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.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Defy gravity

Compared to most places on the planet, where I live is fast and stressful. It's not a big city by population, but it's part of a large urban area and the environment is man-made, high-speed, competitive. Maybe even disrespectful. In general, it's not normal to be glad to see another human being.

This is the theme in many settings: the freeway derby, the way people walking on a sidewalk see each other as obstacles, the way in the supermarket we hope you'll just move along. Even on a recreational trail, the humanoids can be rude and self-righteous.

There's a reason that in the Bay Area, you're never far from a cup of coffee, whether Starbucks, Peet's, or independent roaster. My dad used to joke that if you fall one cup of coffee behind the crowd, they'll run you over. The vibe is definitely not relaxed or laid back. And it takes its toll.

Maybe it's an introvert thing, but for balance I need regular dips into a quiet, natural, peaceful environment. It's the only way to to reset my blood pressure, cortisol, adrenaline back to sustainable levels. I can actually feel the muscles in my body relax. It's an electro-chemical reaction.

Sometimes, that environment is the road (on a bike). Continuous movement, flow, is a real place of its own. And exercise is a powerful way of managing stress. But exercise itself is not enough. Working out inside in a gym day in, day out, or riding in the shoulder of a busy highway, those wouldn't work.

Fortunately, there are other ways. The fringe of the urban boundary is 3 miles from home. On the other side lie some of the most beautiful cycling roads you'll find anywhere.

Of course when I can wrangle it, you'll find me even further afield...

Here, all the lead weights in my diver's vest just vaporize. There's a giddiness to defying gravity. Like that, I can breathe again, I'm OK. I'm on the surface.

So it's a little humbling, daunting, to face that I have a real need to periodically recharge. There's an extra requirement, a tax on awareness, time, and effort. In the rat race where faster is always better, it can be a weakness. A vulnerability.

On the other hand, I'm lucky to have access to these places. A worthy bike. The gate in the driveway, four days from my house. This is Northern California. A visitor once said that in 20 minutes in any direction from any freeway, you'll find yourself in the middle of beautiful nature. The land of plenty.

Writing this post has made me wonder: might there be people in the world who are not as lucky? Who do not have a way to renew themselves?

DIY Father's Day

Though hundreds of miles separate us, the whole day is saturated with memories and appreciation of my dad.

Email is impersonal, easy, superficial. Also fast and convenient. Being together, sitting together at the table, that would be ideal. A card would be good. Email is better than nothing.

So I write the most ordinary-looking email about an experience that pushed to the front of the line, a vivid, simple, happy memory. First grade, parent show-and-tell. He brought a flute he'd made from a stick of bamboo. What I really cared about that day is he showed up in front of my class. I can still feel his hand, warm and muscular, accommodating. All I could bring myself to say was 'this is my dad'.

For no apparent reason one day he'd gone in search of a piece of bamboo (who carries bamboo in northern California? And why?). Someone had it. The taper was very long and awkward, green at one end. He sawed off a chunk of 12 inches or so with a firm short saw, probably the one from the mitre box. There were had to be a particular length.

The details of the process are quite fuzzy: how the finger holes got drilled, what tool was used. Design was important. spacing was important. Placement and diameter. 

I remember the end product well. It looked a little ordinary. Brown and green, irregular stripes. It looked very much like an unfinished stick of bamboo. But if you held it and blew just so, sound came out. A little rough but an original voice. No one else's dad did that.

I've come to recognize that voice as extraordinary. To appreciate other voices that are rough and surprising and true. What's even richer, at this point, is knowing I belong to someone, having a hand to hold onto. Even if some days it's all I can do to stand here, holding on. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

The longest day

The summer solstice is not for a couple of weeks. But today's ride is the longest I've ever done in a single go, self-supported, from Florence to (hopefully) Brookings OR. 160 miles. To get to Dad's in the allotted time means 1 day out of 3+ on the bike needs to be very long indeed.

This photo, taken at the end of a long and blustery descent, the Waterford quivering and gathering speed in a strong cross wind, it signifies something. I'm gonna make it. This is finally the moment of confidence in reaching Brookings and my room at the Spindrift, already paid for. Looks like I won't even need lights!

Something like 18 miles is all that's left. My body is not even that tired. Somehow it feels normal and natural to turn the pedals and keep turning them all day long.

In ~8 miles there will be another little descent to a bridge. I'll be gazing west at the infinite Pacific Ocean, and won't see that thing in the shoulder and will roll over it, without caring. Nearing the goal. Blissful from so much exertion. A few seconds later on the bridge there will be a popping sound, and the hiss of all the air leaving what turns out to be the rear tire, all at once.

While I repair the flat, the gorgeous rosy and blue light of dusk fades to dark grey. The pump that normally works fine today balks at pushing more than ~50 psi into the tube. At least 80 is needed. The Waterford does roll, but downhill it wobbles madly and uphill it's as heavy as a bale of hay.

I keep my weight over the saddle, off the back wheel, so there won't be a pinch flat, another flat to deal with. The good people who own the Spindrift would then retire for the night, wondering what happened to that crazy woman, their last customer of the day, oh well. And all my hope and optimism and patience would drain away, as it does when scared and alone on a dark highway with a barely functioning machine.

A foil emergency blanket from the ACE Hardware store in Bandon now seems like a very good thing to have.

Within an hour, from confidence to utter despair to hobbling the last 10 miles into Brookings. It's the failure curve that adventurers have to learn to deal with. I arrive bleary-eyed and sore, smudging the motel slip with greasy fingers. A hot shower with soap and shampoo makes everything right again. A hot towel from the microwave starts to loosen up my lower back. A bag of Fritos for morale (not to mention electrolytes).

I think it's better to learn how to manage a sudden change of fortune, far better than what most humans do. Most of us seek comfort, avoid situations that might bring risk, contort ourselves and everything else around that. At the end of the day, what's the cost?

There's something about knowing I'm just a few moments away from losing all the air in my rear tire. It keeps my expectations in check, keeps me uncomfortable and thinking clearly, in the moment, forthright and honest.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


It started with a jump from a platform (or something) to an open box that was on top of a Very Tall Bookcase, at least 20 feet high.

I went feet first, aiming for a big yellow lab curled up in the box. And that worked out OK. I landed in the right place, with room to spare. The dog lifted its head to greet me.

Then the box started to tip. From my perspective looking down at the dog in the box on the bookcase, it wasn't possible to see whether the box was centered on top, or offset slightly. Which would definitely make it unstable.

The box, dog and I all went overboard, in slow motion. It was a long way down and there was no hope of rescue or escape. This is bad, I thought. This won't end well. The pull of gravity as you go down faster and faster is breathtaking. It's really not something you want to experience. You don't want to be conscious for that part.

So of course, I woke up, just in time to hear myself cry out in fear before hitting the ground.

Then something really interesting happened. Bella, sleeping at Danny's feet, immediately got up and walked over to me and settled herself down on my body. Calm. She knew just what to do.

I'm so lucky, sometimes it's hard to believe.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Yes to rain

I'm not riding a bicycle today. I can fully enjoy the weather. Soft grey clouds and starting late in the morning, rain. Water from the sky.

Rain is so good. If you don't believe rain is good, then you've never experienced 5 years of drought.

It's good to just stand there on the porch and watch it come down. Listen to the drops smack against the lip of the watering can. Smell the smells coming from the grateful herbs and flowers and shrubs and trees.