Happy Halloween from the Wicked Witch of NEO

Though for me it will be just another day. I’m probably going to a wine tasting and then meeting up for dinner with a cycling friend. Not passing out candy to the little brats* who live on my street… even if they don’t walk through my yard anymore… I think I’m the neighborhood pariah because I’m the only single girl…No one ever talks to me here and the kids last year approached like I was the Wicked Witch of Northeast Ohio. Plus, there’s something just creepy, to me, about being a single girl without kids passing out candy to the neighborhood kids. I wondered if the parents–who also approached slowly and tentatively–thought there was something weird about me too.

I know I sound paranoid, but I know how neighborhoods are. I’m the misfit and everyone seems to know each other, all stay-at-home moms with their kids. I guess it’s all good, though, because I don’t have people bugging me to talk when I’m out in my yard. Still, it would be nice if once in awhile someone with a snow plow offered to plow my drive when they see my out there shoveling, like they do with some of the other neighbors.

A relationship is built both ways, though. I suppose I could go out of my way to be friendly. It’s just really hard for me to go out of my comfort zone like that. I’m good in large groups of people where I don’t have to do all the talking to keep a conversation going. It’s when I’m left trying to come up with things to say to someone that I sound weird and desperate. I know I fail at building relationships with people sometimes… But I just get lazy because I have enough friends to whom I no longer have to prove myself.

Anyway, I just don’t have the spirit this year. This was really Mike’s holiday. I just can’t get into it anymore. But I hope everyone else is having a great time!

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* Mothers and fathers who read my blog: Please understand that my use of the word “brat” here is tongue-in-cheek. I do generally like kids. I just feel uncomfortable around them. Like a big dork. And I’m not very good at interacting with them. Some of the kids in my neighborhood, however, really are brats. Especially when their parents haven’t taught them how rude it is to walk through people’s yards (in fact, when I first moved here, some of the adults walked through my yard). I was taught better behavior as a child and I never walked through other people’s yards, even when the other kids I was playing with did it.

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A hopeless situation

I was so proud of myself last Sunday. Instead of riding my bike or going out or doing anything equally as distracting, I actually stayed home and mowed my lawn. I spent a few hours raking leaves on the side of the yard on which it was hopeless to try to run the mower on and then mowed it too. My backyard, surprisingly, did not have many leaves and I was able to just shred what was there with the mower. Of the leaves I did rake, I moved them to the edges of my yard by the street for the city leaf-pickup. I usually never get my leaves raked in time for any of those dates. My yard looked like I actually stay home enough to care about it. It almost looked as pristine as my neighbors.

But then, I got home today and took a good look at my front yard and realized…

THEY’RE BACK!!!

 

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Driveway

 

And they’ve reproduced…

 

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But wait! There’s more! When I went to my back patio to cook my dinner on the grill (a salmon patty — yum!), my eyes popped out of my head when I realized that I could see NO GRASS in my back yard…

 

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This is way too much work for one woman alone…

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I’ll be out there for days just trying to clear this up. I now know why having a yard with trees is not quite as delightful as one would think…

I can’t leave them there. Last year, I didn’t rake a single leaf. I figured, “Hey, this is nature. This is what nature does. I’m respecting the environment.”

But then this year, I had to really nurse my lawn back into health. Not that my backyard lawn is all that healthy. But I know I can’t leave this many leaves on the ground like this.

Ugh. I need a housing association. Condo life was so much nicer…

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

My mom called me (while I was at work) about a week ago, frantically imploring me to get the swine flu vaccination. I told her that I hadn’t planned to; I never get any sort of flu vaccination and, incidentally, I never get sick. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had the flu. Sure, I’ve had flu-like symptoms (vomiting, headache, body aches, and lethargy), but these were self-inflicted from a night of drinking just a bit too much past “the line.” I get colds once or twice a year and they sometimes affect my respiratory system, but usually nothing to keep me from going to work or aborting my usual exercise routine (I’ve often ridden my bike with a nasty cold).

So that’s why, with my general healthiness in mind, early on in this swine flu panic, I had pretty much determined that the illness was the typical media hype and I wasn’t going to bother to buy into it. It seems every year there’s a new strain of something everyone’s afraid is going to become the new, great plague and I’ve got better things to worry about than the end of the world. Apocalyptic fears plagued my childhood with the threat of nuclear war; I certainly don’t need one more thing to panic about. Especially in my second life of widowhood where Death seems always to be stalking me around every corner.

My mom’s not usually the alarmist sort. Yeah, she can be somewhat overprotective of  her children, but she’s not one to easily buy into hype. Or so I would think, anyway. After I got off the phone with her, I was a little shaken. I had already been thinking a lot about cancer–and, of course, worrying occasionally that I might have a tumor growing inside of me that I’m completely unaware of–since a former coworker’s husband had recently died of this disease as well as a few people from my church who I only knew marginally. But the Big C has been on my mind as a potential unseen threat. Swine flu really hadn’t been on my radar at all. Just another flu season. I’m the complete opposite of a germophobe.

It took a few days for me to come back to my senses. I read a few articles against the vaccine (some containing a zealous fanaticism bordering on quacky) and some articles for it. I listened to various takes on the “epidemic” on NPR. I took in opinions of those around me and those of radio celebrities I respect (such as Dr. Joy Browne, the radio psychologist I worship). I then went back to my original conclusion that it was all hype, that I didn’t need to get the shot at all.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I should do. A little fearful voice in the back of my head squeaks, “But what if you don’t and you do die? Game over! Game over!” It’s the same voice that questioned whether the world was really going to end on January 1, 2000 or that still wonders if something bad’s going to happen on December 21, 2012 when the Mayan calendar ends. I’m not sure that voice is rational or reasonable.

Here’s what I don’t believe:

  • I don’t believe that the vaccine–or any vaccine–causes autism.
  • I don’t believe the vaccine is intentionally or unintentionally harmful. Taking it is not going to make you die; this is the quacky hype that feeds on a medically ignorant public.
  • I don’t believe the vaccine will make you have the flu. It’s a dead version of the virus. Biology 101, people: your body learns what the virus is and is able to build an immunity to it.
  • I don’t believe that we really accurately understand which strange/mutation the virus will take on.

The only reason I don’t bother with the normal course of flu shots is because of the last bullet point, actually–the doctors who design these flu vaccines are only guessing what strain will be out in the next year. Maybe they generally guess pretty well, but getting the flu vaccination is never a guarantee that you won’t get the flu. I always figure that I’d rather take the gamble than take the time out of my day to go do something I find really uncomfortable. And I’m just talking about going to the doctor in general before we even get to the needles. I have not gotten a cholesterol test in years because I’d rather not have blood drawn. When it comes to doctors, excepting my OBGYN, I am of the philosophy that I don’t go and see them until something’s wrong or feels wrong (and only after I’ve worked myself into a panic about it).

I haven’t bothered with the swine flu shot  for the same reasons listed above including this last caveat: I am outright and insufferably stubborn. Looking at this media craze, and how panicky people are reacting, I have the complete knee-jerk reaction to rebel against the mainstream. To not give into the hype and avoid the minions waiting for the shots in the long lines at the health clinics. To prove at the end of this “epidemic” that I was right, there was no need to be afraid.

But do I really want to play this game with my life? What if the hype is right? It’s so hard to tell fact from fiction in age of instant, round-the-world communication. I’ve always said, Joe Blow’s horse dies on a farm in the middle of Montana and the world knows before Joe Blow returns home to tell Mrs. Blow. And by that time, it’s turned into a sensational conspiracy theory about aliens, men in black vehicles, and the image of the Virgin Mary in the horse’s stool.

A few years ago, the Big Scare was bird flu. Before that, it was SARS. It’s like the media is drooling to find just one pandemic prophecy that is fulfilled. I didn’t get bird flu (though I think one of my friends did) and I didn’t get SARS. But I did panic about it for a while. Because, you know, that whole widow thing makes me extremely sensitive to unseen threats. Especially since my husband died from an unseen threat, though it was a genetic condition of his heart and not a disease.

It’s really the media’s fault that I look skeptically at anything I read or hear. If they didn’t play Chicken Little, shouting that the sky is falling every other day, maybe once in a while I’d believe something instead of regarding it with the same judgment I do for the eye-witnesses of a car crash.

The fact that it seems so hard to get the Swine Flu vaccine is making the choice easier for me. I’m not going to wait in some three-hour long line like a cow in a slaughter line. I haven’t called to check if my doctor because I don’t want to look like one of those panicky germophobic sorts. I envision my doctor saying, “You’re really not eligible for this vaccine. We’re giving it to people who are at high risk.”

As my mom points out, H1N1 has been largely a respiratory issue. I have (very, very mild) asthma. I guess that puts me in some risk category. But I just can’t see myself as going down that way. I suppose no one really sees themselves meeting their end in a particular way. But I just don’t see myself as frail. I’m pretty healthy and energetic. It can’t affect me, right?

I’m really on the fence. After listening to more people tonight prophetize pandemic doom, I started thinking about getting it again. Of course, on the way home, a local radio show host was also discussing Swine Flu and getting vaccinations. Even though it was the dullard who is oft the conspiracy theorist, and all the people who call him are freaks,  it still caused me a moment of pause.

I wish they gave them out at work or something. Then it wouldn’t inconvenience me–taking time out of my work day because doctors never have hours that are friendly to those of us minions who have a job–to get one. Maybe if a local bike shop or something had them. Then I could look around at bike toys while waiting for my turn at the needle. Hmm. That would be a great promotion. Get one “Define Your Life. Ride a Bike” item with every flu shot… I still need the coffee mug…

Sometimes a photographer

I thought I’d get my new blog site off to a good start by showing my half-baked attempts at photography during the last several weeks. Yeah. These never quite come out the way I hope. I’m great at turning a spectacular bit of scenery into a flat and lifeless image.

Here are some attempts at being artsy… I actually have one of these as my desktop picture on my home computer… though, it’s a bit loud, making the icons hard to see.

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Leaves, close up…

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The cross-country trail by Pine Lane trailhead…

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Ohio skis–clouds and blue.

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This tree just looked cool.

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And, of course, scenic overlook of my favorite place in the Cuyahoga Valley, the aforementioned Pine Lane trailhead off of Quick Road.

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It was a rainy day when I took the last two; thus, the hazy appearance. I kept hoping I’d take better fall pictures, but alas, I missed the prime season. I’ll have to post a link to the rest of the pictures. I got a few in the corn maze at Szalay’s the day I decided to do the corn maze after a hike.

Happy Late Autumn, everyone! I guess it’s time for me to “turn over a new leaf” with my blog. Har, har.

FFF (FFFF)

Saturday I once again rode in MCBC’s Fall Foilage & Frostbite Frolic (I forget what the rest of those F’s stand for, something about Friendsville, a town in Medina County). This is a free ride (donations happily accepted) that starts at Medina’s downtown square and makes its way in a loop around some of the prettier spots of Medina County with a torturous leg up Medina Line and Granger roads. This is the third time I’ve this ride; this year the weather was less than desirable but it was still better than the first year I did it (2007) when it poured rain down on me for the last 25 miles of this 50 mile route. Since it only sprayed us from time to time with a light sprinkle, I consider it a good ride. I’m happy until the heavens release their floods.

Anyway, this ride is kind of an end-of-season tradition around here. Every year, Lou Vetter–a member of both ABC and MCBC–dons a cape and some fangs and allows his alter ego Count Draculou to entertain us at the one and only rest stop at Stanhope Park in Seville. We get apple cider and some cookies–it’s pretty low budget. The mood is festive so in that spirit, I donned a long-sleeve shirt I got from a 5K run I did a few years ago in October, because it had a jack-o-lantern on it…

…and the pair of jack-o-lantern socks I got last year in the bargain bin at Target which I can only wear once a year.

I got several compliments on the socks. And the good thing about the shirt was that it was so bright people could readily see me far away, which hopefully helped the inattentive local motorists.

In general, I rode with Michael, Randy, and TDB; Ernie, Dave W, and Cheryl S from ABC were also there along with some other people I only know by sight and not name (sorry!). Also, for most of the ride, June–a woman Randy, Michael, and I met on XOBA this summer–rode with us. She had rode to the ride from her house so she cut off to head back home during our trek down Medina Line. We also rode with her on MCBC’s Labor Day ride this year. You meet some really cool people on XOBA who seem to become new cycling buddies.

Here’s a shot of the ABC contingent at the rest stop, which I stole from the ABC website, taken from Randy’s camera. Nice scenery, eh?

Of course, the weather was much nicer for riding on Sunday. I ended up being responsible–raked leaves and mowed my lawn–instead of riding anywhere. But I’m glad I did get the chance to do FFF once again and the 50-mile route to boot. I felt really good after the ride and not overly exhausted; I’m in such great shape now that I hate to see the season end. It will take a long time in the spring to build back up to what I am now. At this point, I can crunch up just about any hill. In fact, I’m feeling almost confident enough to attempt Oak Hill. Such a shame that I will be spending the next several months on my trainer or at the gym…

I won a three-month gym membership to Lifecenter Plus in Hudson for only $50 at my church’s service auction on Saturday evening. So after skipping a gym membership last winter in preference for staying at home with my Total Gym and my bike on a trainer, which didn’t work out so well due to all the household distractions so much more attractive than indoor exercise, I’m back attempting the gym thing again. Hopefully I get a routine going. I go nuts when I don’t exercise. But it’s such torture to do all that work and never get anywhere inside a building. Maybe I’ll take a spin class or something. Ack.

Anyway, one more end-of-season ride to go: Red Flannel. And the weather’s looking like it will at least not rain. It may be a little chilly but there’s no snow on the ground so we’re good to go.

Revisiting the Rating of the Valley’s Hills

Back in April, I wrote a blog entry about rating the hills in the Cuyahoga Valley. I want to revisit this topic because I’ve actually started hitting some of those long-feared hills and mostly in the last few days as I successfully climbed Hines Hill, Boston Mills West, and Wheatley. I am having a good season; I’m probably at my peak of climbing ability since I started riding. So I think I’ve got a better grasp than I did in April of some the difficulty of these hills as compared to each other.

The rating system I used was based on the one used by ski resorts with my own explanation for each. I’ve added a new category of “blue black” which is used on some slopes out west.

  • Green – Good hills to learn climbing on. Not necessarily the easiest hills known to man, but the easiest hills to climb in the Cuyahoga Valley.
  • Blue – A little more challenging than the green hills. Intermediate.
  • Black – Difficult either in steepness or length of the hill or both.
  • Blue-Black – Intermediate difficult hill. I assigned this rating to those hills that have one hard part that qualifies as a black at some point but which taper off into a regular blue for most of the climb.
  • Double-Black – Extremely difficult, even if just in one short section of the hill. On these type of hills, I’ve personally had to stand on my pedals after I ran out of gears in order to get up them (which I don’t do very often). This does not mean everyone who attempts these hills will have to stand on their pedals (Michael didn’t on ones I had to). But in all cases, I had to stand or I was screwed.
  • Not Rated – Simply means I haven’t tried it. Yet.

Okay, this time I’m putting them in alphabetical order (rather than by side of the Valley)…

Bath East – NR

I haven’t done this in awhile (too trafficky) so I’m not really sure what I’d rate it. The last time I attempted it was two years ago and I was not as good of a cyclist as I am now. I walked part of it that time, but I’m thinking I wouldn’t need to do that this time.

Bath West – NR

I haven’t done this for a few years. Not sure. I think it turns into Yellow Creek.

Boston Mills East – Black

It’s really not too bad for me. The hardest part is once you cross the bridge over I-80; it’s steeper when you’re climbing (heading east) than when you’re coming down Boston Mills. You have to be careful about switching gears because you come off the bridge at 30+ mph and the hill increases in steepness fast so getting down to the little ring quickly is often a challenge. If you have a compact double, though, you’re probably okay.

Boston Mills West – Double Black

I had to stand at the hard part. Fortunately, it doesn’t last too long, but it’s a zinger.

Columbia – Black

The hardest part lasts for a very short time. It’s painful, but nothing to lose sleep fearing.

Everett – Blue-Black

I’m good at just hunkering down and slowing going up this hill without stressing myself out. I have never had to stand on it. It seems the hardest at the beginning of the year, but then by this time of the year, it really doesn’t kill me. The steepness of it is generally pretty even with one particularly hard part in the middle.

Highland/Vaughn – Black

I did this one on a commute home from work this summer. It has one hard part in the middle and it’s pretty difficult but it doesn’t last long enough for me to need to stand or anything. It’s actually a kind of fun climb.

Hines Hill – Double Black

Yeah. This one was a lot harder than everyone else I know would have me believe. I personally think it’s as hard as Boston Mills West. But maybe that’s because I did this one on the same night I did Boston Mills West so my legs were not as fresh. Still, in the hardest part you are also contending with a narrow road. If a car comes up behind you, they have to tail you for a little bit before they can get around, which I find really nerve-wracking. I still kind of liked the climb after I conquered it because the abundance of trees on both sides of the road made it rather “scenic.” And, really, there’s not a whole lot of traffic on this road.

Ira – Black

I’ve only gone down Ira this year, but last year, at the end of the season when I did it, it seemed pretty hard.

Major – Green

This hill has no particularly hard part. I can do it on Beau, a hybrid, or probably a fixed gear. Okay, maybe not a fixed gear. A good training hill for people who want to start climbing hills.

Martin – NR

I haven’t climbed this one yet… To be continued…

Northampton – Blue

This hill seriously looks worse from the bottom than it actually feels when you climb it. I don’t think I even bottomed out on that very first part. After you get past that, it’s rolling, which anyone can do because you gain a lot of momentum. In fact, I passed a guy on a hybrid while I was climbing it and he wasn’t having much trouble either. This would be a crappy hill to go down, however, as the windy fast down ends abruptly at a stop sign.

North Portage Path – NR

I’ve never climbed it, but it does have a bike lane going up to Stan Hywet Hall. I’d be game to try it.

Oak Hill – NR

Most would probably describe this hill as the Alpe D’Huez of the Cuyahoga Valley. But Michael climbed it yesterday and didn’t think it was too bad. In fact, he thought I could do it, comparing it in difficulty to Liberty Road in Butler (which I climbed a few weeks ago on Fall N Leaf). So now, for the first time ever, I’m actually kind of curious to try it. *gulp*

Portage Trail – NR

Too much traffic. It looks like it might be a blue-black or a black. I’d have to try this one early on a Sunday morning when there’s no traffic. I’m not sure it’s scenic enough to inspire me, though.

Quick – Blue

This is my favorite road, actually. Probably because it goes by my favorite trailhead in the Valley–Pine Hollow. The first part of the road used to intimidate me; now, since climbing Snowville all the time on my commute, I don’t even bottom out on my gears anymore.

Route 303 East – Green

Pretty much a long, steady climb without any particularly hard section. The only thing that sucks is the traffic. But now there’s a nice wide berm on both sides so I see people climbing it all the time. I personally prefer more scenic climbs. Breathing exhaust fumes as I climb is not my idea of the ideal ride.

Sand Run – Blue

We always seem to hit this one in the fall. I don’t think it’s too hard. You have to watch out for water at the ford, though. Remember my picture from XOBA where the ford yielded to a raging river? Avoid this road during the rainy season! (Maybe that’s why we do it in the fall?)

Smith Road – NR

Too much traffic on this road to try it during normal cycling hours. I think I need to get up early some Sunday morning and do it.

Snowville – Blue-Black (down-graded from previous rating)

Like all the hills on the west side of the Valley, the hardest part is at the very beginning. I do bottom out on it, but I can find a comfortable pace and I’ve never had to stand. Once you get past that section, it’s pretty easy and I can switch into my middle ring for most of the rest of the climb (with the exception of one short steep bump before Orchard Drive). It’s just a llllloooooonnnng four miles.

Steels Corners – Black

There are some hard parts of this climb which are not made any more enjoyable thanks to all the traffic. I don’t climb this road much since it’s another opportunity to suck exhaust fumes that I’d rather avoid when there are far more pleasant hills to climb.

Stine – Blue

Short, sweet. But it doesn’t really go anywhere; it takes you from Riverview to Route 303. Sometimes I use it to avoid the dip on Riverview before the Route 303 stop light when I think there’s going to be a traffic backup there.

Theiss – Black

This road mirrors Steels Corners, only with much less traffic and more pleasant scenery. I did this road three times this year: once before XOBA, once on XOBA where it caused my injured knee to erupt in pain, and once a few weeks after XOBA. It seemed a lot harder after XOBA than it did the time I tried it before XOBA. I don’t know what happened there. Though its steepness stays pretty consistent, it’s kind of an uncomfortable steepness. But I do like this climb a lot.

Truxell – Green

Some people would debate this one with me, but I really think in comparison to all the other stuff in the Valley, this hill is relatively easy. Except at the beginning of the season when you haven’t climbed anything yet. Then it sucks. But so does everything else (and everything else sucks worse). This is always the first hill I do the first time I’m out in the Valley for the season. I know that I can always get up it. I use it as my lazy way to get back home when I’m in a lot of physical pain.

Valley Parkway – NR

I’ve only gone down it. I imagine it might be a bit of a heart-pumper.

Wheatley – Blue-Black

I did this one last night. There’s one hard part that goes around a bend. That’s it. The rest really isn’t that steep and I was able to find a comfort zone. Definitely easier than Everett.

Whetmore – Blue

I did this one on a commute home from work (my last one of the year, in fact). I got a flat on it, which sucked. There’s a few steep bumps, but they aren’t that painful. The scenery is very nice and the road lacks traffic. I almost like it better than Quick.

Yellow Creek – NR

I think I’ve done it once but that was a few years ago so I don’t have an accurate measure. I thought it was pretty hard. It’s probably black.

ABC Cleans Up

I recently took charge of my bike club’s Adopt-a-Highway responsibility. We “own” a section of Route 303 between Country Maid and the outskirts of Peninsula. It’s great publicity having our name on the signs bordering this segment. I always notice the names of the groups who take ownership of segments of highway (Century Cycles has the segment after us which goes through Peninsula; a Boy Scout troop has the segment after that, which goes in front of Camp Manatoc; the Sierra Club of “Portage Trail” has a segment of Akron-Peninsula Road in the Valley).

When the responsibility of running the twice-a-year cleanup was handed over to me, I wasn’t given any instruction, really. It was also given to me when our certificate was about to expire and I had only weeks to figure out the paperwork to reapply to keep the segment. I wasn’t told other things, like that I needed to call the state to let them know what day I was cleaning up the highway so that they could give us “Shoulder Work Ahead” signs at the borders of our segment. I wasn’t told that Country Maid would like advance notice of when we’re going to be there. I sometimes feel like I was deliberately set up to fail because the people who had it before me had fallen out of sort with some people in my club (and I may have been one of the offenders). Or maybe they just didn’t care, but I still feel responsible.

So it’s been a bit experimental at first. After the first time I did it, all I heard from other people was, “Well the [former organizer] did it this way…” and “The [former organizer] used to do this…” Being the kind of person I am–headstrong, opinionated, determined to do things my own way–I was kind of offended by these comments even though the speaker was just trying to offer help. I wanted to say, “Well, new administration, new ideas. Get over it.” Of course, I didn’t. I’m much more diplomatic than that. I did listen to the advice people gave me, though, and I’m trying to incorporate those thoughts. And, also, as I said, I wasn’t really given any instruction on what needed to be done for this job.

My biggest fear in taking over this position has been that no one would want to take the time out of their busy cycling schedule to come out and help. That’s why the “former administration” used to include a short bike ride with the activity. I’m of the opinion that people should just come out and do something and not expect to ride, but I’ve been trying to work with this since a bike ride does seem to lure more people to want to do something tedious like picking up trash along a state route while drivers treat us as well as they do when we’re on our bikes (which is to say, they don’t move over any more for pedestrians than they do cyclists).

I guess I needn’t have worried about people not showing up, for last Saturday–the scheduled fall cleanup–we had a full fifteen smiling ABCers ready to help. I actually ran out of those trash poking sticks. And, to top it off, the weather was completely iffy. I had brought Beau, prepared to ride on wet streets, in case anyone wanted to ride. I’d even planned an informal route down in the Valley and back up an easier hill in case I had people who were normally just “in the Valley” riders. It started to drizzle a few times while we cleaned up, though, and so ultimately no one felt like riding. Which kind of stunk because I was slightly geared to ride now that I was out of the house, properly dressed in my winter tights, and warmed up after walking. Oh well. Maybe in the spring.

I’ve got some ideas for the future of this event. I want to give out little prizes for the weirdest things people find on the side of the road. During our spring clean up, the strangest item found was a wig. Immediately, I imagined it belonged to a cross-dressing man who was coming back from a gig somewhere and he had to toss the evidence of his exploits so his unsuspecting wife wouldn’t find out. Hey, there’s a story in everything, right?

This time, we didn’t find anything too weird. Just a mudflap with an old school Cadillac emblem on it. It didn’t impress me much but the guys tried to convince me it was quite a find. I’ll take their word for it.

I really enjoy running the Adopt-a-Highway responsibilities for our club. It just feels like the right thing for me to do. It’s not a lot of work and I feel like it’s important to help keep our environment nice. Peninsula and the surrounding communities have been giving us cyclists a lot of crap lately, ticketing cyclists unnecessarily in some cases (allegedly a member got ticketed for obstructing traffic because he was climbing Oak Hill on his bike and two cars were backed up behind him because the road is so steep they couldn’t see around to pass). It’s good for us to show an image of responsible individuals who care about the environment of these communities. I think we should all wear ABC clothes to this even when possible.

Will it help give us a better image? I don’t know. I think the best thing we can do to improve our image is to be a little more sensitive to traffic patterns and respect the fact that vehicles weigh a few tons more than we do. In other words, we shouldn’t hog the whole lane so that cars can get around. I’m doing my part to respect cars. I just wish I could get everyone else to follow suit.

Anyway, we had a successful cleanup this past Saturday. I’m proud of my group for being so environmentally conscientious. I have no desire to give up this position yet. But, in the future when I do, I will write thorough instructions on all the things a person must do in order to organize this event so that they don’t have to learn by doing as I did…

Confirmation day

So last night I had a dream that I was out with a friend at a–of all places–wine bar. I was meeting her family or something (which is highly unusual when I think about which friend this clearly was in my dream). Anyway, in real life, she comes from a very Christian family. She’s gone the agnostic route; I’ve led a life of atheism that wandered into paganism when my husband died that ultimately ended in finding my spiritual home at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent about two years ago now. Let’s just say that when my husband died, I went places I never thought I’d go as an atheist. And it turns out I’m really more of a seeker of truth than an atheist. And also I’m someone who desperately wants to believe in something more… even if half my brain cannot really fathom something more. But I digress.

In this dream, my friend introduces me to her family. Immediately this older lady–an aunt or something–asks me, “Are you Christian?”

There was a pause, a hesitation, some squirming. How many times in my life have I been faced with this awkward question? It always felt intrusive, probing. If I answered “no,” then I was a soul waiting to be saved and preached to; if I answered “yes,” I would shut up potential unwanted advances from the person asking the question, but I would be lying. And I never like to lie. One thing about me is that I’m always true to myself. At least, I’ve been that way since graduating from college.

I could tell this was a tense situation. I felt trapped. Why would someone ask me this question? I used to evade it by answering simply, “I was raised Catholic.” That used to get me out of every jam. Unless, of course, they probed further, which they sometimes did. I remembered briefly the summer I worked as a camp counselor at a Methodist bible camp near Hiram. “I was raised Catholic” was my route answer for everything. Of course, at a Methodist camp–Protestant, the “anti-Catholic”–I was scoffed at, ridiculed for not being truly Christian. Still, I took it with good stride. What did I care? Though I lived in fear every day I worked in that camp of being found out, descended upon, asked to give my soul to Jesus.

My dream was different, though. My hesitation was only directed at my friend. I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of her family for some reason. She shrugged at me, indicating she didn’t care.

I responded, “No… I’m Unitarian Universalist!”

The aunt lady puckered her lips. “Oh,” she replied curtly. And–amazingly enough–she said no more on the topic.

The moment was over. And for some reason, I felt a gush of relief. I’d identified myself. I’d said it and I’d meant it. There was no lie, no embarrassment. I was proud to say that I was Unitarian Universalist. In that moment, even though it was a dream, I never felt more proud of myself. I’d established a religious identity and I’d meant it. It stuck.

I woke up with a feeling of balance. I felt like I could walk around and tell anyone–everyone–if asked that I was Unitarian Universalist. No need to hide. No need to get embarrassed every time I said the word “church” because I’ve been afraid of that word since I, in sixth grade, declared myself an atheist. If people want to know, and they ask me what church I go to, I can tell them, with pride, that I’m a Unitarian Universalist.

Of course, this doesn’t stop the inevitable questions from some people… like: What’s a Unitarian Universalist? What do you believe? Is that Christian?

But at least I got over the first hurdle; I know what I am and I’m no longer ashamed. I can breathe easy. I can stop looking. I’ve found my spiritual home, I know where I belong. My unconscious mind knew it before my conscious mind was willing to accept it. I consider this day my confirmation day.

A hill is a hill is a hill

It was a really chilly start to a chilly day, but it was completely worth it to drag myself out of bed at six in the morning yesterday to drive down to Bellville, Ohio for the annual challenging Fall ‘N Leaf ride. I wasn’t completely sure up until Saturday evening whether or not I was really going to do this ride. Why was I teetering on the edge of a decision? Well, up until the weekend, it wasn’t completely clear whether or not it was going to rain that day. And then all day Saturday–for some reason or another–I just felt deflated of energy, even after a two hour hike in the Valley.

However, I could not get rid of the taunts served from the back of my mind because this was a ride that, in a sense, defeated me last year. I had walked one hill (the one out of Butler, Liberty Road) and I’d paused to catch my breath before continuing on several others. I remember also being slightly intimidated by the leering steepness of some of the hills. It was a ride I had to go back and defeat. And, really, all year I’d been purposely training myself to take hills not only fearlessly but with a gusto like I’d never taken them before. My multiple commutes to work (which involves a serious hill both in both directions) were a part of this goal towards making my legs stronger for climbing. I hate being defeated by my own inability to do something. I never just settle with the abilities I have; I always strive very hard to improve myself. And I hate not being able to do something other people doing the same thing can do. If it’s possible to do, I should be able to do it. I love a challenge.

I knew I had a better chance of a more successful completion of Fall N Leaf when I completed the Fredericksburg Library Roll–a ride of equivalent difficulty–a few weeks ago without walking a hill (I did, however, stop on one hill to catch my breath, but I did continue to climb it after the pause). I was still a little unsure, though, because of that one pause and the fact that I had walked a few hills during XOBA. I guess, though, I’ve still been improving since August. My knees also seem to have recovered from their injury during XOBA.

I went into Fall N Leaf with a nervous flutter in my stomach. I had disturbed sleep the night before, dreaming of forgetting important equipment–such as my helmet, my bike shoes, or my water bottles–and not being properly attired for the predicted cold weather. I think these fearful thoughts were just more symptoms of my nervousness about the ride. If I forgot essential equipment then I couldn’t do the ride. It was like an instant cop-out.

I’m glad nothing like that happened, though. Because I ended up having a really great day. The weather, though a chilly 49/50 degrees at best, was warmed by the presence of the sun in the gray-blue fall sky. The leaves were amidst their changing–some green and lots of golds and fiery reds and oranges mixed in. The first rest stop was next to Kokosing Lake in the wildlife area. Our trek from the lunch stop ambled along side a river for a bit. There were many beautiful sights to be seen from the saddle. It was a great distraction from my nervousness.

Kokosing Lake – Our First Rest Stop at 18 Miles
They actually changed the first loop of the route from last year. It wasn’t quite as hard as I remember, though there were still some good hills. There was a great rolling road that I kept referring to afterwards as the “rollercoaster road.” It had sweeping downhills that met with equally steep uphills, one after the other. On some of them, you had to switch down to the lower gears quickly to crest the top of the next hill. But it was mostly effortless and kind of breath-taking. I actually applied no brakes on these whooshes down–I felt incredibly brave as I usually do whenever I ride in rolling terrain. To top it off, the last bit of the hill just went down with a long bit of run off for a speedy finish. And, again, I let it out, leaving my fingers ready to brake in the event of an emergency, but I coasted all the way down without any fear.

An amazing thing about this ride is that most of the downhills weren’t curvy and scary. I actually didn’t find myself using the brakes very much. Only once on a road with loose gravel. I think I would have felt relatively safe on that road had it been nicely paved. I was amazed at how I really didn’t experience my usual terrified feeling looking over the top of a hill I was about to go down.

Michael riding along a flatish road
(though we’d just sailed down a hill just prior to this).

The most anxiety-provoking moments happened while we sat at the lunch stop along the bike path–a little depot–in Bellville. I knew that soon after this ride loomed my biggest fear: Liberty Road. This mile long stretch of steep grade waited for me just outside of Butler. It was my one failure last year, the one I didn’t forget or forgive myself for walking. We took off from the lunch stop in a group–Randy, TDB, Bob I, Michael–and I was dreading the thought of that road. My friends jeered me playfully, saying that they were watching and would know if I got off my bike. I took this in stride, I was all right with it. Their good-natured teasing was actually psyching me into staying on the bike at all costs. But I was still a little afraid, still nervous, because I couldn’t remember exactly how steep it felt to my legs, I could only remember how huge and looming it had looked in the distance when I approached it. And my memory was quite accurate.

After a nice warm up stretch of paved bike path and then additional flat ride beside a little river, we entered the town of Butler and I knew my fate awaited me just outside of town. And when we turned through the town and finally right onto Liberty Road, I felt more butterflies flutter in my stomach. The road starts with a slight grade so I immediately threw my gears into granny and began the ascent.

It did get pretty hard. Michael and Randy quickly advanced past some riders leaving me behind some others going at a slower pace. I knew I’d eventually have to get around these people because it was being in too close of a proximity to other unsure riders last year that had partly caused me to abandon ship. I slowly made my way around a pack of riders and then found myself pretty much alone front and back, which is how I wanted it. I started dropping gears as the road became steeper and, unfortunately, found myself bottomed out about halfway up. I just paced myself and let my mind go to that nowhere place it goes when concentrating really hard on something physical.

Eventually, I caught up to another guy who was going just slightly slower than me. He looked a little rickety as he was swaying slightly back and forth in small curves. I wanted to pass him because I was practically on his tire and going slower than I feel comfortable on a hill begins to make me panic. I have a pace that I know I need to maintain and slipping below it means I might lose momentum. Passing the guy would require me to pick up a little more speed to get around him since he was just slightly slower than I was going and I would have to make a wide U because he was swinging so much from side-to-side. I was worried I might get around him fine but because of the steepness of the hill, I’d lose the energy to continue once I passed him. However, I knew I had to make my move because he was driving me crazy with his pace and erratic movements. If he decided to dismount, it might force me to get off the bike because we were too close.

So I did it–I pushed harder on my pedals and tried to subdue pain the extra stress caused to my legs. Once around him, I was alone again and able to continue at my own pace. I checked my mirror and realized that I totally dropped him. Right before I looked away from the mirror, I could see him getting off his bike and walking. Ah-haha! Nothing like out-cycling another cyclist, especially a man! But my climb wasn’t over yet; I could not claim victory quite yet.

The hill seemed to get slightly steeper at the end and I recognized this area as the spot where I’d bailed last year. “Just a little further/just a little further/just a little further” was my mantra to get over that last bit. It was all I could do to keep myself going. As I got closer to the top, I saw Randy and Michael pulling off the road to wait on me. This was just the inspiration I needed to keep moving. I couldn’t get off with my friends watching! Next thing I knew, the stress on my legs lessened and I was there. I pedaled over to join my friends where I chugged some water and attempted to catch my lungs back up to my breathing. I was so happy to have defeated that hill. Now I had no excuse for walking any hills on the remainder of the ride since I’d climbed them all last year. But I wouldn’t mind doing them better than I did last year.

There were still a few steep hills to be had. Some of which were much steeper than Liberty Road, but much shorter too. There was a set of steep ones where being in my lowest gear felt like being in my big chain ring. Again, it was a mental game of not letting myself stop. I just tuned out and integrated all my concentration on keeping my legs moving. When I got to the top of that set, Michael reminded me that last year I’d stopped at the bottom before the first one and had not moved for 15 minutes in fear of its steepness. He had had to come back down it to find me and had to coax me up it. This year, I didn’t even think twice! I just went straight up, taking my punishment as if it were the most normal thing to do. I think this really tells how I’ve come a long way.

I was feeling pretty good by the time we reached the last rest stop (at a beautiful country church). I knew I was probably going to be fine the rest of the ride. I was getting stiff and tired but I was pretty sure I could complete whatever was thrown my way. And remembering some of the hills to come, I knew it was not going to be an easy 15-20 miles.

One of the places we paced on the last stretch of the ride was my old haunt, Hidden Hollow. Not many people are aware of this, but this campground/retreat is the home of the Warren Rupp Observatory which contains a 31 scientific-grade reflector telescope. Before I become a cycling freak, which took over all my time for my other hobbies, I used to hang there with the Richland Astronomical Society and almost became a member. On dark, starry nights, it was the best place in this area of Ohio to observe the night sky and I used to take my telescope up there in the winter for a night of observing and camaraderie with other amateur astronomers. In fact, I learned of this place from an ex-boyfriend who took me there on our first date.

As we passed Hidden Hollow on bike, I reflected how much I really need to go down there again to do some observing. Perhaps I will allow myself some time in the winter. Yeah, it’s cold. But if you bundle up appropriately, you can see some great sights without the distortion a heated atmosphere brings. And the club house is heated so when you become really frozen, you can run in there to warm up and grab some coffee or hot chocolate. I had some of the best nights spent looking at the universe through the eye piece of my telescope as well as Big Blue–the affectionate name bestowed on the observatory telescope by its caretakers.

Anyway, we proceeded down Possum Run Road and turned off to another road I vaguely recognized as having stopped on the year before. Fortunately, when I stopped on it, I was able to get a picture of Michael ascending up it. This time, I just went right up it without hesitation, enjoying the beautiful appearance of the road which was lined with yellow trees like a tunnel above our heads. There were actually a few gorgeous roads like this, all of them making you earn it, but not too steep that you miss the scenery because you’re concentrating so hard. I actually love winding tree-lined climbs like these which is one of the reasons I always feel compelled to climb Columbia (even though Columbia is pretty steep). I guess in my mind, even if I’m working hard, I still have an image imprinted of what that climb looked like. Even if in just flashes in the blur of painful exertion.

The same road turned more and climbed at another spot where I remember resting last year. When I got to the crest of one of the steeper parts, Bob I and Michael were waiting beside a little farm and some cows who “mooed” hello to us several times. I took a picture as we waited for the rest of our climbing friends.

Cows, changing leaves, and the steely blue autumn sky of Ohio


TDB (blue dot) climbing hill with Maureen
(incoming XOBA director) right behind.

There were a few final hills awaiting us beyond this point, short and steep, and then we all collectively sighed relief when we again found ourselves at the bike trail that went past the lunch stop in Bellville and eventually back to the Comfort Inn where the ride started.

I really had a fantastic time. I know several of you are wondering why I would enjoy spending a chilly fall day climbing hills on a sadistic route such as this. But, hey, I wasn’t alone. And when this disease gets into your blood, there’s just no cure but to submit to it. I am really proud of myself for my performance this year; however, I even liked this ride last year despite my failures on it. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful rides Ohio has to offer–at least within driving distance for me. The unfortunate reality is that the best scenery anywhere in the world is also the steepest, hilliest and most challenging to get to. But that makes it all the better to enjoy when you’ve worked hard for it. Rides like this just give me an insatiable love for life and an inner satisfaction with myself that nothing else does.

Interestingly, my stats for this ride from last year and discovered that I also beat my average.

2008 Ride Stats:
62.78 miles
4:50’57
12.9 avg
36.0 max speed (I know, not very fast)

2009 Ride Stats:
68.25 miles (ah-ha! They extended the route!)
4:51’28
14.0 avg
36.2 (Okay, I’ll work on pedaling and tucking as I go down hill!)

I completed five more miles in the time it took me to do 62 last year. Cool! I only had a 13.3 avg (over 62.13 miles) on the Fredericksburg Library Roll which I did on September 26th of this year. To be honest, I don’t try to go fast on these hilly rides; I just aim to complete them. But it sure is nice when it turns out that I did a better job than I expected… which makes this truly a remarkable ride. Thanks, Mid-Ohio Bicyclists (the MOB as they call themselves).

Me, at the end of 68.25 hilly miles, sporting the ABC colors.

No rose petals

I didn’t put any rose petals under my pillow last night. In fact, I was feeling blue when I came in from hanging out with my dad and his friend (long, hard work week) at a local watering hole at around 10:30 last night so I ended up sleeping on the couch with the TV set to sleep mode. Whenever I feel lonely and sad, I sleep on the couch with the TV on sleep mode. It just seems like the distraction of some movie or show babbling in the background as I fall asleep provides me an escape from my thoughts. From having to face myself.

I had this incredibly vivid dream. In it, I was living in some apartment or condo somewhere. One of my neighbors was this really good looking guy. Not someone I’d normally go for either–he was tall and distinctly attractive in the way that says “pretty boy.” You know, the type of guy I’m normally turned off by because they look too good. The kind of boy who usually looks at me and thinks I’m ugly. I usually don’t go for tall guys either. I like to look my lover in the eye. I prefer men who are only slightly taller than me. I guess this probably makes a lot of short guys happy–alas, a woman who is attracted to shorter guys. Here’s some more exciting news in the realm of men who feel like women don’t like them do to some feature–I also find myself attracted to balding men. Thus, my husband Mike who was both short (5’8″) and balding.

Anyway, the guy in this dream was neither short nor balding. He was quite preppy looking and he had facial hair (I usually detest facial hair on a guy). He was taller than me by a good foot. I think my head touched the upper part of his (athletically toned) chest so that I would have to look up to kiss him. Totally not the type of guy I go for.

In this dream, I tried desperately not to like this guy. I tried to resist my interest in him. But I kept finding myself talking to him. Finding ways to touch his hand. It reminded me, even in my dream like state, of the weird magnetism I felt for Mike. The guy in my dream was the anti-Mike, but I was attracted to him.

I guess there’s something sexy about wanting something forbidden. For some reason or other, in this dream, our being together was some kind of taboo. We weren’t supposed to be together. We had to try desperately to ignore each other. I don’t know what it is about why we weren’t supposed to be together, why decorum called for us to ignore our mutual interest. It could not be simply because we were neighbors. What’s wrong with dating a neighbor?

The ending scene of my dream, right before I woke up, we took each other in this huge embrace. It was like the moment in a romantic movie where the couple says, “World be damned, we’re in love. And it’s not wrong. And we don’t care what you think.” It was cathartic.

Swear to God, there was nothing x-rated about this dream. It was harmless flirting. An almost teenage passion. It was completely ridiculous.

And yet the dream has bothered me all day. Had I put rose petals under my pillow last night, I’d be superstitiously inclined to think that I’d dreamed of my future husband. Right?

I guess this dream just means I’m ready for real love or something.

Or maybe that I’m having trouble getting over a relationship in which the two people involved should never have gotten together due to some big taboo. Maybe my dream is trying to tell me that star-crossed love really is star-crossed. Avoid the men who defy your normal dating parameters.

Or perhaps I shouldn’t eat the beef chili at Whitey’s and put all that Tabasco sauce in it that I did. Obnoxious food plus three glasses of Great Lakes Oktoberfest yields really weird dreams.

I really hate it when nocturnal meanderings of the mind bleed over into your day. It was even worse to be tortured with dreams of love just when I thought I was strong enough not to care.

I don’t know. It was a long night. And a long day. The mind is so cruel.