My date, your step-brother

On our third date, Mike asked me to go on a trip to the Virgin Islands with him. Some friends of his–a couple–had invited him some time before he met me and, since he wasn’t dating anyone at the time, he originally intended to go with his sister. I think he’d even gone so far as asked her, tentatively, to go. But in the time between the initial suggestion of the trip and actually beginning to make plans, he’d met me. And suddenly, he no longer wanted to take his sister but the girl who he’d met across the foosball table at a party called Woodchuck.

Our third date was in fact just a few weeks after Woodchuck. Our second date had been to my cousin Gary’s party–also famously named–G-Bash. We had been quite a shocking hit there, arriving at G-Bash together, discovered kissing in various locations around the house, not a one of them very private, which wasn’t saying much considering the party had well over 200 people sprawled over every space of the house and lawn. My cousin, who had not been privy to my change of heart on the goal to date as many men as I could, had cautioned me, “Um, this is very nice with you and Mike. But I think you’re scaring away your other potential suitors.”

I had laughed, patted his shoulder reassuringly, and replied, “That’s okay. I think I’m going to see what happens with this particular suitor for a while.”

For our third date, we decided to go hiking by the ledges in the Hinkley Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks. We hiked an easy trail, then climbed with the glee of children to the top of one of the rock walls. There we rested, sitting together, surveying the world below. He put his arm around my shoulders and started telling me about his family. His dad had just bought a theater in Colorado he planned to restore and direct shows within; his sister had just moved to California; his mother and little brother lived in Florida. Though Mike had grown up in Ohio, his family had scattered to the winds, which made me wonder what had kept him here for so many years. I’d always sought a way out of Ohio and though I had not done it yet, I hoped that the first opportunity I got to leave, I would.

I admit I was a little intimidated by his descriptions of his family–he made them sound so worldly, especially his father. I wondered how I could fare in a family in which a father had the money and time to invest on owning and running a theater. I didn’t know much about his mother or his sister at the time, but he made them sound like bourgeois wanderers who just went wherever they felt the urge. Because Mike had a careful, confident demeanor, he seemed very knowledgeable of the world himself. I was impressed by his suave and careful language. He thought before he spoke and I could already tell he was not one to–as I’m so often prone to–find himself chewing his own foot. He almost always seemed to know the right thing to say. I admit also that I was quite impressed with his apparent worldliness which, on my part, was a bit immature, like a pupil harboring puppy love for a teacher. I’d just graduated from college; I barely knew anything of the world. And here, in Mike, was someone six years older than me who seemed to have it all figured out. I was undeniably lured by his charisma and the sense that he could take easily care of me–not with money, but with a physical stability that I didn’t think I had at the moment. I was so impressed with him that I even began to fret that he was completely out of my league.

This fear intensified in the moments after he’d asked me to the Virgin Islands. “I have this opportunity,” he said. “My friends are renting a villa on St. John in August. I’d love it if you came with.”

My dating life heretofore had been simple. In high school, no one could afford to go anywhere; our dates consisted of roller-skating rinks, driving around in a car, hanging around at friends’ houses. In college, dating had been chatting until the dawn hours in dorm lounges, walking with each other to class, late night Taco Bell runs. Those were the years when we barely had enough money to pay for simple pleasures such as laundry and food. I’d never in my life dated any man who’d asked me to go anywhere with him–not even out of the state–and now–at the age of 23, just newly a full-time employee for the law firm–a man was asking me to leave the country with him (well, technically, still within US boundaries as the Virgin Islands are a US territory). I was really enamored.

And, at the same time, disappointed. How was I going to explain this one to my mom? Unfortunately, I still lived with my parents and, though I was an adult, I still felt like I was under their jurisdiction because I lived with them. I didn’t truly have the will to stand up to my parents and tell them I was going. I had to ask permission to go. Which made me feel like such a child in front of a man who was so much more experienced than I was with dating. He was an adult, he’d dated women as an adult; meanwhile, I still dated men like a teenager. This relationship would never work as long as the tables were tipped so heavily. I would have to grow up to be a match for him.

“Well…” I replied slowly. “I will have to see if I can get the time off. I don’t know if I can.”

Mike grinned, shrugging nonchalantly, not realizing that his casual tone just made the struggle within me worse. “If you have the time off, you’re allowed to take it.”

So easy for him. Though as a full-time employee of the law firm I now had two weeks of paid vacation, I’d never actually used the time yet. At that point in my career, though shoddy as my career was at the moment, I felt indebted and devoted to my employer. I felt guilty asking for time off, even though it was mine to take. I hadn’t been in the ranks of the employed long enough to realize how vacation time actually worked–that I could ask for it at will and would most likely get it. I worked 6 days a week voluntarily to make extra salary. I worked hard. Up until this point, it had never really occurred to me that I could take a week off to do something as ordinary as go on a vacation.

“I really want to,” I admitted to him. “August, though. That’s two months away. How do you know we’ll still be dating?”

Mike’s grin got wider and he shrugged again, “I don’t know. But I’m taking a chance.”

I laughed. “I’m sure you’ll be sick of me by then.”

“If anything, we could still go as friends,” he said earnestly. “But if we’re still dating, then it’s a chance for me to get to know you better. You said you’d love to travel.”

“And what if you’re some axe murderer?” I teased. Then, more seriously, I pointed out, “I barely know you.”

Mike laughed this time, “Well… I could give you some references if it would make you feel better. But obviously this trip would give us both a chance to get to know each other.”

How I wanted to just throw all caution to the wind and run off with this man to the Virgin Islands or anywhere at the drop of a hat. I probably would have immediately agreed had I been living on my own and not had a very protective mother to deal with at home, though I still would have done so pensively, feeling as if I were partaking in a slightly scandalous activity. It’s funny how looking back on this situation from the perspective of an older, more experienced woman, I realize taking a trip with a boyfriend is no big deal. After a second date is still a little soon, but his invitation would have had less of an impact on me as a thirty-something than it did back then.

“I need some time to think about it,” I told him. I began plotting a half-truth to tell my mom in order for her to condone the trip.

* * *

The next day on our walk from the Terminal Tower to the Key Bank Building where we worked, my friend Diane inquired about my date. I could not contain the smile that radiated in wide, shiny pulses from every cell in my body.

“Oh. My. God.” I breathed, struggling to contain all of that energy. And then the words just started gushing from my mouth like a river released from a collapsed dam. “This guy is perfect. He loves to sky-dive, backpack, travel. He’s got tickets to the theater. And, last night, he asked me to go to the Virgin Islands with him!”

Diane screeched. I screeched. Two college graduates screeched together in unison like teenagers.

“What?!” she shouted in surprise. I was startled to see that her exclamation was congratulatory and impressed, not accusatory or disgusted as I had expected. I could tell in an instant that if she’d been asked to go to the Virgin Islands, or some similar trip, with a man she knew for only a couple of weeks her answer would have been an immediate yes. Since Diane tended to be conservative about dating–we shared a similar upbringing–I tended to look to her reaction for guidance in seeing a situation more clearly. Had her reaction had been more cautionary and less supportive, I might also have started to look more cautiously at the situation. But her reaction was a green light indicating to me that there was really nothing unusual about going on a vacation trip with Mike.

“I know!” I replied, feeling braver.

“What did you tell him? Are you going to go?” she asked.

Before I could answer, another girl–a coworker from our office who both of us barely knew–interrupted. She’d been walking behind us from the Terminal Tower, having gotten downtown on the same train as us that morning. “Excuse me. But–can I ask?–what’s this guy’s name?”

I hadn’t realized she’d been listening to our conversation and I felt a little put off by the interruption. A little panic set in as well. I barely knew anything about Mike and, if she knew him, did she know something awful? Was she about to burst my bubble, giving me that one piece of the puzzle that would destroy this bastion of the perfection I saw in him? Or, worse yet, what if she was an ex-girlfriend?

“Mike F——-r,” I replied uncertainly.

The girl blanched. Then laughed slightly. “Oh my God, that’s my step-brother!”

“WHAT?!” Diane and I screeched yet again, in unison this time.

“Yeah,” she replied. “His father is married to my mother, Kathy. You are the girl he’s been talking about.”

He’s been talking about me!? I thought, that warm, giddy feeling of ardor balling up in my stomach. I wanted to say it out loud, but it sounded too childish, too vain to ask. Instead, I exclaimed, “Wow!”

“I heard ‘sky-diving’, ‘theater,’ and ‘Virgin Islands’ and I knew you had to be talking about the same person,” she explained. “It was too much of a coincidence.” She shook her head as we started walking again. “Oh, I can’t wait to tell my mom about this…”

It was the oddest sort of coincidences. Synchronicity. First, our meeting in which my cousin, Mike’s best friend Jon, and Mike shared the history of having gone to high school together. Now, the new girl in the office turned out to be Mike’s step-sister. It was enough to make an atheist believe in destiny…

***

Date: June 9, 1998 9:55:55 AM
To: Mike F. (Work)
From: Heidi E. (Work)

Hey Mike,

Good morning (for me;).

All my items of identification pretty much read “Heidi A. Emhoff” with the exception of my passport, which I think has my middle name.

Now I need to know a few things.  First of all, I looked at the department calendar, and there are a lot of people taking vacations in August, which is bad.  We are only allowed to have two operators gone from the department at a time.  I need to know which week exactly we are talking about.

I guess we should talk about it some more Friday or something.  I can’t think of all my questions right now.  Too groggy, haven’t had coffee…

You were right, though.  People at office (including my friend Diane) say GO.  Ummm… especially one person who overheard me talking…. She’s our new PDS coordinator… Name of Bonnie L——–.  Sound familiar?;)

I was innocently talking to two of my friends this morning on the way to the office.  Bonnie, who also happened to be following with us (she rides the same train), pales and asks, “What a minute.  What’s this guy’s name?”

I answered appropriately.  She tells me that she is your step sister!  Weird. Small world.  She then launched into a summary of the sort of activities which you, your father, and Melina (sp?) have done over the years… ;) She also said that I should go to the Caribbean with you… ;)  I guess that’s a heavy vote in your favor.

Well, gotta do my work.  I’ll call you later — as soon as I find out about Friday.

Always,

Heidi

Mike’s reply, pieced together from excerpts in a later message from me to him, time-stamped 11:36 AM the same day:

As for Bonnie, Tis amazing how I have you followed. :)  That is Kathy’s daughter.  Kathy is may dad’s current and last wife. :)  You should listen to complete strangers.

As for the dates, we are looking at Aug 8-15.  That can change if you need it, but I need to know when is better.  Betty [the wife of Mike’s friend] called last night and they have already started to make arrangements, so sooner is the only way this will work.

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Something to whine about

This past week I selfishly allowed myself to indulge in a pity party. It probably began last Sunday when I woke up in one of those funks that occasionally come on me (though mostly in the winter). I was mopey all day and had trouble motivating myself to do much of anything. I spent a majority of the day watching u2 concert footage on youtube (inspired by Saturday’s visit to see U23D at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame). I managed to drag myself away from the computer long enough to take a punishing bike ride in the Valley, climbing first Hines Hill, then Martin, and then Theiss. I even stopped at Szalay’s farm for two ears of roasted corn and a lemonade, which I hadn’t done all summer, in the hopes that I could break my mood. Unfortunately, not even the endorphin kick of climbing hills on my bike snapped me out of my mood. I just ended up tired and annoyed. I went home and back to the youtube videos.

I was telling myself to not make a big deal about the fact that yesterday (August 28th) was the eleventh anniversary of my wedding. But I made a big deal about it by not allowing myself to treat the day as any other day and then deal with stray emotions as they came up. I had determined a few weeks back that I was going to go to Kelleys Island (one of the many little islands on Lake Erie) for the day. It was one of the islands I’d never visited. I’ve been to Put-in-Bay multiple times, including on the first and only wedding anniversary Mike and I celebrated. We’d also gone to Middle Bass Island on that trip. I’ve been to Pelee Island, on the Canadian side of the lake, once. So I wanted to see what Kelley’s was like. I could have invited a friend or two. A friend from my cycling club offered to come. Almost invited himself, in fact. But I was having none of that. I wanted to be alone.

I thought it was going to be a meditative experience. I envisioned having some sort of spiritual awakening or insight about my life’s direction. I wanted to connect with Mike on some phantasmal plane. I know, it’s pretty stupid, right? A girl who is by all practical means and purposes an admitted agnostic and, probably, deep down in my heart where I don’t want to admit, a full-fledged atheist, and I’m trying to conjure a spiritual experience or the ghost of my dead husband. But I’m an apple on a tree that is just about to become ripe if the conditions are right. I best not speak too loud for I’m just the kind of person a Jehovah’s Witness or an evangelical Christian would just love to pounce on–the person with questions who’s searching so hard to become a part of something spiritual. Only, well, I’ve at least tried the Christianity spiel before and it doesn’t grab me. Well, not totally. Parts of it do, but that may be residue of my upbringing. We cling closely to that with which we are comfortable… I am someone who wants so badly to believe–heart and soul–in something. I want it to be true. I can only believe it if it were presented to me as truth. I need a burning bush or a voice cracking from the heavens. I need to see my husband’s ghost, feel his hand touch my shoulder or hear his voice. I need something I’m never going to get. The concept of faith is lost to me. But I will keep hoping for that moment of truth.

Instead of a great awakening, however, I slipped on the rocks of a stony shore, banging and cutting my chin, scraping my left elbow, and bruising various other parts of my body. And I’m not talking metaphor here. I was walking along a trail by the Kelleys Island State Park and there was a cut-off from the trail to a small clearing along the coast. I walked along the rocks, looking out to the water, when I got the brilliant idea to walk down towards the edge to see how warm the water was. Idiot that I am, I started to step–with my worn tennis shoes–onto some wet rocks on which green algae gleamed. The next thing I knew, I was falling. I must have sensed it coming because I really should have ended up falling backwards, hitting the back of my head. Instead, I ended up turned around, on my stomach, my chin against the jutted edge of a shelf of rock, my arms slayed in front of me. I’d caught some of the force of the fall. But there was a moment of shock. Was I okay?

The beach of my great insight. (Photo taken about five minutes before The Fall.)

I slowly pushed myself up. My jaw was hurting and I thankfully had not bitten my tongue. My head felt okay. My arms and legs were shaking. I pulled myself out of the water–it was warm, by the way–and walked on my hands to a dry spot just above where I’d fallen. As I sat up, I touched my chin and felt a bump. I pulled my hand away and saw blood. I’m not good with blood. I’m the type to faint at the sight of blood. I’ve had quite a big problem with this in my past and have been known to faint not only when experiencing my own injuries, but during bloody scenes in movies and, most embarrassingly, when someone is describing an accident in graphic detail.

I had nothing to wipe the blood with or to press to the cut to help stop the bleeding. I used the back of my hand and lay back on the flat rock floor of the beach. I could feel goosebumps rising on my skin as I picked up a chill. My heart was pounding in my ears; it was all I could hear as the steady throb of waves crashing on the shore began to fade into the muffled static I knew so well as preceding a loss of consciousness. My mantra began: Don’t faint. Don’t faint, don’t faint, don’t faint. Stay here. Breathe, breathe, breathebreathebreathe. And then, as my body continued to go through the motions of shock: No, no, no! Not here.

I was alone on the beach despite the passing boats, jet skis, and various other watercraft that passed, their occupants probably assuming I was enthusiastically sunbathing. If I fainted, then no one might notice or find me for awhile. The realization of that frightened me. I had to stay together. I concentrated on breathing–taking long inhales, exhaling deliberately. In, out; in, out. I tried to concentrate on the smell of the air–it was indeed fresh–and the warmth of the sun on my skin. I shifted my legs so that my knees were bent–wasn’t that supposed to make the blood flow back down to my head? I tried every trick that I knew, every wise tale I’d been told. It was a kind of meditation–not the kind I’d been hoping to have–to try to convince my body not to react as it so clearly wanted to do. Obviously, the physical reaction is a manifestation of a larger mental issue. Still, once my body starts down the course to fainting, it’s very hard to overcome the physical reaction.

Where did this problem come from? I believe I have a mental obsession with pain and injury. In the times I’ve fainted while someone was describing an injury, my mind gets stuck on the images I create, which are usually far more morose and graphic than even the person has described. Thanks to overactive imagination, which serves great me great for writing fiction, I get stuck on imagining the pain as though it were my own. And try as I might to focus on some other image–like puppies, kittens, or fresh baked bread–my brain keeps jumping back to the gory scene even long after the topic has been dropped. I have wondered if it’s an obsessive-compulsive reaction of a kind. I’ve always been a little grossed out by blood, but I can honestly say I only started fainting over someone’s description of an injury after Mike died. So I also wonder if perhaps there’s a little post-traumatic stress mixed in there. I’m sure my fear of blood and pain has been spurred on by a feeling of helplessness. Which is what I felt as I watched my husband turn blue before my eyes, having no knowledge of CPR or anything that could help him. (And, truthfully, I’m not sure I could take a first aid or CPR class at this point in my life due to the possibility of fainting during the course.)

I’m not saying that any of this is excusable behavior. I hate it. I want to fix it because it’s a huge weakness of mine. It makes me completely ineffective in an emergency. It even incapacitates me in situations in which I need to help myself. Such as the incident yesterday. Being alone on that beach, I knew that I was the only one who could help myself. I had to stop the fainting spell.

To be honest, I felt really stupid. But I also had no idea what the cut on my chin looked like. The blood was flowing pretty heavily. I worried that I might need stitches or that I’d hit an artery. I know that was ridiculous–I’m sure I’d be bleeding a lot more if I’d hit an artery. Still, weird things go through your mind when you’re in a bind like that. Because of the shock my body was going through, it was hard to access just how badly I’d been hurt. It’s hard to judge how bad a cut is from the blood alone.

Eventually, I could feel the panic attack was subsiding. I could open my eyes again without seeing black dots dancing in front of them. The chills subsided. I lay on the beach for a few more minutes, continuing to suck air in and out as though I were feeding off it. I was thirsty and shaky still. I didn’t have any water with me, nor was there any water on my bike back at the trail head since I’d taken off from the ferry docks in a furious enthusiasm to start exploring the island. I then sat up and, showing no signs of retreating back into a panic, I got to my feet. I climbed back up the cut-off path to the trail and began walking to what I assumed would lead me back to the trail head since it was a loop.

When I got back to my bike, the cut on my chin started to bleed again. I had nothing in my bike bag to wipe the wound with so I grabbed some leaves off a neighboring tree. My bike was tied to picnic table. I had to lie down again because I was starting to feel a little queasy. It took another fifteen or twenty minutes for me to start moving again. Meanwhile, people in golf carts, bicycles, motorcycles, and cars circled past in the looped parking lot. I suppose I could have asked one of them for a kleenex or band-aid, but I felt kind of embarrassed by this point.

I finally got back on my bike, deciding to head back towards town where I might find band-aids and something to clean my chin with. I actually kept the leaf pressed against the wound, held in place with the straps of my helmet. I stopped at a souvenir shop about halfway down the road before town where, fortunately, the proprietors had a first aid kit and a mirror. The injury looked kind of pussy and gross. I tried not to look at it too much as I cleaned it off with an antibiotic wet wipe, then applied two band-aids. The lady who had given me the supplies helped me clean and apply band-aids to the scrapes on my elbow which I hadn’t noticed so much in light of the greater concern for my chin. Fortunately, neither injury was as bad as the blood implied. Though I could tell my chin was going to be a little swollen for awhile.

Because I felt a little weak, I bought a pack of peanut butter sandwich cookies. I knew my blood sugar had dropped when I’d gone into shock so I needed to get something in my body to level myself off again. Patched up, I decided to head back into town to grab lunch. I’d only eaten breakfast around 9am, I’d arrived at the island around 2pm, and by the time I had my head back on from the fall, it was about 4pm.

Mars Girl ala bandaged chin.

The rest of my trip was kind of overshadowed by the fall. I continued to ride around the island after lunch and I even visited the island’s winery which had been one of my objectives. Much of my enthusiasm for exploring was gone, but I still made the best of it by riding as far as I could on Long Point (the end of it is private property with threatening Keep Off signs) and walking the path in the North Pond Nature Preserve. By the end of the day, I started to have a throbbing headache and my jaw hurt. I self-medicated with a rum and coke at the bar right next to the ferry dock. When I got home, the headache went away with three ibruphin and I seemed no worse for the wear this morning… I’m just feeling kind of… stupid…

Whether I want to ascribe it to karma, a higher power, or I want to simply take a lesson from a completely happen-chance bit of bad luck, my take-away message from this experience is: Quit your whining or I’ll give you something to whine about! In an act of melodramatic self-pity, I took off to Kelleys Island to, as I admitted to myself and friends even days before leaving, mope. Mope about a wedding that happened 11 years ago.  Mope about an anniversary trip that happened over 10 years ago. It’s gone now. I can’t take it back. Moping about it is not going to give me my husband back. I have no tears left to cry about it. My eyes were dry yesterday as they are dry today. If I’d felt compelled to cry, I would have done so freely. But I don’t need to reserve a certain day to cry for Mike. I cry for him every once in awhile on my own, when the spontaneity of it makes it real. When I do cry for him, it’s not because I was expecting it. It doesn’t happen when I planned to mope; it comes of it’s own free will in moments when a feeling or memory takes me by surprise. Genuine emotion about our wedding happens when I’m watching a friend’s wedding–on any date of the year, not just August 28–and the officiant mentions “until death do you part” or some like verbiage. Sometimes until death do us part is too frakking soon.

I suck in a shaky breath when the couple cuts the cake, the best man toasts, the couple dances their first dance. At tender moments when I catch them looking into each other’s eyes.  Those are moments when I can relate with the bride and groom. When I recall so easily what it felt like to be them.

You can’t force grieving. I was being completely ridiculous making a big deal over the day when I was going along just fine before I threw myself the pity party. I can’t help but feel I was trying to draw attention to myself. I even broke the Facebook silence I’d told myself I was going to keep that day to post two completely whiny statuses–one to my personal FB account and one to my Mars Girl on Two Wheels fan page. What’s my problem, anyway? Why do I have to try to rain on everyone else’s day with my histrionics? It’s far better for me to deal with my grief, especially at this late stage in the game, on my own and in silence. And it’s been ten frakking years. It’s forgivable, acceptable, naturally expected and even healthy in the first couple of years. But at this far away from the event, it’s pathetic. Perhaps I’m really more distressed because I miss being in a relationship, like the one I had with Mike, more than I grieve for Mike himself. I’m frustrated with certain parts of my life not working out. I don’t know.

Slipping on the rocks, while unfortunate, was kind of a wake up call. Suck it up and stop being a big cry baby. I could have gotten seriously injured, had I fallen backwards, and then where would I be? Cry when the crying needs to be done; grieve when you feel grief. But, geesh, don’t try to force it to happen because you think it should. And, for godsakes, don’t make such a blasted show of it.

I got the message loud and clear. Thanks.

(And, yes, Mom, I’ll be more careful about going off alone from now on. Okay?)

Post-script (added 8/31/2010): You know that leaf I used to stop the bleeding on my chin? Poison sumac. Yup. I’m really whining now! Good times.

The brutal truth of art

One of the reasons I’m such a U2 fan is because their music, though heavily laden with Christian spirituality, speaks to my soul. The kind of Christianity–humanity–Bono (the lead singer/songwriter) pedals, I can buy. Even when the images are so clearly Christian, I get them too. Bono’s lyrics speak of hope, faith, loss, questioning, fear–so clearly examining every aspect of human life with brutal truth spoken from the heart. I respect brutal truth. I’m brutally honest too. I, as the artist I often pretend to be, can’t hold myself back from expressing the truths of my heart. It gets me into trouble a lot. It makes my friends cringe. (“You wrote that on the internet?”) To be other than what I am, to suppress my inner thoughts, is a crime. Art does not touch when it is comfortable, polite, and fake. Art is beautiful when speaks a truth we as the viewers can relate to. That’s where I’ve always felt I’ve related to U2.

“There’s a point where you find yourself tiptoeing as an artist, and then you know you’re in the wrong place,” says Bono on this same subject. I loved this quote so much I put in my mail signature from my email account. I use it as a reminder to myself when I’m trying to write my memoir and my inner voice begs me to not write a detail down in fear of the criticism I might have to face when other people read what I’ve written. I picture people getting uncomfortable, people who know me and have to imagine these scenes. I can just hear them saying, “How can she tell all this embarrassing stuff to the world? Shouldn’t she suppress it just a little? I would never tell anyone this stuff. What would they think of me?”

Yet. When we think of the best books we’ve read, the most emotionally stirring movies we’ve seen, the music that soothes our aching souls, aren’t these the words that speak from a place of intense honesty? And doesn’t the honesty come from the authoritative voice of experience? And, even if we’ve never walked in the same shoes as the artist, don’t we glean something from the experience because we know they aren’t holding anything back?

To be an artist is disrobing yourself in front of a watchful audience. It’s very hard. Fortunately, I can hide behind a computer screen and hit “Publish” without ever having to see the emotion behind the eyes who read what I write. It’s only when someone talks to me in person about something that I’ve written do I squirm. But if I only wrote what made me comfortable, would anyone have any emotional affiliation with what I’m saying? Would I reach anyone at all? I’d be irrelevant. Another boring “feel good” blog on the internet.

I don’t know if I’m going to post to my blog everything that I’m going to put in my memoir. There are some things that are just too raw and too painful to admit in such an informal setting. Some things are, frankly, too shocking. Somehow having them published in a book is a better way to present them. Not everyone reads books, right? Not everyone reading my blog would necessarily read my book. So I’m safe.

Ooops. I’m tiptoeing, aren’t I?

Regardless, when you read what I’ve written, and when you cringe because you think I’m just too honest, remember that the uncomfortable feeling you’re experiencing is perhaps because on some level what I’ve described is something you understand and, because you understand, what I’ve written is the truth. At least how I saw it, experienced it, lived it. I couldn’t tell my story without telling the truth. All of it. No matter how painful the truth is to admit to. And know, also, that whatever you’re feeling, it’s nothing compared to how I felt when I lived it. So be glad you’re only reading about it.

I’m not trying to drudge up dirty laundry. I’m just telling you a story. About a girl and a boy. Who fell in love. Had some dreams. Were torn apart. The girl made some mistakes. The family went nuts. And the girl still struggles to find peace and make an honest connection with other people. Sometimes having too large a heart can be a burden. I wonder if Bono would agree about that….

Couches

(Continued from my pre-Seattle retelling of my first date with my husband. The date is, remember, Saturday, May 30, 1998.)

Our first date was the night that never ended. The night we never wanted to end. From the drop zone, we went to a bar in Kent and played pool. After that, we went played miniature golf at a place just down the street from his condo. Night was closing in fast and even though it was summer, it was getting late. We were trying to avoid the inevitable, which was the end of the date and our departure from each other. And who knows when we’d see each other again? If.

Despite the fact that Mike kept coming up with other things for us to do, I still wasn’t sure he was interested in me at all. He hadn’t made any overt passes–no attempts to hold my hand or touch me other than the quick back massage, no lean-in to kiss. It was all very innocent and playful. We played pool and miniature golf with playful competitiveness and taunting. We were on the edge of something, but what, I didn’t know.

When we returned at last to the parking lot of his condo, I expected him to say goodnight.  My heart sunk as I pulled into one of his parking spaces.

“Do you want to come in?” he asked instead.

“Sure,” I said. I hoped I didn’t sound too desperate. What if he was just trying to be polite and I was overstaying my welcome?*

I followed him into his house and sat down on the couch where I’d momentarily sat at the start of the date. We were again at the place at which this day had started.  Mike sheepishly assumed a position on the arm rest next to me. He fiddled with a laser pointer which he was using to taunt his cats. Nicki seemed more interested in me; however, Tanya was jumping wildly all over the place trying to catch the illusive red light.

I laughed watching the play. We were having a light conversation, but about what I’m not sure. Small talk, chit-chat. After approximately six hours together, we’d expired every topic. The room became silent. Pregnant with awkward expectation… of…?

Then Mike said, his voice echoing in the absence of conversation, “I’ve been… um… thinking about kissing you.”

I felt heat rise to my cheeks. Embarrassment.

“Yeah,” I admitted. “Me too.”

Neither of us moved. I fumbled to bring up another topic. Quickly. I felt like an inexperienced girl who’d never kissed anyone before. Suddenly, with all our cards out on the table, I was so nervous that the thought of actually kissing him made my stomach churn.

I made some absent-minded remark about Tanya’s fascination with the laser pointer. Mike responded with a (unmemorable) half-hearted remark. He dropped off the arm rest, falling neatly into the tight space between me and the end of the couch. (“Couches”)

I looked up at him silently. Just like they had across the volley ball court at Woodchuck, our eyes met. And locked. The intensity burned like hot electricity between us, racing through my veins, jolting my heart, and flowing sharply to the ends of my feet. He leaned in. Our lips drew together as though they were magnets. We kissed.

And we continued kissing. For several hours. Yes, that’s it. Just kissing. Like two teenagerson our first date ever.  I swear, this is not just the rated PG version of the story; we honestly did nothing more than enjoy a very long, lusty make-out session. More or less, anyway. And he was a great kisser. (But, then, who isn’t when you’re really attracted to them?)

We parted that night at around 2:30am. He walked me to my car, a lot more relaxed. I was starting to see glimpses of the side of Mike a person could only see once he or she pushed passed the shyness he hid well behind a bold and confident exterior.

“Well,” he said, holding my hand, his arm around my shoulders. “We’ll just have to see how you handle distance. I travel a lot with me job.”

I laughed. “I dated a guy in the Navy. Being gone during the week for work ain’t nothing,” I boasted. And meant it.

“Really?” said Mike. “It will be interesting to see how this works out.”

He kissed me goodbye before I slid into the car. He promised to call me. As I drove away, I was already anticipating the next time I heard from him. Days could last forever. Especially at the start of a long, interesting summer.

* In later conversations about our first date, Mike revealed to me that a guy never invites a girl into his home at the end of a date be polite. He assured me that if a guy invites you in, he’s interested.

Date: Sunday, May 31, 1998 22:50:15
To: Heidi E. (Home Account)
From: Mike F. (Home Account)

Subj: Making of Plans???

Greetings,

Well, I hope that you got home all right.  No one showed up at my door looking for you. :)

I forgot to ask you about some play tickets.  I am a season ticket holder at the Palace Theater, and therefore have tickets to see “RENT”. It is on Saturday, June 20th at 7:30PM.  Interested in attending?

Let me know,

Mike F.

Date: Monday, June 1, 1998 23:55:47
To: Mike F. (Home Email)
From: Heidi E. (Home Email)

Subj: You don’t have to ask me twice :)

Mike!

Hey, I am so glad to hear from you!!  I’ve got to tell you, I spent all day Sunday talking my best friend into going parachuting this summer.  She’s always wanted to do it (which I didnt know).  What I had to talk  her into was the money issue.  But tonight we read further down the flyer and noticed that the rates are cheaper if you go during the week.  So I said, “Hell, I could use another vacation day and do it.”  We went to a concert tonight at Blossom, and every opportunity I could get I plugged, “And we could always go parachuting…. July??”  It’s funny because she was talking about our Cedar Point trip that we are taking June 25th.  I told her that we could just cancel that since we havent bought tickets and GO SKYDIVING… I’ve almost got her sunk!  I even offered to pay half of hers.  I know that if she went, I’d jump for sure.

So how’s that for salesmanship?  And YOU thought I looked bored there! I was absorbing the whole picture.  And I liked it.

>Well, I hope that you got home all right.  No one showed up at
>my door looking for you. :)

Heh ;)  Didnt you get the email I sent from work on Sunday?*  Erm… maybe the ole THF server was running at its regular molasses pace again…

>I forgot to ask you about some play tickets.  I am a season
>ticket holder at the Palace Theater, and therefore have tickets
>to see “RENT”. It is on Saturday, June 20th at 7:30PM.
>Interested in attending?

Sure, I’d be interested!  I love going to the theatre (I’d better, with an English degree!).  I’ve heard of “Rent” too.  That’d be fun!

Well, it’s almost 3am (I just got back from the concert), and even though I work at 1 tomorrow, I still need to get to bed.  Take care…

Always,

Heidi

*Lost in the ether: The following message was sent Sunday May 31st from my work email account but, due to some weird burp in the infant internet, Mike did not actually receive until Monday June 1, 1998 at 8:34:51.

Date: Sunday, May 31, 1998 8:35:51
To: Mike F. (Work Account)
From: Heidi E. (Work Account)

Subj: Made it home alive

Mike,

Obviously I made it home okay.  Not that it matters now and all since you are probably reading this on Monday.  I am at work, and not too tired! Incredible.  It’s going to be a slow day, though, I can tell already!

That check engine light on my car was on the whole way home, but then it didn’t come back on this morning when I started it.  I’m going to have someone look at it anyway.  There’s obviously something up with it.  Which kind of ticks me off since I just had a wheel allignment and new front tires put on it.  Guess you won’t have to worry about stuff like this on your car for awhile! ;)

Anyway, I had a great time Saturday.  Just wanted to make sure you knew it.  Probably won’t be quite so shy the next time we cross paths!

Taking it easy on overtime this week for some much needed rest.  See you later.

Always,

Heidi

My second Roscoe Ramble

Mars Girl runs from a paceline... and ends up looking like she's leading one! (Photo by Sue Richards)

My bike club puts on two major cycling events per year–The Absolutely Beautiful Country Ride in July and the two-day Roscoe Ramble in August. While I’ve done the ABC ride every year since 2008, I have only done Roscoe Ramble one other time, in 2007, and I only did the shorter 55 mile route. I’ve been meaning to do the ride again, but other commitments got in the way–my trip to Colorado with my dad in 2008, helping to pour wine for Emerine Estates at Vintage Ohio in 2009. At the start of this year, I immediately set aside time on my calendar to ride in Roscoe Ramble with the intent this time to do the full 75-mile/day route.

What I remembered most about this ride is the inexhaustible beauty of the landscape. And, also, the completely exhaustible climbs that took you through the best parts. I  stated after my first Roscoe that it was the hardest ride I’d done since returning from Colorado. As I went into my second Roscoe this year, I figured I’d overstated the difficulty of this ride because back in 2007, I was still a very new rider who had only one year prior switched to a fully road bike. I reasoned with myself that I’d succeeded in far more challenging rides since then–Fredericksburg Library Roll, Fall N Leaf, Millersport to Loudonville on XOBA (which nearly killed me)–so perhaps I was over-estimating the difficulty of Roscoe.

So in the week preceding the ride, I foolishly rode my bike just about every day that week:

  • Monday, I rode to work.
  • Tuesday, I jumped on the weekly ABC ride and elected to go up Oak Hill Road instead of the normal route which goes up Major.
  • Wednesday,  I led the weekly ABC Revere Ride, selecting the Harter/Parker route with the long slog up State Road in Hinckley.
  • Thursday, I opted out of riding to de-stress from work where I’d been delivering a training class on-site to customers–totally out of my comfort zone. I originally had intended to go to the ABC ride, but I wisely changed my mind because my knees ached from the day’s stress.
  • Friday, I rode to work again, which included the alternative climb up Columbia Road instead of Snowville.

Not the best plan for going into a hilly ride week. Especially since Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday included putting in some overtime hours to prepare for the training course I was delivering so I was mentally as well as physically exhausted going into the weekend. Once again, I totally underestimated the ride and overestimated my need for rest and recovery before a big ride. I had broken one of my cardinal rules, which is to never ride my bike the day before a big ride.

Needless to say, the first day of Roscoe was a bit more painful for me than it should have been. My legs protested the first climb out of Canal Fulton and it was a rough first several miles. Then, somewhere along the way, I was able to find a comfortable spinning pace. I wouldn’t say I was in the best form of the season–I was just in a manageable pain zone. The route was the same (or very similar) to what I remembered from the first day of Roscoe that I’d done two years ago, minus the 20 extra miles from Canal Fulton. However, I’d done many of those roads out of Canal Fulton on other rides, so I was kind of familiar with the area.  Around Kidron, there was an abrupt change in scenery as I entered the rolling hills of Amish country.

I remembered that after (the most excellent)  lunch (at Miller/Yoder Farm) there were some steep rollers. And I was right. Including a very long climb out of a valley that had somehow slipped my mind throughout the years. Normally, I would have enjoyed that climb. But with my legs feeling a little out of sorts and the rising heat of the day (it was approaching 90 degrees as the day wore on), I just wasn’t feeling it. Not that such feelings caused me to abort my climb; on the contrary, I pushed up the hill as normal except that I didn’t play around with trying to hold out longer in harder gears. I have to admit that the climb was definitely worth it–the scenery at the top of the world was absolutely beautiful as we rolled atop that ridge. I didn’t stop to take any pictures, though, because the heat really bore down on you whenever you stopped. The generated breeze from cycling was really the only reprieve from the heat.

The riders were really spread out at this point. A lot of the people I’d started with were no longer with me. Michael and I ended up keeping each other in sight, stopping occasionally to rest from the heat. About six miles from the end, while we were resting, Bob W (aka TDB) caught up with us and we all ended up riding to the end together. Bob pointed out “Cow Corners”–which I’d somehow missed the first time I’d done this ride–a small cross-roads marked by a tacky statue of a cow and sign boasting a population of 20 or something. It was a landmark on our maps. My eyes must have been blurry the first time I did Roscoe or something.

We were the first to arrive at the campground. We began to unpack our stuff as other riders rolled in. It turned out that less than 10 people had chosen the camping option of the 120 some riders. Where’s everyone’s sense of adventure, anyway?

After setting up camp and showering, TDB, Michael and I went to Roscoe Village to retrieve our free ice cream and enjoy the air conditioning. Then we pretty much spent the next few hours before dinner hanging out in a (air-conditioned) wine bar. I originally had thought it might be neat to catch a ride on one of the canal boat demonstrations, but I think the heat and all the hard work of climbing with protesting leg muscles had gotten to me and I pretty much just wanted to stay in one place. And drink wine. Eh, a girl’s got priorities.

It rained during the night, which was really no big deal since my tent was reliably water-proofed (which I did after XOBA last year, even though this was my “relief” tent, the one that saved me from a leaky tent). I was thankful it didn’t thunderstorm; instead, I had dreams of hurricanes (!!) that tore through the campground forcing us to take shelter in the restrooms. Needless to say, my sleep was not entirely restful. I kept waking up every hour, fearful of hearing thunder. I don’t handle thunderstorms very well in my house, let alone in a tent…

I had feared it might rain the following day, but the morning just yielded fog under cloudy skies with wet ground. It was still reasonably warm out, but the clouds were keeping the sun from heating things up too much, so it was a comfortable low 80s–a little sticky due to the humidity of it having rained, but it wasn’t really that bad.

Early morning foggy landscape. (Photo by Sue Richards)

Early morning foggy landscape. (Photo by Sue Richards)

Our departure from Coshocton was not the route we’d gone in 2007, but it was still provided some climbing. We rode a good 10 miles along the very lonely State Route  60 which had impressively little traffic and provided rolling to steep hills along the way. The scenery, especially with the fog on the fields, made the ride very pleasant. My legs felt better than they had the day before, now ground to submission from the previous day’s ride. The route was nice all the way into Killbuck and not at all as hilly as the old route.

Some of the early morning climbing. Mars Girl not pictured. (Photo by Sue Richards)

I admit that I kind of wanted to conquer the old beast that had taken me back in 2007–the famous Stucky Rd–but alas, this was not to be on the new route. Instead, once in Killbuck, the route took us on all 15 miles of the Holmes County trail. This is the third time I’ve used that trail, the second time I’ve done it this year. It’s not very interesting after you’ve done it once. I found myself the most bored on this segment of the ride than I was throughout the rest of it. I just get antsy on flat bike paths. There’s not a lot to look at–trees usually block the view. I can take a bike path in small spurts–I use one when I commute to work and for warm-up before dropping into the valley. But there’s just so much traffic you have to get around–walkers, toodlers, oblivious people weaving in and out of their lane. And the constant, steady spinning. It just drives me nuts.

It was during this leg that the group I was riding with just went all out on speed. I think we all wanted to get through those 15 miles as fast as possible. We didn’t really form a paceline–we all seemed kind of anti-drafting–and we did, in fact, pass the paceline containing two ABC friends, Beth and Tom. Beth kind of beckoned me to pull if I was feeling so strong, but I was having none of that. I pushed a hard gear and pulled away just to prove that I didn’t need no stinkin’ paceline, risking injury to my right knee which was feeling a little bit sore after the bike path grind. But I didn’t care.

After we got off the bike path in Fredericksburg, things got interesting again as we head off towards Apple Creek. Some more rollers with some steeper climbs. More Amish buggies.

Interesting side note: On bikes, we are always passing Amish buggies. I’ve determined horse-drawn carriages are not the optimal way to travel. If I were Amish, I’d use a bike instead and become a bike courier. How do you fetch the doctor in an emergency if your carriage only goes 10-13mph?

Rolling landscapes of Holmes County. (Photo by Sue Richards)

After Apple Creek, where we enjoyed a great lunch of sloppy joe’s at the local Methodist church, the land started to flatten back out to the terrain with which I’m familiar as we went through Orrville and along some roads used on the ABC century ride I did earlier this year. Canal Fulton, being at the bottom of the valley, allowed us a nice downhill return.

Overall, the ride was still as fun as I remembered it. My only complaint is that the scenery was more interesting on the old route, even though the old route was just as challenging–if not more–than the first day. I think you sacrifice scenery for making a ride easier. Although, all the guys who did the old 75 mile route said that the 20 mile leg back to Canal Fulton on the old route was really boring. I can’t attest to this myself, as I did that short 55 last time and it was pretty right to the downhill end at the Amish restaurant in Wilmot.

There was an alternate route offered that did not go on the bike path. I’m pretty sure I’m going to take that one the next time I do this ride… The scenery is so much nicer in those places where you have to work for it. Next time, I’ll play it smart and stick to my rule of not riding the day before a major ride and then my legs won’t be as tired as they felt this time around. Then I’ll be completely prepared and enthusiastic to conquer the alternative route.

The rest of my summer vacation

Well, a lot of people have said to me that my vacation didn’t sound too relaxing due to the 200 mile ride from Seattle to Portland in two days. The way people repeat to others what I did over my summer vacation, I can just hear the quote marks surrounding the word “relaxing.” Well, really, I could argue this point by saying that nothing is more relaxing to me than riding my bike on the open road, experiencing the world in slow motion through the benefit of an un-motorized vehicle, earning the right to witness the beauty all around me. I could try to explain that there’s nothing more relaxing than total body exertion. Putting all your energy into forward momentum gives you focus and, oddly enough, a lot of time to reflect on those things you never have the time to. When I’m cycling, I get lots of ideas for poems, stories, blog entries and, sometimes, even how to solve problems at work. My mind and body are together in a moment. It’s a cure for endless distraction. I can’t touch my cell phone, I’m nowhere near a computer, and the only people I have to talk to are others participating in the same trek I’m on. I’m at one with myself. And, of course, when you get to the end of the long journey, I find that all the cares, frustrations, worries of the day have left my body somewhere amidst the hard work for forward momentum. There’s no greater peace than that. Total relaxation.

However, I suppose if you’ve never done it, and you’re not inclined towards physical exertion as a means of relaxation, you just don’t get it. I understand. I hate running. When someone describes running as romantically as I’ve just described cycling, I cringe. I used to run, even participated in a few 5Ks. I hate every moment of running. From the moment I start a run until the moment I cross the finish line, I hate it. My whole body and mind is completely focused on the end game. I don’t want to be there and instead of that focused Zen-like voice I hear in my head when cycling, there’s a whiny, sniveling voice screaming, “Are we done yet?” So perhaps you would feel like that when cycling. Totally get it. So you can put your quote marks around “relaxing” as I would if someone told me they spend their vacation doing an Iron Man challenge…

While I found my ride on STP completely relaxing, rest assured that I also did do some of the more socially acceptable sort of relaxation–the kind without the double quote marks–while I was in the Pacific Northwest. And it was just as fun and mentally refreshing as my 200-mile journey on bike. I spent some good time with a long time friend and her family, met up with a fellow Hiram alum, and did some (off-bike) exploration of Oregon wineries and the coast. Needless to say, I returned to Ohio so completely relaxed that I completely forgot everything about my job and spent my first day back trying to find where I left everything I needed to begin working!

In the days before STP, I took in the sites of Seattle and spent some time with Sarah and her family. Most notable was my trip to the Chittenden Locks in Ballard. These are real working locks that allow boats to pass from the Puget Sound into the bay, Lake Union, and eventually Lake Washington. It was pretty cool. I’d only ever seen the broken down remains of the Erie & Ohio Canals along the towpath and the occasional demonstration of these same old canal locks in places along the canal where they’d been restored. I’d never seen a real, functional lock system and, frankly, didn’t know they still existed. So I was utterly fascinated watching boats go through the locks in both directions.

A sailboat in the lock.

A sailboat in the lock as the water rises.

Sailboat in full lock

The water fully risen in the lock.

A big huge “worker” boat of some kind also came through the lock while I was there. The guys on the boat were really nice. I had a conversation with them about the old Erie Canal… I spent so much time watching the boats that Sarah lost track of me and had to call me to let me know they were leaving…

A big boat waits as the water finishes rising.

The rest of my “relax-cation” began the Monday after STP. Shawn–Sarah’s husband–drove me to Portland to pick up the rental car I would use to get to the coast. Their friend Mason, at whose house we spent Sunday night–not only equipped me with directions to the coast from downtown Portland but also gave me the names of some recommended wineries to hit on my way out. Of course, my instructions to leave Portland started from Powell’s book store which was just a few blocks from where I got my rental car.

So before leaving Portland, I spent an hour and a half indulging my inner bibliophile in what is, in my humble opinion, the BEST book store that ever was and ever will be. Did I say Powell’s? Powell’s, Powell’s, Powell’s! They deserve lots of free advertising and endorsement, even if my audience is not vast. If you’ve never been to Portland, but ever plan on going, you absolutely cannot leave that city without visiting Powell’s. This book store takes up one whole city block. One whole city block, people! It has the widest, most eclectic collection of books I’ve ever encountered at a physical book store. They have the biggest science-fiction section I’ve ever seen–even bigger than most libraries I ever been in! They even have a whole section of graphic novel–like several rows of ceiling-to-floor shelves!  Additionally, they sell used books so you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg necessarily to get all the books you want…

Historical sidenote: Mike and I went in Powell’s on our 2000 trip to Portland and we each bought like 10 books–we spent more money in Powell’s than any other place where we bought souvenirs. That’s how nerdy we were!

Anyway, in Powell’s, they were taking free digital photographs of customers where they superimposed your image onto the backdrop of the Powell’s store front with your name on the marquee. So I got one taken. Cute, huh? (I’m even donning my newly acquired Theo Chocolate shirt! What a good consumer of local product I am!)

Perhaps one day I'll really have my name on the marquee for my published book? A girl can dream, right?

Somehow I managed to leave that store with only three books. In case you’re curious, they were:

  • The City & The City by China Mieville, which I’ve been meaning to read since the author’s book was discussed and reviewed on NPR’s Books podcast.
  • Infected by Scott Sigler, a horror/sci-fi author whose podcasts I sometimes listen to and have been meaning to read (and was totally not disappointed–read this on the plane ride home!)
  • Passage by Connie Willis, which, when I read on a road trip to Colorado with my parents after Mike died, caused me to have a life-altering experience that earned the book “passage” to my Top Books of All Time list.

Believe me, I wanted to linger in that store longer, but I had wineries to visit, the coast awaiting, and the parking meter outside expiring… Oh, one needs excuses to remove themselves from Powell’s

It was a beautiful day as I headed out into the rolling hills of the Willimette Valley wine country. The number of wineries in this area alone is mind-numbing. My first stop was Rex Hill which was pretty much along the highway 99W headed towards Dundee. I found it without effort by signage along the road which worked out great since that was one of the wineries Mason had indicated was worth checking out.

All the wineries in the area have what they call “flights” for tasting. The winery may have other wines, but the only ones you’re allowed to taste are the ones available for sampling in the flight. I’m guessing there are certain wines they highlight during certain periods of time. I got the impression that some wineries rotate out what they’re offering in the flight. Flights are $10 each and are usually waived if you spend more than $100 on wine. Yeah, I know, right? Kind of a high fee for waiving!

The area of the Willamette Valley that I was in was mainly a Pinot Noir region. I’m not that versed on Pinots–I’m a big Zin and Shiraz drinker and somewhat more versed on Cabs and Merlots as well. Pinots tend to be a lot lighter in texture. It was hard for me to get them.  My palate is not as refined as other wine drinkers. I can’t always detect those more subtle flavors Pinots offer. But it was fun trying!

I wasn’t that enthused with Rex Hill. They seemed a little snooty and the pourer did not offer me much information. I guess my casual tourist attire and lack of makeup was off-putting or something. Still, the winery had a very beautiful estate that I enjoyed. I ended up buying a bottle of an un-oaked Chardonnay… I found that even though I was paying for flights, I felt a little guilty leaving a winery without taking at least a bottle. I liked the Chardonnay, anyway.

As I traveled further down 99W towards the Dundee Hills region, I spotted a sign pointing to Lange–a winery my friend Sue recommended to me way back in the depths of winter when I was planning this trip. So I turned down a road headed ascending into the hills… and ended up following signs to an interesting dirt road that continued to wind through the hills. I was a little uncomfortable in the rental car without the benefit of gears to shift to help the car take the climb; it took me awhile to figure out that I could actually gear down in an automatic. But soon I was on top of the world at a beautiful winery…

The view from Lange with Mt. Hood in the distance.

Lange Estates Winery

Immediately, I liked this place better. The staff was super-friendly and chatted with me as they poured the flights. The other people gathered around the bar were also very chatty, unlike at Rex Hill, so I had a nice time trying new wines and explaining my mission in Oregon. One of the guys explained that he had once done STP and congratulated me on my ride. I ended up buying a bottle each of Pinot Gris and Tempernillo. (The Pinot Gris was recently drank by me and Sue when I stayed at her place the night before Mad Anthony River Rally… yay for good wine!)

On my way back down the same treacherous hill, I decided to stop at one more winery, the neighboring Erath. Again, as soon as I walked into the door, I was heartily greeted by two very friendly folks behind the tasting area and a group of other visitors also trying flights. It was about 15 minutes to 5–the wineries generally close around 5pm in Oregon–and I asked if it was too late to get in on the flight they were pouring. The pourers said, “If you’re in before 5, you can stay until you’ve tasted everything you wanted to try.”

I finally managed to find a Pinot Noir that I liked quite a bit. It was a bit expensive, but I bought two bottles. I also found a great Gewurstraminier with a very floral nose. I bought two bottles of those as well, hitting the $100 limit and achieving–at last–a free flight. Whee! I guess, eh?

Anyway, I was quite satisfied with my experience as I drove away headed, finally, to the beach house where Sarah and her family awaited. I would have liked to have spent a week exploring wineries in that region. Unfortunately, I’d probably spend half my days in an alcoholic haze and gain 20 lbs from all the carbs. Still, it was delightful. It was so cool to experience west coast wineries.

The view from the beach house... and, yes, that's quite a long step down from the back yard!

I still had my rental bike with me throughout my stay at the beach house in Lincoln City, and I kept thinking I would ride the bike while I was out there, but the mornings were a bit chilly (in the 50s) and I just lacked the general motivation. I spent my second day trying to get to Sea Lion Caves. In my first attempt, Shawn’s father and I tried to take Max but when we were about fifteen minutes away from our destination, Max pitched a fit and, neither of us being very apt with child-sitting, gave into Max’s demands to go home to his mother. So I drove the hour back to the beach house, dropped Max and his grandfather off, and then proceeded to go back to the caves myself. It wasn’t as fun by myself… but it gave me a lot of time for reflection… as the last time I’d been there had been with Mike in June 2000.

The observation deck at Sea Lion Caves.

I love seals and sea lions. They are my favorite of all creatures. Next to cats and dogs, that is. To me, seals and sea lions are like big, smelly, aquatic dogs. I can watch them for hours. Any time I go to the zoo, I immediately make my way to the seals and sea lions, and then, if you are with me, you’ve got quite a task in trying to drag me away… I couldn’t get any good pictures of the sea lions here (no groovy binocular zoom lens). But trust me, they were CUTE. And noisy. And smelly. But, hey, there’s no accounting for taste; I don’t smell all that groovy in my natural habitat–on a bike–either.

There’s a picture of me, Mike, Sarah and her ex-husband from my first visit to Sea Lion Caves taken in front of the statue below… I can almost fill in the empty spaces with the ghosts.

If you look long enough, you can see Mars Girl and Mike standing there.

I spent one mopey morning brooding on the beach outside the beach house. It was inevitable. When left alone in places of beauty such as this, I often spend a great deal of time reflecting about what Mike would think if he were there… I see the world through his eyes now. Sometimes I think I am his eyes…. he gave me the eyes to see the world… and now I see for him… I guess a piece of him lives in symbiotic relationship with me… part of his spirit that he passed on… I don’t know… Something like that… But he’s always the first one with which I want to share my experiences. Because I know he’d love them all.

Waves crashing on the rocks.

Self-portrait

Self-portrait.

Why do I find this sign so hilarious?

Tsunami Warning

Tsunami Warning--that poor stick dude doesn't stand a chance.

I didn’t take many pictures of myself or anyone else. Instead, I took pictures of what is more interesting to me: scenery. My mom, however,  always thinks scenery pictures are boring and suggests that I should stand in front of the scenic views. Apparently, she believes people are more interesting than scenery.  So, here, Mom, this one’s for you.

Me, Sarah, and Alice

Me, Sarah, and Alice at the beach house.

After three days on the beach, I headed back to Seattle, solo, as Sarah and Shawn wanted to remain in Portland to visit with friends. I was going to take the Amtrak train from Portland, but I changed my mind last-minute in favor of dawdling back through wine country. It was a financially painful change in plans, particularly as far as the rental car went, but, oh well. It’s vacation, right? Who wants to hurry and be stressed? I did hit two more wineries. I never found Duck Pond, which is the one I really wanted to go to, but I went up and down 99W several times and never located the danged place. Instead, I ended up going to Bella Vida (very nice) and Ponzi. Does anyone know how to get to Duck Pond?! For some reason, I was convinced I needed to go there.

My last two days in Seattle were pretty laid back. I met up with Alison for a sushi lunch on the Friday before I left. Then, I spent the rest of the afternoon getting my money’s worth out of the rental bike by riding from the U of W campus (where I was staying) to Seward Park, and then all around some side streets in the area, bagging a few more nasty hills along the way.

And I discovered this scenic view of downtown Seattle.

Downtown Seattle.

Downtown Seattle (or part of it).

I even got to experience riding in the bike lane on the bridge to Mercer Island along I-90. No, it wasn’t the most scenic bike path ever. But there was something singularly unique (for a Midwesterner, anyway) to ride on a bike lane next to a busy highway. And being so close to the highway was the least of my worries. No, the fencing along the side facing the water was a bit off-putting as it did not go all the way to the ground, leaving about six inches of free space that I could imagine a dozen scenarios of in which I fall through… if I slid sideways somehow at a really straight angle. Impossible yes. But it still didn’t calm my nerves any when the bridge climbed to about 30 feet from the water at each end. I’m betting this bike path is less fun to transverse on a windy day…

I-90 Bridge to Mercer Island.

I-90 Bridge to Mercer Island.

I was hauling butt back down Washington Blvd around 6:00 when Alison called to say she would meet me at the shop if I wanted to take the bus with her back to campus from the shop, and then we could have dinner. It actually saved my day because my original plan was to ride the bike all the way back to Sarah’s apartment, where I’d left my rental car since there was no free parking around the campus, and then drive back to the bike shop. I’d spent so much time riding around town that I had scarcely an hour to make approximately 10 or so miles back to Sarah’s and then back to the bike shop before they closed at 7. I probably would have made it back to my car by 6:45ish so I would have cut it really close. Fortunately, the bike shop I’d rented the bike from was in the neighborhood where I was riding–Montlake–so I just rode right there with plenty of time to spare. Despite the fact that I had just half a day left in Seattle, I was reluctant to turn in the bike. I had better luck navigating Seattle on two wheels than four…

I finished up my experience in Seattle with a dinner at the College Inn Pub (I was staying at the rustic College Inn) with Alison. Had a great stout microbrew. Even got to see Sarah one last time when I picked up my car from her place. She’d returned from Portland early with the kids, so we got to chit-chat for a bit. I left Seattle at the “crack of doom”–a 7am flight–the next morning, feeling completely fulfilled about my vacation. It felt pretty relaxed and casual. I had thought I’d be a lot more tense about all the logistics of renting the bike, checking in a different hotels, getting to the STP start line, finding my overnight place on STP, etc. But everything fell into place nice and I was able to relax the entire time I was out there. Maybe I’m becoming a less uptight traveler. Also a trait I may have picked up from Mike…

I’ve posted all of my pictures on Shutterfly which you can access below. As always, I think I should have taken more… and probably more with people in them… Oh well!

Click here to view these pictures larger

30 Seconds

My husband used to say that you could endure anything for 30 seconds. And if you could endure a thing for 30 seconds, you could endure it 30 more. Then you’ve gotten to a minute, so you can do a minute more. Before you know it, you’re pushing yourself to hold out to complete a task–no matter how difficult or painful it is.

I’ve used Mike’s words to get me through a lot of difficult tasks in my life. It’s the mantra I repeat to myself during the last 20 miles of a century ride when I’m exhausted and want to stop riding. I think of these words when I’m trying to push through a climb up a difficult hill on my bike. I’ve thought of his words while mountain climbing, working out in the gym (which I absolutely hate doing), running 5Ks, public speaking. Most notably, however, these words have helped me to survive the peaks and valleys of grief, those lonely days and nights I’ve suffered first continuously, then on and off, since he died. I wonder what he’d think to know that some of those philosophies he shared with me I’ve adopted as my own.

Mike didn’t have an easy growing up. And today as I remembered his 30 second philosophy–which came to me while I was climbing Columbia Road in the valley this morning on the way to work–I realized fully for the first time the dark place from which his philosophy might have come. I wonder just what he had to endure in his early life for just 30 seconds so that he could get through 30 seconds more. I can, unfortunately, take some good guesses.

We’re shaped by our experiences, for better or for worse. Whatever led Mike to this place where he could endure and accept his suffering, he found a positive place to apply it. His philosophy could be used to ultimately help him overcome anything. And now he’s passed this wise philosophy on to me and I have used it to not only achieve athletic accomplishments I never would have dreamed, but also to overcome the loss of him in my life.

It’s August. It’s that month. My mind wonders to the past. It’s hard to resist. It’s hard to believe that almost 11 years ago I married the man I love. It’s even harder to believe that he’s been gone so long (nearly 10 years, dare I say). I’ve gotten through all this time in little bits. You can handle little bits, 30 seconds at a time. Pretty soon, you’re up to days and weeks, months and years. It doesn’t hurt so much. Anything you can endure for 30 seconds, you can endure as long as you need to. Even forever.

Phinney Hill

So while STP was a pretty flat ride, Seattle overall is anything but flat. The only place I can compare it to is like Pittsburgh out here in the east.  Both cities are built amidst the foothills of mountains their denizens decided were best navigated by going straight up rather than using switch-backs.

I must admit that I was intimidated by the many Seattle roads and the rolling distant landscape on which I could see more vertical streets. Which means that I had to, of course, qualm my fears by forcing myself to go up one or two of these monsters. Thus proving myself to be the cyclist I want to think I am.

My friends live near one such hill on Phinney Ave. According to the elevation profile on mapmyride.com, this hill climbs 300 feet in .2 miles from N. 39th street. The first of the four successive hills–each of which is broken by a flat part–comes in at a rather punishing 19-20% grade. The two middle hills appear to be somewhere between 11% and 15% while the last one, which I initially thought was less steep than the first two, seems to end back at 19-20%. To make a Cuyahoga Valley reference, I initially described this road as four Oak Hills to all those following me on Facebook. The road was sure intimidating in the same way as Oak Hill.

I tried to get some pictures of this hill that would give you some perspective, but for some reason or another, hills never look half as terrifying in pictures as they do when you’re seeing them with your own eyes. I guess cameras have the opposite effect on hills that they do on people–they take off 10% grade rather than adding. Trust me, this baby was hard. You can only see the first two of the four hills in the picture below. The other two lie in wait for intrepid fools behind the steepness of the first two.

Phinney Ave Hill

Phinney Ave N from N. 39th - Not so scary on digital camera.

The picture I took from the top of Phinney looking down manages to give you a little better perspective. You can at least see all the way down the hill to the intersection from the picture above. Make sure you click on the picture to enlarge it for the fullest detail. See that hulking hill in the distance on the other side of the river? That’s the Queen Anne neighborhood. Looks like they’ve got some “scenic” hills over there. I have to ask, What were the crazy people who built this city thinking?! Surely these roads were no easier for horse-and-buggy.

Down Phinney Hill

The view down the Phinney Ave Hill.

So, yes, I of course was magnetized to this hill since the moment I walked down it to have lunch with Sarah the first day I was there. Walking back up it after lunch and a visit to Theo Chocolate, I knew that I was not going to leave Seattle without climbing up that hill on my bike. It made me nervous and tingly inside to think about. The beast did taunt me. The beast had to be conquered or claim to have cycled Seattle, I could not.

It took me until my last day in Seattle before STP to work up the nerve. And even then, I had to plot an excuse to even be in that area of town so that going up it was almost my only option. It was after that morning ride I took to the Magnuson Park, after a shower, and in my street clothes wearing a backpack, that I finally went for it. My excuse was that I “needed” to purchase a bike light (I lost mine prior to the trip) and map holder at the bike shop down at the corner of Phinney and N. 35th. (Forget the fact that I’d passed three bike shops on my morning ride.) Since I was meeting with Sarah and her family to go out, it only made sense to hit the bike shop closest to their house so as to keep everyone on schedule. Right?

The ride down? Not so fun. You can’t really let go of caution and speed down it because there’s that busy intersection of 36th at the bottom. Not to mention the fact that in Seattle, cars park on both sides of the street. In whatever direction they fit (take a close look at the picture above in case you missed it). So there’s not so much passing room for vehicles in either direction. The road is just a single lane down the middle. Heaven forbid you are two cars passing. I guess in this case the bike has the better advantage of being skinny. Still, I wasn’t about to be reckless down some gnarly hill in Seattle under these conditions. Though, if that hill had a safe straight away at the bottom, Lord knows how fast you could go without pedaling…

Sarah called me right before I was about to start at the bottom. She was checking on where  I was at. When she said she’d see me in a few minutes, I chortled. If I didn’t collapse from exhaustion half way up.

To say I began that climb with the utmost confidence would be a complete lie. I am still often intimidated by a hard hill and such intimidation eats away at me. I hate feeling as though there is something out there I cannot do. Oak Hill was like this for me for the last two summers since I started climbing hills more skillfully. When I first started riding in the valley, I thought I could spend my whole life riding and feel no need to conquer the likes of Oak Hill or Boston Mills West. But then I listened as other cyclists told tales of climbing these hills. And I started to feel as though I couldn’t call myself a true cyclist–a true climbing cyclist–until I’d done these hills too. Thus began my quest to begin knocking them all off… Oak Hill being my last great triumph.

So up Phinney Hill I went, reassuring myself over and over that I could do it, that it was no worse than any other hill I’d done in the valley, telling myself that the hill didn’t really look that bad once you were on it. Ignoring, of course, the parked cars that looked like they might roll down the hill at a sudden gust of wind. Within yards of starting up, I stood on my pedals to push hard. I’m not sure whether or not I really needed to stand–as I often claim I do on the hardest hills in the valley–but my nervousness had driven me to it. I was not in my lowest gear; I was saving it for a more dire moment of need.

I was relieved when I made it up the first hill. See? I pointed out to myself. You made it up the hardest part. You can do it!

I had few feet of flat pavement in which to inhale as much air into my gasping lungs as I could before the next hill.

The second hill felt the same as the first. Again, standing, I pushed ahead, my focus stringently aimed to the next crest. I don’t do a lot of standing when I climb, but for some reason, it felt the natural way to attack these short, hard hills. I was surprised that it didn’t hurt my legs as much as I thought it should.

After reaching the top of the second hill, I pushed vigorously to the third without a moment’s hesitation. Finally, this hill was a little less steep than the first two but at this point, having done the first two, it didn’t seem to matter much. I was still fueled by an apprehensive fear that I might not be able to make it up.  My heart pounded, my breathing felt too slow for my growing demand for oxygen.

I noticed a man outside working on one of the houses I passed and I vaguely wondered if he thought I was nuts or if seeing a cyclist ascend that hill was just a daily occurrence. So far in my time in Seattle, I’d only seen cyclists go down it myself.

At the flat part right before the fourth hill, I had to stop. I probably could have pushed through, but I needed to take a few minutes to calm my overstimulated nerves down and try to get some air in my lungs. I was disappointed that I’d stopped, of course. I’m sure most of my cycling friends could have just kept going. It was a partial failure. At least I wasn’t walking. But my breathing was too quick to be efficient, straining from the combination of the hill’s difficulty and my nervousness–my irrational fear of loosing steam suddenly and falling sideways before I could clip out.

After a moment or so, I mounted my bike and battled the fourth and final hill. The brief rest seemed to ease some of the pain and I was definitely more relaxed, having conquered the other three hills. But, man, that was not an easy climb. None of the hills really felt easier to my legs because there were so many in a row.

I think if I climbed the hill again, which I never got–nor desired–to do, it’d be a little easier. Once I know I’ve climbed a hill before, some of that pulse-quickening anxiety goes away. Some. I still feel a slight fearful panic from time to time before starting a hill I don’t do too often (like I will feel when I make myself climb Hines Hill in the Valley again). But maybe a little healthy respect for the hill is good; it keeps me on my toes and determined to push so that I don’t fall. Even worse than falling, though, is failure. And I’m my own most punishing bully.

In retrospect, it was kind of fun to climb Phinney. From that strictly masochistic part of my brain. The other parts of my brain have forgotten exactly what it felt like to climb. Which is probably why I’d do it all over again given the chance.

STP (minus 5 miles)

STP Marker (Left Turn)--My guide throughout the route.

My big trip of the summer had actually come from an idea planted in my head by my long-time friend Sarah when I completed my first TOSRV, proving that I could handle back-to-back century rides. Sarah, who lives in Seattle, told me about the Seattle-to-Portland Bicycle Classic (STP) which her brother and father often did (in one day instead of two) on a tandem each year. She hinted that I could do the ride and come out to visit her to boot! So in February when registration for STP was opened to the public, I found myself excitedly signing up. I booked my flight, requested a week and a half vacation at work, and the plans commenced.

I arrived in Seattle the Wednesday before the Saturday-Sunday ride to get myself acclimated to Pacific Standard Time as well as enjoy a few leisurely days wandering around this beautiful city and getting used to my rental bike. I’d been to Seattle before and knew that there was always plenty to do and see. I picked up my rental bike on Thursday morning at Montlake Bicycle Shop in the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle. I was originally told I was going to ride a Cannondale Synapse–possibly a compact double–but to my extreme delight, they wheeled out a Giant OCR 1 with a triple chain ring! Riding a bike the same make and model as Black Beauty really made me feel as though I were on my own bike, especially with my saddle and pedals on it. Though, I will say that the paint job on this OCR was not as cool as the paint job on my own beloved bike.

Rental Bike

My rental bike at Magnuson Park in Seattle on a pre-STP ride.

I used the bike to commute around Seattle in the two days before STP. This was an amazing experience. Prior to arriving in Seattle, I was extremely apprehensive about riding a bike on the busy roads of a big city as I only ride around the ‘burbs and the country back home. However, though Seattle is a big city, it feels suburban in some ways. Perhaps it’s because unlike Cleveland–which only really consists of a downtown area–Seattle is really more of a city in which people live as well as work in the parts outside of the immediate downtown area. To top it off, Seattle is probably one of the most bike friendly cities I’ve ever been in on bike, next to Boulder, Colorado, which really isn’t nearly a comparable size. (Boulder also feels quite suburban.)

The main roads had either sharrows or bike lanes and, in general, the cars seemed to accept the presence of bicycles on the road. They would have to be because bikes were everywhere. On my last days in Seattle, I had a car and experienced the roads as a motorist, and my general observation was that people were more patient with cyclists than with other motorists. I was actually more frightened as a motorist driving the same streets as I rode as a cyclist. Maybe it’s because as a motorist you have little time to make a decision about which way to turn when you’re not sure how to get where you need to go. I was honked at a few times as I tried to navigate the city by car. I’m definitely going to rent a bike the next time I visit Seattle and use it to get around, regardless of whether I’m doing some big bike event or not.

The day before STP, I took the bike out for a test ride from the bed and breakfast where I was staying to the STP start line at the E-1 parking lot at the U of Washington campus (by Husky Stadium). Of course, being navigationally-challenged, I got lost at this first attempt despite my handwritten turn-by-turn instructions, missing a turn near the campus, and then after consulting my Seattle bike map, I was blocked by a detour on a street which would have taken me right to where I needed to go. I ended up riding straight through campus (on top of a hill). I eventually was able to visually spot the stadium and make my way over via the Burke-Gilman bike trail. I rode around the parking lot for a bit, trying to figure out where the start line actually was, but I couldn’t find any painted symbols or markers. I eventually left, figuring that the start location would be impossible to miss the next morning with 10,000 cyclists present.

After finding the starting location for STP, I continued down the Burke-Gilman trail to do some exploration. I ended up at Magnuson Park (slightly off-trail but following signs) before I decided to turn around. I had thought that perhaps I would following the signs for the Lake Washington Loop, assuming it was something short, but it appeared to be a lot longer than anticipated.

What I missed most on my rental bike was a computer. I was flying blind on mileage and speed. I realized about half way thought this ride that I actually had a spare computer I could have brought–the wireless I removed from my Giant because I got tired of stray electrical waves interfering with my stats. While the interference was annoying, it would have been good enough to use on the rental. I just didn’t think of it. Bad oversight as I hated not knowing how far I’d ridden or my exact stats. On the other hand, it sure did prevent me from trying to even out my mileage. If STP came up short on the century either day, I had no way of truly knowing, which was probably better for my psyche anyway.

I finished my pre-ride with a loop around Green Lake, which was near my bed and breakfast. The lake was pretty, but riding around it was extremely annoying because there were just too many pedestrians and they kept wandering into the lane for wheeled vehicles (bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards). So I didn’t complete the loop and ended up going back on the road. I estimate that I rode about 30 miles that morning. I felt pretty good, though the terrain was mostly flat. (I did end up taking on some nasty hills during my stay in Seattle. Perhaps I’ll blog more about that later.)

The official start time for STP was a painful 5:15-7:30am. I knew that I wanted to get an early start so not to be the last person coming in that evening, especially since I didn’t really have any idea of the type of terrain that awaited me. The girl who checked out my rental bike at Montlake Bicycles had told me that STP was “flat,” but flat is really a relative term depending on location. I learned this in Colorado both with hiking and cycling. One man’s flat is another person’s hell. I can personally remember several hikes I did in which the Coloradoans described the trail as “easy.” Yeah, “easy” in Colorado is “challenging” in Ohio. So I know to take another person’s description of terrain with a grain of salt. Still, I did know that the one big hill on the ride was only a 7% grade for a mile. Living in near the Cuyahoga Valley, 7% grade is hardly anything for me. If that was the worst the ride had to offer, then I would be fine. Still, I didn’t know for sure what lay ahead. And I’m extremely good at worrying. Especially when I’m afraid I won’t complete something.

The 4am wake-up call came too soon. I reluctantly rolled out of bed, packed up the last of my things into a small backpack, set my keys and payment to the bed and breakfast on the dining room table, and slipped out the door into the predawn morning. Due to the previous day’s confusion, with the help of Sarah and Alison, I chose a different route with less turns that would hopefully take me to the start line quicker and without getting lost. The roads of Seattle were vacant in a spooky post-apocalyptic sort of way–this is definitely not the city that never sleeps–so I was less nervous navigating my way around. Eventually, as I got closer to the U District, I started to see blinking bicycle tail lights and other cyclists bearing full backpacks or panniers making their way around, headed, I assumed, for the start line. At a stop light, a couple on a tandem stopped next to me. The captain smiled and said, “This way to Portland?” I laughed. Nothing like the camaraderie of cyclists!

I should have followed the tandem–they seemed to know exactly where they were going–but I was afraid I’d lose them (since they were obviously faster) or follow them to some stop they were making on the way out. I continued on my pre-planned route down Brooklyn to the Burke-Gilman where I actually ended up encountering the steady flow of STP cyclists going the opposite direction headed out-of-town. They were on the road–a normally busy street that was blocked off by traffic police–while I paralleled along the path. I wasn’t worried because the ride had actually started at 4:30am for those doing the entire 200 mile route in one day. I had just aimed to depart in one of the middle groups.

I arrived at the E-1 lot and, as predicted, very easily found the start line. Riders were queuing up behind a big Start banner and were being released in waves every 10 minutes or so. A dj sat on a stage beside the line, playing music and revving everyone’s spirits up. Riders shouted and hooted. The scene had a lot of energy and I felt goosebumps rising in my flesh. I always get excited feeling the fever of an event. Unlike TOSRV in which riders leave without ceremony whenever they want, STP seemed to start in several waves of raging whoops and hollers. I dropped off my bag at the Centralia luggage truck, had a bystander take my picture at the start line while a wave of riders set off, and then queued up with the next group of riders.

Me at STP start line as a wave of riders sets off.

Me in the queue behind the start line, ready to go!

With an air horn and well-wishes, my wave of riders was sent off into the morning. It was about 5:45am as I rolled out onto the city streets to begin my adventure. I was a little nervous about departing with 100 or so riders, but as we snaked through the city streets, we spread out a little into thinner lines of two or three cyclists across. I think the reason for the early start time might be related to traffic since I doubt a car could get by us without riding in the opposing traffic’s lane as we fled the city.

We crossed the University Bridge and passed through some nice neighborhoods in Montlake. Eventually, we ended up on Lake Washington Blvd which offered some beautiful views of the lake. It was a little overcast so I had no idea that one could actually see Mt. Rainier from that area, as I would learn later in the week when I revisited this part of the route for an afternoon ride. Before slipping away into clouds, the sun glittered the lake with light and I stopped to grab a few pictures.

Sun over Lake Washington in the early morning with Seattle in the distance (right).

I couldn’t stop comparing STP to TOSRV since I think the rides are very similar in structure. Like TOSRV, STP is a big ride on which every kind of cyclist partakes–from serious road cyclists to people on creaky old comfort bikes. I suspect for some it’s the only ride they do all  year, or one of the very few. TOSRV goes through southern Ohio following a river valley, but avoids any of the really difficult climbs the area could offer; STP also goes through a valley and seems to avoid the worst possible climbs. Both rides are relatively easy.

I thought that on TOSRV you’re never alone, but there actually long stretches in which you can be by yourself for periods of time. On STP, at least on that first day, this NEVER happens. Ever. With a steady stream of some 10,000 cyclists (compared to TOSRV’s “meager” 2,000), you are always passing riders or being passed by other riders. It’s insane. I started getting tired of saying “On your left” and pretty much reserved it for the moments when someone was drifting into my passing zone or for riders with iPods in their ears (my biggest pet peeve). Maybe this was rude, but, seriously, you could go hoarse just trying to warn people every time. For the most part, people were aware that you were behind them and they were about to be passed.

I experienced a few instances of uninvited wheel-sucking. By myself, I can clip along at a pretty stiff pace. Even without my computer, I can guess that most of time along a flat straight away, I was clipping an even 17-18mph because this is what I normally do at home. So it seems that I’m often a good target for people looking to get a free ride. I’ve noticed this happening to me even in Ohio. I don’t exactly enjoy it and when I notice someone’s trying to do it, I’ll slow down or speed up to try to shake them off. Over 100 miles, I decided I didn’t want to push so hard so I was just letting it happen when it did. Most of the people, however, thanked me, freely acknowledging that they were using me for rest before pushing on (which never happens in Ohio). I guess this was a politeness I wasn’t used to, but I’m not sure I liked it any better. A few of them invited me to then draft off of them, but I declined. I really don’t like to ride so close to other people I don’t know. Also, I wanted the opportunity to stop for pictures whenever the scenery enticed.

STP has frequent rest stops. Some of the rest stops–spaced about 25 miles apart–are official “free food” stops which are offered by the ride organizers. Mini-stops, which occurred about every 10 or so miles, are run by organizations within the community you’re passing through, such as high school bands or sports teams. At the mini-stops, you’re encouraged to provide a donation for the offered food. I tried not to use these too much since I had planned on a more budgeted tour. However, I still managed to lose a lot of $1 bills when the call of homemade cookies overcame my better senses. And on Sunday morning, I couldn’t resist the stop that advertised homemade banana bread… yumm….

The scene at the REI Headquarters--free food stop--in Kent, WA (mile 25).

The Hill–the big one everyone fretted about–was outside Puyallup (I still cannot pronounce the name of this town). It was a climb out of a canyon that was a pretty steady 6-7% grade for a mile with one spot in the middle where the road leveled out for a few yards. At every intersection during the climb, I spotted volcano evacuation signs that I really wanted to stop and get a picture of, but my blood was pumping and I was too charged for the climb to stop. To me, the road felt like the hard parts of Truxell Road in the Cuyahoga Valley. I didn’t even bottom out of my granny gears, but I enjoyed the climb all the same.

I think the professional photographers on the route got a picture of me doing this climb. If it’s not “The Hill,” it’s some other climb from the first day. Either way, it sure looks like I’m leading the pack, doesn’t it? I wonder if these are more wheel-suckers…

Climbing on STP.

At the top of “The Hill,” there was a polka-dotted sign, representing the jersey awarded to the best mountain climber during the Tour de France. I stopped to get my picture in front of the sign for the heck of it, even though the climb was not really particularly challenging for me. It was still fun, though. (Any climb is fun!)

At the top of "The Hill."

And the polka-dot jersey goes to....

A view from the summit of "The Hill."

All in all, the first day’s ride was pretty easy. “The Hill” was the longest climb. There were a few short steeper climbs but nothing to fret particularly about. Between the towns of Spanaway and Roy, we were on a long stretch of a flat state route that was lined on both sides with very tall fir (I think) trees that smelled of  a pleasantly sweet musk and passed the east gate of Fort Lewis in what felt like the middle of nowhere. We had about a fifteen mile ride on a flatish bike path to mile 85. Parts of the bike path seemed to be trending upwards slightly. I thought it was my fatigue at first that caused me to switch to my middle chain ring for part of it, but in talking later to other riders, it appears it did have a slight grade for a few miles. It was hard to ride with so many other cyclists on a narrow bike path.

Along the Yelm/Rainier/Tenino Bike Trail.

In every town along the route, people lined the streets, watching the riders go by and cheering us on. It was as though I were in some kind of race. Some people held signs to motivate their family members or friends. The first day’s finish line at Centralia College was rather festive. When you rolled across the line, volunteers immediately handed you a creamiscle. A female announcer continuously congratulated riders over a PA system and directed us to the various points of interest, particularly the beer garden to which I immediately headed. I finished the first day at 1:45pm. I must have had a pretty nice pace going!

End of first day at Centralia College, creamiscle in hand and partially consumed.

My overnight accommodations were actually set up through the local Zonta Club which offered, for just $65, bed and rest at a person’s house which, on top of a warm shower, included dinner and breakfast the next morning. When I was ready to leave the festivities, I was supposed to call my hosts for the night to pick me up and take me to their house. Now, the thing that I really messed up here was the detail that I neglected to realize in my email correspondence with them: they actually lived in Chehalis, the next town just five miles away. The second day’s route goes from Centralia to Chehalis.

Unfortunately, I’d put my baggage (the backpack) on the Centralia truck and had I realized this detail, I would have had it sent to the park in Chehalis. It was not clear to me until my hosts picked me up that I could have/should have just rode on to Chehalis myself and then had them pick me up there. Needless to say, I lost 5 miles of the total STP ride with that move. Had I realized all this when I called them from Centralia, I would have just ridden with backpack the last five miles to Chehalis so that I wouldn’t end up missing a five mile portion of the route. I’m still beating myself up about this mistake–can I still claim having done STP when I missed a five-mile segment? I tried to comfort myself with the fact that I’d actually done an extra 2-3 miles with my ride to the start from the bed and breakfast. But all I can hear in my head is my cycling friends accusing me of not actually completing the route. So I figured I’d better own up to it here and move on…

You live and you learn. Not being a local, I just didn’t know and had assumed that Chehalis was a near town, but not one along the route. Oh well. At least I didn’t miss five miles because I had to SAG.

My host family was really great. They lived at the top of an excessively nasty hill, one that they said they never expected any riders to try to do after 100 miles, and after I rode up it with them in their car, I realized I wouldn’t have wanted to make that climb either, least of all bearing my backpack. It was pretty brutal. But the scenery from their dining room window was fabulous! I should have taken some pictures, but once showered and handed a second beer, I pretty much lost all motivation to do much of anything but sit and chat.

My evening consisted of showering, chatting, eating, and then crashing around 9:30pm after some political discussion with my liberal hosts. The bed they provided was really comfortable with big fluffy pillows and I slept like the dead until 4:30am the next morning to do it… all… over… again… Though, honestly, since I wasn’t turning around and doing the same route the next day in reverse, as is the case with TOSRV, I found myself much more motivated to begin the next day’s ride because I was headed to a new destination rather than the same one.

To make up for the previous day’s error, I assured my host that I didn’t need a ride to the park since downhill from their house was no problem (though a bit scary–it was twisty-turny, which we all know I’m uncomfortable with). Truth be told, the ride from their house to the park was probably just a mile so I didn’t completely make back the lost mileage. I don’t know how close to a century I was the second day, but I’m guessing I was only about two or three miles off since the route sheet showed 102 miles for that day. I’ll never know, thanks to not having a computer on my bike. (The first day was actually only 98 miles to Centralia. However, since I’d ridden 2-3 miles to the start, I have no doubt that I got a full century the first day.) Maybe I shouldn’t care…?

The second day’s route was much nicer than the first, offering better scenery through less populated areas and a series of short, moderately steep climbs. I had to remind myself continuously to gear down so not as to throw out my knee as I did on TOSRV. When climbs are moderate and short, I have a tendency to want to muscle through them in higher gears. To prove something to myself? To try to convince myself I don’t always need to rely so heavily on the granny gears? I don’t know. But it’s dumb and I really had to struggle with myself to use lower gears and spin more.

Me wooshing down the other side of a hill outside of Vader, WA.

The weather was overcast and occasionally we entered patches of a misty precipitation like going through a fog. Is this what they call a Pacific Northwest rain? I wondered. The temperatures were lower on both days than I would have liked during the ride–in the mid-50s under overcast skies. I had to keep my jacket on since I’d forgotten to bring arm warmers–a huge oversight on my part as well as deciding to only bring sleeveless jerseys. The week before I arrived in Seattle, the temperatures had actually hit the 80s and 90s and I guess I was expecting to get caught in that. In the future, I think I’ll just bring regular jerseys and a pair of arm warmers. No matter how hot it gets, you can always survive in a regular jersey, whereas sleeveless jerseys are pretty much only good for really warm weather.

To get into Oregon, we crossed the Lewis & Clark Bridge. We were required to follow a motorcycle escort across the bridge, so we had to queue up and go in groups of about 100 riders. This was a bit nerve-wrecking since the right lane and its berm were narrower, and there was a climb up it which actually turned out to be a little steeper than I thought it would be. I ended up reluctantly using granny gear between the grade of the bridge and the pace of the group. Fortunately, the cyclists had made a passing lane on the far left of the lane that I could use to pass those who were too slow for me to hang behind. It was still a little scary as you had to watch your tires and everyone else’s so I didn’t get to enjoy the scenery on either side of the bridge.

Lewis & Clark Bridge - WA side

The rode we queued up on to cross the Lewis & Clark Bridge (Washington side).

We weren’t allowed to stop on the bridge so I couldn’t take any pictures, which really bummed me out. Additionally, once we got over the bridge, there were so many cyclists to get around that stopping to take pictures could have caused a wreck. So unfortunately I have no pictures of myself by the Oregon border or welcome signs. I at least can say that I have cycled from Washington to Oregon; I just have no photographic proof. You believe me, right?

Lewis & Clark Bridge from US-30 (Oregon side)

The last 30-40 miles to Portland were on US-30–a mostly high-traffic road that offered little by way inspiring scenery with which to distract yourself. Being limited to a narrow berm, it was often hard to get around slower riders because you had to time each passing between cars. On top of that, the motorists were not very friendly; this was the one and only place during my entire week and a half in the Pacific Northwest in which I experienced the all-too-familiar angry shouts from motorists. A few f-bombs and negative comments about cyclists were expressed by passengers passing cars. It was just like home. One was even a red pickup truck. Evidently people who drive red pickup trucks have the same passion against non-motorized vehicles in the Pacific Northwest as in the Midwest.

Needless to say, the combination of the long haul on the same road, the lack of scenery, the traffic, and the unfriendly motorists made that last stretch into Portland my least favorite on the whole ride. It was kind of disappointing, too, since the day had started out so well with just the opposite–great scenery, some fun hills, and light traffic along more rural roads. It was all I could do to keep my mind on the task of riding. I totally had to go into that zone where you just tune out all thoughts of time and presence and just push relentlessly forward because you have to. I think many of my fellow riders were in the same place. We all but ceased to warn each other when we were passing, often just grunting acknowledgments back and forth. At least the clouds started to burn off and I was able to shed my jacket, finally enjoying some warmth while riding for the first time on the ride.

My comfort level was complicated further when I lost one of my contact lenses at the last free food stop in St. Helens–about 25 miles from the end of the ride. My contacts were fogged up, which often seems to happen when I’m wearing sunglasses or ski goggles over my eyes and participating in strenuous activity (like skiing or cycling) for prolonged periods of time. It was driving me nuts. So I went to the First Aid tent to get some saline solution, which they had, to try to remove each contact and wipe it off. Unfortunately, they did not have a mirror so I had to put my contacts back in–pun intended–blindly. I guess I thought I got the contact into my left eye when in reality it must have dropped on the ground. Since the left eye is my better eye, I didn’t really seem to notice that it wasn’t in until I glanced into my helmet mirror to check the riders behind me as I was leaving the stop. My vision was all fuzzy. I blinked. Still fuzzy.

I dismounted. I moved the helmet mirror to my face and put my hand to my eye to check for the lens. It wasn’t there. Damn. (And now it occurs to me in retrospect that I should have tried to use my helmet mirror to put the contact in. Duh!) Fortunately, whenever I travel I carry a spare pair of contacts, since I’ve been screwed before by losing one and not having a replacement; however, the spare was in my toiletries kit in my backpack in Portland. I was not about to quit the ride over a missing contact, so I just pedaled on, thankful that I hadn’t lost the one in my right eye instead because I would never have been able to balance out my vision and my depth-perception would have been destroyed. It started out as a minor annoyance while on US-30 that got increasingly uncomfortable once I got to the narrow city streets of Portland where I really had to pay attention to not only other cyclists, but cars, the STP arrows through frequent turns, and pedestrians.

My mind kept asking, “Are we there yet?” I may not have had a computer on my bike, but my body knew I’d reached close to 100 miles and it was decidedly done with all this crazy cycling. Since we were finally in the downtown area of Portland, I was sure the finish line was just up the street. But the STP markers  just kept leading us on and on through streets I didn’t know. I ended up in a pack of moderately paced cyclists who I could tell were actually quite fast and were just taking it easy on the final approach to the end. They talked about the paceline they’d had for a while, how US-30 didn’t seem so bad that way. Ha. Maybe I have the wrong idea after all. We all made punchy jokes about being ready to be done with the ride and looking forward to the beer garden at the finish line.

We went across a bridge (not the bridge we were originally supposed to go across) with a very narrow bike lane that rode the side of the bridge in a completely separated area from the section of the cars use. You can see the bridge in the background of the picture below taken by the professional photographers as I climbed the bike trail/pedestrian walkway back up off the bridge onto the street (I think we were on the lower deck of the bridge).

Me riding the trail back to the street from the bridge.

As we approached the finish line at Holladay Park, I could hear a voice over loud speakers congratulating the people ahead of me as they crossed the finish line. The last couple hundred yards of the street were lined with people cheering, clapping, and shouting encouragements to riders as they passed. It was kind of cool to experience this enthusiasm. I’m told that TOSRV used to be like that when the finish line party was at the old suspension bridge into Portsmouth. I’ve never gotten to experience that so this was quite a treat. Kind of like how we’re cheered by volunteers at each finish line of the MS 150.

I crossed beneath the Finish banner where my picture was taken as I came in (see below) and I was handed an STP Finisher patch on string to wear around my neck. All the pomp and circumstance was actually quite cool. I felt like I’d achieved something new, even though this was the third two-day back-to-back century ride I’d done this year.  Well, this was the first back-to-back century I’d done through Washington and Oregon. There’s always a reason to celebrate!

Mars Girl gives a big grin as she completes STP.

The finish line is behind me!

Of course, the first thing I did after reaching the park was get my backpack so that I could put a new contact lens in. Which I did without a mirror very, very carefully. And then I was among the sighted again! My next task was to buy an official STP jersey. Unfortunately, they were out of my size, but I was able to put in an order for one which I won’t receive until the end of August or early September. So I can’t flaunt my completion of another, more exotic faraway ride quite yet.

The finish line party was quite an event. It was like being at fair with food vendors and booths for various organizations advertising their wears, most of which were sports-related. I bought a Greek gyro and cruised around the place to check everything out. Bikes and people were everywhere, really pushing maximum capacity in the park. I actually lost my bike in the sea of abandoned bikes laying on the ground and against trees, nearly having a panic attack that it had been stolen, which would mean I’d have to pay for it. Fortunately, I located it again and then made a point to memorize landmarks around where I’d set it so that I could easily find it again. I moved it strategically closer to the beer garden, and then proceeded to go in to have my 100-mile treat–a nice dark brown microbrew.

STP was a pretty fun ride. I think it’s more of a local thing in the same way TOSRV is local to Ohioans. On both rides, you don’t get to see the best of the state, but you get the easiest way through it, which is good for the less experienced cyclist.  The challenge in TOSRV is the weather and how early it falls in the season to do so many miles. Neither TOSRV nor STP provide challenging terrain; STP, being later in the season, could get away with slightly more challenge. Don’t get me wrong: I like both rides. And, true, 100 miles for two days is certainly challenge enough for most people (even me). However, I guess I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t have at least one climb on a pass or something with a spectacular view. The ride was definitely very festive and I did like it for that. I’m glad I did it. And, best of all, it was a great excuse to visit Sarah, her family, and Alison.

If I lived in Seattle or Portland, I’d probably become a yearly participant in the same way I am for TOSRV. But as a tourist, I think that the next time I ride in the PNW, I’m going to choose something a little more scenic. I’ve currently got my eyes on Ride Around Washington (RAW) which looks like XOBA for Washington. Of course, I could always go back to do my own tour, riding Highway 101 along the coast down through Oregon. There are a lot of possibilities. But I think once of STP is enough for me. Unless, of course, I ever want to be crazy and try to do the one-day version of the ride… Oh, who knows. Can I really say once is enough for anything?