fitness

Thinking About the T-Word While Riding a Mountain Bike

The voice in my head, who I’ve named IO (pronounced ee-yo), doesn’t like the T-word. She says, “Don’t use that word to describe certain events in your life (such as being sexually assaulted by a tennis instructor). You’re going to get all fragile and breakable. All boohoo about shit. You’re a strong woman. I don’t want you to be defined by trauma. Also, nothing that’s happened to you begins to compare to what other people have experienced. What’s happened to you are only flesh wounds. Comparatively. Worse—they’re psychic wounds, which are literally not flesh wounds. Calling them wounds begins with the same letter of the alphabet as wallow.”

IO’s rough assessment is what led to a recent text-versation with a friend, in which she told me that she felt disconnected from me, “in the realm of trauma, because you have let me know that you don’t believe you are traumatized and find the word pathologizing.” She went on to say that she didn’t feel safe or free of my judgment in this context. Her words stung. I felt like a heartless ogre. The next morning, I woke tired, feeling fragile, questioning my relation to trauma—other people’s and my own, which is how I found myself thinking about my tennis instructor while riding my mountain bike.

I was riding up a trail I call True Grit 4. The trail has some steep bits and three short sections on which it’s always questionable whether I’ll make it or not (here making it equals staying on the bike). Questionable section one (QS1) went off without a hitch—smooth and still surprising each time I make it through the steep, sandy S-turn. QS2 was wonky. On a sharp left uphill littered with rocks, I rode up the wrong line, riding over rocks, instead of finessing between them, and almost abandoned hope. But I told myself I could still do it. And I did. A second surprise.

Mina on her mountain bike on a trail that’s not True Grit, but nearby

After two successes, I was feeling confident about QS3, so I let my mind wander to the tense text exchange from the night before with my friend. I started thinking about a pickle ball clinic I’d taken the week before. It was the first time I’d been on a tennis court since my long-ago lessons with that coercive instructor. Playing something similar to tennis. The first 15-minutes had brought back a rush of unease that swirled my stomach. IO was in top volume denial, telling me to get over it. As I pedaled, I thought about why I do not want to name that event as a trauma, even as my body was re-experiencing the self-disgust and shame.

And … I whiffed QS3. Normally, I’d just continue with my ride. But this day I was not going to accept the situation. I got off my bike. Hoisted it around on the narrow trail, walked it back 10 meters. Pointed it back up the trail. Gave myself a talking to. Gently. The voice of my centered, compassionate Self said, “You can ride this. Yes, you have every right to feel uneasy on a tennis court and we’ll talk about that. But this is not the moment to think about tennis.”  This voice’s name is JG (yes, I name a lot of the voices in my head, because it helps create the distance that I need to get perspective on what they are saying).

I had barely enough time to clip back into my pedals before I was navigating between the rocks on the short steep turn that is QS3. I reassured myself it was okay if I didn’t clip back in. Lots of people ride mountain bikes now with flat pedals, not clipless. I was so focused on relaxing and not worrying about my pedals that I rode up with ease. I wasn’t thinking about tennis.

Later, I checked back in with IO. She told me that since the word trauma was on my mind she had been hitching on my shoulder for the ride. But when I got off my bike to try QS3 again and JG showed up, she went up the trail to watch my second try. IO said, “You looked great, by the way, relaxed and determined.” I was so surprised by her change in tone, I almost didn’t hear her.

On the mountain bike, in that moment on QS3, my psyche and body felt the difference between pushing away the name of trauma and accepting what is with empathy. Psychic or physical, our pain is real, not only a flesh wounds. Oh, and by the way, flesh wounds can be fatal. Why would I discount trauma? Life hurts. Life is not only a flesh wound. It’s a near fatal blow some of the time. Yes, I’ve been lucky, in the grand scheme. I won the lottery in my birth situation. But … my life hasn’t been a cakewalk either. When I insist on thinking of it as a cakewalk, I beat myself up about not being enough. Look at all those people who have overcome bigger obstacles than me to become great fill-in-the-blanks (artists, leaders, entrepreneurs). Why haven’t I done more with my life?!?!

JG says, “Compare and despair. Just stop. You are enough. Keep going, just as you are.”

JG says, “Yes, the tennis incident was hurtful and horrible AND you can keep going, not in denial or minimization, nor in wallowsomeness or exaggeration, but in acceptance and empathy, with confidence, with a spring in your step, with lightness and the grace of heated steel. You are under construction, not broken, and the scars not only make you stronger, they make you more beautiful. Wabi Sabi.”

That my traumas are not as big T as other people’s, does not relegate them to an offsite storage unit. The name of trauma is not in and of itself pathological. My wounds are part of me. Undeniable. Impactful.  The key to flow in my life is finding the suppleness of empathic resilience. That’s what got me up QS3. And what got me home with joy and the zeal to write this. That’s what will open my heart to myself and other people. That’s what will get me up the mountain of life. Today and for the tomorrows.

cycling · meditation · mindfulness · motivation

Mountain Bike Meditation

I love mountain biking. In these COVID-times, with all the additional stresses, the sport is a meditative source of grounding, focus and joy.

This was not always so. It took me a lot of years to arrive at the relationship I have with the sport (and my bike). I dabbled in mountain biking for many years; i.e. a couple of decades. The first time I tried out mountain biking was more than 30 years ago. I bought a mountain bike to replace the city cruiser I had, figuring that it could do double duty—replace my dilapidated cruiser and be a source of off-road fun exercise too. I couldn’t quite achieve the off-road fun bit. I didn’t trust myself or my bike. I was so frustrated by my lack of skill, that I could never relax enough to develop the skills. I spent a lot of time walking my bike, while simultaneously cursing my ineptitude.

Then about eleven years ago, we bought this place I’m at in the California mountains that’s a stone’s throw from a huge network of fabulous trails. I ride out the driveway and I’m on single track trails within 2 minutes. I started riding once a week, as an off-day from trail running (another love). I still walked my bike a lot, but I improved. Very. Slowly. Then, when various running injuries forced me to reduce my mileage, I started to ramp up my time on the mountain bike. Well, hello, turns out when I ride more than once a week, I actually improve. Noticeably. And that’s a pleasant virtuous cycle—the more I improve, the more I enjoy the sport. I’ll come back to what I mean by improve in a moment. Then 5 years ago, as solace after my father died, I bought a new mountain bike. And holy cow, was I shocked to discover that all the new bike tech really did notch up my potential. For the first time I really felt like I was riding with a partner and friend—my bike, that is. I painted a flower on her crossbar with green nail polish, in thanks.

This year I’ve been riding a lot. Not because I can’t run, but because I want to ride. In a period of such pervasive anxiety (societal anxiety fuels personal anxiety and around the merry-go-round the anxiety goes), mountain biking demands my complete presence and attention. When my mind strays, I get knocked off my bike. When my mind focuses, I make it over, through and around obstacles I thought were impossible. Over and over again on my bike, I get an up close and personal look at how my mind either obstructs my progress or harmonizes fluidly with the world. In the best moments, I feel like I’m dancing on my bike. Pure woohoo joy (yes, I shout out loud, the happiness is too much to resist). In the less harmonious moments, I can usually see exactly how my own thoughts interfered.

There are, for example, certain obstacles I only “make” on some days—a steep sandy uphill, a hairpin over rock clusters, a pincer gap between two boulders. The days I don’t make them, it’s most often because I’ve started talking myself out of it before I get there. I’m thinking too much about whether I’ll achieve. The days I stay on the bike, I find the flow between going for it and not worrying about the outcome. So, when I mentioned above that I have improved my bike skill, that’s the skill I mean. Not whether I can ride over, around or through an obstacle, but whether I can find the right mindset.  In other words, my mountain bike rides feel like an object lesson in learning to find that harmony between effort and no effort that allows us to feel in flow with the world. I liken this harmony or flow to what Taoism calls wu wei, or effortless action.  

Being in flow on my mountain bike certainly doesn’t mean that everything is possible. There are still obstacles that are objectively not within my skill set. Yet. Or maybe ever. Staying open to the flow and noticing its ebbs, enables me to see more readily where I can do more and where I should stay humble, get off my bike and leave that steep rock drop off for another day.

One more reason why mountain biking works as a meditation—because, even as my skill evolves, every previous challenge has stayed fresh in my mind. Even if the last time an obstacle stumped me was a decade ago, I am grateful each time I meet it with ease. There’s no complacence in my developing skill. Going around rocks, whooshing through gulleys or popping over fat tree roots, I remember that they used to stop me in my tracks and I take an extra breath of thanks. Gratitude fortifies my ongoing curiosity and seasons each new skill I acquire with humility. Inside this sport, I am present with the delicate balance between acquiring and acknowledging my own expertise, while simultaneously staying curious (without judgment) to what’s new or changed.  

The more I can learn to notice these subtleties in my rides, the more I can see how the same patterns play out in my life off-the-bike. How can I foster the harmonious coexistence of expertise and curiosity? Where can I find more flow? When am I giving up too soon? What can I let go of?

In meditation practice, being in the flow is what teachers describe as finding the calm below the turbulence of the waves in an ocean, or letting the silt settle to reveal the clear water in a glass. These are the metaphors for a clear, uncluttered, unobstructed mind. More than any other activity in my life (including my longstanding meditation practice), when I’m on my mountain bike, I get robust glimpses of the power of my clear mind. Again, meditation teachers tell us that the more familiar we are with that space and its possibilities, the more readily we can access our clear mind again.

I have found that to be true, on my mountain bike (and in life). The difficult part is that it takes constant curiosity. I was going to say hard work or vigilance, but those are such effortful terms. Just like peace is not achieved through violence, finding the flow of effortless action is not achieved by forced labour. What’s needed is expansive, open-hearted curiosity. Over and over. Staying alive to possibility is challenging. I want to do better. My mountain bike meditations help, but I’ve got a long road ahead. But then again, if the journey is the destination, to bowdlerize Ralph Waldo Emerson, well then, I’m doing okay.

How about you? Where do you find flow most easily in your life?    

fitness

Turquoise and berry and lime, oh my! (Guest Post)

A friend of mine and I like to joke that if you’re buying women’s athletic gear (that is, workout or sporting gear targeted toward women), your only colour options are turquoise and berry, a certain shade of sort-of-pink-and-sort-of-purple. On a good day, you might be able to find something in lime, too, but that’s it! Those are your options! Whenever we see any gear in these colours, we send photos of it to each other.

A screenshot of a Facebook message. One participant says, "I actually don't understand why EVERY brand seems to think women should only have these colours as options" with a crying-laughing emoji. The other participant says "Right???"
A screenshot of a Facebook message. One participant says, “I actually don’t understand why EVERY brand seems to think women should only have these colours as options” with a crying-laughing emoji. The other participant says “Right???”

Here are some ski helmets she showed me:

A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski helmets are displayed in profile side-by-side. One is berry coloured with grey straps, and the other is turquoise with grey straps.
A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski helmets are displayed in profile side-by-side. One is berry coloured with grey straps, and the other is turquoise with grey straps.

And some socks I got for free with a recent hiking boot purchase:

A pair of hiking socks still in the package. The socks have thick black, purple, dark pink, and turquoise stripes. The brand name "Bridgedale" is partially visible on the cuff of the socks. The tag is grey and reads "Bridgedale Special Edition Striped Hiker."
A pair of hiking socks still in the package. The socks have thick black, purple, dark pink, and turquoise stripes. The brand name “Bridgedale” is partially visible on the cuff of the socks. The tag is grey and reads “Bridgedale Special Edition Striped Hiker.”

And look at the huge range of options on these Vasque hiking boots. I would go for the turquoise, but there’s always berry if turquoise isn’t your thing. (Admittedly, the berry option here is more purple, but the colour is actually called “Blackberry,” so I think it technically counts.)

Two hiking boots displayed in profile. One is black, grey, and turquoise and the other is black, grey, and purple. The turquoise boot has three semicircular turquoise accents along the side of the sole. The brand name "Vasque" is visible next to the laces on each boot.
Two hiking boots displayed in profile. One is black, grey, and turquoise and the other is black, grey, and purple. The turquoise boot has three semicircular turquoise accents along the side of the sole. The brand name “Vasque” is visible next to the laces on each boot.

And some maximally lady-suitable Dachstein hiking boots, if you don’t want to decide between turquoise and berry:

A single hiking boot with black and berry-coloured uppers with black and turquoise laces. The sole of the boot is black with a turquoise stripe. The brand name "Dachstein" is displayed next to the laces.
A single hiking boot displayed in profile. It has black and berry-coloured uppers with black and turquoise laces. The sole of the boot is black with a turquoise stripe. The brand name “Dachstein” is displayed next to the laces.

And some ski jackets, available in both lady colours! (“Silver/teal” is highlighted in this photo, but the other option is called “Berry/coral”.)

A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski jackets are displayed. One is light pink on the top half and one sleeve and dark pink on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The other jacket is turquoise on the top half and one sleeve and light grey on  the bottom and on the other sleeve. The turquoise and grey jacket is selected and above the images is text reading "Colour: Silver/Teal." A mouse pointer is displayed below the jackets.
A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski jackets are displayed. One is light pink on the top half and one sleeve and dark pink on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The other jacket is turquoise on the top half and one sleeve and light grey on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The turquoise and grey jacket is selected and above the images is text reading “Colour: Silver/Teal.” A mouse pointer is displayed below the jackets.

As with most gendered things, the problem isn’t the options themselves. It’s the restrictions. With women’s athletic gear, the problem isn’t the colours themselves. If you like turquoise (which I do), great. If you like berry (which I do), great. If you like lime (which I do), great. The problem is in the limited range of options, as though all women (and only women, as it’s hard to find men’s gear in these colours) will only like these colours. Where is the burnt orange? Olive green? Smoky grey? Dark red? Of course, sizing and fit and assumptions about women’s bodies when it comes to clothing are another issue altogether!

Here I am in my most turquoise/berry workout outfit, complete with berry backpack and turquoise shoes, with socks that are berry and turquoise and lime. (I’ve also got a turquoise iPod for working out. But I did that to myself.)

A 29-year-old white woman taking a selfie in a mirror. She is wearing a pink tank top, blue knee-length leggings, a black knee brace, and turquoise, berry, and lime socks. She is holding a berry-coloured backpack and a pair of grey and turquoise runners.
A 29-year-old white woman taking a selfie in a mirror. She is wearing a pink tank top, blue knee-length leggings, a black knee brace, and turquoise, berry, and lime socks. She is holding a berry-coloured backpack and a pair of grey and turquoise runners.

And another of me on my turquoise mountain bike with berry shorts, with a grey helmet with turquoise and berry stripes, and a grey shirt with turquoise accents.

The same subject as above riding a turquoise mountain bike. The rider is wearing a black knee brace, berry-coloured shorts, and a grey shirt and helmet. She is rounding a bend on a gravel and dirt trail, and is surrounded by ferns.
The same subject as above riding a turquoise mountain bike. The rider is wearing a black knee brace, berry-coloured shorts, and a grey shirt and helmet. She is rounding a bend on a gravel and dirt trail, and is surrounded by ferns.

How about you, readers? What do you make of the colour options available for women’s gear?

 

cycling · Guest Post

Confessions of a GPS Head Case (Guest Post)

mary
Ledge surfer trail with cholla in foreground, saguaros on the hills

GPS weighs me down, physically and mentally. I pick my way up the technical rocky climb with more rocks on my right and prickly pear cactus on my left. I’m on my mountain bike, riding a route with about 50 others, to raise money for the Arizona Trail. AZT is the cross-state trail from Mexico to Utah.

It’s called a Jamboree, but right now, it’s no party. The 50 riders are spread over time and space. My riding buddy Lee and I started late and we’re following the designated route, but might bail out early.

I’m way too much in my head, and not enough in my body. GPS is on my mind. Later, when I plug the unit into the tracking website I will see how fast I went, distance, competitively compare myself to other women who have ridden designation segments along the route. I have an outdoorsy GPS unit, no sleek pocket-sized cell phone clone is tough enough for me. My unit is made for mountain biking or wilderness hiking or whatever adventure the burly rubberized shell transmits through the palm of its aspirational owner.

I’ve stashed the bulky unit into my backpack’s  exterior pocket.

So I wonder about how fast I’m going, where’s the top of this climb? And we reach two young women, one of whom holds records for the Arizona Trail and the Great Divide Ride—she’s been fastest across the state and across the continent. Oh, and she’s riding a single speed bike, no need for all those extra gears to make things easier. Intimidation sets in. They stopped to take pictures, we all chat. I watch them ride away, easily pedaling and picking their way through stone drop-offs and twists of this trail nicknamed “Ledge surfer.”

I take a couple pictures with my GPS unit, and continue riding and sometimes walking with Lee. It’s a big cocktail party of a ride, we meet up with people going both directions, chat, and I know I’m not going to be top ten of any segment.

Later in the ride, I reach for the unit again to take picture of a perfect Arizona winter landscape: saguaro cacti, red rock cliffs, deep blue sky.

My GPS is gone! It bounced out of my pack somewhere along the trail. So I’m mad because it’s expensive to replace, and I can’t track myself anymore. But that’s also a relief. Now it doesn’t matter how fast I ride because the ride will never be posted on the website.

Soon after, the Jamboree route designers catch up to us on the trail. They are also legends of bike-packing in Arizona and the Great Divide. Lee knows them well and we chat briefly as they bounce down another rocky trail that I am hike-a-biking.

But then, sweet relief: a flowing trail where we weave in and out of a cholla cactus forest, up and down small rubbly hills. I follow the orange backpack ahead of me and enjoy the ride, the late afternoon sun shining on distant mountain ranges across the valley.

I’m riding with my dream team of local mountain bikers, we’re all just biking. Just being.

We head back to the trail head, through a “snowbird” RV resort. It’s one hundred or so sardine-parked RVs from the Yukon, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the rest of the frozen north. We hit the asphalt road for the final couple miles to the trailhead.

I’ve forgotten about GPS, I don’t care how far I’ve ridden or how fast. I just spent six hours biking on awesome trails, outdoors in my beautiful desert, in the sunny January of the Tucson Mountains.

Here’s the Arizona Trail Jamboree 2016 map and gpx routes if you ever want to ride 25 or 35 miles east of Tucson.

Here’s link to a pdf of all the trails in Tucson Mountain Park

[PS: Another rider found my GPS unit on the trail, so I have it back, and my competitive spirit lives on.]

cycling · fitness

The big wide world of cycling

One of the things I love most about cycling is how many different kinds of riding there are. I identify first and foremost as a road cyclist but I’m not close minded about it.

I love most of them and suspect I would love the ones I haven’t tried yet. They’re on my list!

From fat tire bicycle tours in New Orleans to our local velodrome, the Forest City Velodrome, aka the Salad Bowl of Death, I love them all.

Okay, maybe not this. I don’t think I’d like this. Mostly because I’m sure it would involve my death. Death in a scenic location, but death, nonetheless.

Sometimes I even combine radically different styles of riding on the same weekend. Last year I did the MEC century on a Saturday, followed by the Tweed Ride on the Sunday.

I even blogged about my “big tent approach” to cycling here.

And it’s happening again.

May is the month of London’s Second Tweed Ride and the Springbank Road Race. I’ll be riding in one (in tweed!) and marshalling at the other (keeping geese off the 2.2 km race course).

1. Tweed Ride

Tweed Ride: The (Second Annual) London Tweed Ride is Saturday, May 9, 2015, and it’s time to register now!
It’s free!
It’s fun!
It’s for everyone!
And the first 100 to register on eventbrite (and ride) will be entered in a draw to win a bike! Sign up now and tell your friends!

http://www.eventbrite.com/e/london-tweed-ride-tickets-16242938065

On ride day, check in starts at 11:00am at Queens Park, site of the OEVCA Healthy Hearts for Spring Festival. We ride at noon, exploring London’s neighbourhoods and stopping for tea at Meredith Park in SoHo before returning to Queens Park by 2:00pm.

Contact us at info@londontweedride.ca
Web: www.londontweedride.ca

Twitter: @Ldntweed
Register to ride: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/london-tweed-ride-tickets-16242938065

2. Springbank Road Races

The London Centennial Wheelers are proud to present the 47th annual Springbank Road Races, to be held on Sunday, May 3, 2015 in London’s beautiful Springbank Park. This OCA sanctioned event will be held on the same closed 2.2 km course as in the past and offers over $4,000 in cash and prizes. The width of this fast and technical loop varies, combining a narrow paved path on the back of the course with a wide and flat finishing straight, and makes for exciting and spectator-friendly racing. This year the Springbank Road Races will again be part of the O-Cup, Ontario’s premier road cycling series.

Important: riders are asked *not* to pre-ride the course on the Saturday prior to race day. We have in the past had some rider/pedestrian near-misses, and would like avoid that this year. It’s bad publicity for the race, and puts a strain on our relationship with the City of London.

Tentative start times, distances, and fees are available on the Categories & Start Times page.

Online pre-registration will be available on the OCA’s webpage, and sign-in opens at 7:30am on the day of the race.

For more information, or to volunteer your time, please contact Chris Vlemmix (Race Director) via email at chrisv@speedpro.com or by phone at (519) 702-6022.

Finally, please note that the information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. In case of a discrepancy between this site and the official Technical Guide, the latter shall be taken as correct.

http://springbank.lcw.ca/Home.html

See you there!

________________________________________________________________________

Also, in my social media newsfeed, though not anywhere close to London, here’s video from the single speed national champs in New Zealand:

https://www.facebook.com/Tak.Mutu/videos/10155423958055328/?pnref=story