“No, this is not the beginning of a new chapter in my life; this is the beginning of a new book! That first book is already closed, ended, and tossed into the seas; this new book is newly opened, has just begun! Look, it is the first page! And it is a beautiful one!” – C. Joybell C.
A blank page.
In that crisp, white expanse there’s anything but nothing. There’s possibility, space for expansion, a call to expression. There’s the freedom of self determination. Memories yet to be made, stories yet to be created, life yet to be lived.
There’s also the gut-knotting anxiety of needed invention, of starting anew… again. Of needing a plan, a route, a story. “Should’s” and “have-to’s” and self-limiting fears and doubts.
In relationships, jobs, and everything else, when we turn the page on a story we felt we knew, understood and connected with to abruptly find a clean sheet, what the hell do we do? Whether it was our choice or not, we’re told that transition is a process, yet the weight of it comes all at once. It’s a strain to simply keep ourselves and our world from buckling amidst the mess of it all.
It isn’t easy to move on, even when it is. We create our circumstances, our relationships, our lives for a reason. We choose and choose again until we’ve crafted a world unto ourselves, a world we understand, a world, no matter how painful and ill-fitting, where we feel safe in some way. Where we feel home.
Moving on means turning away from pages we’ve poured love and our entirety into and turning towards an empty expanse. A blank page. A starting point bound atop years of starting points and stories that mattered deeply to us.
Finding the emotional energy to put pen to paper and draft a new incarnation can feel overwhelming if not impossible. Why bother starting when blankness waits just around the corner? When everything we build is so uncertain and fleeting?
Why do we build in the first place. Why do we try? Why do we keep starting and re-starting and hoping?
Because in that fading prose lies everything. Love, fear, happiness, beauty, laughter, embarrassment, joy. Because those endings and starts are filled to the brim with living, with experience, with memories that cannot be taken from us even as we turn away from the tales themselves.
Endings are messy. They’re painful. They’re also necessary. Without them, we wouldn’t be who we are and we wouldn’t find parts of ourselves obscured by self-imposed boundaries. Endings mean we are alive – that there is more to tell.
When we find ourselves staring at a blank page, it isn’t blank. It never was.
Pick up your pen.
Hey Ladies (& Lady Lovers!) It’s been a while
Since I last posted, I’ve run another beautiful trail 50K, hiked, camped, explored, and bikepacked the entire Colorado Trail (stories coming soon!).
During that last adventure in particular, I apparently missed the renewal for my web address (TwoWheelsAndALady.com), and the site was immediately purchased by a random company in Asia…
Needless to say, I’m still here at TwoWheelsAndALady.Wordpress.com, and in the next few weeks I’ll be launching a streamlined blog at a new address.
It seems the universe places things in our path that encourage (or not-so-gently force) us to steer our lives towards new horizons and inventions of ourselves. The timing for the blog change is apropos.
Stay tuned! I look forward to riding along with you through this new adventure!
Keep enjoying the ride, Ladies!
Do you remember what it’s like looking through old photographs?
It’s a kind of warming sensation of remembrance that fills your chest – like indiscernible emotional residue of yesteryear is suddenly alight beneath your sternum. Good or bad, you feel something – sometimes indistinguishable, sometimes very, very deeply.
I had forgotten how potent remembering could be till I looked through photos of some of the more recent and happiest times of my life.
How is it so easy to forget the weight of our collected years – all that we’ve lived? And why is it amnesia can so often consume our connection to the goodness we’ve steeped in throughout our lifetime?
We all have a story, and I have mine. My life has been happy, my life has been depressing, my life has been stuck, my life has been exciting, my life has been like trying to grasp water with my cupped hands. It has been all of this, it has been none of this, and more than anything, it has been blessed with more luck and love than perhaps any one person deserves.
A family kept whole and always supportive, the comfort of childhood financial stability, the privilege afforded the lightness of my skin, a working body and functioning limbs, a family that values and helps support my education, friends who hold me up when I haven’t the strength to do it myself, the freedom to marry (or not) whomever I choose and to choose where I live… The more I reflect on these gifts, the more I see clearly that suffering has not been the major narrative of my tale – suffering has been a mirror, giving me a more accurate image of my existence by comparison.
I used to work as an RN, and many, many days I miss caring for others – giving back even an ounce of the goodness that the universe has seen fit to plunk down on my plate. I’ve seen a lot of people in varying stages of dying and living, I’ve been lucky enough to connect deeply with the tenuousness of all things. I always return to these experiences – to ruminating on how little time we have, how little (actually no) control we have, how unpromised all things actually are, how lucky we often do not realize we are.
When we die, our titles, our money, our achievements – we cannot take them with us nor can they hold our hand as we pass from here to there. A prestigious inkblot post-mortem pales in comparison to laying in the sunshine, to smiling and hugging and living with people who matter to you. All of these blessings, all of this goodness… what is the point of the universe concentrating this temporary goodness in our lives if NOT to pass it along? To leave the world with a bit more light before ours runs out?
Caring, giving wholly of yourself and from your blessings (which absolutely must include yourself) – this is why we are here. To pool and multiply our light for the present and future and in so doing, expand the light within ourselves.
So Ladies (and Lady-lovers): give. Give a smile to a stranger, give your time to your community, give money to a cause you believe in, give love to those who mean the most to you and those who don’t “deserve” it, give full, whole-hearted acceptance to yourself. And don’t forget to willingly receive when others give to you, since giving cannot exist without a willing recipient.
Your blessings of all sorts are an opportunity to make yourself and the world a little happier, a little more loving, and a little more connected. Seize them.
Keep riding and saving the world, Ladies!
Inspiration for strong, centered Ladies (and Lady-lovers). Wow.
Not quite this flexible? Me neither here are some more basic hip opening yoga poses that are beneficial for bicycle commuters.
An active life – it’s brought me adventure, uncontainable smiling, and peeks into intimate corners of the natural world. Whether it’s running for… forever, or biking through forests, or latching to mountainsides and rockwalls, or contorting into daily asanas, being physical consistently breaks myself and my world open to daylight.
So, dear Ladies (and Lady-lovers), I find myself yet again drawn to the rigors and release of training. I’ve decided to run my second 50k trail run in May (tips and insights from training to come!), it’s looking more and more likely I’ll be biking the entire Great Divide Trail and parts of the CDT this summer, and I’ve committed myself to 100 days of yoga practice.
This could, indeed, be permanent-hobble damaging and insane, as some friends have commented, but ruminating over my disconnect from the negative connotations of these feats led me to a very clear and important differentiation.
See, I’ve met the people who have mentalities so inflexible their bodies must bend (or break) to accommodate their goals. Top-o’-the-line gear, beep beeping watch alarms for perfected nutritional intake, finishing times cemented as “musts” rather than aims. This performance perfection mentality works for some, but for this Lady, just thinking about this level of obsession makes me exhausted.
I do physical things to let go – to stop clinging to life and it’s unfolding as if I have any control over it. Central to my training and my adventures is a clear and empty mind. I’m calling it the zen of endurance. When I run with my mind set on what I’ll have accomplished at mile 32, I’m living in mile 32. But what about mile 5? Mile 19? Or my nemesis – mile 23? If I reside in where I’ve yet to be, I fail to experience the beauty (and discomfort, and everything) of where I am. But where I’m heading doesn’t actually exist for me till I get there, and if I cannot learn to experience joy where I am, how will I ever be happy? I think this sums it up nicely:
Most music tries to control its circumstances, just as most of us do. But there’s another way to live. Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories within a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your feet. That’s when a path appears. – Kay Larson
I read that passage the day before I rode my bicycle from Seattle to Portland for the first time – my first ever century (100 miles)… times two. It proved apropos. I had arrived with a bicycle computer mounted upon my handlebars, my timing and pace monitoring providing me reliable belief in my ability to finish without collapse.
The next morning, as I set off in the middle of a sardined peloton before the world had awoken, I heard a kind of clink as I turned a sharp corner on rocky pavement. The shaking from the proliferative potholes loosened my computer and off it flew, never to be found. My plans were erased and the comfort of control had been ripped away – I was completely on my own.
And that’s the thing – I always was. I thought I needed those numbers, that I needed an outside gauge of my performance, but it was always up to me and my mind. I had to find peace in discomfort and strength in exhaustion. Only through enjoying individual moments could I lay them end-to-end till I reached 100 miles. This meant listening to my body more deeply than I ever had before, backing off when it hurt, laying into pedals when I felt strong, eating when I was getting weak, drinking when I felt parched – these things are never consistent from ride to ride, so why did I ever think I could time them based on some arbitrary understanding of supposed-to’s? As the saying goes, planning is essential – plans are useless.
Each run, each ride, each asana – none are ever repeated. You can run the same route 1000 times, but you’ll never experience this lap ever again, and you never have before. This inquisitive “beginners mind” (treating each experience – no matter how monotonous – as new) can upend your world. It has led me to experience a kind of moving meditation, experiencing anew each time I head out atop two wheels or two feet.
The zen of endurance has brought love to my imperfection, acceptance to a life not quite what I want it to be, appreciation of doing and NOT doing, and muscular thighs (#ladypower). I’ll never win an ultramarathon, I’ll never set world records, but my body feels amazing and I feel happy and connected. What more could a Lady ask for?
Keep riding and finding yourself (always), Ladies!
Bike fit – the key to vanquishing chronic injuries and wasted energy when you ride. Simple adjustments to your seat, handlebars, and pedals can make a world of difference, Ladies, but what adjustments should you make?
Welcome the glory of Youtube how-to’s, which have added basic bicycle fitting to our list of self-taught skills! The video below has some great tips for Ladies rocking drop bars. Looking for a more upright, leisurely fit? The image at the top of the post provides basic positioning to aim for – just move your seat forward or back and handlebars up or down to get yourself more comfortably aligned. All you need are some Allen Wrenches (google it) and some time, easy peasy.
Keep riding comfortably, Ladies!
Ladies (& Lady-lovers) – it’s officially winter! With proper layering, riding, running, and being active outside are all amazing this time of year.
Yesterday while out on a midday neighborhood run, I experienced so much: patterned sunshine through urban canopies, refreshingly chilled air, the schmooshing of remaining wet leaves beneath my feet, sweaters and cardigans, lovely scarved Ladies on two-wheels, whiffs of wood ablaze in home hearths, breezes crinkling yet-to-be-shed leaves… a mid-run stop and crouch and subsequent nearly-pooped-myself shame…
Yes, Ladies, my run failed to elicit the normal sunshine and rainbows joy I’ve come to expect.
Following my near disaster (saved by a stray Honey Bucket), I came home to do some research. Was my addiction to peanut butter catching up with me? Were my insides falling apart? DO I HAVE TO GIVE UP COFFEE?!
The results from my google query were sadly hilarious, my favorite of which was –
Gut suddenly feels like it’s flipping upside down? Nauseated and cramping? Mad rush for a Honey Bucket? Turns out I’m not alone – around 35%* of runners will experience some sort of GI distress during training or events. Those port-a-potty lines I’ve been caught in during marathons reinforce the commonality of my issues – running can mess with your gut, and now I had a name for it.
“Runner’s Trots” – a concept I wish I was less familiar with, afflicts short and long distance runners alike. Not quite the ass-bleeding severity of runner’s colitis, runner’s trots is general GI distress (cramps, nausea, intense urge to go, loose stool, etc.) that can arise from alterations in stimuli and hormones caused by running. The issue can be sporadic or regular, but whether it’s a consistent problem or not, it’s non bueno.
So how does a Lady avoid the shame of mid-marathon or triathlon soiled trousers? The following are the best suggestions I’ve found:
1) STAY HYDRATED – drink plenty before you start, and don’t forget to sip along the route.
2) KEEP A FOOD JOURNAL – for me, my peanut butter based food pyramid is likely to blame. Keeping track of what you eat and how you feel before and during each run can help you pinpoint problem foods.
3) TRAIN AT DIFFERENT TIMES OF DAY – normal fluctuations in hormones can effect your gut. If iffy mornings have instilled a fear of public pooping embarrassment, give evenings a try, and vice versa.
4) WATCH YOUR FIBER INTAKE – too much of a good thing can make you poop yourself. Watch for raw food, sugar, and fiber overload before runs.
5) DON’T EAT FOR AT LEAST 4 HOURS BEFORE A RUN – nothing for your system to process = nothing to worry about.
6) RELAX (BUT NOT TOO MUCH…) – IT’LL LIKELY GO AWAY – runner’s trots can be random, but the more you run, the more your body adjusts. The problem generally gets better or disappears.
Have you experienced the joys of runner’s trots? If so, what are your tips for reducing symptoms?
Keep running, riding, and finding humor in the shittiest moments, Ladies!
*Note: Internet statistics – like wikipedia “facts”, you might not want to quote them in a research paper.
Ahhh, Ladies! That runny-nosed and rosy-cheeked chilled breeze? That encompassing waft of wooded fireplaces? Those unexpected gusts that wobble wheels and whirl leaves like the shaking of a snow globe? That’s Fall!!
Pedaling in this atmosphere is to experience, through all of our senses, the shifting of our world and rotation of seasons. It’s like the world is reminding us of our own potential to continually grow, shrivel, and reemerge as something more rooted and whole.
It’s also a time when echoes of squeaking chains remind me of needed two-wheeled maintenance and gear upgrades in preparation for hibernating temperatures and intensifying precipitation.
My favorite gear for fall is listed below! Feel free to share yours in the comments
1) A RIDICULOUSLY OVERSIZED SCARF
Those chilled breezes can lead to stiff-muscled, frigid riding, hence the need for layers and scarves. Keep your neck wrapped and warm to have a more relaxed, leaves-gazing ride. Great handmade options are available through Etsy, like this one made in Portland, OR. You could also knit your own (I have one my Mom knitted me a while back that I could probably smuggle several children in, and it’s WONDERFUL).
2) A LOVELY LONG COAT
I posted about this one a little while back, but in general, a slightly longer, water-resistant to water-proof, snuggly-warm coat provides a needed layer of elemental protection, and the added length helps keep upper legs dry when you forget your rain pants…
3) A GO-TO WOOL BASE LAYER
Wool is unbeatable for its warmth and drying capabilities. I have a zip-up hoodie from Ice Breaker (note: not certified humane. Make sure you do your research), but any thin zip-up is a great top layer for regulating your temperature and preventing the coat-sauna of winter.
4) 2 PAIRS GLOVES OR MITTENS – WOOL + WATERPROOF
I have both, and you should, too. If you’re enjoying a two-wheeled commute everyday, you’ll need more than one pair. The waterproof ones are… not so lovely, so having a go-to wool pair AND back-up water-and-cold-proof pair can keep you chic and frost bite free.
Tons of options, and Knog has some great, bright, USB-chargeable ones. There are also these, which seem pretty amazing and worth the investment.
6) WARM. ASS. SOCKS.
I hate socks. In fact, I almost never wear them. Until it’s cold. Really cold. So when I do give in to the demands of my frozen toes, I snuggle my feet in these, or these (which are vegan, USA made, and recycled cotton).
Stay warm, chic, and enjoy your ride, Ladies!
Allo, Ladies & Lady-lovers!
Check out my first article published over at Ravishly.com: an awesome website written by awesome Ladies! I’m so grateful to be able to contribute to the site, and look forward to sharing more of my awkwardness of living with everyone
So here it is – the embarrassment and joy I discovered while suffering through my first Ultra:
I couldn’t hold it anymore—I abandoned my modesty. The sheer discomfort of running with a sloshing bladder at its limits forced me to shelve my fear of an accidental poop-pee without toilet paper and with the added dicey-ness of wearing tiny, tiny shorts. I pulled to the side of the trail, dropped my now well-wedgied, miniscule shorts, and peed.
And kept peeing.
I cordially nodded to several passing runners whom I had now exposed myself to, and at that point, around 24 miles into my inaugural trail ultramarathon, the sweet relief of a finally empty bladder gave me much needed hope. “Maybe I can actually do this, maybe I’ll finish. That guy said it’s easier from here, so if I just shuffle on, I can do this!”
That guy by the way? He lied. He fucking lied to me.
Going Beyond The Marathon
When you tell your friends and family that you’re running a marathon, it’s like it’s suddenly your birthday. There’s an outpouring of excitement, support and encouragement coupled with the “wow, I’m winded at 5 miles!” not-so-gentle questioning of the do-ability of what you’re about to undertake. But overall, it’s a party. Finish or not, you’re attempting a MARATHON! And that drive and dedication is something to be applauded and celebrated.
But add a handful of miles to 26.2? Those miles are apparently crazy miles, since they push you past “admirable” and into “questionable judgment.” Even more so when you have residual injuries from being run over by a car.
You see, I was an athlete. I used to train for competition and times. I am now a past-tense athlete. I train for finishing and enjoying the journey.
When you’re grateful for something as simple as working legs, it upends your perspective, making you more aware of the multitude of simple, ubiquitous blessings you’re lucky enough to enjoy every single day. I no longer compete with others or opinions or finish lines—I compete with myself. And I’ve found nothing as awe-awakening as carrying yourself, under your own strength, through every single moment of something you felt you “couldn’t” do.
I have shown myself, at moderate paces I’ve now mostly accepted, that limitations and doubt are stupid. If you take care of yourself, listen to your body and take your time, you’ll surprise yourself with what you can complete and overcome.
So here I was, two emotion-releasing road marathons later, obsessively reading and re-reading the website for Trail Factor—a trail 50K in my hometown. One day on an impulse, I finally pulled the trigger: I paid the entry fee. Being a generally frugal person still digging out of the financial hole of medical bills and lost income, a non-refundable financial commitment was like signing in blood. There was no going back.
I started the training process I’d come to love and added in some wow-this-is-significantly-more-challenging trail jaunts. But as it does, life sometimes got in the way, and I’d only completed a long run of 20 miles prior to race day. That meant I’d have a full 11 miles of uncharted physical territory the day-of, plus a freshly acquired blister on the ball of my right foot.
On top of mileage and blister concerns, I learned that there was a four-hour cut-off at 19 miles—reach that distance by that time or they’d pull you from the course. With my pacing limitations, a time-based cut-off instilled in me a deep sense of doubt and inadequacy that was jittering through my whole body as I walked toward the white tents of the starting line.
I picked up my numbered bib, stocked up on gooey energy aids, taped my right foot, and waited, bouncing foot to foot with excitement and anxiety. There was no more thinking, no more preparing. This was it.
The Starting Line
The first lesson of ultramarathons—it’s not a marathon.
I’m used to seeing people of all ages, abilities and gear quality in the starting corrals. These people were far more homogenous—thin, fit, focused and decked out in the finest sweat-wicking fabrics and split-monitoring wrist computers. When I started up conversations, there was far less “this is my first time” and far more “this is my training run for an upcoming 50 miler.” At first this was intimidating, then it was freeing—there was no keeping up with this crowd, which meant there was no pressure. Somebody has to be last, and if I made the looming 19-mile cut off, I’d happily take that spot!
I started preparing myself. Snacks? Check. Water bottle belt filled with personalized, homemade energy drink? Check. IPod charged and stocked with inspirational tunes? Check. Foot blister taped and ready for a beating? Check.
My traditional mental techniques weren’t going to get me through the strains of 31 miles and 4,000-plus feet of elevation gain. I created a new mantra: “I’m just on my way to the start.” It was a phrase that resonated with me, encouraging a view of every moment and mile as a pressure-free, leisurely beginning. Stay present. Stay mindful.
The atmosphere of the trail would prove solitary and free of bearings. There would be no markers, no encouraging crowds, only a handful of aid stations with varied spacing, and something I hadn’t really thought about—no port-a-potties. Perhaps if I had considered it sooner, I would have had time to get in line to empty my already noticeably-filled bladder prior to the start . . .
As we neared our launch, the race organizers started shouting thanks to various people and groups. Nervous energy was buzzing all around me. Some people were smiling and bouncing excitedly, some staring blankly forward (likely arranging their mental game), others prepping their data recording, face down to their wrist monitors. We’d have to loop down a little further, the announcer said, to space out our starts because there were too many of us for the too-narrow entry point. This would add a tiny bit more distance. I tried not to think about it.
Then the countdown, then the launch, then the huddled bumbling and spreading out of the field, then . . . we were off and running. We were running an ultramarathon!
. . . and we were running really fast . . .
Hills, Broken Dreams, Bloody Footprints And Triumph
My assessment of the group turned out to be correct—most of these people were beasts. Our starting pace was blistering—literally. I felt my foot blister tugging precariously on the tape surrounding it. If the tape comes off, I thought, I’m screwed. I needed to slow down—to save my energy and my foot. I started looking ahead for a wider section of trail where I could slow down without impeding the herd.
I hopped and sidestepped roots and rocks, flowing speedily through the dense muteness of the woods. It was beautiful and it was incredibly fun. “I’m on my way to the start. I’m just on my way to the start.” I turned the corner of a switchback and a wider, mountainous stretch of trail presented itself. The realities of the enormous elevation gain I’d face throughout this morning began to sink in.
I pulled to the side and I climbed. And climbed. And climbed. How long is this first hill? How did I not notice this on the elevation maps of the course? Turns out it was around two miles—one of the longest hills of the day. It proved an appropriate intro to the suffering that was to come.
From the peak of that hill, the following miles blurred in hurried joy. My legs were fresh and my tape was holding. I smiled uncontrollably. I was going to do this! I was going to smoke that cut-off! I turned another corner to head into an incredibly steep descent near mile 10. I was going fast. I was going really fast. I was going too fast.
I landed forcefully with my right foot and . . .
The tape protecting my sizeable blister caught my shoe and tore my foot wide open. The pain was incredible.
I could feel the warmth of pooling blood when I started an in-motion assessment of the situation. This hurt. It was going to hurt with every foot strike. Could I run 20-plus more miles like this? Would it lead to permanent damage? After some testing and gait adjustment, I decided it was safe to try. My music became distraction from the pain, and I soldiered on. With my now significantly slower pace, the thought of missing the time cut-off began to creep back in.
My throbbing, bleeding foot was one thing, but my bladder refused to be ignored. I kept seeing blissfully relieved runners emerge from the trees, but alas, I was not as skilled at finding a spot to call my Honey Bucket. I didn’t want to potentially poop in front of everyone, so I clenched and kept on running.
Who knows how many hobbly, full-bladdered miles later, after building a smoldering hatred for whoever designed this hilly course, I came to the base of yet another hill. A race volunteer was there to make sure I made the turn and we smiled at each other.
What followed was the steepest, longest, dream-crusher of hills. I slowed to a walk and screamed with anger at the race organizers. What the hell is wrong with these people?! Did they enjoy torturing the participants? Why, why, WHY would you send us out here for a special loop just to add this hill?!
Continuing to walk at the top of the hill, now deep in the woods with no sense of how far I had to go, I was very much alone, and I began to ugly-cry. My foot hurt and trailed bloody marks wherever I ran, I had unpleasantly discovered that the mouthpieces of my water bottles were filled with mold, the race organizers were assholes, and I was tired and needed to pee. I was done in every way a person can be done.
The hill had broken me, but it had done so in the middle of nowhere. Thank the Universe this was where I lost hope—it made it impossible to quit. There was no exit for miles, so I had no choice but to continue on. I took a deep breath, watched another suffering runner pass me by, then picked up my feet and shuffled forward. At least if I’m running, I thought, I’ll be able to quit sooner.
But as I ran, I regained my resolve. I was OK. I was going to be OK. With all that had gone wrong, far more had gone right. This isn’t over until I say it is, and I believe in myself too much to just give up.
What felt like a long time later, I returned to the place where the volunteer stood. “Way to go!” he shouted, “You’re doing an awesome job!” His cheering lit a fire in my heart and washed away my residual doubt. I told him the hill had been rough, and he assured me it broke many people that day. “But don’t worry—it gets easier from here.”
I asked him what mile I was at, and he informed me I was past mile 18. I’M GOING TO MAKE THE CUT-OFF! I’m going to finish this!
I hobbled past mile 19 with time to spare and hobbled on past mile 20 and mile 24. I had the glorious relief of (publicly) emptying my bladder, I hit and overcame more walls than I can count, I found a wonderful running partner for the final handful of miles, and I sprinted downhill to the smiles, cheers and satisfaction of the finish line.
The “joy” of enduring became real with the relief of stopping, and my breaking created space for growth and connection beyond the limitations I’d created for myself. Feats like this aren’t remembered in their monstrous entirety; they, like life, are remembered in moments. Moments of happiness, moments of anticipation, moments of suffering and moments of hope. When I was finally finished, bleeding and bruised and smiling and now biblically-known to several participants, I found gratitude and happiness in all of the moments of my suffering, and I found myself.