Resolution

I only have one resolution this year. It’s the most important thing to me. Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a lot of soul searching to try to figure what I want most of out life, or a career, and I’ve come to realize that the one thing I want most of all to have done in my life–above everything else–is to be a “real” published author.

I probably should aim small, try to get some of the stories I’d want to put into a memoir about being a young widow written into short, readable pieces, and then go through the vigorous process of attempting to submit them for publication on their own. Maybe that’s all this so-called memoir will ever be–random bits of my life with Mike and my experiences after his death. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a way, once the bits and pieces are published, to submit the work as a whole to someone. I really think I could do it if I just tried. Not to pat myself on the back, but I truly believe that writing is my talent–as hard and as frustrating an art it is for me to do each day–and I feel like I’m wasting this, my only talent, by letting my fears overwhelm me and never trying to get anything published.

So this is the year to pull myself together. For real. I need to sit down, focus, and not let the fear of rejection stop me from trying. If all my friends and family and people I barely know (who read this blog regularly) tell me that I’ve got something extraordinary here, then I must believe that I do have something of interest to share with the world, right? Won’t I be so proud of myself if I do succeed? Won’t I have nothing but regret if I never try? I can’t let this one thing slip away from me forever. Being a published writer is all that I’ve ever wanted from my life since I was a little kid; it’s probably the only career idea for my life that’s been a constant. And I’ve especially always wanted to write a book. I’ve dreamed of holding a book with my name across the cover. Even if I only ever wrote and published one book in my entire lifetime, I would feel fulfilled. (Though, let’s be honest, once you have one book published, it’s a lot easier to get others published…)

Anyway, I wish everyone a great New Year and success in fulfilling your own personal resolutions–whether they be one or many.

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A Decade in Review

At the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000, Mike and I were standing in the grand atrium of the Sheraton Suites, along the Cuyahoga River, in Cuyahoga Falls. It was like prom with every woman and man dressed to their nines. There was gourmet food everywhere, extravagant desserts like cherries jubilee, and open bars. There were several rooms containing music and bands of different types–a room with dj music, a room with a jazz band, a room with a rock band, a room with a barbershop quartet. People of all ages were there. Probably people like ourselves who loved to party on New Year’s.

This was a special year because it heralded the new millennium. It was a magical New Year’s because no one knew what was going to happen on January 1, 2000. Would all the lights go out? Would every computer fail? “Y2K” was the buzz word of that decade. Now we have “2012” (read: load of crap). It seems every few years, the End of Days folks have to find some new timeline for the end of humanity. I don’t think they realize that the world ends not with a bang but a whimper.

Anyway, at midnight, we were standing at in the main atrium watching the ball drop in New York City on a big TV screen placed there. 10… 9… 8… 7… “You ready?” Mike teased… 6… “Nothing’s going to happen!” I said, hoping it was true… 5… 4… 3… “We soon shall see,” returned Mike… 2… 1…

“Happy New Year!” everyone in the room screamed as “Auld Lang Syne” began to play in the background. People in Times Square danced and raved; the people in the room with us began to kiss and hug; we embraced each other and shared a quick kiss of our own. It was like any other welcoming of the New Year except with the feverish excitement of seeing a new millennium ushered in. Somehow, to me, that symbolized new and exciting things for my already exciting life as a newly married woman. I was going places, I thought.

Who knew the next ten years would hold new experiences–some terribly tragic, some filled with new discovery, and even a few adventures. A lot has happened to me in these ten years. Some days I feel like I’m 54 instead of 34. Sometimes I feel like I’m still a kid trying to make my way out of high school. I guess despite the worst that’s happened to me, it’s comforting to know that I haven’t stopped living. I’m not as happy as I was on January 1, 2000; I’m not as sad as I was on April 1, 2001; and I’m out of the darkness that consumed my entire experience of 2001. Somehow I made it through okay.

I’d like to review some of the major events that occurred in my life over the last decade by year:

2000: Adopted my cat, Cleo. Went to Oregon with Mike to visit Sarah. Got my first job as a technical writer. Enjoyed life as a married woman, celebrating my first (and only) wedding anniversary. I did my first MS 150 on my trail bike (ouch).

2001: My grandma E died in February. Mike, my beloved husband, died on April 14th. September 11th. Sold my house in Stow. Moved into an apartment in Mayfield Heights.

2002: Spent New Year’s in Las Vegas because it was probably the last place on Earth Mike and I would have gone on vacation ourselves. Not too much to recall of this year. By the end of the year, I scored a job as a quality assurance analyst in Boulder, Colorado.

2003: Moved to Colorado. My car (a beautiful Honda Civic Si) was stolen. Bought a new house in a Denver suburb. Bought my hybrid (the Beast) and started to become a bike fanatic.

2004: Did the MS 150 in Colorado (the hardest ride I ever did up to that point). Got homesick and moved back to Ohio (stupid!).

2005: Turned 30. Bought my third house in Stow (again). Took a new job as technical writer again. Did a bike trip to Amsterdam and Germany (a lifelong dream was to go to Germany).

2006: Had my tonsils removed (found out I had sleep apnea). Bought my Giant OCR 1. Started riding with the Akron Bike Club. Mike’s cat, Tanya, died.

2007: Another bike trip to Italy. College 10 year reunion (has it really been 10 years since college? Seems just like yesterday that I was graduating!). Made a new personal goal of 2,000 miles ridden on my bike. Started my blog.

2008: Grandma H died. More bike trips, more riding. Lots of job jumping. More fits of self-discovery. Put Tanya’s ashes on Mt. Elbert where I scattered Mike’s ashes six years before.

2009: Rode my bike across Ohio. Another personal record of 4,000 miles met. Went to Utah for the first time.

So another decade goes by. Really, time flies whether you’re having fun or not. Most of the experiences of the last ten years feel like they just happened to me, which is probably why I still often feel like a newly widowed woman rather than one who is almost nine years out from that tragic day. Still, it’s hard not to think about the expectations I had of my life and look at what happened. Though, I suppose, one could say I’ve made the best of a bad situation. Mike’s death didn’t stop me from living, as they say; rather, his life inspired me to fulfill my dreams even if they weren’t with him as I would have liked. I’m sure he’d have been proud that I found the bravery to explore the world as I wanted–to see Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy–all on my own (well, not completely alone as I went with my friend Holly). I found unique ways to deal with my grief (cycling). These are all things Mike would admire in me if he could see me now.

Most of the things I have done in the last decade have come with some amount of bravery on my part. I don’t think people realize, given my often driven personality, how hard it was for me to go to any foreign country–be completely out of my element and comfort zone–without the aid of someone who had been there and new the ropes (which would have been Mike). I wanted to go that badly. I had to go because it was in my heart to see the world. Which is a spark that has always burned within me but Mike fed it so that the flames bulged. It was our personal philosophy–and mine today–that we use money to buy experiences above material items. Experiences always outlive material things.

I don’t think people fully appreciate how brave of an act it was for me to even sustain myself in those first few years after Mike died. Because I’d never lived on my own before, having gone from practically my parents house (that less than a year stint in my best friend’s basement and then into an apartment in North Canton doesn’t count) to Mike’s house. When he died, I wasn’t sure I could manage all the responsibilities of taking care of my own household. In this day and age, believe it or not. I was very scared for that first year. Very scared. I spent the better half of this decade just trying to figure out how to support myself–learning what I could spend when and how much.

I hope my future continues to be less turbulent. I would like to see for myself some sort of change career-wise, even if that just means I really sit down and try to get some of my personal writing published. That’s another lifelong dream of mine that I’m too overwhelmed with fear to attempt–I want to be a published writer. In something other than these boring technical manuals that do not bear my name. I hope I’m not just blowing air.

I won’t harp on the romantic road. If it happens, it happens. I learned in this last decade that I can still have the life I want–I can still live the experiences I crave–on my own. I don’t need anyone. Well, as I learned from my Colorado experience, I do need my friends and family. Apparently more than I ever thought. So, thanks, all of you who have loved, supported, and listened to me through good times and bad. Especially those of you who stuck it out through the many moods of widowhood.

Here’s to the hope of a better decade ahead. I’m not holding my breath, for life offers no promises. Hope is all I have. And I hope that I have the strength to manuever whatever obstacles lie in the road ahead.

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Christmas (Un)Wrap Up

I wouldn’t say this was my best Christmas. It wasn’t my worst either. It just came upon me and I feel like I walked like a zombie through it. Much of the excitement just wasn’t there for me this year. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the furious breakup of a long-time friendship in early December. Maybe it was going on vacation a week before Christmas and otherwise forgetting the season was upon us. Or maybe I’m just lonely and I’m tired of being without a special someone to share the holidays with. I am not given to fits of loneliness very often, but the holidays do bring such things out of me–out of all of us, I am sure.

I did have a nice Christmas, though, even if my heart did not thud in excited anticipation of it. I spent the afternoon of Christmas Eve skiing at Boston Mills before heading out to my parents’ place for the annual party with the H family–my mom’s sisters and brothers. I skipped attending the Christmas Eve church services this year because I hated being late to this party last year. It made Christmas Eve go by too fast and I missed talking with my family who started to depart when I arrived. Going to church on Christmas Eve was never a part of my family’s Christmas traditions, while attending the big H family party was. So I had to be there. Who knows how long this tradition will continue and I want to make sure I’m there until the very end.

The sad part of the H family party, which I noticed this time, is that I no longer am the vibrant one who moves within the group, chattering and talking and catching up. Rather, I sit in one general spot and wait for people to circulate to me. This usually results in me never getting a chance to talk to some people. I lost my momentum in the family and I don’t know why. I guess I feel kind of stupid. The widow in the room–a pathetic reminder of what happens to youth and idealism when tragedy strikes. I know people probably don’t focus on the bitter details of my life as much as I do, but still, when you have an entire history with a group of people, sometimes you find yourself humbled and embarrassed in their presence. One of my younger cousins, recently married, bobbed happily into the house with her new husband and I just felt out-of-place. Let her be the beacon of youth and enthusiasm; I can claim neither for myself at the moment. I’m not bitter, I swear. I’m just stating the facts as I feel.

Several times during the night, someone–a younger cousin–remarked, “This just isn’t the same without Grandma here.” I agreed. In addition to no longer having my husband at my side, the absence of my grandparents in the festivities is particularly depressing. It feels like the all of the energy has been zapped out of not only Christmas but Thanksgiving and Easter as well. My traditions with these holidays were more centered around my family–especially my grandparents–and it really is not the same without them. It’s been now two Christmases without my last remaining grandparent–my Grandma H. Her death in March 2008 was the last event to herald the change of holiday tradition forever. Now, we her descendants are left to build our own traditions from the ashes of the old. I wonder how long we will try to uphold the ones she started. The ones with my grandma and grandpa E are no longer upheld, leaving a gaping hole in my schedule on Christmas and Easter mornings…

Towards the end of the night, I got tired and wanted to go to bed, but I ended up staying up until 2am when the last guest left. Then it was up again at 9am so that I could shower and get ready for my brother and his wife to arrive with Christmas morning breakfast (pop-overs, an old E family favorite). I was a little bummed that Foster–my four-legged brother–didn’t stay the night in my room. He left shortly after crawling onto the foot of my bed because Cooper–the new dog and his rival for their owners’ affection–had gone into my parents’ room. I guess he felt he needed to assert his place with my mom and dad and didn’t want the “little guy” have an advantage.

I got some good gifts from the family: wine and some bubble bath and body lotions from my brother and sister-in-law and some odds and ends from my mom that were great and useful. My dad bought me the women-only bicycle tune-up class at Century Cycles that I wanted. Because it was an abstract gift, he wrapped the gift receipt for the class in a box with a bottle of Great Lakes Grassroots Ale. Which is funny because I did the exact same thing (except with a Sam Adam’s Winter Lager) for his gift because mine to him was also abstract–I booked us an all-expenses paid (by me) brewing session at The Brew Kettle. The minds of beer drinkers think alike?

I spent Christmas Day hanging out with my parents, even after my brother and his wife left. I walked the dogs with my mom in the woods abutting their backyard and enjoyed some quiet time watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Twice. (At least it wasn’t Christmas Story, which I have been known to watch up to three times in a row when it was replaying over and over on some cable channel.)

I got home around 7:30pm and opened the presents sent to me from my best friend Melissa (who lives in Florida) and my pen pal Sarah (who lives in Seattle). Melissa got me a few souvenirs from her summer trip to Indonesia and Singapore: a cute waving-cat stuff animal and a pack of Djarum Black cappuccino flavored cigarettes (which you smoke like cigars, don’t worry!). Her kids got me a Men in Black coffee mug that I used for my coffee on Saturday morning. Sarah, ever the supplier to my chocolate addiction, bought me four bars of chocolate–Dark Chocolate with Spicy Chile, Nib Brittle, Hazelnut Crunch, and Bread and Chocolate–from Theo Chocolates which is just down the street from her. We toured this factory and sampled its unique flavors when I last visited in 2006. I love their chocolate and welcome any of it into my home. I already sampled the Dark Chocolate with Spicy Chile and I must say it was exquisite…

Once I got through with the final unwrapping, I unwound in my bathtub using the bubble bath cream that my sister-in-law gave me. Its ginger smell was indeed soothing and I learned that with jets you don’t need to put as much bubble bath cream as I put in there. Lesson learned! It was almost like that episode of any 80s sitcom where the kid tried to do the wash himself, put in too much solution, and then bubbles filled the entire room. I managed to keep the bubbles within the tub, but they did climb awfully high.

Saturday I woke up later and relaxed for a bit in front of the boob tube. I then hit the gym and waited for my mom to arrive for our promised shopping trip where we would purchase the rest of my Christmas present–clothes! Between Kohl’s and Macy’s, we went a little over her budget in the clearance racks, but got some really great deals on two really beautiful sweaters, several blouses for both winter and summer, a pair of dress pants, a skirt, and an earring and necklace set I’d been ogling before Christmas. We ended our shopping spree with dinner at a Thai restaurant in Stow. It was really nice hanging out and doing girl stuff with my mom. I can’t wait to wear all the new clothes I got. Unfortunately, since work is still on a casual dress schedule for the rest of the year, I won’t be able to wear my new skirt tomorrow. Well, I could, but why bother when jeans are allowed for the next three days? Maybe I can wear some of the blouses with my jeans, though.

It is good that I can spend all this time with my parents. At least I have learned one very valuable lesson in Mike’s death: appreciate the people you love in your life now. I have grown to really like my parents as friends and I’m glad that I have enough in common with each of them that I can find things for us to together. It took me a long, winding path to get to this spot I’m at now… I’m glad I’m there. I know that if I ever get married again, my relationship with them will not diminish. I’ve actually learned from some of my mistakes.

I guess I’m just feeling a little down. It’s probably post-holiday depression. Sometimes I think I need some good drugs. Ha. I guess I still miss Mike more than I think I should. I was taken aback this morning at church when our annual service on remembering those who died in the year started. Tears welled up in my eyes unexpectedly and I had to really fight them from flowing. I felt that if I had started crying, I would fall easily into one of those hysterical fits that take over my body like hiccups. I could feel that it would easily have exploded out of me if I let it. I might have sought refuge in the woman’s room had I not been on greeting/ushering duty (which means that in addition to greeting congregants before the service, I had to collect the offering during the middle of the service). I can’t believe I’m still susceptible to heavy crying after this long. Grief surprises even me. Ironically, on Christmas Eve, I’d watched, without a ping of emotion, my cousin-in-law A, who knew Mike, break into quick tears when thinking about what it would feel like to lose her own husband. I didn’t even feel close to crying and tried to assure A that I was okay this time. Grief is so moment-to-moment.

I guess as they flashed some pictures on a projector of some young people from our congregation who died during 2009, I couldn’t help but feel an empathy as I looked at the smiling faces of people who were but a memory in the minds of those they loved. Thinking of people dying too young makes me think of Mike. The unfairness of it all overwhelms me sometimes. There was a band playing a great beat on African drums in memory of Brian Klempp, a local musician. I was really surprised by how much emotion that primal beat opened up within me. It was really hard to suppress my tears. I wonder if I will let go completely later today when I’m free to do such in private.

Anyway, sorry for being such a Christmas downer. I did have a nice Christmas. I hope that everyone else did as well. Less than a week left of 2009. I don’t think I’m going to get any more miles on my bike before I have to zero the counter out again… It’s too cold here in Northeast Ohio. I’m a freeze baby. It has to break 40 degrees before I’ll get into the saddle. Until then, it’s burning the holiday fat at ye olde gym.

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Alternate Universes

In an alternate universe in which Mike didn’t die, I’d probably have at least one kid by now. Shocked? Mike wanted kids. I loved Mike. I probably would have had kids with him. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted kids too. I am sure in that reality, I would have matured enough to want them. In that reality, I wouldn’t know what it felt like to lose a person I care so much about. In that universe, I might be a lot less scared about opening my heart. I’d probably still hold to the romantic idea that nothing in life isn’t worth having if you aren’t willing to risk your heart.

I know I’ve not shown myself as much of a kid person. But we did plan to have them. We even came up with names: Sabine (Sah-been-ah) Patrice for a girl and Korbin Michael (or Russell) for a boy–a name we stole from Bruce Willis’ character from our favorite movie, The Fifth ELement. Mike wanted three kids, in fact; I suppose because his own family had three children. I agreed that three was good. (At some earlier part of my life, I actually wanted five!)

Though I’ve always been deathly fearful of the great changes to my life that having kids would involve, I somehow thought that eventually it would have been a good idea with Mike. I used to imagine how attentive he’d be during my pregnancy. I knew he’d be the type of father to want to feel my belly for the baby’s movements. I suspect he would have really treated me like a queen throughout my pregnancy, finding stuff to make me comfortable before I even asked. He was just that type of guy. It was kind of sweet to imagine him like that, taking care of me and our future child, excitedly moving through the process of having a baby. When the time came for the birth, I knew that Mike would be right there beside me, holding my hand and coaching me through the labor. The whole experience, to me, seemed like it would have bonded us even closer together. I don’t know if this is just my romantic view of how things should be or whether it is what one should expect from a man who loves you, but in the secret vaults of my mind, this is exactly how I pictured having children with Mike.

Mike wanted to be a stay-at-home dad. I loved him for that–he didn’t live by societal norms that defined how a man should behave. I never wanted to let go of my financial independence to be a stay-at-home mom. We both firmly believed that someone should stay at home and be a full-time parent, though. We knew we’d find a way to do it even though we both also agreed that we wanted to send our kids to Montessori school. (I am a damaged product of the public school system and I would ardently refuse to send my children into that zoo…)

I guess we talked about kids a lot because we had a plan in place. I wanted to be married for a good five or six years before I had kids; Mike would have been ready at the drop of a hat if I said so. Which kind of scares me since I knew I was not ready. I think he was secretly a little jealous when his best friend’s wife became pregnant. (That baby, by the way, was born after Mike died and was named after him.)

So why am I so anti-kid now? I suppose it has to do with loss. Now that I know what can happen in life, I kind of shy away from the risk. I’m reading My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult right now and I have to admit that the book stabs right at my heart. On some level, I can understand a mother who so desperately wants her daughter to live, she’ll have another child from which she can harvest organs and organic material to give to her first daughter. It disgusts me, but at the same time, I understand the drive. Death out-of-order bucks the system. I think I understand how Mike’s parents must have felt. In the grand scheme of life, they knew they were supposed to die first.

I can’t stop focusing on the terror of discovering your young daughter has a fatal disease. I know it’s a fiction book, but life really is that cruel. I don’t want to know what it’s like to lose a child. A husband was pain enough. A life you carry in your womb for nine months is something completely different–intimate in ways I can’t even begin to understand having never gone through it. I know I can’t live my life with a closed heart, refusing to love someone in fear of losing them, but I can’t help myself. I think I am a lot more willing to love and lose another husband than I am to spend a good twenty years of my life nurturing a life only to lose it to death or to watch that person make a series of bad choices despite the upbringing I provided. I’m not saying these are things that will happen, but they are a possibility. You can’t determine what your child will do with the life you gave them. And that’s why too me it’s too much of a gamble.

Children to me seem like a rocky investment. You could spend years and years cultivating them into something special only to have them resort to drugs and blame you for all their problems. I consider my mom lucky that she had two functional kids. She was a great mom, but each child is an individual. With the depression problems I had earlier in life, my outcome could have gone into many self-destructive directions. Luckily it didn’t. Lucky.

I don’t like games of luck. So somewhere in the aftermath of Mike’s death, I decided I didn’t want to play the game of children. Not that I have had any honest options. I’m still single. I definitely do not want to raise a child myself. I’m not that interested in motherhood to go off and find ways to have one despite my relationship situation. I’m also kind of old-fashioned–I think a child should have two parents (whatever genders they may be). I guess I like my freedom.

A part of me still thinks about that alternate universe, though, in which Mike didn’t die and we have our three children. I don’t even know what we’d name the third one, or the second child of the same gender,  since we never got that far with our naming ideas. It would have been nice to have a little Mike. Or, I suppose, a little Mars Girl. I wonder what traits from both of us our children would have inherited. No doubt they’d have brown eyes since Mike and I both had brown eyes. I would hope their eyes would shine with the intensity and mischief of Mike’s. They’d probably hate science-fiction for all that I love it.

I suppose some part of me is still mad that I never had the choice about whether or not to have kids. Part of my anti-kids stance might be a lashing out about how fate removed all choice from my life, destroying all visions about my future that I had. Maybe in vocally choosing not to have children, I’m exerting some sort of control over a life that was thrust unwillingly into chaos. Eventually the feminine biological clock will take the choice from me as well; life will rob me of my choices again. I think I’m okay with that. But, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll fall in love again and I will find myself swept up in the romanticism of procreation again. Sometimes loving someone makes you want to have children. Darn that drive to be fruitful and multiply.

Somewhere in the alternate universe where Mike didn’t die, I suppose I’m a mother. I wonder if I am any good at it. In this universe, I’m just the mother to two hapless cats. Cats are much easier and they always love you.

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2009 Christmas Letter

For those of you not on my exclusive Christmas card list, I thought I would post my annual Christmas card letter for this year as well as provide an image of the Christmas photo card I sent with my letter. Stamps are expensive, so please don’t feel left out if you didn’t get a card and letter from me. By myself, I send nearly 80 cards a year… and I’m not even married.

I started the tradition of sending a photo card and letter during the first year of marriage to Mike. We found it a great way to let people know what we were up to. I figured that you didn’t need to have kids to send neat photocards.  I kind of wish all my friends did it; it adds a personal touch to the annual message.

Nowadays, I try to sound upbeat so as not to depress people with my widow dribble. After all, that’s what this blog is for, right? ;)

Dear Friends and Family,

It seems just days ago that I was sitting here composing my Christmas letter. Not to sound cliché, but for some reason this year seemed faster than most to me. I must be getting fully back into the swing of things, reinventing my social life or something, for I feel that I’ve been incredibly busy doing almost nothing at all. Well, not nothing, but I guess I have less to show for this passing year than I had hoped (i.e., when I am I going to write/publish a short story or book??). But I’ve definitely been very busy with a great many activities—volunteering with my church (Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent) and my bike club, doing bike rides both registered and self-motivated, hanging out with friends, blogging (see, there’s some writing), and going to Indians games with Dad. It certainly feels good to be busy.

I am sure you’re all just dying to know what my cycling mileage count is for this year. I’m proud to say that I continue to blow up all previous records with a grand total this year of 4,575.81. And the year is not over yet. There still may be sunny, warmish (40 degrees and above, that is) days to come with this mild year we’ve been having. I have to admit I’m a little sheepish about admitting these mileage totals now; there will come a year when I don’t actually beat the previous year’s record and it will be utter disappointment to all. So I’m just saying this to prepare you for that day, okay?

500 of those miles in the count were done during my summer vacation, the highlight of my year: the Across Ohio Bicycle Adventure (XOBA). July 25th through August 1st, I participated in an annual group ride from Eaton, Ohio—about ten miles from the Indiana border in southwestern Ohio—to New Castle, Pennsylvania. I had the time of my life! One entire week of cycling 50-70 miles per day, seeing parts of Ohio I didn’t know were there, and camping each evening on the lawn of a high school or university. Believe it or not, it was a very, very relaxing vacation for me. Just what I needed, really. And I’m proud to say that I rode every mile from one side of the state to the other. To make it an official crossing, I even rode the ten miles to the Indiana border from Eaton, which was an optional ride for those souls like myself who have to do everything officially.

Despite what you may assume about my level of fitness, I would not say that this ride was easy. We had a slow start of three 50 mile days (on one of those days I took the optional 100 mile route) which culminated in a very hard 70 mile day of constant hills from Millersport to Loundonville (where Mohican is located). Mother Nature added an extra challenge to this day’s ride by providing a constant, steady downpour of rain for all but the last ten miles of the ride. If you think riding in the rain is retched enough, try it in hill country where there are soaring downhill descents and you can’t take them at full speed because you might hydroplane. And most people assume cycling is a relatively safe activity!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am patient under almost any unwanted conditions—cold, wind, harrowing uphill climbs—but that I’m absolutely insufferable in the rain. I pity my riding pals who stuck with me and my sour expression throughout that day; I know I was not a pleasant companion. What doesn’t kill you, though, makes you stronger. I still don’t like the rain, but I lived through all the discomforts of that day which grants me all the bragging rights I desire. =)

The most difficult part of the ride, however, was the last two days. It seems that I may have pushed myself too hard on the Loundonville route for I ended up with an overwork injury in my right knee. At one point on the second-to-last day, my knee was throbbing with so much pain that I actually had to stop and cry—both tears of frustration (the realization that I might have to quit) and anguish. The route took us through town (Kent, in fact) where I was able to stop at a CVS where I bought a knee brace and some ibuprofen. I immediately took three pills, donned the knee brace, and pushed on. I told myself that I was only going to make myself go the next 30 miles and then assess where I was at. I didn’t want to call the “SAG wagon” to come pick me up; I had to finish my goal. But, I knew, if the pain was too overwhelming I would have to stop. Fortunately, the route was relatively flat that day (I found that going up hills hurt the knee worse) and the brace and ibuprofen did their jobs. When I reached that 30 mile mark, I decided I felt okay enough to push on. The pain was still there—though dulled in the background—and I didn’t know at the time what kind of terrain lay ahead. So for the remainder of the ride, I made my goals simple: to make the next ten miles; then when that was reached, the next ten; and so on. To my great joy, every ten mile goal was another ten miles I’d done and I managed to push on all the way to the overnight stop at Youngstown State University. I’m so glad I did because I would have missed the absolutely beautiful leg of the ride that went through Mill Creek Park—a metropark outside of Youngstown. I probably could have done without the last five miles through the Youngstown ghetto, though. Ugh! I had to attach myself to a big burly guy I met at the Handel’s (one of the “official” ice cream stops along the route) which made me feel somewhat safer.

I’m proud to say that I did make it from border to border of Ohio and without any great injury to my knee. After a week of rest after XOBA (in which I babied my knee and did not ride my bike), I found myself achieving newer and better cycling goals the rest of the season. I climbed hills I’d never climbed before and I conquered hills I’d walked on some rides in the previous years. Most importantly, I think my experience with “pushing through the pain” on XOBA showed me just how tenacious of an individual I am when it comes to completing a goal. There is a great comfort in that. To me, it means I can overcome anything; mind over matter. I guess I’ve probably proven that to myself over the last eight years in a lot of other ways too.

XOBA was really a lot of fun. The theme was ice cream and so each day the route went to one or more renown local ice cream shop. Apparently, Ohio is known for its ice cream. I didn’t partake in ice cream every day, but I did discover a lot of new ice cream places to visit (Young’s Jersey Dairy near Springfield and Velvet Ice Cream in Utica were my favorites). Additionally, I experience a lot of the back roads of Ohio. Say what you will about my state, but I think there’s a lot of hidden beauty there that people don’t often see when traveling through it by car. And I got to experience it all at a bike’s pace—from planes spraying farmer’s fields to the Ohio Small Town Museum (in Ashville) to Slate Run Living Historical Farm to Ed Jeffers Barber Museum (in Canal Winchester) to empty county routes in the middle of nowhere and unheard of sleepy towns. I saw it all and I loved every minute. It’s not often that you get to see your own state with the eyes of a tourist. I found lots to love and appreciate. What more can you ask for in a vacation?

Alas, my vacation adventures have not ended for the year. In December, I embark on a trip to Utah for skiing with a friend lost and found again. I’ve never been to Utah before. I’m told that their skiing is even better than Colorado. Of this, I’m yet skeptical. But skiing out west is skiing at its best and I’m looking forward to it. I also plan to end the year with a four day weekend trip to Holiday Valley (in New York) for eastern skiing over New Year’s weekend. For me, every season yields something fun to do outside and I’m prepared for whatever Mother Nature allows.

Anyway, I’ve yammered long enough about my adventures. I hope that 2009 has given you an assortment of your own great adventures; may 2010 bring even better ones! The best adventures in life are often the ones you least expect. Here’s to health, happiness, and avarice in the coming year.

Love, Peace, and Fulfilling Adventures,

Mars Girl

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My winter vacation in photos

I didn’t take my camera to Utah because I don’t have one, unfortunately, that fits into a pocket. Except my cell phone. So all of the photos I got on my skiing vacation are courtesy of my Blackberry. Not quite the quality I would have liked, but better than nothing. I will share some of the best with you here…

The first day we skied–Sunday December 13th–a blizzard was a’blowing. In fact, the road through Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta and Snowbird was under chain/four wheel drive restrictions. Our little rental car (a Kia of some sort) did not fit these requirements so we took the UTA bus, which turned out to be the best and easiest solution for getting to Alta and Snowbird all week.

Albion Base - Alta

Visibility was poor most of the day and the snow was deep–both of which served me well as I was most fearless despite my inability to ski in full control (and, as I learned later, I wasn’t even in the correct skiing posture).

I think this is the view up Sugar Bowl--the only black diamond run I did the whole week.

In fact, I braved Sugar Bowl without even realizing it was a black diamond run (it didn’t look that sloped to me). I braved the powder fearlessly. Some people fear powder; it makes me feel like I can do any run. Janet got stuck wandering too far to the right of the slope and took some time trying to find her ski. Where I was standing–which I assumed had been groomed earlier in the week–was knee high snow. I was able to cut through it until I stopped to wait on Janet.

Deep snow!

I got the following shot along the slope somewhere. I think this was probably on Mambo or something which goes along the Wildcat Base.

On Mambo? Not sure!

On the second day, the conditions started out like the first, but eventually resolved into sun toward the end of the day.  Here’s some shots from the top of the Sugarloaf lift before I took a fearless run again down Sugar Bowl and some nice blue slopes to finish off my last run.

Top of Sugarloaf lift before descending Sugar Bowl.

View from top of Sugar Bowl.

Towards Sugar Bowl--downward!

On Wednesday, we went to Deer Valley. I spent a lot of time on green runs learning how to turn correctly and break myself of an old bad habit I have of lifting my ski to make turns. I guess I was using my hips instead of my legs to turn. Correcting a bad habit was like learning to ski all over again because I had to completely change the way I made turns which was really, really scary. Janet’s friend, Renee (a level 3 instructor at Deer Valley), had me hold my poles horizontal to prevent me from using my hips to turn and to keep my hands forward (I also have a bad habit of swinging my arms back after making a pole plant). It was a trying day, but I think I started to learn to ski the “right” way finally.

Here’s a shot along Homeward Bound, a green run off of Bald Mountain in Deer Valley.

Homeward Bound at Deer Valley

Deer Valley seemed to have a lot of unobstructed views down the mountains. They tended to be a little intimidating, though beautiful.

I think this was the view from Little Stick on Little Baldy Peak.

Really, there was not a cliff beyond that bit of land you can see… Just a really steep double-blue slope. (We have no double-blues out east, really.)

Little Stick View.

Thursday, we skied at Snowbird, which, as I stated before, is probably the steepest, hardest resort at which I’ve ever skied. The green run–Big Emma–which wasn’t in the Chickadee (beginner’s) area would probably have been a blue run anywhere else. Even anywhere in Utah. It was pretty steep and slightly intimidating to look down. A snowboard stumbling by shouted to who I assumed was her boyfriend, “That’s no green run!!” She proceeded to pass the run in favor of an easy cat walk that led back to the lodge where the Tram ran out of. I could understand her fear. It was a nice run, though.

Here’s a shot from the top of the Gadzoom lift where you take some blue runs that lead eventually to Big Emma. I took the Lunch run as it was the least steep way to Big Emma. (Later I took Bassackwards and actually had to take my skis off when I got stuck on a rock in a really bad, bald spot and couldn’t turn. Talk about amateur hour!)

Scene at the top of Gadzoom lift.

Snowbird is the only place we skied all week that allowed snowboarders. Can’t say I missed the snowboarders. For some reason, that particular crowd of snow enthusiasts seem to be a bit riskier than regular skiers. Often, they cut way too close to skiers and do not obey the basic rules of skiing such as remaining always in control and giving the downhill skier the right of way since they can’t see behind their heads to know the uphill skier/boarder is coming. Anyway, there were lots of signs all over the resort about politely sharing the slopes.

Share the mountain! Dammit!

More scenery shots from somewhere in Snowbird.

More scenes from Snowbird.

Snowbird scenery.

I took the tram to the top of Hidden Peak (11K). There was only one blue run down and it was mostly catwalks down with a few open spaces. I took a wrong turn and ended up on a harder blue at the very end than I intended… After a long, hard day, I was just a bit demoralized. I was halfway down when I was passed by the ski patrol on their final sweep. It’s been a long time since that’s happened!

View from top of tram.

Another view from top of tram.

View towards Mineral Basin (connection to Alta).

I headed wearily down, not sure what I would encounter along the way. I was a little intimidated. Some guys on the tram told me it would take me at least 20 minutes to get down the mountain. I think it took longer because I stopped several times to snap a picture and check the trail map to ensure I didn’t end up on some horrifying black diamond run (they looked really scary on the way up).

My path down.

Downward, ho!

The distance I have come.

I encountered a nice bowl that some people braver than myself descended. I am not sure the scale and slope of this run is quite captured in this flat picture. But it was pretty neat to watch people come down it.

A wall.

By Friday, when I skied again at Alta, I was more concerned about skiing and practicing technique to take any more pictures. It was another nice day, though, and I think I came back around to getting into the swing of things. Of course. Always on the last day! But perhaps I will have time to ski again this week, back home, before New Year’s.

Anyway, while I was at Snowbird, a professional photographer got a few shots of me coming down the tail end of Big Emma. I’ve included the links below. I also had some pictures taken by another professional photographer on Friday on a green run off the Sunnyside lift. I have yet to get the link for those pictures. I hope they look good. I’ve found that seeing these pictures helps me assess my posture. In a few of them, I could tell I was not in the proper position and I look sloppy. Others, though, show good posture. I think I need a videographer to follow me around so that I can study my technique. It’s a good thing bicycling isn’t so complicated…

This set is provided by PowderShots.com.

Hand back. Bad!

Better.

Good, but my left hand is down again.

Too far forward on my skis.

And here’s Janet:

A better skier, obviously!

More me:

Damn arm back again.

Mars Girl rocks the skis.

The following pictures were taken the following day (Friday) at Alta (provided by Peak Photo). You can tell I was getting the technique better (well, for all but the last picture in which I can be seen coming out of a wedge.)

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Day 6: So long and thanks for all the snow

Today I decided to take it easy. For real. I was tired of scaring myself half out of my wits. So the first thing I did this morning was take the easy route from the Collins lift to the Sunnyside lift. I spent the next few hours practicing technique on the green runs. I even got my picture taken by one of those photographer dudes (also got some shot from the bottom of the “green” run at Snowbird yesterday).

By 2pm, I felt ready to hit some of the blue runs off the Sugarloaf lift. Eventually, I even braved the black I did three other times this week (admittedly, my harrowing adventures on days 4 and 5 had me a bit shell shocked for even things I’d done earlier in the week–I had lost a lot of the nerve I formerly had). Almost a week without snow, the conditions were getting a little like home (hard-packed in spots).

My last run was the return to the Collins lift via several more difficult blues. I was a little nervous, but the conditions on that side of the mountain were still great. I was able to finish my day–and the entire week–with pride. Not as sterling as I would have liked. But at least I learned a few things. I am now skiing in better form (though I am not yet completely comfortable with said form). I am probably sufficiently warmed up for the season. Everything in New York should look much simpler.

I now have custom molded foot beds for my boots. They came highly recommended due to my high arches and to help have better control of my skis. It was a bad splurge but something I should have done when I first got the boots (two years ago). My feet have never felt so comfortable in my boots!

I also bought real ski socks. For years, I’ve been wearing wool hiking socks, which crammed my feet hard in the boots, also making it hard to control the skis. I thought it never mattered what socks one wore; shame on me! I resisted wearing cycling shorts because I thought it unnecessary. Then I tried them once and learned that they actually made sitting on a bike seat for hours more comfortable–no bunching or chafing from seam lines. (I still don’t do the chamois butter so I guess I’ve still got some growing to do.)

Janet taught me how to wax my skis. She says I should do it at least once during the week when I’m skiing out west and probably frequently during the ski season. Figures. There’s always something with sports equipment. Maybe that’s the real reason I havnet yet bought a motorcycle–just one more expensive thing to maintain. I hate maintenance.

I have also determined that Santa needs to buy me a pair of boot gloves (for warmth as my feet get cold easy) and boot dryers (had to borrow Janet’s the night her boots were being repaired). There’s always something with these hobbies of mine.

Lastly in my ski adventures, I’ve eaten at a vegan restaurant two days in a row (Vertical Diner). I tried tempeh and liked it. I didn’t miss the meat in either meal. I am nowhere near turning vegan; however, I am totally willing to cut down on the amount of meat I eat. I’ve been consciously reducing my meat intake for the last few years (since reading Fast Food Nation). I’m with Paul McCartney; we should vow to not eat meat a few days a week.

But anyway, this week has been an adventure and the consensus is in: Alta rocks. I definitely will come back some time. Mid-winter, though.

I keep forgetting it’s nearly Christmas. It was nice to get away from all that. Makes me think less about what I am missing. And I don’t mean just missing Mike. It’s been a rough year on the relationship front. But things have finally worked out for the better, I think. Heartbreak and all, I’m where I should be. We all are where we should be. That’s life and I’m skiing it. Cycling it. Living it true to the values I hold dear. That’s all any of us can do. I see a great year for me ahead with maybe more focus on those things I’ve let slip–writing, career, activism. I’m going places, baby. For real this time.

Days 3, 4, & 5: Restart

I had a freak-out moment on Wednesday while attempting to descend a steeper grade on skis–one on which I should never have freaked out–and it set the tone for the last two days. It’s amazing how one slip in confidence can totally set me back. My skiing turned from sure-footed to tentative. And then Janet–a certified ski instructor–pointed out some incorrect posturing in my skiing. She started to teach me how to correct and then I got an unofficial private lesson at Deer Valley by one of her friends. Needless to say, my mind is now thoroughly confused in trying to figure out what my feet should do and I’m even more fearful and tentative than ever. Add to that the fact that these resorts have some of the steepest vertical I’ve ever tried to ski…

I’m in a slump, plain and simple. I’m still having fun but I’m really embarrassed by how badly I’m skiing. If you know me personally, you know I want to be great at everything right away. I’ve been at this skiing thing off and on since age 16. I think I’ve been patient long enough! But I guess without a lot of skiing until the last few years, I’ve not really advanced any. So now I need to focus and find my legs again. And ski correctly, not in the wrong position (putting my weight towards the front of ski rather than the back which feels safer but is really out of control).

Yesterday, we skied at Snowbird. This resort had the hardest, steepest runs I’ve ever attempted to ski. The blue runs were truly like more black runs out east. I had my share of freaking out, side stepping down some tricky areas and, once in a narrow lightly covered area with exposed rocks, I removed my skis and walked the rest of the way down. I can’t remember the last time I walked down a hill. But I was afraid to turn on the shallow surface. And since it hasn’t snowed since last Sunday, most of the runs are groomed and crunchy like skiing out east. I found I’m much braver in powder. Seems harder to get out of control.

Even Deer Valley had its share of challenging blues. The same with Alta. It’s been a rough week and I feel completely demoralized. I would have thought I’d be fearlessly taking black runs by the end of the week. Right now, I’m just satisfied with making it down blue runs without fear.

Interestingly, in correcting my skiing form, I now turn better in my formerly bad direction and I now have trouble turning in the direction (left) that I used to execute perfectly without fear. Janet thinks it’s because I used to always lift my ski when turning left and it somehow worked for me, but when I turned right, lifting the ski was harder to do so I wasn’t as sure with turning in that direction. Now, with my corrected stance, I am executing perfect right turns but my brain is confused when trying to turn back left. The fact of the matter is that I don’t trust my left turns and it brings fear when I stop on a slope that makes me nervous. I shouldn’t stop long enough to think about it.

All is not lost, however. I enjoyed taking the tram (3000 vertical feet in 6 minutes!) To the very top of Snowbird at some 11K feet to take a winding cat walk slope down the mountain. It was more visually “stimulating” than scary except for the narrow steep run at the very end. I freaked there, side-stepping down most of the way, even though it was really about as steep as Champaign at Holiday Valley. I’d had a rough day. There is no easy slope at Snowbird. Too bad I can’t go back later in the year when I have my ski legs back.

I’m hoping my mishaps out west will make skiing at Holiday Valley over New Years seem a lot easier… I think I will probably save going west for mid-season in the future so that I can take better advantage of what’s out here. I feel real dumb for sticking to blues and greens out west. I should be doing so much better than I am doing. At least it’s been scenic.

I’ll upload all of my pictures when I get home. I’ve only been using my phone since it fits in the pocket of my coat. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you’ve seen some of these already.

Maybe someday I will be a good skier. At age 34 with two left feet, I don’t have much hope…

Day 2: Re-learning the dance

Today I could SEE the mountains and was assured they really do exist. A light snow fell all day (for the ambiance of the winter wonderland, we assured ourselves). Gray clouds floated in and out, occasionally obscuring the visibility, but the day ended with a burst of sunlight and relief from the wind which magnified my happiness for finding my skiing feet once again.

We went to Alta again today (how could we not?) and started at the Collins lift at the lower end of the resort. This area offered wide open slopes of every difficulty level and terrain. We started on some pretty challenging blues (probably would have been black out east). I started having the muscle pain in my ankles, which I always do at the beginning of the season. But after lunch, that pain left and I started to find my ski legs again. And then the fun began.

We took a run back towards the area where we started yesterday which led us down the run that goes beneath the Sugarloaf lift where Janet had gotten stuck in knee high powder. It was groomed today and, to my surprise, turned out to be a black run! It was actually easier than some of the blues by the Collins lift. I guess maybe it’s black for the days it remains ungroomed? Anyway, this means I actually did a black yesterday and never knew it. Yay me! (I guess this also means it’s better for me to not know what the rating is for the hill I am going down).

So to prove to myself that I was getting my groove back, I went down that run as my last run as well. It felt ssooo good to end my day finally in control of my feet!

We ended the day with an adventure on the train transit (called TRAX) to SLC where we got lost countless times trying to find a vegan restaurant. We never did find it but were less than a block away from the Temple–I could see the edge of the building and part of a Christmas display. We did end up at a fancy restaurant called Elle or Ella or something where Janet was able was able to eat a vegan pizza and I had a spinach and potato gnochi with two glasses of red wine. Aaaahh… Ski to eat!

As a side note, I am a little suspicious of everyone I talk to here–especially the hot, clean-cut men–in fear that they are Mormon. I would like to see the Temple but I am afraid I will be accosted with the Book of Mormon and people desiring to tell me about Joseph Smith. I can’t help but wonder who is Mormon with every resident I talk to and I keep looking for signs. Like his/her Mormon magic underwear sticking through their clothes… I’m so curious… But in the person-watching-a-car-wreck kind of curious…

First Day: Alta

The blizzard I’d hoped would happen last week finally arrived a little late making skiing an interesting adventure today. We took the UTA bus service from a park and ride near our hotel to Alta Ski Resort–the haven for skiers as snow boarders are not allowed (yay!). It was a good thing we took the bus as the route through Little Cottonwood Canyon as the roads were quite covered despite the complete lack of stormy conditions where we were staying. Kinda reminded me of Denver in that respect.

I arrived at Alta to the sound of avalanche charges detonating. I knew they did this sort of thing at big resort on actual mountains, but I’d never witnessed it myself. It was a bit unnerving.

The lady at the ticket window informed us there was a delayed opening due to the weather, but by the time we got all dressed for the weather, the lifts to the bottom of the mountain were open.

The Sugarloaf lift to the top of the mountain opened later in the day. We foolishly went up it. Very windy and super deep powder. Like people-eating deep. Janet (the “we” in this adventure) got her ski stuck in a particularly high area and had to spend a great deal of time digging herself out. I think it took us an hour to get back down the mountain between her incident, the frequent breaks we needed from working all the powder, and trying to figure out the easiest path (we weren’t quite ready for anything difficult).

It was a hard way to get my ski legs back. Not one of my finer days of skiing. The white-out conditions didn’t make it easier. I hope tomorrow my brain remembers better how to get my legs to move the dance of skiing. It was still great to get out. Despite the blizzard-like conditions and my reluctant body, I had fun. I’m just glad there’s snow and more falling throughout the night.

We haven’t figured out yet where we’re headed tomorrow. Maybe Alta again.