back of my head, I kept calling myself stupid. And I was mad at the guy for shouting at me so when he was monitoring my exercise, I couldn’t focus.

And I’m really, really bad at testing. We practiced three of the four tests right before the actual exam. I nailed all of the tests except U-turns during the practice time. I was stomping out my sudden stops like you wouldn’t believe, getting praises from the Rider Coach who hadn’t shouted at me and even the one who had. I made really good gear changes in approaching the stop. Then, when the evaluation started, I don’t know what the hell happened. In line while waiting my turn for each test, I was taking deep breaths and telling myself, “You can do this. You can do this.” But I failed to impress myself. Typical.

What makes me even more frustrated is that I was nailing long curves during the practice exercises–it was one of the things I did really, really well all day and I attribute it to my experience cycling in the valley. I would get up to speed, approach it by decelerating appropriately, and then taking the turn, accelerating slowly in the middle of it. Well, when I did the curve during the test, I must not have slowed down enough because I ended up braking during the turn–minus 5 points!

Overall, I lost 18 points on the test; 21 is failure. So just like my driving test, I passed by the skin of my teeth. Most people would say that it doesn’t matter what my score was because I passed and now I have the endorsement. But it does matter to me because I don’t want to just pass, I want to be a superstar. I want to be above average. But I never pick up anything like a superstar. I’m just me–the slow poke, the retard, the incapable. It’s so frustrating. It makes me rethink a lot of things, like why I am so afraid to go back to school in the first place. School had a way of making me feel inadequate, even in the things I’m theoretically good at, such as writing. I don’t think I want to put myself through that again; school made me hate myself and feel ashamed a lot. I wish I didn’t have such a low self-esteem.

It’s frustrating, too, when you go to a class with someone who is the complete opposite of you–the superstar. But I’ve been around superstars my whole life. And, as my dad always says, no matter how good you are at anything, there’s always someone better. I get focused on the someone better and it ruins my ability to concentrate on my own performance. Maybe I’m way too competitive. Or, more likely, I use other people to measure myself and intimidate me.

Well, I guess I have some time to improve my skills. I don’t know yet if I will get a motorcycle. I can say that I really, really did taking a shine to it. I love the way the bike humms between your legs and I love the smell of the exhaust sputtering out the back of the exhaust pipe. I loved the way the bike felt at speed and the false sense of comfort I had in its stability. Probably because it is heavier and sturdier than a road bike, I didn’t get the feeling that I could fall easily. I guess that’s a bad thing. I wasn’t sure I’d like the feel of riding it, but I did. I don’t think I ever got about 20mph, but I didn’t really get scared at any point while getting up to speed whereas on my road bike I might (if it was downhill). U-turns made me nervous because they are done very slowly in first gear and you really have to angle turn the handlebars. But what we learned in class is that the bike actually performs more stably at faster speeds. It was way easier to maneuver at a higher speed than at a slower one.

It was definitely a stressful day and now that I’ve mowed my lawn (damn that lawn, it always needs to be mowed now that it’s semi-healthy), I think I am going to relax in my backyard with some wine, try to finish the book I’m reading, U2 by U2. Maybe I’ll start a fire in my pit. Put away all thoughts of barking Road Coaches and evaluations passed by the skin of my teeth. Away go the quandaries of what kind of motorcycle I should buy. I passed, it’s over, time to let it go. At least I can say I did one more thing I always wanted to do. Hopefully, I’ll chin up and give it a go again.

Milestones Missed

I started thinking about all the things that have changed in the last eight years since Mike has died. I often wonder what he would have thought of these milestones. I don’t know what brought up these thoughts over the last couple of days–maybe it was reading some of the other young widow/widowers blogs. For awhile, I’ve thought about writing a fiction story where the main character’s husband, who is dead, appears on her doorstep one morning, dazed and with no memory of having died or what happened between the life and death. It would be a story in which the main character tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to her husband… I think the idea was that somehow his love for her returned him to life, but that it was an unnatural act, and that bad things happen. In the end, he would probably have to die again. I wanted it to be a sad story. But in considering this story, I’ve thought about how strange it would be for the dead–or Mike, the character on which the main character’s husband would be based–to just arrive back to life sometime later.

It’s weird but as new technology becomes old, and news becomes “olds,” we just take everything we experience for granted. What if Mike just suddenly appeared on my doorstep today? What would I have to explain to him about the world? The gulf between then and now is almost as large as remembering VCRs, microwave ovens, and cable TV from the 1980s. Kind of freaks me out how much time has passed already. And how used to my life I’ve become without Mike, even though I do miss him every day in some sense of the word. Coping is strange. When you think about how much you’ve coped, and you remember the way you used to be, you feel “out of phase.” As though you’ve just jumped from one time period to another without the bridge in between and you’re trying to understand how you got to this point you’re standing at now.

Anyway, I’ve taken the time to list some of these changes to take you on the journey with me.

World Events

  • September 11, 2001 — Mike missed this by five months. Had he been alive, I am sure he would have been somewhere out of town, trapped, and unable to get back home to me.
  • The Bush Presidency — Mike did live through the first couple of months of this.
  • Gas prices go to $4/gallon. — When Mike died, we were paying about $1.50/gallon for gas. It was on the rise, but hadn’t started into the scary mess of the last several years.
  • The Second Iraq War, Trial and Subsequent Execution of Suddam Hussain – No comment. I’m pretty sure I know what Mike would have thought of that.
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • The election of the first black president. — He’d have liked that.
  • Post-911 air travel. — I remember picking him up from the airport after business trips and being able to meet him at the gate. Those were the days!

Personal Events

  • Birth of his namesake, Michael, to his best friend Jon and his wife Wendi. Perhaps if he hadn’t died, Wendi and Jon would not have named their son after him. He might have had some other name.
  • Marriage of mutual friends, Val and Rob, on Mike’s birthday in 2001. He knew about this wedding as they were engaged a year prior and he’d been excited about attending their wedding.
  • Birth of his first niece to his brother J and girlfriend. – He had predicted that his brother, unwed, would be the first to bring grandchildren to the family. When the event happened with a girl J wasn’t even dating at the time of Mike’s death, I could feel Mike smirking knowingly at me from beyond.
  • Marriage of his sister M to a man who was not in the picture at the time of Mike’s death. Funny how characters have arrived in the personal story of Mike’s life who were not there when he was alive.
  • Birth of his second niece (I think it was a girl) to M.
  • Death of his favorite cat, Tanya.
  • Marriage of mutual friends, Craig and Bonnie. This would have been my moment of glory as I had told Mike some months before he died that I thought Craig and Bonnie were perfect for each other. It was one prediction I won. So nah! He would have liked to have attended the wedding. He always liked to see friends getting together. I’d like to think it was because he’d found unmatchable happiness in me and he wanted all of his friends to experience the same thing.
  • Diane and Jeff’s wedding. — It’s too bad that Mike never met Jeff. I have a feeling they would have caused a lot of trouble together. The Mike/Jeff/Rob triad would have been a powerful (scary) one indeed.

Technological Advances

This list makes me sad because Mike was a gadget/technology geek and probably would have had fun with all of this.

  • iPods – MP3 players were just coming into use when Mike was alive. We didn’t own one. We were excited about our ability to burn our own CDs by using a program on our computer.
  • iPhones, Blackberrys – Advanced phones of this type were virtually unknown in our circle. A year or two before, I’d owned a big bulky thing that I only used for emergencies in my car by a now-defunct company (which became Verizon) called AirTouch Cellular. Mike had a Palm Pilot – no color with a green/gray LCD screen.
  • DVD players – They were around, but not everyone had one. Certainly there was no Blu-Ray. And we still had a VCR.
  • TiVo, DVRs, etc – We were still “taping” programs using our VCR.
  • Personal GPS/navigation systems – Mike had one of the first GPS. I still have it. Again, green and gray LCD screen. Took forever to find satellites sometimes. Wasn’t that accurate. Displayed a compass which you had to use to find the direction to the designated Long./Lat. numbers–definitely no street maps on it! Mileage was shown “as the bird flies,” as Mike always said.
  • Blogs – Non-existent (or not used by many).
  • Facebook/LinkedIn/Social networking sites – Non-existent. I wonder if he would have used this. Probably.
  • Wikipedia – Non-existent.

And me. How have I changed? My changes seem to be the result, mostly, of reinventing myself in the loss. I was just starting to get into cycling when died, with my multiple attempts at completing the MS 150 on a trail bike, but I was not nearly the freak I’ve become. Which is something I found an intense love for when I moved to Colorado. I moved to Colorado to fulfill a dream we had of living there. Mike and I were deeply involved in hiking and backpacking, members of the US Highpointers Club, of which I’m still a member, but a hobby I’ve put aside over the last several years. I haven’t done much hiking since he died. I certainly have not gone backpacking.

I guess I needed something of my own. Trying to walk the same path on which I walked with Mike is too painful. I had to blaze my own trail. Some of it is good, some of it was simply necessary for survival. I think that if Mike had not died and I’d found a love for cycling, Mike would surely have become interested as well. He loved trying new things, too. But the fact remains that it was not something we did together. It’s mine.

Would he fit into my world now? I don’t know. It’s so hard to imagine the world moving on without him and him no longer fitting within it. Time is so cruel. No one individual stops it or slows it down. Some of us are dragged away by it even when we try to dig our heels in.

Sunday, Blissful Sunday in June

Me and Michael at the end of the 100-mile route. All smiles!

I pre-registered for Cleveland Touring Club’s Sunday in June a few months ago. Not that I needed to, as day-of registration was available, but I was in the midst of my spring blues and I just felt like registering for something that wasn’t TOSRV. I’d wanted to do this ride and for some reason or another in the past, I never got to hit it, despite the fact that the ride starts in Burton, which is only an hour from my house.

Originally, I had signed up for the 62 mile route with the thought that just because a century option was offered for a ride, it did not mean I had to do it. I was going to cool my “mileage Nazi” jets and just relax at a metric century. No loss of pride in that, right?

Well, Michael decided to ride Sunday in June with me. And the next thing I know, he’s taunting me with doing the century route. I told him that if the weather was right and I was feeling good that day, then sure, I’d ride the century route. I hadn’t planned on it, but, oh well. I do like the challenge of a century. It’s “fun” to push myself for those miles since usually 60-75 miles is not really something I’ve got to push myself to do, unless I’m having a completely crappy day or the route is especially hilly. Centuries are about the only thing that makes me love to hate riding.

Upon my arrival to the start location, I learned that Burton is on the top of a hill. You know what that means–the end of the ride is uphill. I think someone (perhaps Michael) had tried to warn me of this prior to the ride, but I must have only been half-listening. I must admit that the view from the parking lot was beautiful, with rolling distant land all around. I actually kind of felt that claustrophobia of being on the summit of a mountain, for all of the Burton town square is literally on the summit of a hill taller than the surrounding landscape. I probably should have zapped a picture with my camera phone–it was way cool.

I don’t know if it was because I’d had to get up at 4:50am (to eat breakfast and get ready for the ride with enough leeway time for the drive to Burton) or the night of nervous dream-fretting I’d had (about a variety of things going on in my life right now), but I was in a cruddy mood at first. I wasn’t sure I was “in the mood” to ride, let alone 100 miles. I just wasn’t feeling the “excitement” of the moment. But the sun was shining, I’d already paid for the ride, and Michael was on his way, so I was not bailing. I was just worried about my general lack of enthusiasm, which made me wonder if this were going to be one of those days where I hated every moment of riding.

The map in the registration packet revealed to me that the route consisted of three loops, all of which started in Burton. The first loop was roughly 25 miles and all rides took it. There were multiple ride options–25, 50, 62, and 100. The second loop had two routes on it–one for the 62 and 100 routes that was roughly 34 miles and a smaller cut-off route of roughly 25 miles for the 50 mile riders. The third loop at 40 miles was just for the crazies who dared the century. Each loop had one rest area in it with Burton serving as the second rest stop for riders doing more than 25 miles. This was a very interesting structure for a ride to me–I’d never done anything like it before. I was a little incredulous at first until I realized that each of the loops was different and only really crossed each other at some points. In a way, I wonder if always returning to your start-end point made the ride easier to endure.

The temperatures were a little chillier than I liked at the start–perhaps lower sixties–which made the first descent out of Burton cold. It didn’t do much to inspire me to enjoy the moment. However, somewhere within that first loop, I found my groove. And what an interesting scenic adventure that was! Again, I found myself astonished by the beauty of Ohio back country, all of which seemed singularly original from the other areas of back country I’ve discovered. I don’t think you can look at a region of Ohio without noticing its distinctive beauty.

The literature for Sunday in June proclaimed a nice ride through Amish Country, which Ohio has a lot of in almost any area where there’s farming going on. I’ve taken a few other rides through various Amish regions of Ohio, but I’d have to say that I never realized this particular part of Geauga County was as Amish as it was. Going to college at Hiram, I saw my share of Amish people–always a buggy parked outside of the McD’s in Garrettsville and occasionally you’d find one ambling along Route 88. And Roscoe Ramble also takes you through Amish country located in Holmes County. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Amish people as I saw on Sunday in June. Maybe it was because it was Sunday and, I assumed, all of the Amish on the streets were making their way to church in the early hours of the morning of our ride. I really don’t know what Amish do on Sundays but I’ve always assumed they treat it in the old school manner of “The Lord’s Day” meaning rest and relaxation after the morning worship. And I may be right since later in the day, I saw some Amish girls on bikes and roller blades.

Forgive me if I sound ignorant or racist. I’m not suggesting that Amish people should be gawked at and treated like a tourist attraction. To be honest, I’m totally fascinated by their culture, despite some negative feedback I’ve gotten from people in the past about how the Amish don’t care much for us “gentiles.” In some part of my restless heart, their lifestyle looks romantic to me, even if the only option for a woman is to become a mother. Sometimes in this complexity of every day life, I feel it would be relaxing to forsake all technology and join a lifestyle that looks, at least on the outside, a bit simpler. It’s a romantic idea, of course. I am sure they’ve got problems like everyone one else…

Anyway, it was enchanting to hear the sounds of hooves rhythmically clomp-clomping on the road as buggy after buggy went by and to see lines of families with children taking in the beautiful day as they strolled to where-ever it was everyone was going (church, I assume). I felt a little naked in my bike tights before all these people who were so properly attired head-to-toe in clothes. I hope they didn’t think me obscene (I’m sure they probably did). At least they were friendly and waved.

The first loop ended with a quick, steep climb on Route 700 (or the bike path, if you chose, but also just as steep) into Burton. Because I’d found my spirit in the middle of that first loop, and now that I was but 25 miles into the ride with fresh legs, I just felt wonderful after that climb. I passed a tandem and two stocky men in their 40s. Yay me. Michael, as usual, passed young and old up the hill and was already getting off his bike when I rolled into the parking lot of the park.

I was completely energized and full of spunk for the second loop, which was even more scenic than the first. This route took us north of Burton with a rest stop in a beautiful park called Big Creek State Park that I’m definitely going to have to check out for hiking some time. I saw two hiking paths venturing into a green wilderness and, despite the fact that I was enjoying my ride, I had the sudden desire to hike. The road we took to get to the park was less than desirable–posted 45 speed limit on a narrow, extremely pot-holed surface with rolling terrain. Needless to say, I took it gingerly, afraid to let out the speed without complete foresight as to the location of each pot hole. So I was “Nervous Nelly” on some of the downhill grades.

The route looped through the center of Chardon, another city I’ve actually never visited, but just the sort of quaint little town you enjoy rolling into on your bike. A little trafficky, but nothing horrible. We passed a tandem that did not have fixed pedaling (one rider could stop pedaling). I contrived of ways I could torture Michael if he had such a tandem. You surely would not want to piss off the stoker on a tandem such as this! People always joke to Michael when we ride by that I’m not pedalling, but there’s no way that I could stop pedalling on his tandem (and most tandems for that matter).

The hill back into Burton on this loop was more gradual. I passed a bunch of people this time, including a man with a saucy jersey featuring the country of France. So imagined that he figured himself to be a hot rider, wearing a jersey suggestive of the Tour de France. Maybe not, though. Maybe he’d just gone to France. Regardless, I felt pretty good about passing riders, even though that’s not the point. I am good at slower climbs since it’s much easier to distribute my energy.

I’d like to note here that I’ve been having a lot of post-ride knee pain which I’ve been told is because I’m probably pushing too hard of a gear on hills. On Friday, after my commute from work, my left knee was actually throbbing for a few hours. I had, in fact, tried to push a high gear on Truxell, as for some reason I’ve convinced myself that if I can do Truxell in my middle chain ring, then I will become better on hills. I didn’t end up completing it in my middle chain ring, but I didn’t go down another gear at one point, even when I knew my legs wanted me to. I am sure this is where the source of that pain originated.

So, anyway, I told myself to “experiment” on this ride and liberally use the granny gear when I felt it was warranted. No need to push myself in the middle ring just because the hill is actually a small, steep bump and I’ve got it in my head that I shouldn’t need to switch out of the middle or big chain rings. (Lately, I’ve also been making use of the “half gear” that keeps me in my big ring because it makes the lowest two gears work without that “click-click-click” sound of not really being in gear.) On a ride of 100 miles, I decided, I needed to take it easy and keep my legs fresh. Turns out that everyone’s advice was right–using the lower gears when needed did completely prevent knee pain. I had none whatsoever during or after this ride. So my “ride it hard” philosophy has gone back to just taking hills at the gear I need at the time. I guess eventually I will be able to gear them higher at a faster cadence merely from having done them enough. Progress is so damned slow!

Upon completely the second loop we were at 62 miles. This was our lunch stop. And let me just say, this ride had THE BEST lunch food on any ride I’ve ever done EVER. The. Best. Offered in the buffet: pasta with red sauce, chicken in marinara sauce, and meatballs!! There was salad, too, of course. And garlic bread! Just what I needed before embarking on the final 40-mile loop. I tried not to fill up too much–pasta and then riding immediately afterwards could probably make you feel weighed down over the last miles–but I ate enough to stop the hunger and every bite was DELISH. Literally. Yeah. I can’t say enough about this wonderful meal. I couldn’t believe how much this delectable meal revived me. When I took to my bike for the last loop, I was completely refreshed.

In fact, I have never felt so good on a century before in my life. I enjoyed every minute of my time on the saddle, for the most part. I didn’t bonk as usual at 80 miles. I didn’t even start staring heavily at my computer’s mileage tracker until about 95 miles. I have never felt so relaxed on a century–no internal pressure from my inner voice or external pressure from other riders to hurry up and get the ride done faster. I didn’t care that the only rest stop on that loop closed shortly after we left, nor did I worry about the ending point in Burton being deserted. I think this was mainly due to the pact Michael and I made the week before that we would take this ride at our own casual pace and not try to overdo ourselves. This mind-set made all the difference in the world. I just felt as though I were out on a pleasant country ride that went on for miles and miles. Maybe, too, it was the fact that the miles were only taken in small loops that circled back to Burton every time. Either way, I felt fantastic for someone riding 100 miles.

This loop went through Middlefield, and then started down the familiar territory of Route 88 towards Garrettsville. I wondered how long we would head in this direction–if we would, in fact, end up in Garrettsville. However, the route turned us off before we hit Route 305, and we ended up, to my delight, in Hiram Rapids, my favorite scenic town along my favorite road to lead rides, Winchell Road. I stopped to snap the picture of this little tiny town’s church, which I think I might have taken a shot another time in the fall once.

At this point, another ABC rider I call “Speedy Mike” (because he’s generally a hammerhead, but a really nice guy despite) caught up with us. He proceeded accompany us the last ten miles of the route, riding our speed and chatting the whole way. We’d eaten lunch with him earlier, but figured he’d be way ahead of us at that point. Turns out, he missed a turn and went two miles off route before he realized his mistake, which added four miles to his ride by the time he doubled back.

Of course, the last stretch was not without some hills, mostly of the “looks easy but is hard” variety–slow climbers that really abused the legs. The roads were beautiful, however, and generally without traffic. I decided I could use some of these routes for future rides I might lead with ABC. They were completely pleasant and with the weather so cooperative, I did not mind all the work my legs were now starting to protest.

By this point in the day, it had gotten quite warm–maybe 75 or so degrees–so I was wishing I’d worn a sleeveless jersey. I did have the foresight to wear my Keens, however, so overall I was comfortable. I just couldn’t stop musing how beautiful the weather was… It’s too bad that we’re supposed to get a bunch of rain the rest of this week. Bleh.

Anyway, we ended up on a road that ended at Route 87 just below Burton (in fact, I passed this point on my return home after the ride). We were at about 95 miles, so I was not surprised when we were routed about a mile down (hill) 87 to another side street that looped us back upwards, eventually, into Burton. I was glad that the route-creators understood the need of century riders to complete an actual 100 miles. I’d much rather the route be over 100 than under the promised mileage. The last thing I want to do after nearly 100 miles, is ride around a town trying to get that last one or two miles in.

The route actually brought us to 102 miles. There was a hefty climb along a quiet side street that ended at the last half mile into town that we’d taken in on the second loop. Once we crested the hill, we found ourselves again in “downtown” Burton, heading towards the town square. I felt great, but was glad to be done. The last hill had made me aware of the fact that my leg muscles were nearly cooked and I did not desire to climb anything else.

When we rolled back into the park in Burton, the place was almost completely cleared out. We’d learned at the rest stop on the last loop that only about 50 or so of the approximately 500-700 riders were on the century. Even still, most of those people, being faster, had probably completed the ride earlier. But who cares? I don’t aim to break speed records, just finish the ride. Our stats were not too bad: ride time of 6:56’12 and 14.7 average. I’ll take that! Actually, our ride time was better than both days of TOSRV where we had over 7 hours with 14.0 and 14.1 averages. So obviously we’re both in much better shape.

And I felt good, to boot! Not completely deflated or out of energy. I felt like I’d done work and my legs were definitely a bit stiff, but I really felt pretty good overall. I decided that to celebrate this success fully we needed to get ice cream in town. Usually Michael is the one pushing to stop for ice cream and usually I do not partake. This time, however, I felt I owed it to myself. Yeah, I’d had a few cookies at the rest stops early on in the ride, but I didn’t have more than two and I did not eat any after the first loop. So, really, I probably had worked off those cookies if you figure that you burn about 554 calories per hour, as I’ve been informed on CC’s blog. And, anyway, I decided that I owed it to myself to eat an ice cream cone after 100 miles.

Fortunately, there was a little Italian restaurant that sold homemade ice cream on the square. I got mint chocolate chip–my favorite–in a regular cone; Michael had cookies-n-cream in a dish. Boy, at 75 degrees on a sunny day after 102 miles, the ice cream sure hit the spot! I know, I know. This is why I don’t lose weight. I get it. I own it and accept it. I did promise myself I’d eat a small dinner, which I did, enjoying the last container of white chili I’d made and froze a few months back. I washed it down with one–only one–beer. No wine. So I didn’t eat all my calories back, I promise.

I was pretty energetic the rest of the day until about 9pm when I started falling asleep on my couch. I went to bed and struggled to wake the next morning in my century-induced coma. I was minimally sore–just delightful tightness to remind me I’d done a lot of work the day before. Still, I didn’t push it by riding yesterday, just basked in the glow of having enjoyed a great ride. My cycling helmet off to CTC and their wonderful Sunday in June ride! It definitely ranks among my favorite rides, matching the likes of the Marietta River Rendezvous and Mad Anthony River Ralley. Way to go, CTC!!

Going green, part 2

Well, the commute worked out great. This evening’s weather was about 72 and sunny, a very nice way to end a day. I took Snowville to Dewey, and then turned onto Columbia for my descent. Snowville was quite busy at 5:10pm and the drivers were getting quite feisty with honking horns and lots of close passes by. Ugh. Gotta love Ohio drivers. Though, when I vented to my dad later, he said that it’s Friday and people are more easily annoyed on Fridays.

Well, it was a good evening. After Columbia, I went down the only way out of the valley in that direction–Riverview through Peninsula–and because I was pressed for time on meeting with my dad, I rode up Truxell. Then I went down Sullivan to Seasons to Norton and then Stow Road towards home. That trek down Norton to Stow added some miles on–if I’d been wise, I would have taken the Bike & Hike from Seasons, but I was feeling sad because I hadn’t ambled down Seasons and Norton for while.

Anyway, I ended with the following not-too-shabby stats for the entire commute. Commuting to work via bike is definitely GAME ON!! I may switch to wearing a backpack, though, instead of using the rack pack. I don’t like the way the rack pack throws off my weight distribution when I’m standing on the pedals.

35.55 miles
15.7 avg (KICK ASS)
34.5 max (of course, because I certainly didn’t wail the speed down Columbia… I suck)

Lessons learned: I’ve gotta stop pushing hard gears… My knee was hurting for a bit when I got home…

At Ray’s with the Mars Dad, I consumed two big beers: Great Lakes’ Grass Roots Ale and a Paul Lanner. Yay! A day well spent. Now to bridal shower hell tomorrow… (BOO!) but happy ride on Sunday (YAY!).

Mars Girl Goes Green

With just about every business advertising a new green policy, I felt inspired to “go green” myself and try to commute a few days to work. Okay, the main point is not going green at all (though not using gas to ride 16 miles to work is a plus). I’d want to ride my bike to work even if gas were a plentiful resource and cost .02 cents a gallon. I just like to ride my bike!

So today, I took the Hike & Bike trail where it connects about 2 miles from my house on Fishcreek Road and exited this fine trail at Boston Mills Road to descend into the valley. For those not familiar with the area, Boston Mills is mostly down hill. There’s one part where you have to climb a hill to get over the overpass for I-80. It’s a pretty steep uphill, but fortunately, it is preceded by an equally as steep (or maybe steeper) downhill that pretty much sails you most of the way up the overpass hill. The only thing that sucks is when cars get behind you because they can’t pass until they get up the hill with you (since they can’t see the oncoming traffic); I get all self-conscious about them trailing behind me as I climb, I feel as though I am being watched, but it makes me pump harder while my heart leaps into my throat nervously. Also, you never know if a car is going to pass you anyway, potentially causing a wreck if on-coming traffic comes over the hill. I shouldn’t worry about these things. It’s not even that trafficky on Boston Mills Road. But inevitably the one or two cars that do go down it every half hour happen to come along when I’m making my descent.

Snowville Road was a little tough of me this morning. I don’t think it had to do with the weight of my rack pack (which carried my clothes). Probably had more to do with not eating breakfast before I left. I didn’t used to eat before my 20-mile commute in Colorado either. But I was 130lbs then and I ate a lot less than I do today. Plus, my commute from Broomfield to Boulder was rolling, not mostly flat with one long 2-3 mile climb like my ride here is.

Despite the pounding of my heart, I did make it up Snowville without a single stop. I decided that I am going to keep commuting to work by bike at least until that first half mile of Snowville becomes easy. And then I’ll head for Columbia. Ha! I want good climbing legs, dammit!

The weather this morning was gloomy. Gray cloud cover, but no rain; about 60 degrees. Humid. The clouds are supposed to clear up this afternoon to yield a nice sunny day of 73 degrees. So my commute home should be nice. I’m meeting up with the Mars Dad for dinner at Ray’s tonight. No riding tomorrow due to commitments, but I’ll be back in the saddle on Sunday for Cleveland Touring Club’s Sunday in June Ride on which I guess I’ve been talked into doing the century route by Michael. “It will keep our fitness for XOBA,” he claims. Seems to me the 62 miles I signed up for would do that just fine. I kid–I love doing centuries. Except during the last 20 miles of the actual century.

Anyway, I thought I’d packed everything in my little cleanup kit here at work, including hair dryer. However, while cleaning up (de-smelling myself) in the girls’ room, I realized I’d forgotten the most important thing: a brush! Agh. So, my hair is in less than ideal condition. Fortunately, I’d put it in a french braid this morning for the ride. I look okay, but I would have liked to have curled my bangs and maybe redone the french braid. I guess I need to go buy a second brush. I can’t believe I forgot that. I guess I just assumed I’d be okay because I keep a brush in my purse… except, um, I only take my wallet with me on the bike. Duh.

This route turned out to be 16.06 miles, which, to me, is great for a commute. It’s about the same distance, though more strenuous, as it was for me to ride from Stow to Twinsburg when I worked for another company. Despite the harder route, this commute is prettier since I can go through the valley. My job in Twinsburg was in an industrial park and there was lots of traffic all the way into Twinsburg, most of which did not move over for bicycle traffic. A semi clipping you too closely is not fun.

My stats for the commute to work:

16.06 miles
15.4 avg
34.5 max (because I wussed on Boston Mills Road… took the downhill too conservatively… had a deer scare on the bike trail earlier so I was all nervous)

My time was great. Just over an hour is a GREAT commute time! I’m definitely going for twice a week once the weather cooperates.