Someone who is cool

“Mom, can you get me a skateboard? I want to learn how.”

Hm.. I open facebook marketplace and search for skateboards.
$100.
$150.
I widen geographical areas.
$45
$15.

Fifteen? Sweet. I message the seller. I come home with this after my work day in the city.

Immediately, the kiddo wants to hop on it.
“HELMET! Kneepads! Wrist guards!” I yell.
I concussed myself once upon a time on a skateboard. I was at my friend’s Bryan’s house. We were in the back laneway. I was probably five. I stepped on the board and it went out from under me. I remember how much it hurt, how solid the asphalt felt under my back and head, how I went inside to lie down because I didn’t feel like playing outside anymore.

I am determined her experience will not be like mine.

I take her hand, and after a quick google search of “how to learn to skateboard”, I show her foot positions, and have her focus on how it feels to move standing on it, how it leans. Our street seems rough and bumpy.

Avril Lavigne’s Sk8ter Boi plays on repeat in my head.

“Let’s go to the skate park. It’ll be smoother there.”

We head over.
There are many, many Peter Pans there. In this town of Peter Pans, there are a disproportionate number who hang out at the skate park. The rest of them are at the dirt jumps and bike park. I might only know this because they comprise a portion of my social circle.

She surveys the scene.
I know how it feels to be a beginner in a world outside your comfort zone.
“No one is watching you, okay? Just focus on your own practice.” I tell her.
“And you can watch them, see what the ones who are really good are doing. Watch how they push, where they put their feet, how they lean.”

We find a flat-ish portion of smooth asphalt near the shallowest bowls. There are boys on dirt jumpers practicing 180s, footplants on the walls, little jumps over the concrete dividers. There are a few girls there, skating on the ramps. She watches an older man drop into the bowl, finding his flow, arcing up, down, around and again. It is fluid. Peaceful.

“That, kiddo, when you get better at this, is called flow. It will feel really good. But to get there, be prepared to fall, and be prepared for it to hurt. Falling on concrete hurts. But that’s why you’re wearing your pads. They’re different from bike pads, because you’re meant to slide. So don’t be afraid to slide, okay?”

I have these pads from when I tried roller derby. After finishing the beginner skills, the next level up required me to sign an insurance waiver and purchase a mouthguard. It was then that I decided I would abandon ship. My pads are big on her, but they’ll do.

We go from me holding her hands while she rolls along, to me holding one hand. I can see her confidence growing. Longer stretches of rolling. She steps off to push, and manages to get both feet back on for another long, rolling stretch. I am now standing off to the side, watching her do it all on her own. She even lets me take a little video of her.

“I’m hungry now.” We’ve been at it about three quarters of an hour. We go get a burrito.

“I really like the board mom. He’s a pretty cool giraffe.”

Yeah, he is.

“My friend said she had one with a giraffe licking a chocolate ice cream and it broke, so I’m glad it’s not the same board because this one has 3 flavours in his ice cream.”

Spumoni. Yes.

“I really want to get good at this. So I’ll be cool in high school.”

My right eyebrow raises.

She grins at me.

I harken back to high school. The skaters were the potheads in my high school. “Ne’er-do-wells” who always got suspended for smoking on school property. They weren’t really cool. Just tried to be.
One of them ended up in my medical school class. He was the dark horse. Wicked smart. But even in medical school, after we became friends and hung out together, he still talked like a stoner. I was always a bit jealous of him, how anxiety wasn’t a thing for him. I have a vague memory of a late night running up and down a hallway with him and a few others, drunk, yelling that we were in the hallowed halls of Banting and Best’s stomping grounds. Medical school was a blur of alcohol and stress and life epiphanies. But I digress.

“Kiddo. Do this because it’s fun. Because it’s something you can do almost anywhere. Because it’s a challenge. Because it makes you feel good. Don’t do this to be cool. Because like anything, it’s going to be hard for a while, before it gets easier, and it won’t be worth it if you’re only doing it to be cool.”

But she is going to be cool. I can already tell. She’s already cooler than I ever was. Maybe she’ll be even cooler because she’ll be able to skateboard.

I’m suddenly panicky over the boyfriends she’ll have one day. I saw two cases today of abused women. On our way home, I give her a lecture on how to pick good ones:
Watch how they treat their moms, their sisters. Watch how they treat servers at restaurants and people who have no money. Watch how they handle being disrespected, how they handle stress. Learn about their families. Watch how their families argue. WATCH, and pay attention. Just like when you’re learning to skateboard. Pick someone kind and generous and patient. Pick someone like daddy. This means you need to be kind and generous and patient too.

She looks at me earnestly. I am going off. Crazy mama bear. She will remember me like this, but I don’t care, as long as some of it, any of it, sticks before she starts her tweenage rebellion.

It was the suit that got me the gig
It was the tear that got me the girl
I’m a sheep in this wolf clothing
I’m a picture that I’m holding
Of someone who is cool.

The Odds

I’m BAAaack

Okay, so I’ve just worked a 15 hour day and then had a beer and it was my son’s 8th birthday and I had the decency as a mother to let him open his birthday presents before school while I made him a fried egg for breakfast (and with my lack of cooking skills, he is excited for this, because usually he just gets a grainy protein shake). But I’d like to say that after a week of feeling like I was under water, I have resurfaced.

Monday night rides might have had a thing or two to do with it.
I almost didn’t go.
But go I did. And we rode the trilogy again, a set of trails I’m sure I’ve mentioned before as my nemesis trails because they are tight and technical and require an exceptional amount of brain power and bicycle control. This time, I ticked off a number of features I’ve walked in years past, and rode one feature a few really strong riders struggled with, and a few others walked.

I might have even rather enjoyed myself on this ride. I need to reiterate this, because for years, these trails only caused me anxiety and stress, with a repetitive series of adrenaline spikes as the ride progressed. But last night, while the adrenaline trembles hit here and there, it was…actually pretty fun. And not stressful at all.

Why yes, I’m going to pat myself on the back and brag about it. It was kind of hard and required a bit of courage, and I felt like a champion after riding it. These photos aren’t mine, and stolen from the Trailforks page on this trail, but demonstrate the last feature that everyone stopped to look at and give a few goes.

From the top
https://www.trailforks.com/photo/20032560/
From the bottom
https://www.trailforks.com/photo/13671861/

There were a few unintended tree hugs from a few of my fellow riders, and some sketchy braking before narrowly avoiding tree impact. Also, it was a little damp, and none of the roots could be trusted. What the photos don’t show is the left turn arc over a mess of roots before making it between the two trees.

There were features on the trails beforehand, one of which I tumbled, in slow motion, off of, that required a few tries. Five tries on one of them. But I rode it dammit. It only took me three years.

All this drivel and crappy writing is to say that I’ve got my bike mojo back.

It’s the technical riding that always brings it back.

I can jump all I want, and jumping is its own little rush, but it’s the tech that really forces your hand.
How good are you, really?

Photo by Ronia Nash

Yeah.
I really like bikes again.
Do the hard things. 🙂

Another race, ruined by hormones

It’s 26 km. No biggie. Local single track, on home turf. Last year, it was about 5 km longer. It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t feel all that bad. Plus I’ve just done longer days on the bike and they were fine!

It’s drizzly, and I anticipate two of the descents will be greasy and challenging, but eh, it’s a good training ride for September’s 6-day epic, and a great way to spend a Saturday.

I pack my usual 1.5 L of water, a couple energy bars, a salt tab or two, and an orange and a banana. There will be an aid station before the final stage, so I don’t need much.

But man, coming off the high of the weekend before, home to June-uary rains, has been a downer. I rode Monday night, a quick lap with the Monday Night Ride crew, as we’ve finally started up again. It was another greasy trail, the same one a friend and I finished last season on in the snow.

Then I had a ladies night ride lesson Wednesday night, and…that’s about it. I did a few trainer rides, but the motivation to ride outdoors in the gloom and muck, and the inevitable protracted bike cleaning to follow, was just too much. My riding buddy for both those days wasn’t heavily invested in heading out, and so, I just sat at home and worked. Or wandered around the house aimlessly. Or spuddled.

So when it came to Saturday morning, race day, I was bland and unenthused. More rain. I meet up with friends at sign in and we have time for my third espresso of the morning.

It’s off to an underwhelming start. Timing chips have made mass starts wholly unnecessary these days.

It’s a steep climb right off the bat, and without a warmup, my legs are burning from the get-go. I am miserable, and can’t seem to shake this fatigued, burning feeling. The burning usually dissipates after the first five minutes for me, and for some reason, it won’t go. My breathing is ragged. I’m not even going all that fast. I feel exhausted. I get off my bike and hike, knowing I’ve still got a long day ahead. Is it my shirt? Is this just a bad luck jersey? I am slowly descending into madness.

The first two descents are as expected. I pass a man who has bailed into the bushes. I try to hang on while both wheels slide in random directions in the mud and slick roots. There is another little climb, and the same man I saw earlier passes me, only to bail into the bushes again on the next descent.

I slide and have a bum covered in mud, later wiping out in a chute where a little sniper root took my wheel sideways, and I am suddenly on my side, knee pad torn, hands muddy.

It’s okay though. But the fatigue won’t go. I eat. I drink. I pause to breathe. I hike 23 of the 27 switchbacks of the next climb. I can’t be bothered. They’re steep and tight.
It is here that my mind starts delving in to the dark.

I knew something was off this week when I had anxiety through the roof, and couldn’t get my irritability under control. Working instead of riding seemed to assuage that, but there would still be the 2 am wakeup panics. Over what? Nothing. Tired. So, so, tired.

As I am hiking, my limbs burn, unused to walking uphill whilst pushing a 30 lb bike. I could ride this, but I haven’t the mental fortitude. My friends are fast, and no doubt miles ahead by now. I know that I get negative when I am hungry, so I pause, eat some more, drink some more, and still, my brain is spiralling.
I hate this. None of this is fun. I don’t even want to ride my bike. Why did I sign up for this? I hate these trails. There’s a reason no one rides them. I am fat. I am weak. I am slow. I should sell my bike. I should sell this bike. I should stop riding. Maybe I just stop training. I wonder who I can give my September race entry to? I wonder how much I could sell my bike for? I could just stop once I get out of these woods. DNF. One DNF by the age of 41 isn’t so bad is it? I could post it as my first DNF on social media, you know, like all the other great firsts people have in life. It should be DNGAF. Or DNGAFF, because some Fs should be Flying.

This continues on a repeat loop. I get out to the aid station, and seriously consider calling my friends to tell them I’m just going to ride home and they can go straight to apres. But a woman hands me a small can of Coke and an orange slice, and tells me it’s only something like 4km left. And then you’re done.
Lies.

Faaaack. I should finish. I can’t DNF now.

I drink two mini-cans of Coke. It starts to rain a little more as I pedal up the service road.

The woman who organized the whole jumps clinic last weekend is sitting as a volunteer to direct people on course. “YEAAAAHHH GIRL!” she yells, as I pedal slowly up toward her.
“This (huff) is (huff) WAY less fun (huff) than last weekend! (huff)”, I pant.
“You got this!”
She snaps a shot of my bum as I pedal past and posts it to her social media.

The last stage is always the worst on this race. This is only the second year this race has run and last year, the final stage was interminable up/down, no flow, technical jank riding. When you’re already tired, and have to navigate a ton of rocks and undulations and weird little corners going up, it’s…too much.
This day, I walked almost the whole remaining stage. They shortened it from last year. At one point, I pass a few girls, one of whom was a coach at last weekend’s festivities. They shout a few words of encouragement at me as I walk past, and I tell them I’ve lost my will to live.
“Oh, but I’ve got some chocolate! Would you like some?”
“No thanks,” I reply, with a wan smile.
I just want to lie down on that little patch of moss and wait for a bear to take me. Then my remains can decompose gently into this earth.
I keep walking. I don’t remember much of this part. I just remember thinking I’d cross the finish line, hand over my timing chip, and ride home. And never touch my bike again.

But then, the terrain levels out, and as I approach the branded awnings, I hear the whoops and hollers of people calling my name. I can’t find it in me to smile. I can’t even find it in me to give a few hard pedals to cross the finish. I cross, and a man takes the chip off my fork. My friends have waited here for me (one of them almost an entire hour), and I thought they’d have gone straight to apres. My heart warms a little. I’m not the last one back. There are still lots of blank spots on the makeshift velcro wall of timing chips yet to be returned.

There is a cooler of beer, a sh*tty lager I made the mistake of drinking once. I stare at the cooler. I don’t know which direction to go. I really want to cry.
One of my friends grabs me by the arm. She looks at my face briefly and looks away.
“Come on. Let’s go get some food.”

We pedal back to the apres spot, and the music is pumping. I change in the parking lot. Dry underwear makes a difference.

The sun peeks out every so often, and I sit on a wet patch of grass, eating mediocre potato salad and a pulled pork sandwich, sipping on another Coke because it’s either that or the sh*tty lager. They must be sponsors or something. I am numb, and after some chatter with friends, I decide I must go. I cannot find it in me to sit through awards and prizes and silliness. I am in a miserable mood. And riding my bike only made it worse.

This has never happened to me before.

It’s bewildering and distressing.

One friend has labelled it a loss of the “joie de velo”. I stare blankly at him.
“What,” he says, a self-satisfied grin on his face, “you don’t like it? Took me a while to come up with it and I thought it was pretty good!”
And it is, too, now that I think about it.

I spuddle around some more on Sunday, grouchy despite the sun, trying to put on a happy face to hang out with my kids, except I went to church and fell asleep on the hubs’ shoulder while we sat smack in middle of the speaker’s line of sight. No shame.
A girlfriend calls, and we talk about how her PMS is horrific, triggering debilitating migraines and misery. She wonders if that’s why I’m in a funk.
I have a new-fangled hormonal IUD that means there is only sparse and highly variable evidence of uterine shedding despite the usual cycling, which means that I just feel batshit crazy sometimes every so often without ever knowing why.

That’s got to be it.
Because this used to happen all the time. Middle of the night panic attacks, anxiety out of nowhere, no sleep, and such low lows I could curl up and die. Every month. And every month, I’d be surprised by it, bewildered.
And then, I’d figure it out.
Maybe I’m just not used to it anymore. Maybe it’s not been happening as often with such severity. I am annoyed that it takes me a week to figure it out each time, and every time, it’s like an epiphany, with sunlight breaking through the clouds and the angelic “ahhhhh” of a Philadelphia cream cheese commercial.

Anyway, it really freaking sucks.
But good news, I should be returning to normal soon. Well, until next month at least.

BUZZING

I did a thing this past weekend. And it was really amazing.

She called it Camploops, held in the town of Kamloops, BC, where the climate is desert-like, the mountains are more like dunes, covered in sand and clay. It’s where the father of freeride, Brett Tippie grew up and cut his teeth riding steep, surfy lines down these very dunes. Kamloops is home to the Kamloops Bike Ranch, a mini-bike park of sorts, but free, with insane jump trails and a vast choice of dirt jumps to practice your skills and maybe sh*t your pants a little launching off a drop you can’t see the landing on. In short, the best practice playground you could dream of.

Now, pull in some of the world’s best freerider female athletes, sponsored by Red Bull and Clif and Leatt and more, put them all in one place to give 1:6 ratio coaching, and start it all off with a lecture from pro-snowboarder about managing fear and decision-making strategy to hit features that scare you, and you have the makings of a weekend that is sure to be chock-a-block FULL of progression. Keep in mind that no amateur female riders have ever been in an environment like this, with like-minded women, talented, gutsy, and always seeking to push the envelope, in a male-dominated adrenaline sport. Every attempted launch off an airbag, off a drop, off a jump, or into a steep freeride line down the side of a cliff was met with cheers and hollering and jumping up and down from the friends you just met, covered in dirt and dust and sweat, faces hidden by downhill helmets and goggles, a stray braid or wisp of hair peeking out. The youngest of us was eight. She had never hit an airbag before, and by the second afternoon, she was pulling no-footers and no-handers off the jumps.

I’m pretty certain I was the oldest one there, but I was grouped with a few teenaged girls, a girl in her twenties, and a new mom, probably in her thirties. We practiced launching off sharkfins and timing our jumps and dropping off large wooden structures like we’d been riding together forever. Our coach, the famous Casey Brown (here’s an older article on her) is quiet and silly and unassuming.
“Hi, I’m Casey,” she introduces herself on the first day.
As if all of us had no idea who she was.
In reality, we were trying hard not to fangirl all over her.

On the second night, after a morning of coached jump practice and an afternoon throwing tricks on the airbag, we head to a local trampoline park and are coached on how to backflip, practicing with a trampoline coach who manages to get a good majority of us doing them, with little tips on how these skills can be applied to backflipping a bike.

We all wake the next day sore and aching, but the sky clears and after a few warmup jumps, everyone is ready to go again.
There is repetition of things that look scary.
There is a walk through of an 8 foot bermed corner that drops away, analysis of the best radius to ride that will set you up for the landing.
There is counting paces from the edge of blind drops to figure out how much speed will be required to make the landing, how much pop needs to be put in at launch. Then riding these features a few times until they stop feeling scary, and more like just another fun mound to jump off with your bike.
There is walking away from jumps while the winds are high.

Desert sage is everywhere, and hiking back up through the brush to re-ride a feature releases a relaxing waft of sage scent to settle the mind and soul.
On the airbag, trick attempts are evaluated with a coach’s critical eye, and as you head back up for another launch, she’s giving tips on what and when to tuck or extend or pull or twist. Each person’s trick inspires someone else to try something else, and soon, everyone’s upping their trick game and attempting crazier and crazier things.

There are professional sports photographers following our different groups around, and a friend and filmmaker tossing his drone to the sky for swooping shots of girls on bikes taking flight.

There is so much stoke, perpetuating more stoke, and so much positive energy egging each other on, whatever the skill level. Brett Tippie shows up, his teenage daughter in tow, and there are jokes and music and laughter and more fist-bumps than I’ve ever given or received in my whole life.

Social media starts blowing up, and everyone is re-posting everyone else’s posts as the weekend draws to a close. Clearly, no one is ready for it to end. It is with a wistfulness that we all hop into our dirty cars, dirty bikes in the back, and scatter in all directions home. The videographer catches a lift home with me, and it is four hours of reliving it all, getting goosebumps, and playing the best playlist ever, themed with songs about flying and getting higher.

Lemme tell ya, walking in to work on Monday morning was kind of a doozy.

This was a weekend for the books.

And I can’t wait ’til next year!

Another weekend, another race

It’s called the Spud Crusher.
A little more on its history here.
The town it’s held in is kind of known for its potatoes. I think. Hence the name.
It’s a women’s enduro race, aimed at getting more women into the sport, and more so in to racing, as the race I did last month is a little too intense and intimidating for a lot of women who are just getting used to the idea of competition and enduro racing formats.
That said, there were a ton of strong female riders out yesterday, all of whom would have held their own in the co-ed race. Only none of them went and raced it.

Yesterday’s vibes were decidedly different.
It was half the distance and half the elevation of the race last month, and all the trails were relatively easy/intermediate, so fatigue and risk mitigation were of lesser concern.
There were pink feather boas, tutus, fake flamingos on handlebars, and music pumping at the top of every stage. Tons of people were on course, cheering riders on, and I don’t know what it is about someone screaming “GO GO GO!” at the top of their lungs whilst clanging a cowbell at you in the middle of the woods, but it is extremely motivating for morale, and probably makes you go faster. What also helps is that every stage start had race timers dressed up in costume, with little bowls of candy and gleeful, ready smiles. All the race course marshalls were volunteers: happy, willing, excited volunteers.
At the end of the final stage, a woman in a flowered dress walked up to me and sprayed a spritz of Malibu rum into my mouth. Yes, from a spray bottle.

Brilliant.

Then we all rode back to the distillery for the afterparty and awards.
The afterparty was filled with kids and babies and partners, and lacked the bro-vibe of the enduro only one month prior. It was loud and chatty and collegial and full of hugs and comraderie. I had a solid mid-pack finish for my age category. Better than dead last! And I beat some of my younger riding companions. So I’ll take that.

It was then that I had a moment. A reminder moment of why I subject myself to the stresses of training and riding in races.

Because it’s a day out on the bikes with friends, old and new, a little friendly competition, without the stresses of life and parent-hood and work. It’s a whole day of just riding my bike, without even needing to even think about what trails I want to ride or how to get there. A day where I see how hard I can push myself, see how hard we can push each other, then celebrate our successes and failures together, all rooted in a shared love of an activity when we all come from such varied walks of life.

Then we all went home and I went to bed at 830 pm because I’m an old lady now.
Good day. Good day.

Guiltcercise

“What do you think the worst feeling in the world is?”
“Guilt.” he says, without hesitation.
I peer at him. What is he feeling guilty about?
“Then nausea.”
Hm. Yes. Nausea often accompanies guilt.
I agree with him, and suddenly the idea that feelings of heartbreak or sorrow don’t seem like they could take the title of “the worst”.
“But wait,” I say. “What about regret?”
“Fair. But you can choose to feel or not feel that usually. Guilt not so much.”

Guilt spreads like an oil spill in the ocean. It coats everything, suffocates everything. It is inescapable, its slimy film clings, doesn’t rinse away.

The worst version of the arguably worst feeling in the world though, I have since discovered, is when guilt comes unfounded. Feeling guilty about rest, feeling guilty about not doing enough, feeling guilty enjoying yourself.

I’ve had a whole four days where I’ve had no work looming overhead. It means I could read for pleasure. Watch a movie guilt-free. Just stare in awe at my children. Ride bikes in the bike park on a long weekend and not feel like I ought to be working instead of waiting in lift lines.

And ride I did. Bike park with friends. Bike park with my son. Bike park with my son and his friends. It is all fun. I ride the trails with a friend to practice for a race next weekend.

But the guilt, wholly unfounded, finds its way.
You should be training harder.
Eating better.
Riding more.
You need more practice.
You need to be faster.

My husband works weekends, so riding those days is difficult and carefully orchestrated. I spend hours on the trainer to get my pedaling in. But oh.. two to three hours on a trainer is horrible. Terrible. Awful. On bike park days, I wake up early to get on the trainer too, because riding downhill is not the same as training to go up. And if I don’t get up early, I will feel guilty for putting my training schedule ahead of time with my kids.
I play podcasts I hardly listen to. Music. I count my pedal strokes, giving myself number goals on hard intervals before I allow myself to look at the clock again. When it comes time for the hard efforts on tired legs, my cadence goes all over the place, my breathing ragged and sloppy, my mental will giving up on me, and the frustration of not being able to reign in my body with my mind pushes my head underwater into the oily pool of guilt time and time again.

I get out on the trails yesterday morning to feel my legs burn, to struggle with holding on to speed on descents. I am willing myself to get my elbows out, to take my fingers off the brakes, to push into corners instead of slowing down. And still, STILL, I cannot keep up with my riding companions. It is mental, all of it, I am sure.

I wake early again today to get on the trainer. It is a shorter ride, with a race coming up on Saturday.

“Maybe you’re overtraining?” says a bike friend.
I consider it, but I’m probably training less than I have in prior years. Fewer days doing double rides where I’m on the trainer and riding outside. No big strength training days.

And yet, I’ve been taking naps the past week or so. Not just little cat naps, though I’ve needed those too, but solid 1.5 hour naps. Not so long that I wake disoriented, but long enough to dream perhaps.
Long enough to feel guilty that I am sleeping in the middle of the day.

My soccer coach friend reminds me that identity must drive actions, which then drive feelings. Not the backwards way ’round. This is a way of thinking we’ve discussed over the years, applied to nearly everything in life, and is something he reminds me of every time my will begins to wane from a training perspective.
“No one wants their identity to be lazy blob.”
No. But my identity is not a pro elite athlete either. Not like he was/is.
I’m just a girl who likes to ride her bike. Maybe less so now that I’m so much slower than all my riding companions. Maybe less so now that the riding has come with guilt. Guilt about how much time I’m riding instead of spending time with friends or family or working. Guilt about not riding enough or training hard enough.

And now the ultimate question: how did I let it get to this?

And how do I fix it?

Unstuck and gently stitched together

A short while ago, I spilled a bit of my gin and tonic on my laptop.
The backspace key, enter key, and spacebar have been sticky.
I decide that Youtube will tell me how to remedy this, and brashly watch the video on popping the keys off. I proceed to pop the keys off with reckless abandon, and wash the sticky residue off with a strange sense of accomplishment.

Only…

The technique to put the keys back on is not as straight-forward as YouTube might suggest. You would think I’d know this by now, after many frantic texts to mechanically-minded bike friends to help fix things I have broken on my bicycle after attempting to follow YouTube tutorials…

After about an hour of squinting at a little plastic key and miniscule retainer clip notches, I figure it out, but not before I’ve broken a few of the notches on my spacebar. Now it doesn’t stick, but it doesn’t always produce a space when I want it to, though it does produce a space more often than it did before I unstuck it.

I’m not sure if I’ve won.

All this is a terrible segue into the fact that I’ve been a bit stuck, and am now unstuck, but still not really at optimum performance.

This post, for example, has been started and abandoned three times.
I have been uninspired.
I have not been riding as much, with weeks of continuous rainy, cold weather thwarting any enthusiasm.
I did go to an indoor dirt jump park the other day, but within minutes of arrival, whilst warming up on the baby jumps, I flubbed one, taking a pedal to the back of leg, a pedal pin slicing out a good flap of skin. I slap a bandage on as best I can and pull my pant leg down over it, but it’s really bloody and really sore, and while I continue to ride the jumps for another four hours, my confidence to try new tricks, to fall, etc, has been sapped. I feel off for the rest of the day. Upon arrival home, I unstick my sock from my bloody leg, and hop into a very painful shower.

EW. This is grosser than I thought.
I send a photo to a doctor friend, whose husband works in our local emergency room.
“That needs stitches,” she says decisively. “[ERFriend] is working tonight, and it’s pretty quiet so you shouldn’t have to wait.”
I love living in a small town.
I drive over to the ER, and within five minutes, my colleague is looking at my bloody leg and asking me when I last had a tetanus shot.
“It’s kinda gapey. I’d do stitches.”
Three tidy little stitches later, I’m driving home.

The last time I had stitches was at some middle-of-nowhere hospital after I cut my forehead open on a rock in the river after I got flipped during a kayak race. Foreheads bleed like stink, so when I surfaced, the blood and water from my helmet were pouring down my face. It was very gory-horror. A friend drove me to the nearest town (with the dubious distinction of having the world’s first meltdown of a nuclear reactor), and the doc there had a panic attack about doing my stitches. She tried to call in her backup doc but he wouldn’t come, so she did my stitches, trembling the whole bloody time, and I wanted to roll my eyes at her and tell her she should probably not be working in this field, but I kept my mouth shut while she closed the gash in my forehead. Then I went to the race afterparty, slept in a hotel room with six stinky (but really great) people, and paddled again the next day. That was a trip where I learned that hotel etiquette for bowel movements is to flush immediately to save your companions from the stench, then wipe, and flush again.

Bike park opens tomorrow.
I am hoping it will get me unstuck from my current lump-on-a-log status.

You’ll know if it works, because then I’ll be able to post something that hopefully isn’t a waste of your time.

In between

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

“Happy Mother’s day mama!” yell the excited voices of my children.
“Open mine first!” says the girl child. I unwrap layers of tissue to find a piece of pottery, decorated in flowers and a heart, painted red and pink and silver.
“What is it kiddo?”
“It’s a jewelry holder! But I know you don’t wear jewelry so I figured you could put a candle on it.”
“Cool.”
The boy child hands me his gift.
It is his rendition of the same, painted varying shades of green and yellow, with a big happy sun on the top, and a neon green circle.
“That’s where your jewelry is supposed to go. But we’re going to put candles in.”

He also pulls out a drawing….of me.
“Whoa, why is my face so red? I look like I’m sunburnt!”
“Um… I couldn’t find the right shade.”
“And why is my hair so short?”
“Um.. I don’t know how to draw Chinesey hair.”
“But…couldn’t you just have drawn my hair?”

This one. This last one stings a little bit, enough to make me forget that his drawing of me also has only one ear and no eyebrows or lips. He is seven. An artist he is not.

Does he see me as other?
He is well aware that he is half-Chinese, a fact of which he is proud. The shape of his eyes is distinctly almondine, and if it were not for his light colouring and little Anglosaxon nose, he carries features of my family. But he knows nothing of the culture. The history. The immigrant experience.

He won’t get the jokes that Asians have with other Asians, that other North American-born Asian kids have; the unspoken bond that is there simply from the shared experiences of growing up other, both good and bad. He’ll never really know.

Maybe that was my objective for him.

What if subconsciously, dare I think it?, I chose a white male to be the father of my children because I knew it would afford them the anonymity of homogeneity in this country? That a non-ethnic last name would afford North American job opportunities, would remove layers upon layers of ethnic assumptions. They’ll get to start at the same start line as everyone else. And if they’re trying to get a job internationally, they’ll be viewed as having some presumed understanding of more than one culture; still a win. How many of my Asian female peers have done the same? Why is it so rarely the other way ’round?
(But oh, that is a discussion for another day…the emasculation of the Asian male in media. It’s been well-discussed by numerous others already.)

When people look at my kids, they will be able to tell my daughter is mixed, but my son is a little harder to tell. Here, in our mountain town, Caucasian/Asian mixes are strangely common, and I am hopeful my kids will see no consequence.

How hard I’ve tried all my life to assimilate, to blend in, to avoid drawing attention.

There are things my husband will never fully comprehend, because I am not entirely sure he is even aware they exist. And things are changing now. Maybe this is all moot.

They call us “jook-sing”, a mildly derogatory term in Cantonese to refer to us first generation Chinese Canadians. In Korean, they are referred to as “1.5s”.

Jook is bamboo. If you know anything about bamboo, it is unique in its nodal segment growth, which means that each stalk is made up of segments separated by solid nodes.
Sing is centre.
The term refers to us being trapped in between nodes, between cultures. Neither one nor the other. There is no escape.

I call my dad. I tell him I really miss Chinese food. And that suddenly, I’m missing having a Chinese community. It’s been years since I last had at least one circle of friends that was Asian…probably not since 2006. I hadn’t noticed it for a long while, but lately, it’s been weighing on me.
“Ah, you never really fit in anyway. We raised you different.” he laughs. We lived on the prairies. Asians didn’t move to the prairies. It was all farmers and oil-rig guys.
“I don’t have any Chinese friends anymore either.”
I roll my eyes. All his friends are Chinese. They all immigrated to Canada around the same time he did, struggled to raise their kids to fit in but not forget, and fought for respect in their careers.
“Well, okay, maybe those guys,” after I name off his friends. My parents were, and still are, the most liberal of their circle.
He tells me how his company is trying to celebrate diversity, picking one culture each week, but really, he suspects, it’s just a guise to get good lunches funded at the office for a few weeks. It always comes down to food.
“You won’t fit with the people from the Mainland [China], or with all the people coming from Hong Kong nowadays. You’re jook-sing. That’s just how it is.”

I guess so. I know it is.

But I can still miss it sometimes.

Race Day Recap

April 30.
The Pemberton Enduro.
My only goal was to finish, injury free.
The nerves were real.

We pull into a dusty gravel parking lot around 9 am, pedal to registration to pick up our race plates, and pedal back to the lot. A friend is pulled in beside me with his truck and another friend is across the way. We are seeing familiar faces we haven’t seen in a while, bike friends all. All the pros are toodling around, some of whom we know, and little chats are had. We are all doing a final bike check, getting gear on, making sure we have salt tabs and ibuprofen and snacks.

945, we head to the check in for the pre-race talk. No hints are given as to what the course will entail, not even an expectation of how many stages there are. Only an admonition to “Follow the arrows on the paper plates. And climb until you can climb no more.” Racing blind is always an experience in and of itself.

A friend and I count the women. 12 non-pro women are racing. 8 pros. Out of 150 racers. Females are highly under-represented in this sport, on the race circuit anyway. It is only later that I note I am also the only person of colour here.

I am feeling wholly out of my league.

We begin the climb, and they send us up a long, technical trail full of tight switchbacks. My original plan to pace with heart rate is quickly abandoned as a train of us start up single track, and suddenly I am just trying to keep pace with everyone in line. I know I’m going to blow up at this pace, but if I stop, I will likely not make the cutoff at the end, and I’ll have to wait for the next gap to get started again. It is exceptionally hard to know how to pace when I have no idea how long the climb will be. I feel a headache come on.

At one point, we are forced off our bikes to hike through a stream and up through snow to finish the climb, and then are directed to yet another climb. It is an angled drop off a log to get here, a route no one has ever taken before. “What the f*ckins?!” says the man in front of me. I realize they are sending us to the top of the mountain to a blue trail, fast and flowy. Reports were that trees were down on it earlier, but it would appear they’ve remedied this for the race. We’ve been climbing nearly two hours and haven’t even reached the first stage yet.

Stage 1 is fast and fun, and just when you think it’s over, it isn’t, and then there’s another trail, and then another. One of the trails is loamy and fall line steep, feeling a lot like hanging on for dear life. We have raced almost to the bottom. The arm pump is insane, and my legs are on fire. This is the longest I’ve ever tried to pin it downhill without stopping. Yes. In my life.

Then we climb again, this time to the second highest trail on the mountain. Upon arrival, it is steep and technical and rated a double black. Somehow, we link to a few flow trails on the way down, cutting out one section I’ve always struggled with. I had no idea these trails could all connect! It is another long stage of downhill, longer again than I’ve done continuously, save for earlier today when I did stage 1. This one feels really fast and fun and I’m buzzing at the end. My headache is dissipating, and I can’t really feel my legs anymore. My underwear is soaked in sweat and it is hard to ignore how gross it feels.

We are at the bottom now, and the climb to the third stage is misery. A strong rider I met a few weeks ago is ahead of me, and when I see him walk sections, I do the same. He looks back and nods. “I hate this climb on a good day, but at this stage in the game? Forget it.” There is nothing left in my brain. Nothing left in my legs. After the technical single track is a gravel road traverse, and more climbing. No one knows where we are going. My teeth feel fuzzy from the gel blocks I’ve been meting out, square by square, and my heart rate is too high. I should drink more water. Another salt tab to stave off the cramps.

Stage 3 is a miserable pedally stage that starts with a huge rock I have the option of dropping off, or taking the slower line that’s smoother. I opt for the smoother line, thinking it might be unwise to drop something for the first time when I’m so tired. On the pedally sections, I sit down and pedal, knowing I ought to try harder, but feeling a bit like my quads might explode if I try to go any faster. I’m getting sloppy, heading into corners and not reacting in time. So many mistakes.

On exiting the stage, I run into the parents of one of the teenage boys racing. He goes on to win his age category, but I stop briefly to chat with them before the final climb. They advise me that there is only one stage left. Only four stages, and not the usual five. I sigh in relief. OH THANK GOD. We pedal up again. I am exhausted. Every time I see an incline, and there are a few good steep ones, I get off my bike and push. All the pros are doing the same, so I don’t feel so lazy.

We reach a trail that by sheer luck I’ve ridden a few times in the past few weeks. We meet cutoff, but just barely. Rated a double black for a few exposed and steep sections, I’m fortunate to know all the lines, and it is the only trail I manage to clean with no foot dabs or errors. It’s a pedal back to a local distillery, and we are handed a generous bowl of chili cheese fries with pulled pork and a beer.

I don’t want to eat, but force it down. I need the carbs and salt.

Awards are handed out shortly after the feed, and within a few hours, times are posted online.

I was the slowest person on a full suspension bike by a whole 2 minutes or so. The only person slower than me was a woman on a hardtail.

So dead last, basically.

I was feeling so insecure and intimidated by these incredible riders all around me. There’s nothing quite so daunting as knowing the are a bunch of young, fast men dropping in behind me, hearing someone yell, “RIDER!”, and then the sound of a bike thundering down the trail, and me trying to find somewhere to pull over on a steep, tight section without putting them or me at risk. They’d all be lovely and thank me as they blazed by.

Last place or no, I’m proud of myself.

40 km. 1800 m elevation. Six and a half hours on a bike. Surrounded by high level competition, riding trails that are considered “expert only” in some cases, and still scare me a little every so often.

41. One of the oldest four women there. Mama of two. Started riding at 36, when a good portion of my competitors aren’t even 36 yet. Didn’t crash. And rode it all.

That’s a win in my books. 🙂

Nerves

Four days until race day.

This will be the first race I’ve done since 2019.

This will also be the first time I’ve raced this particular race, known for being challenging in its terrain, physicality, and level of competition.
There’s a pro category in all the races generally, but this one…this one has a good contingent of the EWS (Enduro World Series) leaders racing it. People who live in the town where this race is held are strong technical riders, comfortable with speed and steeps and technical features. Toeing the start line with folks like this is intimidating to say the least.

My original goal was to not come in dead last.
My new goal is simply to finish. With no injuries. I would like my elbows intact. Collarbones and face too.
If I am last amongst champions, I am a-okay with that.

The course is blind, but there will be views aplenty, similar to these:

But you don’t notice the views when racing. You see only what’s ahead of you.

There has been much speculation on what trails will be on course, where we’ll be sent. What obscure trails haven’t yet been ridden. Would they, could they, put some new secret trails on the course? It would be a great way to bed them in. Loamy, loose, and rowdy.

Friends who don’t ride give me a pat on the back, encouraging me with things like, “You’re a good rider, you’ll be fine!”
But no.
The people who tend to ride this race are at another level of riding. They are nose-pivoting around corners, bunny hopping obstacles, jumping off things I am still figuring out how to roll down.
They are pre-2013 Michael Schumachers, and I am a fourteen-year-old with a learner’s permit.

More and more, I am finding comfort in being a learner in the space of experts. There is no pressure; only the simplicity of seeking out the joy in a task that gets easier with discipline and practice.

Still. The little butterflies are hatching in my stomach, and I have four more days to get them under control.