Swish

Practice makes perfect?

Practice makes permanent, but guided practice makes perfect. (~A friend’s words of wisdom)

I was at the pump track again today, shirking work and childcare like the adolescent I am, and there was a guy there doing all the big jumps, who had a pretty good crash. It’s like watching someone fall from the sky in slow motion: first the facial expression of realisation that this is not going to go as planned, the bike being released and pushed aside, then the human desperately trying to avoid injury as gravity suddenly speeds up time. He managed to land his feet on the top of the second half of the jump before rolling down the other side. He hopped up, yelled an apology to all parents in vicinity “for the language!”, dusted himself off, and did another lap. Bravo.

Then, in overheard conversation about his bike, he mentioned he used to be sponsored by a certain manufacturer, but that his current bike was pieced together, and circa 2009, which was great, because he had nothing to prove at the track on an old bike. The fork? “Oh, it was pretty swish back then… “

Swish. Swish.

What a great way to describe it.

It’s true, you must never be the one on a swishy bike if you haven’t got the skills to back it up. So get practicing…

Ten thousand hours to gain expertise in something.

I’ve done seven. 9993 hours to go. No biggie.

If it takes me just under a minute to do the jump line (including the ride back to the start), then I’ve probably been doing about forty laps or more each time I go. I get great tips from friends, random strangers and pros standing around and watching.

Already, there is progress. I’m getting more air more consistently on the jumps. I can get around the short track without pedaling. It is hugely satisfying. I feel like I might almost even be considered cool, because there aren’t very many girls out here, and very nearly none who are moms and over thirty.

How many more hours and laps before I can progress to the middle jump line? Before I can get fast around the track? Before I can justify any swish?

What is the swish threshold?

Because there is some awfully pretty swish out there…

One of those days

Sleep is elusive for me. While the muscles ache with fatigue, and the eyelids are heavy, the mind decides it’s time to have a party, recalling all manner of embarrassment, worry, fear, and minutiae.

I got about 3.5 hours last night, sitting up periodically to stare in to the dark, my dog laying by my feet, curious to my crazy.

It was a full on day in clinic, half virtual, half in person, everyone frustrated and anxious and somatizing from too many hours ruminating on that funny tingle they noticed that one time a few weeks ago. I haven’t had anything to eat or drink since breakfast.

Finally, finished, and I am told to meet my family at a friend’s newly built home. I do not realize it’s his birthday, and wonder why there are so many people standing around drinking beer, 2 metres apart, in his yard. I nose around the new construction, and decide I like everything but the way the stairs feel underfoot. It’ll sell, once this pandemic chills out a bit. They have a knack for building practical, aesthetically pleasing, sell-able houses. There are people there I’ve met before, but some of them I can’t remember from where. I cannot piece together whose spouse is whose, and which child belongs to which parent. My brain is like sludge, the cogs turning ever so slowly, and I make chit-chat, poorly, while trying to remember a name, a job, something, anything so I can keep the conversation going, and ultimately, I fail. I’ve only been properly stoned once in my life, and I vaguely remember it being a bit like this.

A lawyer returns my call… I’ve neglected to write a report he requested months ago. I never got the request and now the delay has messed up the strategy. “Send me the files, I’ll get it to you ASAP,” I promise.

I am so hungry. What time is it?

I’ve neglected to say goodbye to everyone. What am I going to make for dinner?

I tell the kids to shower, and I hear arguing and screaming. They are fighting and there are tears.

I bought a 2 litre tub of kimchi the other day at Costco on a whim. I miss asian food, and it was an impulse buy. No one in my house eats kimchi really. The kids can’t handle the spice, and my husband isn’t keen on it. I’m not Korean, but I love it.

The kids are now full on screaming at each other, banshee like, and I open my kimchi tub. I fill a little bowl and use chopsticks to pick up each cabbage leaf, one by one. I eat a bowl, slowly, while toying with my new bike tire that just got delivered, a strange mix now of senses: the scent of fresh rubber and spicy kimchi, the slightly tacky nubs of tire, the burning in my mouth, the screaming children. I finish the bowl and sit on the stairs, and inevitably, a naked child comes running to me, tears streaming, listing accusations.

I’m not making dinner.

I instruct my seven-year old girl to make pasta, and she does it, proud. I have shirked my motherly duties tonight, and have instead, with a belly full of kimchi, sat at a counter with a tire and a naked little boy wrapped in towel.

Then it’s 3 hours of report writing, editing and formatting. Done.

Then reviewing all the clinic patient files for tomorrow. Done.

My brain is well and truly mushy now, and we shall see if it will sleep.

A new infatuation

Yesterday, I came to the realization that I probably should just live life as a 22-year old boy.

Dirt jumps.

Who would have thought that mounds of dirt on the ground could be the source of such joy?

Last year, I bought a 2003 dirt jumper off some guy for $140. I put on new tires, cleaned it up bit, had a wheel trued, and replaced the chain. With my mountain bike costing a small fortune, and my road bike a significantly lesser fortune (6 years ago), I couldn’t justify spending more money on a dirt jumper if I didn’t know if I’d ride it.

It might be a bit rickety but it’ll do!

I took it to the pump track a few times last year, but was intimidated by all the guys who knew what they were doing, and all the little kids who also knew what they were doing, while I pedaled (a no-no if you know what you’re doing) slowly up and down and around like a sad circus elephant. I needed to go with people who could tell me what to do.

Yesterday, I went again with a friend who could do just that. While there, it was like a neighbourhood hangout. All the skater kids, except it was all the kids on dirt jumper bikes. Do a lap, chat, try a trick, chat. I saw a few mom friends there with their kids, weirdly got called a grom by a former co-worker (a geriatrician from the city), and saw a bunch of bike friends too.
When you tire of the pump track, there are the dirt jumps, progressing in size to the massive jumps that people break body parts on; the ones the thirteen-year-old boy who lives across the street styles off of. I know, because I watched him fly, float, and ride each one out today. I don’t aspire to those, but I’d like to be able to do a moderate jump reliably without hurting myself.

The thing about the dirt jumps is that there is a little wooden fence along the side that everyone lines up against to watch. SO, the beginner line is right there in full view of anyone who cares to watch. (You can’t see it in the photo below, because the little humps I ride are so little they disappear, but they’re literally just below where the fence is. It’s also not usually this crowded.)

https://www.redbull.com/int-en/speed-and-style-female-riders
BMX rider Caroline Buchanan competing at Jump Jam in 2018
© KIKE ABELLEIRA/CRANKWORX

This is cool if you’re six and catching beautiful air on each jump, but perhaps a bit pathetic if you’re an almost forty-year-old woman trying to learn how to time each launch, and occasionally clattering unceremoniously to the ground on your ancient bike. But hey, it’s fun, I’m having a great time, and it was a solid hour today of continuous motion.
And maybe three hours yesterday.
And maybe I’m thinking of going super early/late to avoid the kids and crowds to practice on weekdays….Maybe.

I’m gaining confidence with being in the air. Even if I’m only an inch off the ground, I’m in the air, and there’s something strangely addictive and exciting about flying through the air on a bike.

Ahhh…I love finding new things to be stoked about.

Emergence

Pandemic Phase 2 baby, here we go.

This is my daughter’s “coronavirus”. It is a great craft, because it occupied a lot of her time, and is quite pretty. It was also a crash course on virology, envelope proteins, immunology, and phagocytosis. I may not be able to teach grade 1 math or spelling, but viral transmission? Got it.

Wake at 530.
Drive to city.
Realize that all coffee shops and breakfast joints are closed.
Wander aimlessly.
Drop off bike pump at friend’s, and make plans for exciting lunch.
Go to assessment agency office. Meet staff there, as it’s a new agency I’m working with. They pay better than any other agency I’ve ever worked with. It’s probably because they’ve skimped on overhead. One of the least showy offices ever. Accept offer of coffee.
Am grateful, but it is terrible, in a 6 oz paper cup.
Also do not have PPE available, so…good thing I brought my own?

Meet patient. Not a psychiatrist, but I’d say this person is depressed. Getting a story is like drip-drying neoprene.
Talk to lawyer, draft report, sanitize EVERYTHING, dash out of office because street parking is expired.
First medicolegal in 9 weeks. Nice to see people in real life.

Park in random parking lot, change out of grownup clothes in back of car, sit with laptop in trunk of car and continue to work on report.

Meet friends, walk to lunch spot, simply/happily called Meat and Bread. Order a porchetta sandwich and two extra pickles. Walk to bench in sun. Eat, the scent of hand sanitizer killing the vibe a little. Walk back via the marina, gaze upon $80-million yacht moored there, and wonder how that person got so rich. Does it belong to a Sultan?
Chuckle at son’s question yesterday, “Mama, how do you become a billionaire?” (to which I replied, obviously, “I have no idea.”) He wants to be a paleontologist, “because I really love dinosaurs, and I like digging.”
That is probably not how you become a billionaire.

Drive to Costco, miraculously walk straight in. Restock for the next possible apocalypse. Get a little spendy on ataulfo mangoes, because the kids looooove mangoes. Leave to see a 40-minute lineup outside. Thank my lucky stars and deities for allowing me perfect timing.

Drive two hours back home, push limits on emptying gas tank.
Make balloon and yarn craft with daughter, field phone call from frustrated friend, make alternate dinner after discovering the chicken I was going to use has gone bad. Burn rice while trying to write report simultaneously.
Eat mangoes.
Read with kids, put them to bed.
Realize I am an hour late for a Zoom meeting. Realize I can’t tell time (or it just gets away from me?). Too late. Oops.

Snuggle dog.

Finish report.
Answer emails that request more and more hours I do not have to give.
Attempt to review next week’s files. Give up.
Watch bike video of trail I rode yesterday, noting that no one took the crazy exit line I took yesterday. Feel proud.
Drink beer. Feel fat.
Write in short sentences without a proper subject.

Realize I just had a normal work day.

Realize that I do not like working.

Realize that I also do not like not having money.

And so we continue.

I’m baaaack

To be clear, the photo below is not of me, because I’ve never thought to have my photo taken when I’m riding this, but here is just one of the rocks on this trail that’s a fun little whoop-de-do thrill to ride. I haven’t ridden this since last season, and today was my first lap down it.

https://www.trailforks.com/photo/13856051/

It was, to put it simply, delightful.
The first time I rode this trail was with a relatively cautious friend, who led me in to this particular rock roll. There are some things that are better not to see before riding, and when you’re riding with a trusted friend, sometimes it’s best to just follow. So follow I did, and after riding it, she made me stop and turn around to look at it.
“Look at what you just rode! Nice work, lady!”
When you look back, it is kind of ridiculous, but as far as features go, it’s not that bad. Short, steep, a clean run out, and a straight shot. Even though it looks like there’s a compression at the end, there isn’t. It requires minimal skill. There are numerous other features on this trail that require significantly more timing and steering and balance, but they’re not as crazy to look at, so photos aren’t taken.

Well, today, I rode all the features, this time following another trusted friend, and finally felt like I was properly driving my bike, confidently again, instead of me hanging on for the ride. Maybe I can’t blame my tires after all. Maybe it was all just me and my stupid brain (which is annoying, because I just ordered another tire).

Speaking of bikes and brains, I’ve been reading this book, Endure, that’s been a fascinating review of sports performance and the mind-body connection. I’m only on chapter 3, but highly recommend so far.

My Olympian coach friend tells me all the time:
Identity drives Action, which drives Feelings.
NEVER let your Feelings drive your Actions or Identity.
So know who you are, get dressed and go for that run/ride/swim/whatever, even if you’re feeling shite, because you know you can, and you know you’re capable.
Push harder, take that leap of faith, do that thing that scares you.

I need to be reminded of this regularly, and when I am, well, it’s kind of awesome, right?

Back to our regular programming

I like riding bikes. A lot. A LOT a lot.
It provides adrenaline surges, which in turn help with focus. Those moments where the world becomes suddenly clear, and your thinking is efficient, effective, and powerful.
Have you ever seen that movie, Limitless, with Bradley Cooper? Like that.
Ok, scratch that. Not really like that, but kind of.

Yesterday, at around 7 am, a friend and I rode up here.

Nice view right? There’s this trail we’ve been wanting to ride for ages, one of the biggest slabs out there. It’s grippy granite, and trustworthy. But this is the biggest piece, the longest, most exposed piece, within riding ability. The above photo is taken from where the person is standing in the below photo, which shows only half of the slab.

https://www.reddit.com/r/mountainbiking/comments/b4seu4/innout_burger_squamish_bc/
This photo stolen from a reddit thread, because I was too busy trying to hike a bike down this to take a photo from this angle.

I started to the right of the rock where the person is standing in the photo, and crept my bike slowly down to just above where this photo was taken, then walked the rest. My heart was in my throat the whole time.
There are five or so lines down the rock, of varying steepness, all of which require presence of mind and careful speed and brake modulation. I’ve watched so many videos of this trail, seen dozens of photos of the slab, and none do justice to just how big and long and overwhelming it is.
It is, by definition, a mindf*ck; i.e. skills-wise, we have the ability, but something about the exposure just messes you up.

This is the exit for the straightest, most difficult line. It’s not the cleanest, and photos don’t do justice to the steepness of the rock preceding it.
Anyway, once you get through the big slab, you come to this:

If you are a good rider (which I’m not), you’d just ride down it.
If you are not in your usual form, you take the easy line off the left like we did (photo of a friend):

All in all? Life’s not bad.
Today, I put on lycra, got on a skinny bike, and rode the seven big hills in town. It took a little over 3 hours, and while it is satisfying to accomplish all this climbing, there is no real fun to it. Eh, but who’s complaining?

This was the leader of our little pack for the ride today.

Now, I am obsessing over rubber compounds and tires, convinced that the current tires on the mountain bike could be grippier.
These are such lovely little distractions; from the patients with brain tumours and diseases that will steal their health and their freedom while keeping them brutally aware of each and every loss; from pandemics and sadness and atrocities and racism and insolvency; from real life.

So clarity and escapism. Bikes can give you both. Oh, and eye candy.

And now, it’s Friday evening and I’ve had 2 sips of wine and feel drunk.
It’s so nice being empty-headed.

Dear Mom,

You’ll never read this, because they are no longer your eyes. I’m not sure what they see now, but you tell me it’s all double. Even if you could read this, you’d only remember it for a few minutes. If I find the courage, I will post it on a public medium, and at least then it will be out there, and not all jumbled up in me.

Oh, how I wish you were still you.

I miss your laugh, your spontaneity, your joy.

I miss our long phone calls, our friendship, your advice and wisdom.

I won’t tell you about all the times I wish the kids knew the real you; how much I grieve that they will never get to play and laugh with you the way they should have.

I won’t tell you about all the times I wish I could have called you to tell you a funny story, to ask a question about what to do, to cry in frustration.

Brain injury’s a bitch, hey? Isn’t it ironic we’re both working in the neurosciences?

Things are good. I’m okay. Maybe I wouldn’t be where I am if it hadn’t happened. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to move away, as far across the country as I could get, if I knew I’d be missing you, as you were. But when I left, I’d only left behind a stranger. I don’t know how dad is doing it, dealing with you every day, this stranger who was once his wife, calling your son to talk him down. He knows we’ll just argue if he calls me.

They think I abandoned them to deal with you. I did. I just couldn’t do it. I know they grieve too. They’re just better at it than I am. Or maybe we all just lock it down and carry on. No use dwelling on the past.

They think I take unnecessary risks; I’m not careful. I am, though, and I don’t want my kids to lose me too soon. I know what it will do to them. I just don’t want to look back and wish I’d tried something I didn’t. It’s what you would have done.

I’ve often wondered, if you knew it would turn out this way, if you would still want to be alive. We had a chance to give up and end it, but we didn’t, because we couldn’t be sure of the outcome. Hope can be a silly thing. But I know you. I knew you. I don’t think you would have wanted it this way, but hey, you’re here now. Only you’re not.

I don’t like mother’s day. I don’t like remembering. I don’t like the call I make to you and seeing a shell of who you once were.

The next generation doesn’t know you as you were. They are rootless from my side. I can only tell them stories of you when I have enough positive energy to avoid the melancholy that follows. It doesn’t mean anything to them though. Only me. They are diligent about seatbelts because of you, so I guess there’s that. I wish you had been diligent about it. I wouldn’t be writing this if you were.

It’ll be nine years in a few weeks. These days, I can’t even remember clearly what it was like, before. I have snippets of memories, images frozen in time of certain clothes, locations, expressions, and laughter. But I don’t want to remember too clearly. It serves no purpose and brings only a strange, sad, emptiness. I’m happiest if I forget. So forgive me, for all the willful forgetting of our family memories.

The world could end tomorrow, and I wouldn’t necessarily mind, because it would hopefully mean you’d be free, restored, and you again. Maybe this will reach you somehow, in another plane of existence. Maybe your spirit is out there, as you were, detached from your physical self still here.

I miss you mama. More than you’ll ever know.