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

Interactions with other humans... they can just drain me of hope. They can feed me, too...

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

Well, I guess I knew it would be useful.

I first met Lee on this trip a few years ago. Escaping the rain and cold. This time around we recognize each other and Lee asks some casual question, and then another as it spirals into a thread on family dynamics. Hitting close to home since the humans who were in the accident with me, Danny's brother and his wife, happen to be here in the parking lot. Well out of the frame. Avoiding contact.

And it's weird. So the conversation goes quickly to the accident, and the narrative of blame, et cetera. Funny how people often know the right questions to ask. All of this heading to the core of who we are.

Lee's offers up 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. Sister A's mistake 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 behind.

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 that is never spelled out. If you have sisters, you might recognize this situation as illogical and hurtful and unjust. It's unclean. Which is exactly the point.

Shunned and yet whole, Lee has some advice to share. On my parallel tale and how it all went down, the bizarre injustice and years of blame... she tilts her head a little and says 'hey, don't let that shit bird fly'. I can still hear her saying it. Feel the eye contact and the shrug and the humor too.

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 stand for bird shit raining down on your life.

Keep your spirit intact. Be whole.

It's been 5 years since that sunny December morning in the parking lot. The family dynamics continue and if anything, have gotten worse. But the conversation and the memory and the photo are still massively helpful. The shit bird can fly only if I let it.

For the nth time...don't EVER let it, no matter what.

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.