2009 Christmas Letter

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

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

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

Dear Friends and Family,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Peace, and Fulfilling Adventures,

Mars Girl

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The Final Climb

This picture was provided by a fellow XOBAer showing a gimpy Mars Girl making one of her final climbs into the Lawrence County Fairgrounds in New Castle, PA. As you can see from the rest of the pictures in this set, some people chose to walk this hill. Mars Girl plugged intrepidly on, despite pained knee. I only walked one hill that day due to the knee injury and it was a much, much harder one than this and one, by the way, that I would never have walked had I not been in fear that I would reinjure the knee to a level where I couldn’t finish the ride.

Okay, I know I don’t deserve to brag, really. But it’s my blog and I’ll brag if I want to! If you see me walking a hill somewhere, you have every right to make fun of me. I promise I won’t bite your head off. That much.

By the way, I think the knee is back to normal. I commuted by bike to work yesterday and had no problems climbing Snowville Road nor Northampton (which was the hill I chose for my commute back home). I am going to have to be careful in the future about how aggressively I attack hills so that next time I’m on a week long trip I don’t overdo myself again. However, I’m relieved that I seem to have caused no long term damage or suffered any lingering issues. Hello, hills, Momma’s back!

XOBA in retrospect

It may not have come across well in my brief blog entries during the ride (since I only had limited space), but I have to say that this was singularly one of the best experiences of my life. I was presented a new challenge–ride one week, every day, rain or shine, from Indiana to Pennsylvania–and I did it. Not only did I do it, but I did it despite personal pain and suffering on many levels. It wasn’t always bad, though. After my mental and emotional breakdown in Kent, when my knee was raging with pain, I managed to stabilize myself at around 35 miles and the riding became enjoyable, as evidenced by my stopping to take some pictures. Once I let myself admit that I was not going to be riding at my normal speed, I was freed from pushing myself. I just sat back, became careful about taking hills, and enjoyed the scenery. The rain had tapered off into what eventually became a beautiful sunny day and I’m so glad that I didn’t sag out. Survivor’s attitude. I think I’ve always been tough, even when it seems on the outside that I’m not tough at all, and inwardly when I feel the farthest from tough. I’m stubborn and I have resolve to complete something; these are my best qualities.

The trip was made even better by my companions and fellow ABCers–Michael, Randy, Tony Z, and Michelle. It was really fun to have people to hang out with at various places throughout the ride and also in the evenings. I feel like the trip wouldn’t have been half as fun without the socializing–sitting by our tents drinking beer with Randy and Michael, enjoying ice cream with Michelle and Tony Z. Tony’s rye humor and Randy’s consummate smile kept me going, especially in the rain when I really did not want to ride. Michael is the Energizer Bunny; he just keeps going and going, seeming to pique when the rest of us are losing our energy. This kept me going too. I had more miles on him, but he had better temperance, especially on the hills that eventually caused my knee to bother me. I should have followed his lead and tapered back.

I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this ride as much had I done it by myself. The companionship sure made it all the more complete over all those miles. My loneliest day was Friday when I rode those miles to Youngstown myself; however, I did feel it worked out for the best as I was incredibly slow and I didn’t have to feel the pressure of a group mentality to speed up. I am personally pleased that I chose not to bail and I toughed it out. Though, admittedly, it would not have been as fun to ride alone all week. I can honestly say that being an member of a bike club has gotten me quite used to companionship while riding, which was something I used to do mostly alone.

That single week seemed like a month. But in that good way that makes you feel as though you’ve learned some valuable lessons about yourself. I came back feeling mentally refreshed while physically exhausted. There’s something to be said of the power of endorphins. While I enjoy returning to civilization and a stuffed mattress and a non-leaking roof over my head, I must admit that I miss those 5:30am wake-up calls to begin a new day of riding.

I saw parts of Ohio I didn’t know were there. Little nowhere communities between cornfields and Amish farms. Rolling hills and straight-aways. College towns–Springfield, Granville. Suburbs (Grove City), surprising lake front towns (Millersport), hubs of tourism (Loudenville). I ate more ice cream last week than I have in the last two years (since I only let myself have ice cream like once every couple of months).

We befuddled onlookers with our mission. “You’re doing what?”, “Why?”, “Is this for a cause?” were the most popular questions.

“Nope,” I’d reply with a slight giggle. “We’re doing it because we’re dumb.”

Cyclists don’t vacation like normal people. Active people don’t vacation like “normal” people. I don’t know about you, my readers, but I am not very good at the lazy vacation thing. I have to do something where ever I go. My beach vacations involve hikes and snorkeling. Should I ever go to Hawaii, my goal is to climb the highest point (Mauna Kea). I got antsy on my honeymoon cruise to Mexico. I just don’t think I’m the cruising type of girl. I gotta ride it, ski it, swim it, hike it. That brings pleasure and satisfaction.

I would definitely do XOBA again. In fact, Walt (the ride director) revealed that one of his future themes for XOBA will be a brewery tour. I’m so there. Next year is the Ohio River Valley tour going east to west. I hope the brewery tour is north-south or south-north because I’d like to say I’ve crossed the state in both directions. Not sure I’m quite ready for the world of self-contained touring (don’t want to camp with limited comforts), but I’m definitely game for something like this again. Maybe soon I’ll try one of those other cross-state adventures.

I can’t forget to thank my dad for coming to the rescue in Copley with my other tent so that I didn’t have to spend another night in the refugee camp on the gym floor. He also provided Michael and I some cycling relief by driving us into Fairlawn (which we would have had to ride to) to grab dinner and beers at On Tap. Yay, Dad!! The new tent was tested overnight at Copley when rain began to fall at 4am, and it did NOT leak, except an occasional drip from the ceiling so I guess I’m going to have to reseal all the seams with waterproofing just to be safe. This tent–a literal palace of tents–has now become my tent of choice for camping. It’s got tons of room for little me and my air mattress fits in there with plenty of room to spare. Gone are the days of light pack camping for me.

It was a super trip. Here’s to many, many more! Hurrah! Now I think I will take at least a few days off to rest. My bike is at Century Cycles getting a tune-up, just to keep me honest.

Day 8: Youngstown to New Castle, PA

My knee was a little ginger this morning but not too bad (about the same as it was when I started from Copley). I really careful and took all hills at really low gears which worked okay most of the day, except for a fast hill into a valley that immediately swooped back up. I decided it was in the best interest of my knee that I walk that one. Sucks but I still had about 15 miles to ride and I did not want to repeat the pain I had yesterday after Theiss. My knee needs a few days’ rest and I wasn’t about to push it.

I climbed evrything else, though, and that’s not to be understated because there were some hard slow-Climbers that were made harder by my condition.

I warmly thank Randy and Michael for having the patience to stick it out with me to the end because I know both of them could go much faster. I think my average was pathetic, but I didn’t look yet.

I am so glad I finished this week despite the problems of the last few days I’d have been angry and frustrated with myself for not completing… I made it all the way across the state of Ohio from Indiana to PA through some reallt tough routes. It’s nothing to scoff at… even though I walked two hills rhis week. It still counts as a success, right?

Day 7: Copley to Youngstown

Today was a real mental test of mind over pain. The knee problems mentioned in my last report worsened. The day started out in rain. What more could I ask for?

As I began the ride, my knee felt a little stiff, but it was manageable. I was in home territory so I felt comfortable with the roads, knowing what lay ahead, including the pit of water I knew would be at the bottom of Sand Run Road. I warned everyone I could about it so that they would not go speeding down the road only to hydroplane in what was sure to be high water. However, it turned out the road was closed and the part of the road where the water was gushing was blocked off. We had to climb onto the limestone hiking path to get around the river of water and then ride to the other side. A lot of people got flats right after this point. Gatorskins rock — I had no problems.

After breakfast with Michael and Randy, I headed off on the shorter route (70 miles), which involved a climb up Theiss. Sure seemed tougher to climb than it had a couple weeks ago when I climbed on a Thursday night ABC ride. Additionally, when I got to the end of it, I realized my knee was really hurting. The next several miles down Bath Road to Graham were extremely painful. But there was no drug store (that I knew of) along the way where I could purchase a full knee brace. I resolved to continue on the route to Kent where I figured I’d eventually run into one.

This involved several miles on the rolling stretch of bike path between Silver Lake and Kent. As I turned onto Middlebury Road in Kent, I had a mental breakdown right before a really easy hill where the pain in my knee was throbbing so bad that I started to cry–mostly I was crying because I was afraid I was going to have to sag out of the ride only 15 miles in, but I was also crying because of the pain each little climb caused my knee.

Finally, I got myself composed and continued on to Route 59 where the route, thankfully, turned down 43–right past a CVS and a Walgreens. I stopped into Walgreens and purchased a knee brace and a bottle of ibrophin which I promptly took. At first, the knee brace only seemed to help moderately. I had to climb out of Kent on Summit Road, which is a big hill, but I forced myself to press on. I figured I could push on for the next 10 miles and see how I feel. I did not want to give up on this ride.

Fortunately, I figured out that I needed to gear really low on all the hills. Therefore, bumps I would normally have taken in my middle ring I now had to take in my granny gear. I spun a lot to try to maintain some semblence of speed. By mile 35 in Edinburg, I resolved to push through this ride. I decided I would ride slow and take it at my pace but that, damn it, I was going to finish this thing. I’d come so far, I couldn’t give up now.

This attitude resulted in me pushing forward non-stop. I only stopped to grab an occasional picture, more water, and once at McD’s to grab two cheeseburgers which I wolfed down. I knew that if I stopped to rest for any length of time, I would end up quitting. I took more ibprofin and pushed on. Pretty soon, it seemed as if my knee had numbed enough to be tolerable.

I was on my own all day as Michael and Randy took the 100 mile route. Probably a good thing because I would have held them back I was so slow. And because it would have been so easy for me to sag out when by myself, there is something to be said, I think, of my emotional and mental stamina. I won’t even let myself bail on myself.

The only thing that sucked about being alone is the portion through the ghetto of Youngstown. It was a little dicey in spots. One road along the route contained houses that all had their windows knocked out. Ikes!! (I was told later that I hadn’t even seen the true ghetto).

I was glad to see Youngstown State University ahead, even if it was uphill. I climbed slowly and got there with a sigh of relief. I’d made it. Yeah, my leg was very stiff and sore when I removed the knee brace. But I’d made the 70 mile haul anyway. It is completely true that I have to be in really bad shape to drop out of a ride. I hope this survival attitude continues to get me through everything in life. I’ve always said that I excel at suffering. Though, I do seem to grumble a lot about it.

Tomorrow is just 32 miles. It will be uphill. My goal is, if anything, to make it to the PA border. Then my mission is considered complete. But I hope to finish this out so that I don’t hate myself the rest of the year. I only hope that I didn’t ruin my climbing leg for the rest of the season. Right now, my right leg is basically along for the ride as my left leg has switched to doing all the work. I am so frustrated I could cry. I thought I was invincible. I’ve never had knee trouble before. This os very disheartening…

Anyway, I’m off to the beer tent to drown my sorrows in crappy beer and reflect on the good things that happened this week. Ice my knee and put the brace back on. Good grief, I’m a cripple.

Day 6: Loudenville to Copley

Today was not as painful as I anticipated. I actually got quite comfortable with the dull ache in my legs and worked with it. Up more hills. Yesterday’s hilly hell made today seem rather easy. Funny how a really hilly segment of a bike route can put everything in perspective.

Today was much more pleasant with 70-degree weather and general cloud cover all day to keep the heat from getting the better of us. We rode from Loundenville through a lot of scenic unknown places and ended up In Funk (yes. really). Then to Wooster and lots of familiar ground through Medina.

Had ice cream at Hartzler’s in Wooster–Mint Chocolate Chip. Lunch at the Buehler’s cafe in Medina to finish on the first steep, then rolling, Ridgewood Rd to end at 70 miles at the Copley High School.

Mars Dad kindly traded my other tent for my structurally unsound one, and then whisked Michael and I away in his luxurious (because we didn’t have to ride our bikes) taxi for dinner and beer at On Tap in Fairlawn… Good beer, at last! It was fun watching everyone else walk or ride the two miles to Fairlawn. For one night, we had it easy!

The odor of Icy Hot permeates my tent as I am having bad pain in my right knee. Bought a runner’s brace at Dick’s; hope it helps. I’ve never had problems with my knees before–a testament to the understated difficulty of the route to Loudenville.

Hoping for good weather tonight and to Youngstown (no t-storms). Not planning to do the optional century. At this moment.

Day 5: Millersport to Loudenville

It all began with the sound of a single rain drop falling on the top of my tent.

Splat.

Then: splat, splat a minute later. Splat-splat. Splat-splat-splat.

Splatsplatsplatsplatsplatsplatsplatsplatsplatsplat….

And the rain began. I figure I’m good; I’m in a tent. This tent survived a torential monsoon one time in Port Clinton. All is good.

Wrong. An hour later, I feel water splat-splatting on my nose. And another. And I realize my mattress is wet at one corner. I get out my flash light and I note that there is a very large puddle in my tent. Stuff is getting wet. I realize that evacuation is necessary. In two trips, I move the contents of my tent to the high school and sleep in the hall.

That is how my day began… My ride started in the rain and lasted 60 miles of the 73. Through steep uphills and downhills, yielding wet squeaky brakes.

All I can say is that I survived, whining aloud and in my head. I hate rain The Peppermint ice cream at Velvet Ice Cream helped only temporarily at mile 32. Chilled me before we started climbing again.

Legs tired. Pride scarred on the one hill I walked and shouldn’t have–Blacksnake Road. But I am still in the game. Though I’m stuck in the community gym.

Tomorrow: 69 miles to Copley. Anyone want to pick us up and take us to Wolf Creek? Dis girl hasn’t had a decent wine all week. Mostly cheap beer. =(

At least go to my house and bring me my other tent? No? Hmmph.

4am newsflash

Apparently my tent is not as structurally sound as it should be. The rains came and a lake formed in my tent. had to relocate all my stuff to the hall of the high school. Nice.

Guess it’s time to retire hubby’s old tent… In retrospect, I should have brought my other one. It’s bigger and newer.