My heart is broken in two

My dad and I went to the last game in our six-pack of Cleveland Indians tickets last night, which is what I had bought him for Christmas last year. It was pretty pathetic. Pathetic is not even a good enough word. How about: deplorable, miserable, paltry, heartrending, wretched. I know I shouldn’t let a “little thing” like baseball get me so depressed. But I can’t help it. I think of 2007 when I attended the ALDS against NY (in which the Indians won) and the ALCS against Boston and I just want to erupt into tears. I remember standing by my seats, the crowd roaring with each play–screaming, shouting, stomping their feet–and all the hope we had in those moments. We almost made it to the World Series. We surely could have beat the Rockies.

And then the next year, when our hopes were high for another good season–an even better season where we didn’t make it to the ALDS through a wild card–they changed the name of our stadium from Jacobs to Progressive, following in the new age tradition of naming every public arena after some business, and all the energy of the team coincidentally seemed to deflate. This year was even worse. You didn’t think it could get any worse, unless you were around to remember the 1980s at Municipal Stadium, but it did.

Last night’s attendance was maybe 2,500 people. The True Fans, I told my dad. We’re it. Even John Adams, our loyal fan and drummer, was in the bleachers, pounding out encouragement in a last pitch attempt to bring the team’s spirits up. But even his drum beats sounded dull and without enthusiasm.

I knew we’d hit a real low when my dad and I were told as they scanned our tickets at the gates that they’d closed the upper deck (where our seats were), we would be reseated in the lower deck, and that our upper deck tickets entitled us to $5 off the concession stands. Which, of course, my dad and I used to buy beer. For the first time ever, I paid $5.50 for both our beers! It was as good as free!

Anyway, we did get some GREAT seats along the third base line–section 164, AA, seats 6 and 7. Not that it really mattered. We probably could have sit in any unoccupied seat closer. My dad said they probably closed the upper deck to make the stadium look full on TV. Of course, we both knew it probably had more to do with not needing to open the upstairs concession stands.

Before we even got to our seats, Chicago had already scored a run. That’s when you know your team is really doing bad–you haven’t even reached your seat in the top of the first inning and your team is already losing. There’s still hope at this point. But I wasn’t feeling it, looking at the scant gathering of fans and the line up of names I mostly didn’t recognize.

During the fourth or fifth inning, I went to use the restroom and acquire the beers my dad sent me to get. I ended up missing I think two innings because I was trying to find a beer stand that wasn’t serving light beer. On the way, I encountered a free give away and managed to get my dad the Grady Sizemore sliding bobblehead thingy he’d seen someone else with and mentioned he wanted. I then also stopped at a souvenir stand where they were selling hats for 15% off. I bought an old school 1980s cap with the “C” on it that I remember as a kid. I joked with the old flirtatious men running the stand. It was an adventure all its own. I think it’s sign of my disinterest when I am in no hurry to return to my seat. I usually never want to miss a moment of the game.

Fortunately, I got to see Shin-Soo Choo hit a home run–our only run for the night. My dad pointed out how Choo has really come a long way since the beginning of the season. But then he said, depressingly, “So he’ll probably leave now that he’s good.”

I watched a bunch of players bat who I didn’t recognize. Grady Sizemore, our only other good player, is out having had surgery my dad informed me. I guess it looks less bad to not be shut out. Of course, Chicago came back with three more runs, making the game 6-1. No hope of redemption by the 8th inning. Not these Indians. Not tonight.

And so my six pack season ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. (Again, unlike 2007 when they took us by surprise and made it into the postseason.) I don’t know what I’m going to get my dad for Christmas this year… I’m not sure I have the heart to sit through another season like this. I don’t think they won a single game we went to this season.

What else can you do when your team is pathetically losing at the end of a season that no longer matters? You take pictures of yourself with your camera phone, smiling as though you’re having a great time. After three beers, it doesn’t hurt so much.

Rolling and climbing

Saturday morning, 5:15am. My alarm goes off. It’s still dark. I had expected to hear the sound of rain upon waking since the weather forecast for Saturday was supposed to be pretty dire. However, all I heard outside my open bedroom window was the normal outside noise–the steady drone of crickets and the chirps of birds. I grudgingly got up. (No matter what I’ve got planned for a day, I hate getting up in the morning.)

I stumbled over to my computer and through eyes not quite adjusted to the light, I squinted at the forecast for Fredericksburg on The hour-by-hour forecast revealed cloudy skies throughout the morning turning to rain by 10am. Well, I thought, that would put me two hours–halfway–through the ride. Surely I can take some rain for just two more hours.

That’s the secret with me; I have to start the ride dry. But once I’m out there–committed mentally to do the miles I signed up for–I am fully willing to deal with the rain. I may not like it, but I’m not quitting over a little thing like disagreeable weather.

I checked the radar. Speeding through the morning hours of 8 and 9am–no green blob of rain. 10:15 am the green blob shows up and stays for the afternoon hours. Hmm. A risk, but I was willing to take it. So I ate breakfast, got dressed, and loaded my bike into the car. I called Michael on the way down to let him know that I’d decided to ride. It was for a good cause, anyway–the funds generated from this ride support the local Fredericksburg library. Who could turn down supporting such a great cause? Besides, Michael had gone on and on about these Amish fry pies you get at the end of the ride. So now I was curious.

I could tell right away what kind of ride this was going to be as I approached the outskirts of Fredericksburg. Lots of hills. I flashed back to the Millersport to Loudonville leg of XOBA. In the gray cloudy backdrop of this morning, it looked about the same too. Later, as I was riding, I was again reminded of that stretch of XOBA as I reached the summit of a lonely hill in the rain and saw the wispy white clouds hovering over–almost obscuring the tops of–the distant hills. Oh, how I wish I could view the majestic rolling scenery of Holmes County in the yellow glow of the sun. It would actually have made me linger to snap pictures with my camera phone. Alas, this was not to be the case.

When I arrived in Fredericksburg along its main street, a huge wall of a road loomed ahead of me before I turned off to the parking lot of the park where the ride began. I hoped to hell we weren’t going to climb that, especially with the traffic. Fortunately, the ride started on the flat terrain of a bicycle path for four miles. A good warm up for what was ahead. As we turned off of it onto actual road, Michael said, “Well, here we go, Mars Girl. The hills.”

And we sure did have hills. The first 30 miles of the route were relentlessly challenging with some steep hills and not a lot of pay-off. It seems like we did more climbing than sailing down. As we took a wildly swerving ride down some road that looked like it could be someone’s driveway, I remember thinking, believing myself to be clever, For every down hill there’s an equal and opposite uphill. I was not proven wrong.

A misty wetness–not quite rain–began to hit us somewhere within the first 15 miles. I had worn the clear lenses in my goggles, but they were getting so misted up that I couldn’t see through them so I just put them in my back pocket. I don’t know how other riders put up with this, but generally in the rain, I’m ready to sacrifice my eyes to road dust and bugs because I can’t stand not quite seeing through my goggles.

This sharply rolling route took us through Berlin and Charm with the destination of Millersburg. I somehow found the gusto to get myself up every one of these hills. I kept telling myself that I didn’t need to get off the bike, no matter how painful. I did have to stop twice in the middle of climb–once for a near mechanical failure where my chain was getting ready to drop off the middle ring when I shifted too hastily to granny and once because I was breathing faster than I could get air in my lungs (the bane of an asthmatic). Both times, however, I started riding again. It doesn’t count as walking or cheating if you actually don’t walk your bike anywhere. I had to rest several times mid-hill on the Fall-N-Leaf ride last year. Those aren’t what I can’t live with; it’s the hills I’ve walked up–did not get back on–that irk me for the rest of the year.

Somewhere along a slight downhill after Charm, Michael took a spill on some slippery mud that caked the one side of the road. It was kind of scary because his wheels just slid out from under him and he went careening, bike and all, across the road and into a patch of high weedy grass. I experienced a moment of deja vu as just about a month ago, I’d had a dream in which Michael and I were riding together and I’d looked back only to find him sprawled in the middle of a road, having fallen. I’m not trying to suggest I’m psychic or anything… It’s just ironic that I had a dream about him falling not to long ago and there he was, falling.

In the real life version of his fall, Michael got up almost instantly. As I slowed to see if he was okay, my wheels slid and when I put my feet down to steady myself, my shoes slid too. “Woah, it’s really slippery over here,” I stated rather stupidly. Just call me Mars Obvious Girl. I believe Michael responded with a “No shit.”

He seemed a little shaken up, but mostly all right. Later, we learned the total damage was a seriously red raspberry on his upper leg, about 2 inches in diameter, and a scrape on his arm and ankle. Small rips to his rain coat, an arm warmer, and his lycra pants. Suppose that’s better than his skin, but still, cycling clothes are pricey.

After getting himself together and making sure his bike was okay, we started off again, a little more wary of the conditions than perhaps we were to begin with. (Well, not me, because, you know, I am the queen of the brakes. But I did have to be more careful about how I applied my brakes and in what ground conditions, that’s for sure.)

A few times, it started to actually rain. The roads were pretty much wet throughout the ride, even during the slight reprieves we had in which it wasn’t raining at all. I actually would not count this ride as entirely rainy so much as wet. It certainly was not the constant, steady pouring of rain we endured on the Loudonville leg of XOBA. That was misery. The conditions on this ride were not by any means enjoyable, but they weren’t miserable. Most of the mental challenge for me on this ride was getting up the hills, whereas on XOBA it was getting up the hills AND enduring many uncomfortable hours of relentless rain.

Unfortunately for Michael, the only substantial food offered for lunch was PB&J sandwiches. This was probably the only negative thing about this ride. Though I love peanut butter, I generally don’t go for PB&J sandwiches, or even just peanut butter sandwiches. I don’t know why, but I’m just not a fan. But I can eat them in a crunch such as this one when my stomach was feeling the need for refueling. I will say, however, that the homemade bread used for the PB&J sandwich was OUTSTANDING. Probably the best bread I’ve had in a long, long time. Seriously, bread makers just can’t replace the taste of good homemade bread made the old-fashioned way. I’m wondering if the bread maker in this case was Amish… which may mean it was especially good due to the purer ingredients I’m guessing the Amish use…?

I felt bad for Michael (and thought also of how my friend Sue would react if she were on this ride). He managed, though, chowing on some cookies (the kind that are made of a trail mix and supposed to be good for you), a few pieces of the wonderful homemade bread, bananas, and an apple.

By the time we’d sat around for a bit and taken a rest room break, Bob W (aka “TDB”) rolled into the stop. We chatted with him for a bit and decided we’d hang around and ride generally with him for the rest of the ride. (You didn’t mind so much, did you, Bob?)

The second half of the ride–going through Shreve back to Fredericksburg–was not as intense as the first. It seemed on the first 30 miles, we were constantly climbing steep hills, one after another, like some horrible military punishment march. The hills on the second 30 miles tended to be more long than steep and slightly less frequent, separated by a little bit of straight away before being forced to tackle the next. I’m much better on long, slow ascents than I am on quick, steep ones. I am better able to do what I do best, which is regulate my breathing and my pain level and just fall into a steady, relaxed pace all the way to the top. I excelled at this kind of climbing in Colorado. When I get in a situation where I have to climb a steep hill, I generally don’t know how to deal with it because I have no gear small enough to ride the hill comfortably and it’s nearly impossible to find a comfortable rhythm. I totally suck at standing on my pedals. I do it, but I’m not usually able to maintain it for very long so if I’m going to stand, I have wait until the last bit of the hill before even trying it. I guess to survive these steep hills, I just need to get more muscles on my legs or something… and be suddenly, miraculously cured of my asthma which also suddenly bestows me with a higher lung capacity than I’ve got… (can someone improve their lung capacity?)

There were a few steep climbs towards the end of the ride but my legs were so numb by that point, I just kind of pushed my way through them without thinking about it. I’d gotten myself thus far without walking and I wasn’t about to do it now. There may be some hope for me on Fall-N-Leaf this year after all!

We finished the ride with only 60.5 miles, so Michael and I went back onto the bike path to get our last 1.5 miles for 62. I ended with a 13.3 average and Michael, of course, beat me at 13.7 (his climbing skills are not to be understated… he just pumps away with much better speed than I can hope to attain). Our really low averages are a testament to how hilly this ride was. It was really challenging, but I did really like the route and I enjoyed myself despite the weather. Though, you know, it’d be nice to do this ride on nice fall day…

Anyway, we got our Amish fry pies and ice cream to go along with it. Yum! I think they were every bit as good as I imagined. Michael and I both got the peaches and cream flavored ones. They also had lemon (which I’d toiled over in trying to decide which to take), strawberry and cream, and raspberry (yuck, not a raspberry fan). What a delicious treat to end the hard ride with. I hardly think it really did any damage to my workout, for I’ve read that you burn some 5,000 calories per hour of climbing. Our ride time was four and a half hours. That’s 20,000 calories; I think I’m okay. I’ll even grant that the Italian dinner I ate afterwords was okay, too. I probably pushed it with three glasses of wine, though. Eh, who’s counting?

Despite all the rain I’ve ridden in, I don’t think any roads are dirtier than those in Holmes County. And I don’t recall my bike every getting as caked with mud and grime as it did on this ride, even though I’ve ridden in total downpours. Just look at the photographic evidence.

My poor Black Beauty… to be undignified in this manner, as though she were some sort of mountain bike ruffian!

We road cyclists are rather anal about our bikes. When our bikes look like this, we end up cleaning them before riding again. Bikes perform better when they are treated like a sensitive piece of mechanical equipment. I ended up also cleaning my chain, crankset, and rear cassette with degreaser and then re-greasing them as well. The kind of conditions we rode in also makes the chain real scummy. We want our bikes shifting seamlessly when we ride!

I spent about two hours completely cleaning BB today. But now she sparkles like new again, ready for her next adventure that will push my mileage to 4,000 for this year. Only 12 more miles to go. A walk in the park!

So. The real question is: am I ready for Fall-N-Leaf? And, if so, can I better my ride from last year? Can I do it with no walking and less mid-hill stops? And will the weather actually be nice enough that I want to do the ride? Because I’m not doing it if it’s raining. I mean it this time.


I’m not joking.

Why doesn’t anyone ever believe me?


Trees toss confetti
Amber, gold; crunching like foil
Beneath my two wheels.

A little autumn haiku for you, composed on a brisk September morning’s bicycle commute to work. Life is good. Go for a ride. Drink some coffee to warm you from the post-ride chill.

They weren’t kidding about the cookies…

For two years, I’ve thought about doing Out-Spokin’ Wheelmen’s Northeast Ohio Century (NEOC) ride. Not for any particular reason. Probably because it had a close start location–Newton Falls, about a half hour from my house–and I like not having to always drive far away to get to a good ride. I don’t know why I have never managed to make it to this ride; maybe it was the weather that year or a loss of interest in doing centuries by this time of the year. After completing MCBC’s RAM ride, I had decided I was up for one more century for the year, just to end my year’s centuries on a nice even number of 8.

I had no hope of catching up to Michael, who has 11 (!!!!) centuries, especially since he keeps ending up going on rides with me, increasing his number, and I’ve no hope of trying to find a ride when he’s already busy doing something else to try to out number him. So when I decided that this was the year to NEOC, and, since Michael had volunteered himself to go with me, I figured I mine as well do the ride on his tandem.

I expected the ride would be a little hilly, being that it was advertised as going through Portage, Trumbull, and Geauga Counties. I had thought perhaps it might go south towards Lake Milton, but it turns out we ended up in a lot of the same stomping grounds I have done on rides earlier this year or on my own: Hiram, Burton, Middlefield. The ride covered some of the same grounds also covered on Sunday in June, including unavoidable state routes with the lovely Amish buggy ruts, which know you all over the place, and the ride becomes a game of dodging pot holes that could swallow your tire whole.

The day started out pretty cold in the mid 40’s and we had to bundle up to start. I found I couldn’t ride with just my arm warmers and tights so I ended up wearing the fleece jacket I’d worn to the ride. Fortunately, Michael brought his rack pack so that we had somewhere to stow our cold weather clothes as we progressively stripped throughout the day. Which we did. By lunch, the temperature had increased to the mid-70s and I was down to my bike shorts and short-sleeved shirt. The manic-depressive temperatures indicate fall is definitely here!

The route was very nice in a lot of spots, though. Our first stop was at the park at Nelson Ledges, where I have not been for years. Michael asked about the hiking quality of that area and I told him with enthusiasm how much I enjoyed hiking around there in college. I still have a memory in my head of standing with my then-bf Scott atop an overlook that dropped significantly into a valley. Seems to me there was a great view there, but I can’t remember if that image is really from that memory or somewhere else I’ve been. This means it’s been a long time since I’ve hiked around there and I made a mental note to visit this fall when the foliage is in full color.

This ride boasted great cookies. Usually rides make this claim and you get a lot of cookies made ad hoc from a premade mix (sorry, ABC!). So we’ve come to not expect much by way of cookies on a ride. To my chagrin, despite some of the cookies being store bought, there were a great deal of homemade cookies of every type and they were delicious. I’m ashamed to admit how many cookies I ate on this ride. I know I totally invalidated my exercise here, which is why I did not partake in ice cream at the end of the ride with Michael. While sipping on a diet Coke, I watched him eat a Strawberry Chocolate Blizzard.

So from Nelson Ledges, we rode up Route 305. I’d always wondered what the climb into Hiram was like from that route–since on ABC’s Memorial Day Ride (which I now lead) and all other rides I lead through Hiram–we go down that hill. I thought it would be pretty bad because you can get some major speed off that hill (not that I would know as I’m always braking liberally), but it turns out the climb is not that steep. I’m serious, it really wasn’t that bad. I was actually kind of disappointed because some of the hills leading up to that hill, though shorter, were much steeper. Oh well. (Also, the hill on Route 700 coming into Hiram is harder–shorter but steeper again.)

I never wondered what The Wall on Route 82 was like. But I got to find out. I thought we were going to get to avoid it because we were routed down Route 700 towards Garrettsville, then up Pioneer Trail. Unfortunately, the route then turned us down Vaughn which drops you off–yes–right in front of The Wall. We climbed most of the way up to Sheldon and turned off it. I was kind of disappointed because I wanted to finish the climb. Michael and I got in a nice relaxed rhythm and the pace wasn’t too excruciating so, of course, I kind of liked it. I can’t say I’ve fully climbed The Wall yet since I didn’t make it to the intersection of 82 and 44 at Mantua Corners. So I guess maybe I should go back sometime and try to do it myself, eh?

We took Sheldon basically to Rapids Road where we climbed into Burton, went through the Square, and back down Route 700. I was a little nervous about the speed, but I let Michael captain his tandem without complaint as we sped down 700 and I tried not to cringe as we took the blind corners. They weren’t too sharp of turns and I felt strangely calmer than I should have. And the next thing I knew, I was kind of enjoying the speed. Whee!! We passed another single rider–which made me nervous because he was in the middle of the lane–and off we flew. It was fantastic. Michael said that we got to at least 42mph when I asked; upon checking the computer at the end of the ride, it turns out we hit 47mph!! Ssssawwweet! Now if only I will let myself do that on my own bike by myself!

We eventually ended up in Middlefield. Lunch was a simple sandwich spread with lunch meat options or PB&J. No cookies at the lunch stop (thank God, for I would have eaten more for sure) but bags of chips to help bring the salt content back up in the body. Okay, I admit it, I’m a bad eater. Anyway, they also had some of those fancy-smancy gel packs that feel like a sugary goo in your mouth but all the sport-minded folks seem to think they are great for energy so I grabbed a few for later. Little did I know the flavor was kind of weird–vanilla orange.

Somewhere after lunch, we got to some rolling back roads in Trumbull County which were fun. Michael was making me do a lot of standing on the pedals to crest the top parts of some of the steeper hills which awakened a new set of muscles in my legs (quads?) because I don’t stand so much on my own bike very often. I probably should, it would help me get up some nasty steep hills without even thinking of abandoning the climb. It’s just so hard for me to maintain for any length of time, which probably means I need to work those muscles more. I’m not good at the whole pain and strain thing you need to do to beef up muscles… I need to work on perhaps extending myself a little more for improvement.

We passed through Mesopotamia (who knew there was one in Ohio?), West Farmington (which I recognized before I saw the sign thanks to Andy K), and Parkman. There was on weird moment along Route 88 where we crossed 608, which was the road the 62 mile route was using to get back to Newton Falls. It was kind of weird to see a bunch of cyclists going that direction down the road, knowing they were from the same ride, and not taking the urge to turn. We did stop to look at our map and we realized that our route did cross theirs.

Unfortunately, we were forced to continue down Route 88 all the way into Garrettsville. It’s not a horribly trafficky road until you get into Garrettsville. It’s not all that scenic either. But this is the second time I’ve spent so much time on Route 88 on a ride, Sunday in June being the other time, so I suppose it’s the only option for getting around in that area. As we approached Garrettsville, though, the motorists became increasingly unpleasant–definitely not a bicycle friendly community–and we even were greeted by one of the residents with the one-finger salute as he passed (in his rusty ole pickup truck, of course), even though we were trying to be the least intrusive on the road as possible, riding the white line respectfully. Whatever. Some people can’t stand waiting behind anyone for thirty seconds to pass them.

Our last rest stop was at the Garrettsville library where there were more delicious cookies to taunt me. I had one–white chocolate chip macadamia nut, my favorite–and a chocolate-covered pretzel. It was quiet; I heard the volunteer mention that only about 30 people were doing the 100 mile route, which really isn’t that unusual for the century option on a smaller ride like this. As a comparison, the MS 150 in Toledo, which normally has about 1,000 riders, only has about 75-100 riders doing the 100 mile route on the first day. This indicates to me that there’s only a small population of insane cyclists out there. At least amongst those of us who do all these registered rides (because we’re too lazy to write our own or do self-contained trips).

From Garrettsville, I was surprised that the route took familiar roads that I use myself for my rides out that direction–Hankee to Asbury to 303. So this part of the route was very familiar to me. And there was a certain justification in my route being “officially sanctioned” by a registered ride. These really are decent roads for the area and–dare I say–scenic. It’s all about the scenery to me. I enjoy pleasant rolls down pretty, low-traffic roads more than anything.

Back to busy roads as we took my most disliked Route 303 all the way through Windham to head back to Newton Falls. Mental note: If I decide to reroute the ABC’s Memorial Day ride to Newton Falls, as someone suggested, I will have to find some prettier, more interesting routes.

Our ending mileage came up about a mile short of 100 miles, so Michael and I took an additional ride through some side streets in Newton Falls. Our tragic mistake is that we did not push the speed, for little did we know but we were, at that time, just under 6 hours in ride time. Had we pushed the speed just a little faster, we would have had 5 hours and fifty-some minutes; instead, we ended with 6:01’47. One minute and forty-seven seconds separated me from having my first ever finish in under 6 hours. Damn. Still, this was the best ride time I ever had on a century, my second closest being the Flatlanders Tour with Sue and Hubert where I finished 108 miles in 6:37’12 (16.3 average). I also finished 100 miles in 6:17’30 (16.1 average) on the first day of the MS 150 this year which was a personal best as it was a windy day and I did not have anyone to draft off of (and would probably have refused any invitations, had there been any).

All in all, it was a fun ride. A little disappointing in that it went through a lot of familiar territory. But then, the benefit of doing this ride was, to me, not having to drive very far to get to it. Besides, I kept the map so that I could find some of these side roads again to use them for routes on my own rides in the future. I’d do the ride again, weather-permitting.


As someone who has lost a loved one, your mind always seems to sense when an important date is coming up, even when you thought you weren’t thinking about it. Yesterday morning, I woke up in a funk. I didn’t know why I was feeling so sad on the day after I’d done a century ride on my bike; usually the effect of the endorphins generated from a great day of riding keep me in a generally satisfied mood for days. But yesterday I woke up feeling absolutely lonely. As I stepped into the shower, I felt a heaviness in my movements and the single thought slipped into my mind: I want to be in love.

Once something like that is worded in your mind, a longing and sadness just hangs on your heart. I felt almost desperate as I remembered the freedom of being in love. Perhaps part of the reason I was thinking about this was because I was reading The Time Traveler’s Wife and the descriptions of the passionate love affair between the main characters, Clare and Henry, reminded me of the all-consuming passion I’ve felt at times in my life with Mike. Many of the sexier scenes of the book reminded me of the playfulness of intimacy when you’re in love and comfortable with your lover. I was reminded, with sadness, of entire Saturdays in the winter spent at home, in and out of bed, with breaks to eat and watch The Fifth Element. Young, crazy, maddening love–I miss the overwhelming comfort and completeness of it, of not wanting to be anywhere else but in that single moment, savoring every kiss, every touch. I now know why one of my friends warned me that I might have trouble reading this book because I was a widow.

As I was driving to work, the mention of the date on a news segment reminded me of the date–September 21–and I knew why I was feeling that way that morning. Today, September 22, is Mike’s birthday. He would have been 41. As I continue to tick away real numbers for my age, I am reminded of how Mike’s age counter is suspended forever at 32. I’m now older than him. I found a way to catch up with his age, which we used to joke about because we were six and a half years apart, and at 23 and 29–the age we were at when we met–it seemed like planets apart. When he was graduating from high school in 1986, I was graduating from sixth grade (we did have a graduation ceremony). When I graduated from high school in 1993, he’d already been out of a college for a year, after having taken the “five year program,” and held his first job. I graduated from college in 1997; we met at a now infamous party called Woodchuck in 1998. It was like I was priming my whole life to be old enough to meet him. To be his wife.

Despite being old enough to date him without it being obscene (as it would have been had we met up until I graduated from college), our age difference was also the source of many pop cultural disconnects between us. It was kind of funny. I still remember sitting in the car as the first few notes of a song began to play and screaming, “Vanilla Ice!” because I thought the song was “Ice, Ice Baby.” Mike gave me one of his bemused looks and said, “No, sweetie; this one is the original. From my decade.” It was, of course, Queen’s “Under Pressure.”

Sometimes his older age made him feel a sense of urgency about things. He wanted to have kids right away because he didn’t want to be too old–or what he defined as too old–as they grew up. He wanted to still be young when they graduated from college. Being younger, I had no desire to have children just yet. I told him that I wouldn’t even think about children until I was 30. I just wanted time with him for several years. He agreed. I wonder now what would have happened when I turned 30, if the hints would have started and he would have urged me to have children. I wonder if the girl I was pre-widowhood would have wanted children. I can’t remember anymore. I don’t want them now. Part of it probably has to do with dealing with loss, I am sure. Part of it is also that I don’t think I’ve ever really wanted to have children, not since I was a little kid. But maybe with him I would have thought differently. I have to admit that images of little Mike/Heidis have actually seemed like a good idea every once in awhile.

I always was aware of the fact that because he was older, he might die first. It was something on the back of my mind. A warning for the future. The distant future. Who knew it was something I’d have to deal with so soon? When you’re in your twenties, the reality of “surprise” death doesn’t really come to mind. Old people die. People you don’t know die randomly–car accidents, heart attacks, cancer, freak accidents. It’s not supposed to happen to you.

Mike should have lived to be 41. I should have lived to find out if I really did want to have kids with him (the old me might have). I should have had the chance to chose my future, not have it thrust upon me abruptly one sunny Saturday morning in April when we were supposed to spend a happy day together riding bikes on the towpath with a friend. Because Mike traveled a lot for work, coming home Friday and leaving Sunday, Saturdays were our special days together. Like Clare in The Time Traveler’s Wife, I was always waiting. I always had him on Saturdays. Our date days. When he died, I found myself most alone on Saturdays. Which is why my social calendar is still filled to the brim on weekends. Eight years later, I still make sure I’m busy on Saturday to fill that gaping painful void in my heart. For a long time, I had to keep myself busy to not think about being lonely. Sometimes I still find myself feeling a little melancholy on a Saturday in which I’ve decided to lay low; the echo of how I used to spend my Saturdays with the love of my life still haunts me when I’m alone.

This past Saturday, I am sure, also contributed to my feelings of longing. I was amongst some friends, newly married, who were talking with excitement about their new lives. I wasn’t jealous, I wasn’t even sad as they talked. I basked in the warmth of their conversation, the vague remembrance of feeling once what they did; I was fueled by the happiness they conveyed instead of lost in frustration and anger beneath it. This is a big move forward for me because for the longest time just the mention of agreeable marriage life caused my heart to thud harder, my palms to sweat, tears to well up in my eyes. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that I remember crying all the way to work the Friday before my brother’s wedding. “Not fair,” I whined to myself in the emptiness of my car, one of the only places where I feel safe to let my emotions without anyone seeing. “Why me?” I implored. But now I’m somehow capable of being happy for my friends finding good relationships without turning sorrow inward on myself.

Still. It affects me. And I get pulled into the maelstrom of sadness, if only in small little waves that wash over me in a moment when a stray thought finds words in my mind. I miss being in love.

I stopped for gas on the way to work yesterday and as I opened my wallet to reach for my credit card, I saw the engagement picture of me and Mike that I have kept there–transferred dutifully from new wallet to new wallet. Suddenly, the picture seemed out of place. Why was I still keeping it there? Eight years and I carry his photograph in my wallet as though he still waits for me at home. As if he’s still going to call me from some city where he’s teaching his programming tool to a bunch of eager developers. As if he did make it to 41. I suddenly felt slightly embarrassed. What must people think of me when they see that picture in my wallet? And I know they see it for everyone notices the picture of the labrador puppy I keep in there, a picture that came with one of my wallets, which now gets transferred to the new ones like the engagement photo, because I want a dog but do not feel I have the time to take care of one. (Is it like having a virtual pet, then? Is Mike a virtual husband?)

With a sigh, I told myself that it’s probably time I removed the picture. But I know that I can’t really move forward until I’ve fully accepted that I can’t go back. Perhaps this is why every romantic relationship I’ve had since Mike has failed, because I can’t let go, I can’t even remove his picture from my wallet. I don’t have any pictures displayed of Mike in my house; I haven’t put any up since I left Colorado. I’ve long since abandoned wearing my wedding ring. The wallet is the last hold-out, the last finger grip on a scrap of the past I don’t want to completely leave behind. Ironic that I should realize this the day before his birthday. But probably significant too.

I haven’t removed the picture yet. I think I have a problem with showing myself and everyone else such an outward sign of acceptance. I don’t want people or myself to think that removing the picture makes everything better, that I’ll miraculously transform into a new person and become free. I will always love Mike. Part of me will always mourn a little. However, I know that in order to love again–to rid myself of this loneliness I dread–that I must let go enough to let another in.

I will remove the picture. Soon. Just not today–this day, his birthday. Another birthday. Another reminder that life moves forward without Mike. Mark off another year not lived. He would have been a handsome older man. We could have had a great life.

Mike skiing at Winter Park in Colorado. Circa December 2000, I think.

Mike and me on the weekend of July 4, 1998–the weekend
in which he first told me he loved me. And he said it first!

Taxing your health

I really abhor laws put in place to protect you from yourself. Despite being a paying patron of the performing arts, I was ardently against the Cleveland initiative to place an extra tax on cigarettes to give the money to performing arts, but I couldn’t vote on it since I don’t live in Cuyahoga County. Some of my friends were against this tax because they thought the tax money should go to a fund that helps people who are dying of cancer or other smoking-related diseases. I agree with them there. We should not reap the benefits of people smoking to fund an unrelated group in need of funding. But I also don’t think we should tax people on their personal choices. It not only sets a dangerous precedent, but it’s not our business to legislate how people should spend their money or penalize them for spending money on something the general public deems a “dangerous activity.”

I’m not for smoking. Don’t get me wrong. I am a recovering smoker, so I do have a certain empathy towards that part of the population. However, though I voted against it, I actually am enjoying the law against cigarette smoking in restaurants and bars now, which I never thought I would. It turns out that it’s easier for me–as a recovering smoker–to avoid the craving for cigarettes when I’m not sitting there amidst a bunch of cigarette smokers. And I’m sure all the non-smokers out there are happy because they no longer leave places smelling like an ash tray.

That said, however, I never did and never will agree on adding an additional tax to cigarettes for use to fund other programs. The dangerous precedent we set here by adding such tax is the freedom to open the flood gates of ridiculousness for other special interest groups to jump on the band wagon of adding “sin taxes” to anything and everything that they deem is in your best interest. I’m not usually one to believe in “cascading events”–one event will begin the unraveling of the entire woven blanket of civilization as we know it. However, when it comes to people getting a definite supply of money from something, I do think events can cascade out of control.

Case in point is the news blurb I heard this morning about adding a tax to pop (soda to those not in the Midwest). A little vein started to pound on my head when I heard this discussion come up this morning and it did not help the migraine I’d woken up with. The thought process behind this brilliant idea is that pop/soda is bad for you. Which, okay, we know sugar pop/soda is not the best thing you can drink. BUT. It’s YOUR decision to drink it. Why should you be penalized for your personal choice to drink something or your lack of will power to keep yourself from drinking it constantly? Who’s wise matronly decision is it penalize you for your choices?

I want to know who these people are who think they are the Mothers of America, dictating what they think is right for everyone. These people–whoever they are–are going to tell us what is good for us to eat and if we decide that we are going to go against that predetermined little nutritional chart, they are going to charge us more money to purchase something we enjoy. What happens next, then? Hmmm? Taxing me for eating meat? For buying coffee? For chocolate? Let’s get real here!

“They” want to take the money generated from the pop tax to fund public awareness programs about health. We don’t need public awareness campaigns about health. I know the secret to good health: GET OFF YOUR BUTTS AND DO SOME EXERCISE. You are not going to be in good health by starving yourself and then continuing an inactive lifestyle. I am not convinced that any study we’ve done proves much of anything as far as food is concerned. One week, I’m told coffee may cause cancer; the next week I’m told coffee is actually good for you. I’m sorry, but I think there are a variety of variables that contribute to your overall health–genetics, exercise level, environment–and not one single thing is going to cause your demise. Sometimes, you’re just damned unlucky and no matter what you did right, you’re still going to end up with some massive health issue. Why spend all this time obsessing about it?

I just don’t think it’s right or constitutional to start adding extra taxes on things because someone somewhere has deemed that a particular product is unsafe for you. It rubs me the wrong way to have some Over-Mother out there slapping my wrist for the personal choices I make. We don’t need more laws to protect us from ourselves. We have to take a bit of personal responsibility for our lives and the choices we make, not blame the problem on the people who make Coke or Marlboros. The government should not be in the business of legislating personal choice or morality.

And I won’t stop drinking my pop. Though, I admit, I switched long ago to diet pop. And you can tell me all you want that it’s still bad for my health but I’m not going to stop drinking it. It’s my choice. If you want to argue with me that I’m an unhealthy person, then I challenge you to ride up Everett Road with me sometime. We’ll see who’s unhealthy.

Healing Magic

I usually don’t read children’s books or watch children’s movies. I always feel like I can’t get into something that is “watered down” and not smart enough to feed my inflated sense of intellectualism. For this reason, I’ve avoided such books The Chronicles of Narnia for years. I’m too intelligent for these books, I say. I should have read them in my youth.

Sometimes, however, you can force me to watch or read a book or movie for children. This is how I ended up watching the first Harry Potter movie, Toy Story, and Shrek–all of which I will shamelessly admit that I loved after I ended up seeing them. However, it takes some prodding to get me to the point where I deign lower myself to give it a chance. Such is the situation that occurred when my friend Sue shoved the classic book The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett into my hands and insisted that I borrow it to read. “Eh, no,” I thought. “I’ll be bored silly.”

Because it was borrowed and not given to me, I had a sense of obligation to read it so that I could get it back to her and you can’t give someone a book back that you haven’t even attempted to read. So it was obligation, at first, that guiltily prodded me to pick the book after I spent too many months rereading The Mists of Avalon. After a book as huge and intricate as The Mists of Avalon, I needed to take a break with something light.

I had a religious experience reading this book. Simply, The Secret Garden is the story of two young children who are victims of an adult world into which they never fit: a young girl named Mary Lennox, neglected by her parents and unloved; and the boy, Colin Craven, whose likeness to the mother who died giving birth to him pushes his father further into his own misery and grief. Both children, neglected, are left like wilting flowers without sunlight in a garden overrun by weeds.

The story begins when Mary’s entire household is wiped out by a plague and she’s sent to live with her only remaining relative, her uncle Mr. Craven. On some level, I could relate to the character of the uncle, despite the fact that he has very little face time in the book itself; it’s the descriptions of him from the other characters that paints a picture of sorrow I know too well. It’s very easy to let yourself slip into grief’s embrace and stay there. After all, it’s the stuff of what the movie What Dreams May Come inspires (and, I admit, I had a lot of trouble watching that movie–it was like a mirror of sorrow in my face and I think I watched it too soon after my husband died).

The children bring the glimmer of hope into this dead world the adults have created. Mary discovers the key to the late Mrs. Craven’s garden–the garden in which she died and Mr. Craven had locked and made forbidden to enter. Mary falls in love with the garden and has this calling to put it back in order and bring the life back to it. Soon, she brings others in on her scheme. First, the young Dickon, animal charmer and brother of the maid who takes care of Mary. Eventually, Mary finds the cloistered Collin Craven and lets him in on the secret as well. The three children sneak off to the Secret Garden every afternoon and, like the plants they take care of, they grow strong, bud, and bloom full as each day passes. Of course, by the end of the book, they’ve brought the life back into the lives of the adults around them.

It’s just a very beautiful story of renewal. Instead of using an deity-specific lingo, the book uses “Magic” to describe the spiritual experience, the wonderful oneness one experiences with nature. At moments, the wording invoked in the spiritual practice of the children–who experiment with healing themselves through the positive energy of “good” Magic–is exactly on par with how I experience spirituality and, especially, in its connection with nature (which are the only moments in which I have had true spiritual experiences, moments of elation and understanding of the universe greater than myself). I found myself mentally marching around the Secret Garden with the children, chanting, “The sun is shining–the sun is shining. That is the Magic. The flowers are growing–the roots are stirring. That is the Magic. Being alive is the Magic–being strong is the Magic. The Magic is in me. It is in me–it is in me. It’s in everyone of us.” (Chapter 23)

In the months after Mike died, I found myself doing quite a bit of hiking. It was the one thing I could do that always made me feel a little better. I am sure the endorphins from the exercise helped. But the main reason I did the hiking was probably similar for the same reasons a person might visit a church in a time of emotional turmoil–to get away from all the distractions of the world to think, to pray, to reconnect with life. For me, the outside world is my temple. It has been so since the day I first crossed my first mountain summit–Mt. Marcy in the NY Adirondacks– with Mike at my side, and witnessed the Magic as I sat with a couple dozen fellow hikers gathered on the football-field sized summit, soaking in the sun of that beautiful May day. We were priests and priestess of the sun in that moment.

When I would go out for a hike, I found clarity if only for a few hours. I could focus only on my labored breathing and get lost in the moment of exertion and not think at all; or, I could sit amongst the trees and inhale the precious clean air and contemplate the depth and sorrow of my loss. With each breath in, I could feel my small position in the grand universe and I felt at one with the world around me. Sometimes I imagined I could talk to Mike. Sometimes I imagined I could scream my anger at the Divine about the disparaging unfairness and cruelty of life. There was something very ritualistic and spiritual about my hikes. Especially since hiking was an activity both Mike and I enjoyed in our time together. In a way, it was the best way I could reconnect with him.

It’s no wonder that when I thirsted for spiritual comfort, I turned to paganism for awhile. I had a friend who practiced Druidic paganism and I would attend the rituals of at her grove. Pagan rituals involve meditation and they take place outdoors–both of which attracted me greatly. It was a cleansing experience too. I had some true inspired moments during these rituals where I connected with the Divine. In the end, though, this raised-Catholic-turned-atheist-turned-searcher had trouble believing in one god let alone a pantheon of them… So my spiritual quest turned elsewhere. But the experience taught me that my true place of worship is the silent sanctuary of the world outside.

In my life as one who loves the outdoors, I have experienced many sights that have awakened within me a great, aching awe. When I have these moments–and they are so few–I’m filled with such love for life and everything in it that I have this urge to hug myself. Or hug it all. I never know which it is. I just want to hug, touch, emote. At that grand moment, my soul is complete. This beautiful passage from the book describes the thrill of that moment of finding myself in that moment of Divine inspiration:

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender, solemn dawn time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvellous unknown things happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in someone’s eyes.

I’ve felt like this, experienced the definitive certainty that even if there is no life after life–even if your soul goes nowhere–you do live on forever and ever and ever. The particles that make your body are reabsorbed into the universe and you are born again as something else–person, animal, plant, tree, stars. We are, as they say, stardust. And to me that’s an even more beautiful thing than eternal life in a heaven of souls. Somewhere out there, I always think, from the lifelessness of Mike’s body new life has formed. Somewhere, just beyond my reach perhaps, he continues.

Nature has a way of renewing not just itself but those within it who have managed to separate themselves from it. Like the children in this book, I fumbled my way back into life by wandering for awhile in the silent sanctuary of some wood-covered road in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I sat beneath trees and felt the breeze pat my cheek reassuringly. If there was anything that my life with Mike taught me it was to appreciate this great, wonderful world we’ve been momentarily given to live upon. Born from the earth, we all return to the earth. Born from the earth, I could only heal in her arms.

The Secret Garden is the happiest book I’ve read all year and a welcome break after the rather somber ending of The Mists of Avalon (though, I do not understate that I love The Mists of Avalon–why else would I read it not once, but twice?) If only real life could always be so uplifting! I’m sure there was a bunch of Christian allegories one could make in this book (Dickon = Jesus figure?) but I’m too inept and unstudied to have found them. I did love the philosophy stated multiple times that Magic was as good a name for the Divine as any other… Magic is a word I can understand.

Another 9/11/2001 blog

I don’t like to think of 9/11/2001. I am sure most of you don’t, but I really have a particularly gag reaction to it because the event occurred only five months after my husband died. I had already battled a number of emotional issues in those five months and my mind just couldn’t handle another. I’d lost my husband and placed his ashes atop a mountain. My refusal to give any of the ashes to Mike’s mother had cost me a complete break with his family, particularly his mother who had emotionally terrorized me on a few occasions with phone calls that I still don’t like to think about. Perhaps I will cover this subject in a later blog entry, when I find the courage to say to a vast audience–one more vast than my close circle of friends–the details of my break with my husband’s family and the words his dysfunctional mother screamed at me… words, I know, she’d glow to know still haunt me to this day… that’s what an alcoholic is good at–stabbing you right in the gut with a blunt knife where you are most vulnerable and wrenching it back and forth. So, I guess in a way unconnected to the events of 9/11/2001, I know what terrorism is on an emotional level.

Anyway, whenever I think of 9/11/2001, I think of loneliness. A lot of people have stories of going home to their families and sharing the comfort of each other on that single night and every time I hear these stories, I’m admittedly overwhelmed with jealousy. I didn’t have that. I went home to an empty house. But I was scared. It was the one time in my adult life that perhaps I could have used a mother’s hug or a lover’s embrace and actually admitted fully to needing such a thing. I never like to admit to needing these things; I’m always afraid I sound dysfunctional. But I needed some comfort that night and I had none.

Perhaps I could have handled the loneliness and lack of comfort had I never had a husband from whom I would have gotten such things in a crisis such as that moment. Perhaps as a single young lady, I simply would have phoned a friend or called my mom or mooched my way to someone’s house for dinner. But at the time, I was grieving the death of my husband. And I didn’t want to burden anyone else with my problems. The fury of emotions that were bubbling within me on that day were wrapped up in anguish of reliving death. Part of me empathized with the new widows I knew were made on that day. Part me of screamed out against the utter pain of life. It was just more proof of how ugly existence could be, how variable life was, and how suddenly everything can change. It was just not a good day to be a five-month old widow.

Part of my emotions also surrounded the image of what could have been. Had Mike not died, he probably would have been out of town on business that day and therefore also trapped. Maybe I wouldn’t have had his comfort at all that night regardless of circumstances. He would have called me, I am sure, but we would have felt the utter desperation of being hopelessly parted from one another. If he weren’t too far away, maybe on the east coast or something, I am sure Mike would have been one of the people to rent a car and drive home to me. That’s just how he was. He wanted to be with me in emotionally stressful situations. He once booked a flight home from his dad’s house in Colorado to be with me because I was emotionally distraught after being fired from a job. I had told him not to do that, but he did it anyway. It was one of the reasons I loved him so much–he did things for me because he wanted to be there for me. I would have done the same for him.

I also used to torture myself by imagining what Mike would have done had he been on United Flight 93. I always think about how those people made desperate phone calls from the plane to their loved ones to say goodbye. I used to try to imagine what Mike would have sounded like had he done that. It made me cry to think about. I don’t think I would have wanted him to leave me such a message or, heaven forbid, to reach me and tell me what was happening on that plane. But because Mike traveled so much with his job, I could not stop myself from picturing the reality of the situation. If he had lived, would he have been on that plane? Would he have been anywhere near NYC for that matter? How would 9/11/2001 really have affected our lives?

I’ll never know. I think a part of me could not resist imagining the what-ifs of this situation because it made more sense in some way that he would die on a plane than the way he actually did die. It’s heroic, almost, to imagine him sacrificing his life to save the lives of countless. Do I think Mike would have been the type of guy to help those who resisted? Yes. Unfortunately. Because I think he was more altruistic than I could ever hope to be.

There is a chance, however, that despite Mike’s busy work schedule, he might have been home that week. And if he had, I would have had that lover’s embrace I craved that night. I would have had someone to go home to when I reluctantly left work. I wanted to stay at work that day just to be around people, even as the building was emptying. I had nowhere else to go. I dreaded the thought of returning to the house that already on normal days felt haunted and hollow.

In my version of how things should have turned out that day, I see myself crawling into bed with him and holding him in a tight embrace as though he were the only solid thing left on earth. Just like we did the evening before he died in the aftermath of a huge fight we’d had that week. In the real memory, I remember thinking that I was so lucky to have him in my life, that I would always have him in my life, and that he was my–to borrow an overused phrase–shelter from the storm. I fully realized my love for him in that moment. I swore to myself to never take him for granted again. Such irony life presents.

I think because of the comfort I had in that moment the evening before he died, I always transpose this memory over my memory of the 9/11/2001 because that is how it should have been when I returned from work that evening. I should have been able to snuggle up to him all night, unafraid of what the next morning would bring–life or more disaster–because I had him to comfort me all night. We had each other to comfort through the night. It wouldn’t have mattered if the world I knew crumbled underneath us. We would have been together in the aftermath.

Instead, I had an empty house. An empty bed. And I slept the rest of the night in nightmares, alternately sobbing for Mike and screaming at him for leaving me. This was how many of my nights were after he died. That’s all I remember of most of my nights in 2001. My voice echoing on empty walls as I implored him to appear before me to give me some message of hope about life after death. To let me know he was watching over me. To tell me everything was okay. Even when it wasn’t really okay.

I was shocked, too, that my parents never called me that night. Or any of my friends. But when I think back on it, and after having talked to friends on why I was left so alone during my grieving period in general, I have come to realize that I gave the impression to everyone that I didn’t need them. Some of my friends didn’t know what to do or say. I didn’t have a blog back then (blogs weren’t really around yet) to express how I felt in a way that would help anyone understand me. I internalized my grief and tried to look strong because I thought that’s what people wanted of me. I really needed a few sympathetic listeners–people who could listen to my grief without trying to fix it or suggest how to get around it. I am not sure anyone of my friends or family knew how to be there for me like that.

Some people have a lot of trouble dealing with people’s grief. These people, I re-categorized as acquaintances because I lost the closeness to them since I knew I could not come to them with my troubles. Perhaps that’s not fair, but whenever I felt my feelings were being shoved aside or blown off, I was hurt.

Other people would internalize my grief. My mom would start crying whenever I expressed how I felt, which just made me feel worse because I was causing her to feel horrible. I didn’t want to make everyone else around me feel as horrible as I felt so I stopped talking about my grief to people who couldn’t separate themselves from what I was saying. I think a lot of my close friends fell into this category. It’s not their fault; they loved Mike too. They didn’t have the capacity to listen without empathizing. These people are still my close friends. They just couldn’t help me.

I damaged a lot of relationships with my grief, too. I admit that. I caused strife and fighting in my family, hopelessly damaging relationships with some members of it. Perhaps it is because I had no release, no where to put all my anger and pain, so I lashed out people who I thought weren’t being sympathetic enough.

Either way, I know it’s partly my fault that I was alone on 9/11/2001. I was too afraid to ask for help. And, I guess, I expected people to offer it to me without my asking, even after I’d made myself appear as if I didn’t need it. I didn’t want to admit to being afraid. I wanted to show my poker face (which, if you really know me, I don’t really have a poker face). I wanted to be brave. Despite the fact that internally, I was falling to pieces.

I guess it’s no surprise to anyone that 9/11/2001 was the lowest point in my grief and probably in my entire life–even worse than the day Mike died because that was just too shocking to feel at the moment it happened. I’m sure it may have felt that way for many people–especially those who lost loved ones that horrible morning. I know I’m not alone in my grief of this day even though the grief I feel is more an internal reflection on what had happened in my own life. I felt like that year had spiraled out of control, beyond repair, and I learned about my own mortality in a way from which I’ve never recovered. Nightmares of nuclear war or a world in chaos which had plagued my youth suddenly seemed a real possibility. And I was more alone than I’d ever been in my entire life. And very much aware of how alone I was.

That’s why I still don’t like to think of 9/11/2001. I cringe when people bring it up and I roll my eyes at all the other news stories, references, and blog entries about it. I even scoff at my own silly attempt to remember what I don’t want to remember and to bring yet another whiny voice into the fold of a mass remembrance that brings so much pain. A mass remembrance that, to me, has always been the symbol of hypocrisy because in the same breath within which someone will tell me to get over the death my husband, the same person will tell me to remember reverently those who died on 9/11/2001 which has led me to two conclusions about how our society thinks one should politely grieve: 1) It’s okay to grieve forever an event in which many people have died and 2) It’s not okay grieve a singular, lusterless death; at least, not for too long.

My emotions around 9/11/2001 are mixed in jealousy, anger, fear, frustration, dissatisfaction, and loneliness. And even though I write about it now in my blog, I think today I need to put it out of my mind for awhile. Call me unpatriotic, but I’ve grieved enough for everyone.

100 miles… before the rains came

On Monday I rode Medina County Bike Club’s annual freebie century ride (freebie = unsupported, as in “feed thyselves”) otherwise known as Ramble Around Medina. I’d done this ride last year and really enjoyed the route, so I was over-eager to do this one again, despite the pessimistic weather forecast. Before leaving the house at 7am, I checked the one more time and it was predicting a 40% chance of rain all day. My usual assumption on the roulette of weather and cycling is that anything below 50% is pretty good odds. That said, I was more optimistic than the weather forecast despite the threatening dark clouds that loomed periodically in the distance on my way to the ride.

Of course, for this ride, I chose to bring my OCR 1 for fast road riding… I am excited to ride Beau the Cross Check, but Beau has a different purpose and doing centuries is really a job for the sports car of my bikes. With a century, the goal is to get it done within a reasonable amount of time. Perhaps Beau will go with me on a TOSRV (back-to-back centuries) sometime, where the weather conditions are doomed to rain and miserableness of the early spring season, but not for this type of ride.

When I arrived at the start location–the “I-71 plaza” at Route 18 and Windfall in the outskirts of Medina–dark skies loomed threateningly in the west. The air was rather heavy with humidity. I was fairly certain that it would rain sometime during the next 100 miles but I figured as long as I started off before it started, I would be forced to continue due to since this ride had no SAG and, anyway, I never quit once I start.

Fortunately, the usual crowd from ABC showed up–Bob W, Bob I, Randy–and we all ended up riding together. During the first leg of the ride, I ran into June, a woman I met and hung out with on XOBA, so she rode with us to lunch as well. At lunch at a Subway in West Salem, we ran into Michael and he rode with us to the end while June, who’d ridden from her home in west Akron, took off for a different route to return to her home. It was nice to ride with so much company, especially when I was prepared to do this ride alone. (Since I didn’t know how many ABCers would end up doing the ride.)

The first leg of this route passes through Brunswick Hills and actually passes my parents’ street. It then continues on through Valley City to Spencer Lake and ambles in some Amish country in Medina that I didn’t know even existed until I did this ride last year. Amish in Medina County? Who’da thunk! The roads were quiet for the most part and in pretty descent shape. There was a little bit of a headwind in some directions, but it wasn’t bad enough to make any of us form a paceline. (At least, I didn’t.)

When we stopped to snack at a gas station in Litchfield, I realized my average was 16.3, which really, for me, is pushing it on a century if I’m not in the guaranteed flat lands of Northwest Ohio. Overall, this ride was not especially hilly–at least not until the end–but it wasn’t flat either. You had to make some climbs here and there. My right knee–the troublemaker, the one that gave out on me on XOBA–was aching slightly by the time we reached our lunch stop in West Salem so I knew I had to calm down a bit on my riding. Fortunately, with Michael there, I knew that my pace would be regimented to something more sane–he and I ride at a similar pace and, actually, Michael tends to be even more cautious about over-exertion than me.

The weather on Monday was on the verge of rain. We would go from glaring dark skies to periods of sun in which the skies looked about to clear. At some point, rain didn’t seem like it was going to happen which put me at ease. I am okay with most weather conditions, but I really hate being rained on. And the bike just does not feel very safe on the rain.

Our return trip to Medina took us through my favorite, the Overton Valley, which I still enjoyed despite the recent chip-n-seal applied to Overton Road. Then, past the Lodi Premium Outlets to Seville, up the long slow ascent of Seville Road (also recently chip-n-sealed), then into Wadsworth for a hilly finish through backroads to Windfall Road. I actually hit a max speed of 39mph going down the other side of Seville Road–which is less of a slow descent than the ascent–and kicked myself for feathering my brakes a little at the beginning because you had a clear shot of the road all the way down to the bottom. I’m such a coward! Still, I managed 39mph without thinking about it so I must have been less cautious than usual. (Had I known, though, I would have tried to push 40!)

Right before we reached our start/end location at the I-71 plaza, it started to drizzle slightly. As we got closer to the end location, dark clouds were really prominent again in the west. Windfall road was freshly wet, suggesting that we’d just missed a recent heavy rain shower. When we got to the plaza, I had 101.82 miles so I rode around the parking lot for a bit to top off at 102. My ending average was 15.7, which is pretty descent by my books (in contrast, I think I had a 14-something on the much hillier century on Sunday in June).

As I took off to my go to my parents’ house for a little Labor Day feast of ribs and the obligatory beer, rain started to pour rather gratuitously. I missed the rain by a half hour! Whoosh! Close call. It was definitely not the kind of rain I’d have enjoyed riding in for at least fifteen minutes–a pretty hard deluge with some rumbles of thunder (though I didn’t really see any lightening). It continued to rain the rest of the night and into Tuesday morning. So it is as if the cycling gods heard my fervent prayers throughout the ride. Thank you, cycling gods!

Meet Beau

I picked it up today. My dream, my obsession, my passion–the Surly Cross Check. Ah, how I awaited the moment! I was picturing what it would look like in my head based on the base model I saw at the Century Cycles shop a few weeks ago and my brief flirtation with a Long Haul Trucker to try bar-end shifters, which I ended up not liking, and to check the size I would require for a Cross Check since I guess the builds are similar between the two models. These Surly bikes feel so sturdy, strong, and stable. After riding the Long Haul Trucker last week, I felt the fervor and took the plunge: I told Derrick to give me a quote on a Cross Check.

It only took the length of the weekend for us to go back and forth on the appropriate components for my dream bike. My goal was to make a nice touring bike, something I could take on and off road. Better than my hybrid was, but for similar use purposes. I wanted fenders (oh, how I dreamed of fenders for those wet fall and spring days). I salivated over thicker tires. I wanted STI shifters. I wanted a combination of road and hybrid and I got just that!

I was so excited when Derrick brought the bike out. I was prepared to like the way it looked, but I didn’t think I’d fall instantly in love. I used to think fenders kind of looked dorky on a bike… but when I saw the bike for the first time, I thought that the fenders actually complimented it! It probably helps that the bike is black, thus matching the fenders. But still. On a bike like this, fenders just seem appropriate.

So. The ride. After chatting excitedly with all my CC peeps, I donned my new steed–whom I christened Beau about half way through the ride–and headed towards roads that I knew were particularly bothersome on my Giant.

First stop: that road that goes in front of Hale Farm. (According to Google Maps, this is Oak Hill/Buckeye Trail — but we’re not talking about the part of Oak Hill that even good cyclists fear to climb.) This road is usually pretty bumpy and crappy and filled with potholes, especially when you get north of Hale Farm. For some reason tonight I had trouble finding potholes (yes, I was looking for them) but then I wondered if maybe the road feels more lumpy when you’re on a road bike. I seem to remember riding through there a few times and feeling unnerved by a lot of broken road. Well, I didn’t find any of that tonight.

I passed the Everett Road bridge and decided to take this photographic opportunity to snap some pictures of Beau.

And a close up shot: forget the bridge and look at my pretty bike!

By this point, I was seriously in love with this bike. Despite the fact that the bigger wheels probably make it a little slower than a spin on my Giant. But, I remind myself, this bike was built for comfort, not speed. If my Giant is a low-end sports car (like an Acura RSX Type S), then the Surly Cross Check (at least the one I had built) is the Cadillac of road bikes. I could tell this fact right away. It felt cushy, absorbing the road shock and two passes over railroad tracks with grace. And I’m so glad I picked that shock-absorbing seat post!

From the Everett Road bridge, I moved on up Riverview Road to Major. Hey, I had to take a climb, right? Try those granny gears…? make sure they work…? okay, I like climbing hills… But, actually, the main point of heading in that direction was so that I could ride down Stine Road, which is currently a bit torn up, though I forgot that the torn up part was on the side you would climb, not the side you would go down. Oh well! All’s fair in giving a new bike a shake-down.

The trip up Major was what I would expect: it was a climb. I was pushing a little harder than I normally would just to figure out if I have to work harder on this bike than I do my Giant. But since I was pushing harder than normal, I failed to accurately assess the results of that test. Suffice it to say, I felt just as good as I normally do climbing Major. Which really isn’t that bad, it’s not that hard of a hill.

Going down Stine, however, I was filled with a false sense of security due to my big thick tires. I took the downhill with a little more momentum than I do on my Giant and the Cross Check felt incredibly stable the whole way down. Of course. I mean, it’s a steel frame on 700x37c tires!

Next, I decided to really test the bike by taking it off-road onto the towpath (since I didn’t have any other off-road alternatives that I know of in the valley). I turned down Riverview and floated down the hill to Boston Mills toward the Boston Store. I purposely took a trip through the grass to get to the towpath. Why? Because I could, dammit!

The towpath was in all loveliness. Which I forget because I’ve spent so little time on it once I converted myself to a high-mileage road junkie. Because it was evening, there were not a whole lot of people on it, either, which was nice. The few people that were on it, I passed with my high pedaling cadence. Beau the Cross Check ate up the towpath like it was pavement. Ahhhh, fahrfegnuggen.

I stopped by a nice pull off by the mighty Cuyahoga River which was raging with rapids.

See? My new bike can do rugged! Can you see me with the bike tripped out in panniers and rack pack as I head off onto some wilderness bike trail? Well. Beau is ready! Beau likes backpack riding!

I took a moment to get a few gratuitous close-ups of Beau’s lovely make and model information. “Surly” is also printed vertical down the front fork and back stays. Which makes my Giant very jealous.

The towpath brought me back to the Lock 29 area and Century Cycles. But the shake-down wasn’t over yet! I decided I just had to go down to the unpaved stone quarry known as the Lock 29 overflow lot because I particularly hate it when I have to ride my Giant out of there.

Oh, but Beau don’t care about no stinkin’ rocks; Beau just runs right over them as though they were pavement. Nervous? Ha! No need to be nervous on Beau!! He’s strong and steady. “Unpaved” is Beau’s middle name. I had fun riding around the lot fearlessly as though I were riding my Giant on the smoothest of pavement. Ha! This is good because the ABC club rides start at Lock 29 in the fall and throughout the winter and often I’m stuck in the overflow lot. Now, I will have no fear (except for pre-season when I’m still riding my Giant).

And a view from the top…

I even rode over a few parking blocks just for fun. Yeah. I wanted to see how he held and he passed the test. I felt like a driver at a monster truck rally, purposely driving over objects and seeking rough road. But that’s what one does on a shake-down. It was Beau and me getting to know each other.

Anyway, I returned to the Century Cycles parking lot with much excitement. It was too bad they were closed because I was glowing with happiness and just itching to shout my enthusiasm to the world. What a great bike! Beau’s going to be quite happy in his new home. And the Giant–my Black Beauty–doesn’t seem too intimidated.

My only sobering thought is I might need to buy skinnier tires/wheels at some point so that I can change out these bigger ones when necessary for a little improvement in speed performance. I don’t know if I necessarily need these big of tires on TOSRV but I definitely need the comfort and fenders. But maybe I’m just being picky. I’ve got to put it out of my mind that I need to have a 16mph average to be a good rider. As it is, I did fine on this test run with a 14 average over 18 miles. It’s not outstanding, but it’s not horrible.

But I’m satisfied. The bike looks great and rides better. Sometimes you just gotta splurge. Even when you know you should be splurging on something else. Like, say, remodeling your house…