Saturday, March 11, 2017

Check those bonafides

The feeling came on fast, aching loneliness. It began creeping last night at the hostel and then picked up at dawn, as I rode to the start of the Santa Cruz Randonneurs 200K. The first ride of the season. I watched the birds observe the rising of the sun, lifting together in an effortless, coordinated way above the water. My thoughts were lonely, abandoned thoughts. 

Where are all the people I used to ride with? Brave companions of the road. I counted on them to lift me up. What has become of them?

We spent hours together out there, taking care of each other, telling stories. Where's Donn, my brevet buddy? Miss him so much, it hurts. The newbies are pretenders, nothing like us.

Am I really the only one left? How can that be? I'm not ready to go on alone.  Why am I the one who's left, out here riding long rides? Maybe it's time to pack it in...

West Cliff Drive might be the most scenic approach to any brevet, anywhere, I roll up at the Santa Cruz Lighthouse, 6:40am, ready to sign in. I'm doing this one, alone, whatever. Leading and facilitating are Lois and Bill, the organizers, longtime randonneurs, longer than me. Many, many kilometers to their credit.

In the next few minutes Jim Bradbury rolls up, followed by Kim Freitas. Both have been randonneuring since before I started in 1998. They were great mentors on Paris-Brest-Paris 1999. I do remember before PBP 2003, that moment in a Breton creperie in St Quentin-en-Yvelines, Jim being so keyed up he pronged a fork high into the air during dinner. Both he and Kim have similar stories about me, I'm sure.

This is possibly the largest grouping of real, bonafide anciens et anciennes in recent memory. We're all here, with more than 20 PBPs among us. There's no need to feel alone.

Of course, Jim and Kim and I ride the whole 200K together. The whole sunny day. On the gorgeous California coast.

Yeah take that, loneliness. Move along!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Don't let that bird fly

You can have interactions that just drain you. With other humans. And you can have interactions that feed you, too...

This is Lee, from the Pacific Northwest (Seattle area).  We're about to start the Christmas Trip 2012. Took this photo in case it would be useful. I knew it would be useful, eventually.

We met on this trip a few years ago. Escaping the rain and cold. This time around we got to talking and Lee asked some question that turned into a thread on family dynamics. The humans who were in the car with me, Danny's brother and his wife are here, after all. In the sunny parking lot with the rest of us. And it's weird. It's about the accident, and the narrative of blame, et cetera.  I've found that often people know the right questions to ask.

Then Lee's telling me a counter-story, an incredible story that I'll never forget. She has two sisters, one of whom, Sister A, did something on a boat, made a tragic mistake that resulted in Sister B not having a leg any more. A rope got wrapped around it and the boat took off from the dock and left the leg.

That's not even the interesting part. After the accident Sister A, the one who ripped off the leg with the boat, doesn't talk to Lee any more. She tends to Sister B and takes her to physical therapy and Lee gets to be the bad one. Mind you, Lee was not there, was not responsible, was not even remotely involved. Yet Sister A in her guilt needs to shun someone, exclude her for some murky triangular reason. If you have sisters, you might recognize this situation as illogical and hurtful and unjust. Which is exactly the point.

In the here and now, shunned and yet whole, Lee has advice to share. On this related story and how it all went down, the bizarre injustice and the blame... she says 'hey, don't let that shit bird fly'. I can still hear her saying it. Philosophically speaking, girl - don't let it fly over you and drop anything you didn't order. Don't be a victim. Don't suffer other people's baggage and let it become your punishment, your injury, your burden.  Don't let the bird shit rain down on your life.

Keep your spirit intact. Be whole.

Nearly 5 years on, I was thinking of Lee on that sunny December morning in the parking lot in San Diego. For the nth time...don't be under that shit bird, no matter what. Because your life is worth something.

Monday, February 27, 2017


The other day there was a stuffed, heavily taped envelope in our mailbox. The address was familiar, a friend's house. What did I forget?

Inside was actually something new!

Normally I'm not into gifts and the sender is the same way. For us it's about laughing, telling stories and jokes, eating, and maybe doing something outdoors. The good feelings top up everyone's tank for the work week and whatever the next fight may bring.

Sometimes too much comes all at once. Lately it's been raining major stressors, serious life events that have needed dealing with, like death of a family member, job change, chronic injury/pain. None of it within my control.

It doesn't come naturally for me to reach out to another human and talk about suffering. For lots of reasons. Instead I go quiet, silently buckling down.

A friend noticed. She collected all the data points, little factoids, and put everything together and just came out and said I had a lot going on. It would be all right to feel overwhelmed. At that point, I might have exhaled for the first time in months. Someone saw what I was going through, someone was a witness. There's no stronger antidote to difficulty and pain and no better way to survive it.

So I'm thinking that this delicate silver thing, lovely and almost shocking in its optimism, is not even the real gift.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Two worlds

In January, over lunch at work, a new colleague shared that she'd read every inch of this blog.

Then after searching for me on Facebook, all that came up was a damning podcast from Trailer Talks. She recommended I take a good look at my social media profile. In a way that left no doubt, hey - you don't look that credible. You should do something about that food on your face.


That was when it began with this colleague. I guess you could call it political behavior. Hints about making audio recordings of meetings. Writing things down. Look you forgot to lock your monitor! Not quite meeting the bar, performance-wise. (Too bad, damaged by a brain injury.) She'd found the dirt on me, on the Internet, and dirt can be politically useful.

After all, I do work in a truth-free zone, a utopian bubble where no one can admit to anything. My colleagues can't be vulnerable with each other, or quirky, or flawed. We pretend to be strong all day long.

For a few weeks, I thought ill of this person. I let the conversation and the behavior that followed percolate for a while. Went on a few bike rides, in case there was something to salvage from the experience. Maybe she was a lost cause (or not). But maybe, just maybe, there was something to be learned here...

Despite my anger, this week I found something. The story of my recovery is not told that well. The hopeful part of the story. This blog tells (some of) the dark stuff, the outpouring of disbelief and disappointment that I needed to express. If you have a brain injury, even best case scenario you can expect everyone who is supposed to be helpful, family, doctors, employers, insurance companies, to slide out from under you or lash out. Guess we can add colleagues to the list....

That's just the way it is right now. We know so little about brain injury, and how to diagnose and heal it. In the face of uncertainty people are not altogether good. Some of these people act brain-damaged when they are not.

Yet the story as it's told here doesn't say enough about the light. How far I've come and how far everyone can go, with effort and self-reliance, not to mention a few tips from someone who's been there. I was scrambling and trying and working so hard at the time. I didn't know how to put that into words.

I'll work on it.

It might take a little while. After all I have a demanding full-time job with at least one colleague who believes what people believed 20 years ago: that brain injury is a permanent, intractable thing. A stigma.

In the meantime, a strategic tip for everyone. If you want your brain to work well and be healthy for the long haul, consider incorporating aerobic exercise into your daily routine.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


To be gluten free, and to travel (outside your house) you need props.

This GF bun from Trader Joe's has seen a whole lot of the local area. It was carried in my bike bag 170 miles before this photo was taken. (Only 2 rides, folks.) It's my ticket to being able to roll up and order a sandwich or burger pretty much anywhere, and not turn into a sad sack excuse for a living thing who can't turn the pedals.

Yeah, it's cool. And it's been places. On a ride of any length these days, you'll find one of these in my bike bag.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Out here on my own

Exactly one week ago we were heading back toward Portland from the Oregon Coast. It was a grey, rainy Sunday afternoon, like today. This song came on and it resonated so strongly that my sister, in the back seat behind Danny, was looking out the rain-streaked window, crying. Then I was too. Then I reached back to hold her hand.

And thought how lucky am I to have someone's hand to hold.


 (If there's someone nearby whose hand you can hold, do it now.)

By the line "we miss you, we love you, come on home" I was sobbing. It's been only seven weeks since we lost our mom.

The day she died was an achingly perfect sunny fall day, before the weather turned, another Sunday afternoon.  I'll always remember it because I was on the way to her on a bike.

I'll remember exactly how the sun felt, the warmth of the air on my skin, the massive peaceful sky, the beautiful valley where she lived all laid out like a painting. There is no way I could forget any part.

And from that day on, no one can say "we miss you, we love you, come on home".

There's something about a mother's love, about acceptance and understanding, about home that every single human being needs. I need someone to miss me. If anything in the world is sacred, it's this particular brand of love.

Utter, visceral, belonging.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Gluten slavery

Today was supposed to be a long bike ride to celebrate a big milestone at work. The weather is gorgeous and the days are long.

I wake up before dawn. Something wrong, not rested. Sweating. Running for the bathroom. Not a good start...

Breakfast yesterday was coffee and a corn tortilla filled with avocado and spicy green salsa. Dinner, chicken and corn and veggies. Delicious. Everything made here at home, gluten-free and safe. For lunch, a tasty bowl of shrimp and veggies and basil and mint over rice noodles. Soy sauce and lemon and fish sauce...

Honing in on the cupboard I yank out the bottle of fish sauce: Three Crabs decorate the label. The last ingredient: hydrolyzed vegetable protein. The Internet says this is actually hydrolyzed WHEAT protein. Argh!

They put the gluten in the fish sauce and then they lied about it on the label!

The morning is spent lying low in bed, shaking and dozing, riding the waves. I wish I had a different body. More than anything I want to be free of this. Bella stays nearby to help; she seems to know.

Those posts and bits of advice from GF gurus on the Internet. Go through the cupboards and the fridge, they say. Read the labels and throw out EVERYTHING that could have gluten hiding in it! At least your own kitchen will be safe and you won't accidentally poison yourself.

The pantry purge idea, at first I found it a little absurd, maybe even extreme. Throw out food? There's still someone who can eat gluten in the house. Maybe I'll even get better and be able to eat it again, someday. Check EVERY label? Fish sauce can have gluten?

Well I totally get it now. On board.

First things first, the problem at hand. Digestive enzymes for gluten, probiotics, and diatomaceous earth. Lots of water. Banana with peanut butter. Dessert from last night, that's sweet and smooth and full of calories. (Vegan GF chocolate mousse from good friends!) Restock the liver with glycogen,  have a nap, slowly recover.

Instead of riding somewhere on a gorgeous road, I'm indoors reading search results and shopping to keep this from happening again. A gluten-free brand of fish sauce, which is most of them. (Three Crabs got the lowest taste score, anyway.) One bottle, why not two? Buckwheat flour, 100% buckwheat soba noodles. Most buckwheat pastas have wheat but on the Internet you can find the ones that don't. Coconut aminos, because umami is necessary and important.

Fill up a box, $50 for free shipping. Gluten-free is expensive and inconvenient, and failure is lurking everywhere.

Even at home.