Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the things we miss already

Frisbees.  Chasing them until we can't breath.  Tongue hanging on the ground.
Stealing the ball from whomever actually retrieved it.
Rope bones.
Toy hoarding.
Running up and down the steps.
Playing with Allie.
Following me around.
Eating all the scraps of vegetable that flew (unintentionally or otherwise) off my cutting board.
Begging for dinner.
Head cocks at the word "treats", "ball", "toy", or "breakfast".
Crunching frozen poop in the backyard (yuck!).
Digging in the trash for vegetable pieces.
Chewing through pockets for Gu wrappers.
Nosing into bike bags to steal Cerasport packs, and then acting innocent (until the pink paws were noticed).
Curling up in the little dogs' bed at Mom's.
Scarfing up horse feed that dropped on the ground or sat in a bucket.

My dog is sick.  Technically, he's our dog, but he's always liked me better.  He's only 8, a border collie mix we got from a rescue agency some 7 years ago tomorrow.  Last Tuesday, the biopsy came back positive for locally metastatic adenocarcinoma in the lymph node with the primary tumor likely to be in the nasal cavity.  We are not pursuing radiation therapy.  So, in reality, my dog is dying.  I didn't ask the vet how long he expects him to live.  I didn't want to know.

His nickname this week is fisheyes.  The tumor is pushing out under his nose.  He can't see much.  But I am focusing on the positives.  The pieces of him we still get to enjoy for some amount of time longer.

Eating (anything soft, warm, and not wrapping up a pill)
Walking in a perfectly straight line on the sidewalk, veering to the grass only for business.
Tricks for treats.
Peeing on the onions.
Belly rubs and goodnight snuggles.
Wags.  Any time he hears our "dog talk" voices.
Strawberries.  Corn cobs.  Watermelon.

So cuddle your dogs tonight.  Hug them and throw them a frisbee.

Friday, May 13, 2011

living local

I love living where we do in the city - a block from a kitchsy shopping and restaurant row.  Small shops peddle a broad range of trinkets, gifts, clothing, bikes, shoes, chocolate, even sex toys and tattoos.  Sometimes these single proprietor businesses are closed unexpectedly and have very odd hours, but Saturday afternoons are always hopping.

Last weekend, two local shops lost my business - at least for a while if not longer.  One offered a groupon a while ago - I snapped it up - I always buy more than I intend when awesome pastries are on the line, so it was bound to be a good deal for the shop as well.  I tried to redeem it in December - they got back to me late, saying they were closed after the holiday.  No worries.  I ordered again in March.  Nope - 'we're too busy'.  Finally, I ordered nearly a week in advance for Mothers' Day weekend.  Went to pick it up - they were closed.  No phone response, no email, despite the note on the door that said all special orders would be filled.  Money back from Groupon - I won't recommend them anymore.  There's a point of unreliability that is not acceptable from any business, even a small, local one.

I was out and about, so I stopped in a few shops and picked up gifts to thank the family we stayed with in Utah this year.  I went first to a eco-oriented gift shop where I knew I'd find interesting bracelets for their daughter - and I did.  When I first moved (alone, without Shea while he tended to a house that was for sale), I was close friends with the owners.  We walked each other's dogs for a while until some wires got crossed and our friendship has since fallen by the wayside.  We still say hello when we're out, but I hadn't seen them in a while.  The owner introduced me to another woman in the shop, saying, "This is Becky - she's not eco, though."  The thing is, I'm not sure how eco it is to fly around the world, collecting crafts and products that are eco and support the communities you visit, but I don't point out this inconsistency.  I get what she's trying to do with her shop and think it shouldn't matter whether I'm occasionally eco by your standards or not.  Especially when I'm doing one thing I believe in - shopping locally.  I handed over my credit card for the bracelets and walked out.

The moral of this story - if you're a small shop owner:
1. Be reliable.  Or at least responsive.
2. Don't insult the customer.

Lucky for me, I don't need many pastries on my way to race weight.  And there are plenty of other gift shops that are local, if not eco.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

loud breathers...

My pup is sick.  We're not sure yet how sick, but already sick enough to be more expensive than Shea's race wheels...

You know those people - the ones who breath loudly when they sit behind you on the bus, in a conference room, in the tram at Snowbird?  I'm one of those when I'm on a bike, but that's another story...

Photo credit: I've had this on my desktop for so long I've lost the source...
but it was taken at a cross race in 2010, I think.
Gideon is a loud breather now.  He snores while awake and he snores louder when he's asleep.  Either way... when he opens his mouth to actually breath, he stops snoring.  I think it's to the point now where this is actually what's waking me up at night.  Not the snoring - the cessation of snore-tastic loud breathing.

Pill delivery is a bit challenging - he can't stop breathing through his mouth long enough to chew his favorite pill pushing food - strawberries, so I've relegated him to chunks of banana.  Yes, he is a weird dog.  At Mom's, he sits by the strawberry patch, waiting for someone to come pick some.  We throw him all the slightly off color berries.  He scarfs them all.  Gideon will also eat an entire banana - or just the peel, whatever you give him... so I guess banana is probably not a downgrade.

Monday, May 9, 2011

delayed reaction

So, for those of you who don't know, I was unsuccessful (the politically correct wording equivalent to failed) at a pretty tough ski instructor exam this year.  It's the last one really - the one that means you get to be a full examiner some day.  I didn't expect to make the team on the first try - I also didn't expect to be as low in the scores as I was.

Disappointed.  Frustrated.  I walked away pissed off (at myself) and thoroughly motivated to bring a better package to the table next time.  The following week, I showed up for some coaching with one of my favorite ski teachers, and he was surprised to see me - I guess most people bug out for the rest of the season when they miss the cut.  The feedback I'd received didn't match the picture he was seeing.  Until it did.  But we talked a lot about performance anxiety and training for performance.

I led some clinics.  I goofed off with friends on the snow.  I went to Utah with Shea for some powder skiing on the big mountains.  The snow melted.  Cycling season started for real.

Somewhere in there, a dear friend also succeeded at maintaining their current certification standard (another way of saying unsuccessful). They were bitter.  Thought the process was unfair and stupid.  I balked that the certification process is stupid but agreed that the group dynamic was weird and a few examiners had been less than perfect.  The question of why go to a certification exam lingered.  This friend, in part, felt the peer pressure to go, facilitated by a ski school in which 80% or more of our returning staff values PSIA certification as a personal and professional goal.

It got me to thinking what my motivation is to be on the examiner squad.  I love the movements of skiing.  I love sharing them with others, and in the East, some of our most motivated and knowledgeable students are our fellow instructors.  I value what I've learned from ski teaching about communication, learning styles, and interacting with students and think it's important information to convey. I love the camaraderie of my development team peers and fellow PSIA staff members when we're out on the road, having "date night" after being cooped up indoors all day due to a tornado warning.  Or just having a beer.

But... I rearrange a lot of other my other important priorities in the winter to get time to be a part of PSIA.  I get less done in lab.  A lot less sometimes.  I don't ride nearly as much.  I eke through weeks without groceries.  I skip days at my home mountain**.  I forgo trips that I might otherwise take.  I skip date nights, girls nights out, seeing my mom except in passing to pick up or drop off our furry monsters.  I don't get to spend as much time as I'd like integrating what I learn out on the hill - either for teaching or personal skiing.  I tiptoe around the politics of a group of people who pride themselves on being the best ski teachers out there.

**My home mountain recently won the "Conversion Cup" for the best beginner's program in the nation from the National Ski Areas Association.  How cool is that?  I'm thankful for many of my mentors there who developed the program and proud of all of us who are out there, taking groups of 6 on a busy Saturday and teaching them how to turn to a stop.  Simple.

The problem, or perhaps it is a good thing, is that this delayed reaction is happening at a time when there's only rain - snow season won't come back for 7 months.  Maybe the sting of disappointment will drive me again, as it did right after the exam.  Maybe.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

my story of falling in love

Okay, I've had parts of this post written for about 9 months.  Figured it was time to get it up or throw it out. So if it's too sentimental in a week where I already posted a long race report from a longer emotionally satisfying race, then just don't read it.

I am not a natural cyclist. I lived on a farm as a kid - we didn't just ride our bikes to the neighbors or go the BMX parks.  We rode horses and threw haybales.

I hated cycling the first time around.  I actually sold my first mountain bike not long after I bought it as an (expensive) high school graduation gift.  Some guys had taken me well over my head (yellow trail at Gambrill for those who know it, among others), and, suffice it to say, it hadn't been fun.  I pretty much swore I'd never ride again and became a rock climber instead.  I loved that for a while, got all the gear, learned a ton and pushed myself, but it didn't stick.

And then I met Shea.  Shea was also a climber.  But he had only a harness and shoes.  And two bikes.  And a motorcycle.  And some useful furniture.  We moved from Colorado to Utah.  What he didn't have yet was a job.  But he's a pretty resourceful guy... he used his spare time to trade website work for a brand new bike for me. Turns out he had bike shop connections from his time as a teenager.  We picked out a Cannondale that could be upgraded to disc brakes and had a flower on the saddle (yes, seriously). 

I didn't really want a bike, but everyone in Utah rides and hey, this guy I really liked was giving it to me as a gift.  It might be the first gift he gave me.  And it's a pretty color.  I was excited one day early in grad school to get home to a new bike - he had it built up by the time I got home.  Even though I didn't like to ride.

I was skeptical.  A pretty color will not make me love it.  I bought a matching jersey (both color and flower pattern).* We went to the hill near our apartment.  It's probably a 4% grade on a quiet city street in Salt Lake.  I was terrified to ride down it.  Shea was patient.  I still didn't love it. 

*Aside: this foreshadowed what would turn out to be a lot of matching in my cycling life.  Just look at the bottle cages on my mountain bike or anything on my cross race bike.

The first time on a trail, I picked an easy one, according to the guidebook.  Wide doubletrack at the top of a canyon.  But, like many trails in Utah, it goes up.  Then you turn around and ride down.  Our first few trips to Dog Lake only went about a mile up the trail.  A month or so later, I made it the 4 or so miles up to Dog Lake.  It's not a pretty lake.

Still, I'd be hard pressed to say I loved cycling.  I was giving it a go, that's for sure, and easy trails were helping.  But it was really hard.  Like there's not enough air, i can't breathe, how much longer do we need to go up this hill hard.  I was starting to like the downhill part.

I'm not sure when I truly fell in love with cycling.  It could have been about a year later when I thought it was a good idea to go ride some lift-serviced downhill at Deer Valley.  On my hard-tail with a head shock.  Without a pump.  We flatted 3 times and got scolded by the locals.  I ditched the bike on the outside of every switchback on the black diamond trail.  I got my first nasty sunburn line from bike shorts.

It could have been two years or so after I got that bike, when a colleague of mine in graduate school was killed in a car-hits-cyclist accident.  The memorial ride for Josie was my first group ride.  I did it on the same hard-tail.  The power and love of people on bikes was pretty inspiring.

But really, I think I can distill it to one moment in the fall, probably of 2004, but I'm not sure.  One of my first dozen or so rides with clipless pedals.  American Fork Canyon.  The dry, mountain singletrack is stunning.  Views with just-starting-to-change-color aspen were worth every climb.  A snake squiggled across the trail.  We got a bit lost.  But what I really remember - trying to stop at a trail intersection where Shea was waiting.  A couple other guys we didn't know were watching.  I came up to the group, having just ridden a loose rocky downhill and was feeling proud.  I pulled up to the trail junction sign.  I fell over.  Yup, I forgot to unclip.  Felt like I'd finally joined the club.

It would be quite a while before I assimilated into the collection of those who ride their bikes with numbers on them, trying to go faster.  I love racing, too, but that's another story.

That Cannondale holds a special place in my heart (and our basement).  Eventually we converted it to disc brakes, and I raced on it for a while.  It now boasts only a single gear and has the unfortunate problem of "loaning" its parts when race bikes go askew.  People who've borrowed it know about the flaws of a very shiny carbon seatpost.

The matching jersey I gave away long ago to someone else who I hope finds the passion that makes them want to rearrange their days, nights, weekends, diet and basement.

Monday, May 2, 2011

tough enough

Two years ago... on a little old cannondale with a headshock that had seen better days... I tackled my first Michaux race.  In the rain. 40 couple degrees.  I was not a happy camper.  At all.  Shea won his division.  I took over 2 1/2 hours to ride 10 miles.  Sloppy mud.  Wet, rocky climbs.  I wanted to put my bike on the side of the trail, leave it there, and never ride it again.

Yesterday - I rode my ass off to get a chance to ride those same 10 miles - they would be the last 10 of the 40 mile race.  A field of 9 women started, and with the advertised cut-off of 2pm, I knew I'd be close.  We started at 9:15 - that gave me 4:45 to ride 31 miles.  Sounds easy, right?  Ha, then you've never raced at Michaux.

We started in the middle of last year's 20 - a fire road climb then a rideable rock garden climb and descent.  I was feeling really good on the bike.  Got behind a BBC rider who was a bit slower on the downhill, but it worked ok to keep me riding in control.  Through a preview of the mud to come.  Sloshy Michaux mud.  Last year, I learned that at Michaux, it's always better to ride in the running water than the peanut butter glop on the sides.  The water runs on rock or clay.  Wet feet.  Wool socks were smart.

Up up up a fireroad climb.  I passed a woman who mentioned I was cooking along - yeah, but I have a healthy respect for Michaux and putting the hammer down on the fire roads could make up for the hike-a-biking I was sure to do later.  I didn't see her again.  And hike-a-bike I did.  Somewhere, probably mile 8-10, but maybe it was mile 16ish, maybe both... a contour line trail that was a bit off-camber and strewn with large rocks, angled logs, mini rock gardens.  I'd hike thirty yards, get back on the bike, and be back off of it very shortly later.  There were a couple tough climbs, too, but I've come to expect that. 

I wound up chanting to myself to trust myself on the bike.  It worked, and I got a bit of flow back.  Then I dismounted for a totally rideable rock drop-off.  I commented that it was rideable, to which the guy nearby who was fixing a flat said, "Yeah, but I've seen 3 people crash there, including me".  I felt better. 

I'd been warned by teammates about two downhill sections - one of them I'm sure I knew what they were talking about.  There were pretty substantial boulders, and so many leaves that you couldn't really distinguish the rocks underneath.  I scrambled down it very carefully.

I waded through the deeper streams.  They washed off the mud on my legs, so I was clean mid-calf down.  For a while, anyway.

I knew I had to pull out of the 23 mile aid station by 1pm to make the cut.  As my GPS counted up to 23 miles and a bit beyond (they have a special way of measuring at Michaux), I still wasn't there and 1pm came and past.  Shortly thereafter, I was handing my camelback to an awesome volunteer to fill, scrabbling through my drop bag for a cookie, and back on the bike.  I had 7 miles (it would add up to 8 according to my math) and not enough time.  I decided to put the hammer down and go for it.  Either I'd get pulled having finished strong, or I'd make the cut.  Helped by some of the flowiest sections, I was on track, then we started climbing and I wasn't.  It started raining lightly.

But I made it - this is probably the first negative split I've ever managed in a race.  They were pulling the tape across when me and the PVC guy I'd climbed the fire road with came up to it.  They let us through to the last 10 miles as the last ones through.  He didn't finish - not sure what happened.  Then, predictably, I bonked and it took me nearly 2 hours to finish in a cold, persistent rain.

I have not many words for those last 7 miles.  I got cold.  Stopped to put on my shoved-in-the-pack-at-the-last-minute-jacket.  I rode some stuff okay.  I crashed.  I found the mental drag that always comes at some point in a long race - flashed back to 2 years ago and laughed at myself.  No quitting now.  I hiked.  Through the mud.  Uphill.  Special Michaux mud.  I worried about my brakes, which weren't working great, had a ton of grit in them, and were squealing loudly.  I smiled at the moto guys, who were pulling arrows and waiting for me.  I almost crashed on the wet roots coming into the finish.  But when I pulled into the tent, everyone stopped race cleanup for a minute and cheered.

Shea handed me a towel.  Someone handed me a bottle of homemade coffee liquor.  Love Michaux - one sip and I was buzzed within about 30 seconds.  A huge quantity of french fries appeared.  I shoveled my bike off to Shea then discovered he'd prewarmed the car for my muddy disrobing.

This year, one of my written goals was to finish a Michaux 40 miler.  I did.