The BC Bike Race so far

As with any race, jitters abound. The three of us made the six hour drive to the city of Kelowna, where our race would start. After some bad highway fried chicken and a lot of gas station snacks, it was lovely to settle in to the massive home of one of my old residency friends, who now has two very loud young children, and a husband obsessed with mountain biking. He was so excited for our arrival and probably more excited for our race than we were.

The following morning, we readied our bikes and bodies and headed to the start line, where we then proceeded to wait in line for an hour to sort out registration. Our race bibs state our names, number, and a little flag to show country of origin, aiming, I assume, to foster comraderie and conversation.

The first day was a prologue ride, a cheeky 10 km that would still count toward our final time, but would help with seeding everyone for start times. As timing chips are on our race plates, we could choose to do the ride any time that day, as long as we were back for 330pm, as the racers meeting was at 4.

It was a road rollout before we hit the timing mat, then a punchy climb on single track with a fast, flowy descent. We were in and out in 45 minutes.

As part of my bike purchase, the shop threw in the “Optima package” where after each race day, I drop my bike with their mechanics and advise of any issues, and they clean and tune my bike each night, then valet it to the start line each morning. So I leave my precious bike with them, advising that the dropper is sticky and annoying, and trot off to my friends house.

I’ve gotten bags of saline and a vitamin concoction called a Myers’ cocktail, and re-learned how to do IVs, so I hook myself and my friends up for a little intravenous rehydration before we head to the racer meeting. (For the record, this is not cheating, as the race itself used to provide vitamin and saline IVs for purchase in pre covid times. )

There, we are introduced to the 16 year history of the event, the people who organize it, and breathe in the buzz of excitement. There are some who have come from all over to ride; South Africans, Mexicans, Brazilians, Peruvians, and a bunch of our American friends. I’m amazed at how far some have come. We are reminded to be kind and courteous, to let people pass, to ask nicely. We are advised about bears and snakes and cougars, medics, emergency phone numbers. Then, we are dismissed.

Day 2, Stage 1 is 41 km, and 1600 m elevation. It, too is in Kelowna. We climb and at the 20 km mark, despite my carefully timed fueling plan with electrolyte tablets and gummy blocks and protein bars, I feel my right quad threatening to cramp. I get off my bike and stretch, then keep going, hoping to get to the aid station before it fully goes.

Finally, I get there and upon dismount, it spasms and I’m on the ground trying desperately to bend my knee to stop it. A medic comes by and hands me a couple glasses of electrolyte and I sit for a while before deciding to keep moving.

There’s a fast and fun descent that comes after. There are a lot of xc riders on very racy tires who clearly don’t ride this kind of stuff regularly and they’re all bunched up on the features trying to walk them (and if you’ve ever tried to walk steep features that are meant to be dropped, then you know it’s probably just easier to ride them), so blasting past them on my bike while they cheered or looked on in awe felt pretty great and confidence inspiring.

But there are still a lot of kilometres to be ridden, and my quads are threatening revolt. I switch into granny gear and pedal incredibly slowly for all the climbs, willing myself not to get off the bike or stop moving, and annoyed I can’t push harder because my energy is still pretty good. I’m hydrating as best I can and by the time I cross the finish, it’s been about three hours and a bit, and the legs have settled into a dull ache.

I drop my bike, and we head back for showers and food and another IV before driving to the next destination.

It’s a little hotel in a small town, and we eat dinner at the hotel sports bar, gorging on as much carbohydrate, protein, and salt as we can muster, then putting the Theragun to each other, then crashing into an achey slumber.

Day 3, Stage 2 in the town of Salmon Arm starts in much the same way as day 2, but this is a “Queen Stage” (with no real explanation to why they call it that), designed to test endurance and fitness. 52 km, 2000 m in elevation. I’m extra careful with hydration and electrolytes, pausing every 30 minutes to get tablets in me, and then taking bites of food while pedaling any flat bits. After the first big descent and starting the second climb, a guy from Argentina is exhausted, wobbling up the hill.

“It’s like I’m drunk! But only my legs!” he yells.

The second climb is 60% a long service road, and strangely enough, I feel great, so I push hard up it, occasionally chatting with the guys I’ve been yoyo-ing back and forth with all day. The positive energy and encouragement everyone is sending out is awesome, and sometimes a rarity in these situations.

Before long, we’re treated to a long descent on ribbons of black loam through a temperate rainforest, then on dusty tech with spectacular views overlooking the town and massive lake below.

I finish in just under six hours, my friends coming in about 25 minutes before me. The pros are finishing in about half our times, and total racer numbers have dwindled a bit each day. I’ve managed to hold my place in my age and gender category (5th out of 12; there are maybe only 45 women here), but am far enough behind the woman in front of me that I’m unlikely to move up at this point, though I guess you never know. It’s still early. And also, it doesn’t matter!

We get chiropractic and massage treatments at the wellness tent, eat a bag of chips, and sprawl onto the yoga mats on the field to stretch. We see the Peruvians and a South African and rehash the day.

It’s another hour drive or so to the next location, and we check in to the condo we’ve rented, tired, sore, and spent.

It’s showers and three bowls of pasta and a load of laundry before running the IVs, drinking loads of water, and crashing into bed.

It’s a bit hard for me to sleep in, so I’m awake, documenting this experience before I forget it all, listening to my friends grumble and fart in their sleep, before I commit to getting up today for the third stage, another 40+ km and who knows how much elevation. All I know right now is that I hurt everywhere and I had to lance two bumps last night (they’re not saddle sores or blisters, but they get swollen and hurt like crazy until I can pop and drain them).

Four more days and another Queen Stage to go.

Right now, at this moment, I am really just hoping I finish the race.

And then I will never do it again.

Somber smoke

The eerie, smoky haze of a nearby forest fire has once again enveloped our little valley. I am certain smoke does nothing to dampen sound, yet things feel strangely quiet, in a post-apocalyptic way.

Today, my nine-year-old daughter experienced the devastating sadness that comes with a friend moving away. They’ve been friends since the age of two or three. I have a photo of them both dressed as Snow White as toddlers, and so many memories of the girls running away from younger brothers (her friend has three, she has one), splashing around in hot tubs, jumping on trampolines, and beading or painting fantastical creations. Her friend is ten now, all warmth and innocence and joy. My daughter is nine, ever the cynic with a mischievous grin. We came home from the farewell luncheon thrown in their honour, and she sobbed into my chest for a while, then sat, catatonic on the couch.

I brush her hair off her tear-stained face, and I cry a little with her, because I remember the feeling so well. I was always the one moving away. Over and over. It is utter and total loss. Devastation. Hopelessness in a little girl’s social life.
I know kiddo, I know how this feels. It sucks so much. I’m sad with you. It’s going to happen again one day and every time, it’s going to hurt the same. That’s just how it goes. You’ll be okay though. So will she.

It’s also September 11 today. Two of her friends have birthdays today, and will never know the associations so many of us have on this day. It’s been 21 years.

I walk the dog with my son as the sun filters through the smoke. He is chatty, as always. He refers to himself sometimes as a “forgetful Jones”. I don’t know where he learned that, but I like to think of him as a little boy version of a “chatty Cathy”. I hear all about fighter jets and landing gear, and how if humans had a flying superpower, we’d have to be careful not to get too high because then we’d run out of air and die, all of a sudden, just like that. I think of Icarus, waxed wings melting, feathers ablaze, falling out of the sky. We discuss the logistics of a human flying without propulsion. Could we even get that high? We discuss dog toenails and the upcoming school year, and my life is fuller, even with minutiae, it is fuller now.

Taken yesterday, before the smoke rolled in, before the world woke up, and after I’d frozen my fingers and toes on an early morning paddleboard.

City days

Three bald men, bespectacled, in well-fitting suits, and shoes that cut a sharp profile.

It’s 7:45 am, and it would appear they are meeting for coffee before the official work day begins.

It is a French cafe I frequent, where the owners have heavy French accents and are meticulous about the authenticity of their pastries. Their prices have skyrocketed, and a breakfast croissant with egg and spinach and tomato, an Americano, and a pain au chocolat for later comes to twenty dollars. There is a jovial clarinet soundtrack in the background, and an old, sepia-toned movie projected onto the back wall. Dark bentwood chairs wait beside small, marble-topped bistro tables on slender iron bases. The young man who serves me is Korean, with a heavy accent and a haircut resembling a shiny, dark brown bowl around his head. It is perfectly circular and smooth.

The men choose to sit outside, away from the din of conversation and coffee being pulled, closer instead to the din of traffic. Taxis and cyclists and people rushing to work.

They are smiling, laughing between sips of coffee. Are they colleagues? Friends? Is this fake? A sordid business deal?

I glance up at the movie on the wall and it plays what appears to be a sexual assault of a young woman while her presumed suitor paces in a reading room the level below. It is entirely what I would not want to see in a cafe first thing in the morning. I’m not sure they’ve vetted these films. No one else seems to notice this.

Months ago, I was at this same cafe and a man with a camel-coloured coat was having his coffee. He was tall, slim, and so well groomed it made me think of those show dogs where their hair has to be blow-dried. Oh, what are they? Afghan hounds. The perfect goatee. A vest. Brown pointy-toed shoes, laces in a perfect bow. Slim pants with a perfect pleat. A scarf. All the lines and outlines on his person were sharp and straight, like he was sketched out in bold ink by a fashion designer and brought to life. I only wish I had a chance to hear him speak, to be sure he was congruous through and through. What could he possibly be up to? Maybe he works the perfume counter and is trying to learn English. Maybe he has a sugarmama. Perhaps he is pitching his art gallery idea to a potential investor.

I scarf down my breakfast croissant and coffee, because in all my musings, time has disappeared. In an abrupt and thoroughly unpleasant change of pace, I am seated in a too-warm office wearing a dress shirt that does not allow full shoulder range of movement and will inevitably accrue armpit stains.
What must they think of me? Plain ponytail, no make-up, and a feeble attempt at dressing like a grownup. I’ve forgotten my dress shoes, so my staid blue dress shirt and black dress pants end with a pair of Birkenstocks. But no matter, no one is looking at my feet. If they were, they would see that there are no bunions or blisters or callouses, because I don’t wear dress shoes. I tuck my feet under my chair.

And so begins another day.

It is what it is

The taper has begun.
We are ten days away from the biggest race I’ve ever done.

Bigger than a marathon. Bigger than an enduro. Bigger than any of that.

I know I can do a six to eight hour day on the bike.
But can I do that six days in a row?

In my training to date, I’ve done three back-to-back days of four to five hours, and in doing so, have found myself exhausted, frustrated, demoralized, and anxious. I’m not the strongest I’ve ever been, but my endurance is probably the best it’s ever been.

I’ve been obsessing over electrolyte mixes, recovery protein and carbohydrate content, calories consumed per hour, water intake, underwear choice, tire choice and tire pressures. I’ve been mucking around with suspension settings, rubber compounds, and seat angles. I’ve tried various sports bras, shirt fabrics, water bladders and packs. I’ve been riding at the hottest times of day. I’ve been riding all the technical uphill trails I often forgo, and then riding them again on tired legs. How fast can I do this? How long can I keep this pace? How far can I push myself?

I’ve avoided high risk trails in the bike park, avoided trying too much at the dirt jumps, avoided sketchy features on trails. After all this training, I don’t want to risk an injury.

At this point, my fitness is what it is.
Now, it’s recovery and maintenance. Building up the reserves. Eat today to fuel tomorrow, only no one tells you how to do this when it’s the same thing again tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that, and so on.

Now is the time to start shopping. All the extra tubes, tires, brake pads, chains, derailleur hangers, CO2 cartridges, electrolyte tabs, supplements.
Now is the time to sort out food plans. Packing lists.
I’m writing doctor friends, naturopaths, anyone who knows things about infusions to see if I can get my hands on IV tubing and saline bags so my companions and I can run a litre of saline into our veins to speed our recovery efforts each night. Less fluid in the tummy means more room for food.

There are still training rides on the schedule, but they’re meant to be for maintenance. No more building.

It’s been a psychological journey, these past five or six months, and we’re not out of the woods yet.

At this point, I simply want to finish; injury free, with a smile on my face and no worse for wear.

I want to know I couldn’t have done any better.

I want this to be an achievement, a big spike in the memory bank of something difficult and fun and wholly out of my comfort zone, because I know that usually, on the other side of self-inflicted fear, is adrenaline-fuelled bliss.

It is what it is.

But I want it to be everything it can be.

It’s been a bit of an ordeal

The new bicycle, I mean.

First, the little screw that holds the cable guide to my fork is somewhere under my deck boards after my butterfingers dropped it.

I had removed it to put a protective wrap on the bike frame and fork, and that cost me about 4 hours of my life. In future, I will pay someone to put it on. I will also not do it on the deck. Apparently, the screw is very fork specific and no shops carry them, so I had to write the fork manufacturer and they are now mailing me a new screw.

I then put on my old clipless pedals, because this will be a distance bike, and it will be more energy efficient. Only it isn’t when you are tipping over comically every time you stop because you forget to clip out in time. Or you hesitate on big features because you might not get your other foot clipped in in time. I’d forgotten that feeling of terror riding something sketchy with only one foot clipped in.

And then, because on your inaugural ride, you fell over at the top on a rock (f*@king clips!), you bent your derailleur hanger, so it won’t shift properly and on your second ride, you attempt a steppy rock feature and get bounced around because the new fangled suspension system hasn’t really been set because you can’t quite figure out how to find the rebound adjustment.

So you take it to a shop to fix everything and help you find the little levers and knobs to adjust suspension after only two rides but now you’re not feeling confident on this bike and contemplating putting flat pedals on so it’s one less factor to contend with while learning how to handle the thing. Only you had extra old flat pedals in the garage but in your purge a mere two weeks ago, you donated them because it had been three years since they last saw use, and what were you saving them for anyway?

So that’s where we are.

I don’t know what to do about the pedals.

I need to get used to being clipped in again, because there’s so much security in being attached to your bike, especially when things get rowdy, but at the same time, it’s nice to be able to get on your bike at some weird steep location without having to worry about getting your foot in right.

Oh! And in between rides one and two, I rode my usual bike on a steep, committing trail that really ought not to be ridden in the high heat of summer because it gets so dry that the dirt is all marbles and moondust, which is to say, terrible for traction and exceptionally terrifying when steep because there is no guarantee of control or braking ability when required. I slid out on a rock and came off my bike, proceeding to slide the rest of the way down the rock on my behind. There is now a considerable bruise on my right buttock and left thigh.

And and and..

I might not be eating enough based on my day three fatigue, and this whole nutrition thing is proving hard to dial in.

I’ve ridden three days in a row. Four hours on day one, three hours on day two (plus a one hour trainer ride and a three hour bike park lesson where again, the dusty conditions and my fall earlier in the day had my mindset and confidence plunging to the deepest depths), and then a three hour ride on day three that probably could have been 2.5 hours had I not been so fatigued and dealing with shifting issues from the bent hanger from day one. I’m not working full time, if you’re wondering, because I’ve actually taken time off specifically to train.

I really need to get this sorted if I’m going to make it through the race; seven days of riding, six days of likely 4-7 hours each day. It’s making me feel a little panicky. I am only aiming to finish, injury free and bicycle intact.

And to add to the stress? There’s a case I need to go to court to testify for, during the race of course, and if they can’t adjust the court schedule for me to testify early, they can technically subpoena me to appear and I’d have to miss a day of the race, which would mean I wouldn’t get to actually finish it, which is making me a little sick to my stomach thinking about it, after all the work and training put in so far. I’ve been praying (and I’ll ask you too, real people of the internet, to pray) that the case will simply settle.

I am a princess and can’t handle my first world problems. So below is a photo of the new bicycle enjoying the view of the alpine shortly after I’d done a three hour or so climb and swum in a little glacial lake at the top of a mountain. You climb through forests, and then fields of mountain wildflowers, and then reach the rocks.

I need photos like this to remind me why I love riding my bike. It’s so quiet up there. So still and peaceful. That’s not the lake I swam in. There are a whole bunch up there, in varying shades of dark teal, and they are stunning.

New bike day

I got a new bike.
I feel guilty. Because my quiver is getting a little bit big. Because I have 1 bum, but 6 bicycles. Because I am feeling like I ought to be donating to the poor or volunteering at the food bank or something and not buying more pieces of expensive carbon for my selfish self.

There are bike brands that have been colloquially branded as “dentist bikes”, bikes that are expensive, carbon, with high end componentry and suspensions. They are referred to in derogatory terms with the assumption that the “dentists” who buy these bikes can’t actually ride.
I worry about being a “dentist”.

The bike I have purchased is somewhere between an xc race bike and my enduro. It is not a company typically thought of as a dentist bike brand, and in my opinion, its price point accurately reflects its componentry. Founded in the US and now based out of Switzerland, their bikes are generally respected and innovative. I bought it because I’m coming up on a race that I feel terribly unfit for, and, well, good equipment helps. The used xc bike I’d intended to buy for the race was stolen a few weeks ago, and finding reasonable alternatives has proven difficult at this point in the season, supply chain and all. I’d researched this bike when it was first unveiled last year. It’s a little unconventional in design, but reviews have generally been positive.

Nonetheless, I am plagued by poor little rich girl guilt.

I run it by a trusted bike friend. He sold me his old downhill bike, made by the same company, and his bike advice over the years has generally been sound.
What’s the point in earning money if you don’t spend it? BCBR [the race I’m doing] is going to be more fun if you put some additional cash that way and the XC bike will reward you in spades in terms of riding progression.

I chat with the shop owner about what he can do. Another friend of mine is sponsored by this bike company, and he’s told me he can usually swing a 20% discount.
Lies, says the shop owner. I can’t do that. There’s no margin on bikes. I’ve gotta tell [said friend] to stop telling people that. I can do 10%.
I am quiet for a bit.
In med school, when learning how to do patient interviews, we were taught to simply be quiet. People get uncomfortable when it’s quiet, and they talk to fill the void. Soon, you’ll learn everything you need to know with minimal effort, needing only to give direction to the verbiage every so often.

Really? That’s the best you can do?

He pauses to think.
Okay, I can give you 12% off and throw in the pro race package for the race, where we take your bike at the end of each race day, tune it up, and bring it to the start line in the morning. I’ll throw in a formal bike fit to start, and a standard tuneup after 20 hours. And warranty of course. You come to me for any issues with this bike. The pro race package is $1200. That’s over $2k in value.

I get him to send it to me in writing.

His shop and his mechanics are the main mechanics for this race. His shop has been around for ages and he is obsessive and particular about bikes. I like people like this dealing with my bikes.
So far, for the race, there are about 400 registered riders, 27 countries represented. There are only 40 pro race packages available, as that’s all they can haul. After some conversation, this race is clearly one that’s close to his heart.

He gives me numbers, because I like those. Head angles, reach, seat angles. An average of 15 Watts per pedal stroke in efficiency compared to an enduro bike, he says.

I laugh. “You’re going to get me on this bike and tune it every day and I’m still probably going to come in at the back of the pack. I’m bad for your marketing, just so you know.”

I talk with the reps from the bike company. I’m hesitant, as I’ve not had a chance to demo the bike. One guy is from Ontario, where the riding is notably different than here. Another is from the town south of us. Both ride this same bike, and swear by it.
I am leery. This has got to be a sales tactic.
I grab some pedals and put them on the bike they’ve brought for the festival display, hand them my wallet, and pedal to the parking lot and back. It’s stiffer, notably different in feel and geometry. 29″ wheels. I can’t adequately test it on trail, but on first ride, it feels good. The shorter travel suspension will force me into precision riding.
Also, it’s beautiful. Matte black carbon, hidden shock, clean lines, and a fascinating, creative mechanism to lock out front and rear suspensions with the click of a lever.

My enduro bike is loud and colourful. The rear hub buzzes obnoxiously and anyone who sees the bright green and orange colour scheme knows it’s my bike.
My downhill bike is older, and brash, and anyone who sees the blue and fluoro orange paint and characteristic shock design knows it’s my bike.
My dirt jumper is elegant with a bit of flash. It was a very popular black and gold frame, but with little green and gold accents on the stem and spacers so that anyone who sees it knows it’s my bike.

This? This is a stealth ninja.

I don’t know how I feel about it yet. I’m waiting for the protective wrap to come in before I take it out or I will inevitably chip the paint.
Could be one of those questionable boyfriend types; aesthetically pleasing but performance is iffy, and we don’t bring out the best in each other.
Or it could be husband material.
We shall see.

My actual husband though?
He rolls his eyes as I justify to him the purposes of each and every bicycle I own.
Then he tries his best to be excited for me as I wheel it in.
“It looks amazing, ” he says with a low whistle, though he knows nothing about it. I appreciate this effort, this effort put into feigned enthusiasm for something that is, to him, simply a very expensive and redundant bicycle.
My only task? Reorganizing the garage so there is a place to put it, because he has drawn the line at my leaving it in the living room to ogle.

It is going to be okay.

This is for me. A reminder for me. Because this week of training has gone terribly. I’m tired all the time. I’m slow. Slower than everyone I ride with. And all I want to do is bail on this race that will probably be the experience of a lifetime because I’m so down and miserable in my head and my legs are always tired and where in holy hell am I supposed to find 4-5 hours to ride every day for training? And the energy? I have needed a nap after every long ride.

There’s a statistic somewhere, I don’t know if it’s true, that divorce rates are high amongst ultramarathoners and ironman competitors, unless both partners do these races. The training time required is essentially a full time job. I don’t know how people are supposed to have jobs and children and pets and still get their training done. It is actually not possible, not without sacrificing something essential.

I’ve taken the next two months off medicolegal work to train for this race, which means I get an extra 25-30 hours a week to sleep/ride/eat.
My daughter was just away at a sleepaway camp for the past week, and it’s made me realize that all my friends with only one kid have it SO EASY.
My husband remains confused, but unwaveringly supportive in my ridiculous endeavours.

So.

Dear Me:
For all the days you’ve woken up exhausted, all the days you’ve dreaded getting on the trainer, all the days you’ve sloooowly put your gear on and started the pedal up, and that one shameful instance you just got off the trainer and went back to bed.
It’s okay. You are 41. You started biking 5 years ago. You had zero athletic background before that. Always got the “participation” award in elementary school gym class. Last picked for every team.
Everyone you ride with is ridiculously fast. They have racing backgrounds. They have been athletes in their prior lives. They are all younger than you. They have no kids. Or only one kid.
You cannot expect that you will have the same speed and endurance that someone who’s been riding ten years has.
Just focus on the task ahead. Take your time. Go your own pace. There are no cutoff times. There is no one but you to please or disappoint. Stick to it. It is all mental. Comparison is the thief of joy. Stop comparing yourself to all these athletes. Just enjoy the views, and enjoy the fact that you have seven days to ride your bike in new places, with new trails to explore and adventure through and meet new friends. This is going to be fun. It will push you to your limits. Because if you’re not pushing your limits, what’s the point? Oh right, because it’s fun. Just plain old fun. Pushing your limits and getting stronger just means you can have more fun, for longer.
Besides, it’s costing everyone else a lot of money to do this race, and you won your entry. Count it as an omen.
You’ll look back on it and be relieved and proud that you finished. It is okay if you come in dead last.
Maybe you’ll never do another race again. And that’s okay. It is okay if you don’t make the training target. You will be tired during the race, and that’s okay.
Because this is not your whole world. Your life is full of wonderful people and wonderful things. Do not let this consume you. Remember all the other things that fill your world. Remember all the things that are important to you. Remember to be, as all medical schools wanted you to be, “well rounded”. Balanced. It takes conscious effort, careful decision-making and weighing of values to achieve this. Take that time.
You get one shot at doing right by the people you love, and in the end, that’s all you’ve got. You can always buy another bike, enter another race, train again from scratch. But the people who matter to you? Focus. Refocus. Don’t lose the plot. Your race times won’t matter. Don’t matter.
Just enjoy the process. The suffering. The success. The satisfaction that you put yourself out there and did something hard. Six weeks. You’ve got six weeks to go until the race of a lifetime.
Keep going.

Love,
Me.

Summer days

It’s really stinkin’ hot. Let’s go to the lake.

I’m sweating whilst standing still. We don’t have air conditioning. Most houses in town don’t, because until the last decade, it was never really *that* hot here in the summer. But last year we got into the 40s (104F) with a heat dome and we all withered away, hiding in basements or underwater. We have a lot of lakes too, but this summer, they’ve been rife with swimmer’s itch, making all the kids afraid of the water because the itching after is intractable and miserable. There is nothing quite so horrific to a child as being itchy and hot.

“I don’t want to go to the lake.”

Well then. I’m not going to go to the trouble of packing everything up for the lake if you don’t want to go. What would you rather?

“I want to go to the library.”

Ahh, my smart girl. The library has air conditioning. And there will be no one there on a Sunday afternoon. Tourist towns are nice for that…

We troop off to the library, sitting in a corner all squished on one of their extra wide cushy purple upholstered chairs, reading. And not sweating all over each other. It’s rather nice.

We stay until close, taking home with us a collection of books that are now sprawled all over my living room, much as we were for the remainder of the day.

****

It’s 6am and I’m meeting a friend for a bike ride, in hopes of beating the heat. We head out and as we get higher and higher up the mountain, the mosquitoes start increasing in density. They are so ubiquitous I am feeling panicky, hearing the whine of their wings in my ears, feeling the little pricks of mosquito proboscises all over my arms, legs, back. They’re biting through my shirt, the mesh of my knee pads, my gloves. The climb steepens and I struggle to breathe, in part from the effort of the climb, and in part because I’m freaking out a little bit with the bugs and want to cry. It would have been better to have just sucked it up and ridden in the heat, the mosquitoes are so savage.

Finally, finally, we reach the top and after a quick sip of water and an opening of shocks, we start the descent. It’s just over an hour of climbing and we’ve barely spoken to each other because good god the bugs are bad let’s get out of here and do what we came to do, which is descend. Now we’re moving faster, the wind cooling my sweat-drenched shirt and face. It’s not long before we’re back at the bottom.

In the evening, I go to Monday Night Rides. The past few weeks, I’ve been the only female in our riding group, and perhaps the weakest rider. There are 3 Scotsmen in the group, one of whom I’ve only just met, and has a cool habit of wheelie-ing up hills. There are a lot of new guys riding with us too, many who started coming to the weekly rides this year, and from my estimation are all in their late twenties and early thirties. Tonight, and many nights, I am not only the only female in this group, but also the oldest human. The trail chosen for tonight is at the end of a long service road grind up the ski hill. A massive international bike festival is coming to town for the next week and a bit, and this will be our last time to ride this trail before it gets blown out by a bunch of world class racers racing down it next week in the Enduro World Series. The course was just released, and locals are trying to ride all the favourites one last time before they become full of bomb holes. I feel like I could’ve kept up with the boys on any other day if I hadn’t done a ride that morning and a strength training workout midday, but the fatigue hit hard on the first third of the climb, and I couldn’t keep up. Ever gracious, they’d stop and wait periodically, giving me a smile and holler of encouragement as I pedalled in to join the group.
“Thanks guys, but go ahead,” I pant, “I know the way. I’ll join the slower intermediate group behind us.”
“Nah. We’ll wait. You’re fine. You won’t want to descend with the group behind us.” They are all sweat-soaked, faces shiny and squinty in the evening sun.
He is right. The other group can be frustratingly slow on the descents. Besides, there is still one guy behind me, breathing hard, noting this is about twenty minutes faster than he’d do this climb any other day.
I don’t know how I’m viewed by this group. It doesn’t much matter, but I am curious. Sometimes I think they think I’m the old lady slowing them down. And sometimes I think they ride features that scare them because they saw me ride it and goshdarnit, you can’t have an old lady riding features you aren’t. So on balance, I am neutral.

Toward the end of the climb after we get off the service road. I took this photo in July 2019. We do this slog on a regular basis because, well, look at it. 🙂

After a shower and a beer, the bites show up. It’s worse than I thought. My shoulder blades and calves are peppered in red spots. My elbows itch. I have a rash over my stomach from where my wet, sweaty jersey clung to me on the climb.

I slide my tired, happy body into overly warm bedsheets, willing myself not to scratch anything. I grab my library book, and the protagonist eerily carries many of my own pathologies in her thought processes. I wonder if it’s good or bad for me to read these novels. And suddenly, before I can finish the chapter, I’ve slept the whole night through for the first time in a week.

Don’t buy green bananas

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

“Four months? He’s not going to make it that long.”

My colleague has walked into my office to say this about a shared patient who has an abdomen riddled with cancer, and a brain that has cruelly decided to rob him of his mobility. I see this patient for his Parkinson’s, with regular follow up appointments every four months or so, but he has bigger fish to fry right now.

He’s right. He probably won’t make it that long.

“Don’t buy green bananas. You’ve heard that saying?”

No, to be honest, I have not.

“Well, its meaning is obvious. And you know N? She shouldn’t either.”

N is an office assistant. Was. She passed the other night. Her abdomen was also riddled with cancer, just of a different sort.

I missed seeing her. I meant to, but then she got rushed to the city for a procedure. Then I got sick and didn’t want to give it to her, and then I messaged her husband but by then, she wasn’t receiving guests who weren’t family, and then, just like that, she was gone.

When she was well, she had this incredible head of dark brown hair, poker straight, shiny, and down to her waist. It was straight out of a shampoo commercial. She loved to bake, and jam-filled cupcakes were a specialty.

When she was suddenly unwell, her cupcake taster’s cheek began to hollow out, and her lustrous mane disappeared, replaced by a cozy hat, and tiny, fuzzy baby hairs dotting a very wan-looking skull. If skulls can be wan.

In both instances, her smile still glowed, and she still took the time to say hello when she came into the office to get some work done; feel like herself for a little while. Once, during her chemo, she felt pretty good and brought in a batch of her signature cupcakes.

“Yeah! She’s back!”, everyone thought. We all thought her treatments were working. That she was on the mend and would triumph in this battle. That we would one day be celebrating at the office Christmas party with her again.

But no. It was growing stealthily, seeding healthy tissue and preparing for the eventual havoc-wreaking that growing balls of cells will cause when they block tubes and invade finely tuned bodily machinery. Our systems are so delicate and carefully orchestrated, so resilient until suddenly they are not.

Can you imagine, being suddenly surprised by a bowel obstruction when you thought you were getting better? Can you imagine that heavy, sinking feeling that must come with knowing that you will die, and that it will be soon? She deteriorated suddenly about two weeks ago and now she’s not here.

“She could have bought green bananas”, I think defiantly, but the point is moot.
She wouldn’t have been able to eat them.

Instead, I allow myself to wallow for a while in selfish things.
A float plane drop for a bike trip was booked today, but by sheer and random horror, the plane we were supposed to take crashed earlier this week, with five mountain bikers one or two degrees of separation from me on board. Everyone lived and none will be permanently disabled.
I didn’t go to my bike park lesson the other night, choosing instead to take my kids to the lake to watch dusk come, whilst sitting in a kayak with an ice cream cone in hand.
I had two ride plans curtailed last minute by injury and life appointments, and I missed another because of work.
My nine year old baby girl stood in front of me in a tie dyed shirt tied up as a crop top showing her belly last night, with experimental eye shadow on her eyelids and bracelets on each forearm reaching nearly her elbows, and I felt simultaneously afraid of what is to come and so wistful and heartbroken for what has already passed.

Time is a mean and relentless thief, and today, it feels like it has duped me especially.

My bananas sit, forgotten, brown, and pungent on my kitchen counter. I suppose I ought to count myself lucky.

Happy Places

They call it Green Lake because it’s green, silly.
Sometimes, at the crack of dawn, I come to this dock with my paddleboard and get on the water. It takes fifteen minutes to get out of bed and onto the water. It is often a mirror at that time of day, still, peaceful, with an eerie mist that rises off the glass of a lake. The sun only just starts to make its appearance above that middle peak, and it feels like I am the only one in the world who is awake. I am mindful of my paddle strokes then, dipping the blade to only break the surface tension, propel me forward, leaving little ripples in my wake. It is a peace that I can’t adequately describe or explain.

In the day, it is more chaotic. There are more paddlers, the occasional motor boat, or canoe. The people who live in the properties around the lake are out sunbathing, cooking, or having coffee. Tourists splash around, and little mini-drunken dock parties dot the shore.

This day, a mid-week day, I brought the kids and hubs to this dock after camps and work and chaos. It was surprisingly quiet, and the hubs put his sprained, swollen ankle into the glacial water. We are quiet, looking out to the water and mountains, feeling small and lucky, and feeling small and lucky together. These are my favourite humans in the whole wide world. I ought to add that I know an awful lot of amazing humans.
Oh, and I live here. Yes, all the time.
There art thou happy.

Then, there are the trails I’ve oft heard about but have not yet ridden. On this was a stunning feature of a rock that spans three or four storeys in elevation. It’s beautiful, and a test of resolve, confidence, and brake control. This photo was taken partway down, and peering over the edge gets the heart pumping. Naturally, one must attempt to ride a bicycle down it, because there isn’t really any other way to get down it, and a bicycle is probably the fastest and safest way through, strangely enough. So adrenaline, a test of focus and skill, and a spectacular view.
There art thou happy.

Now, if only my post-viral physical self would cooperate, regain its strength and energy, and function on all cylinders again. I’m so tired of being tired.