Legacy

I had an existential crisis in a brewery in Portland. It was our fourth microbrewery tour, and we were deep in our cups.

So says a friend of mine, who has just decided to re-write his memoir. He ran his first manuscript by a writer friend, who told him no one would want to read a re-hashing of his soul-destroying experience as a Public Health Officer for a major Canadian city during COVID.

In the midst of this very sound criticism, he had a crisis, and is now reframing his memoir in the form of life and leadership lessons learned in a series of letters to his daughters. “Because I got thinking about what kind of legacy I would leave for my daughters and I think this is one way I want to do it.

Huh. I admit I’ve never really thought about a life legacy.

But I have been the past few days.

We’re back in the city of Toronto visiting family before heading off for a few weeks in the hot, hot sun, far from the cold rain and sullen faces of winter, far from the tourist flood imminent in our ski town.

The weather doesn’t matter much here though, because we’re inside a lot. There’s not much to do outside. We sit in traffic a lot. Construction is never-ending. Watch TV, read, eat, work. Helluva vacation…Hubs and I have had work calls and emails all week.

But I get to see my parents, who get more and more frail every time I see them. My dad is always physically uncomfortable somewhere, and my mom is always tottering around, repeating the same conversations because she can’t remember. The accident so many years ago replaced my once vibrant, loud-laughing, adventurous mother with an old woman I hardly know. I see my brother and his wife, and he’s fun and we get along, but every time I see him I’m reminded that we are diametric opposites in all aspects of our lives, held together by a genetic and historical thread. My parents watch my kids with affection, even if they don’t quite know how to interact with them, and my kids like hanging out with my parents, though my son has advised that their car “smells kinda funny.” When we leave their house, my mother asks me when she gets to see us again, and I answer, again, that I don’t know. My father waves, gives me a hug, and tells me not to worry.

Kids blurred out because they don’t always want to be on the internet, but all of my daughter’s photos right now are cross-eyed. It’s annoying but also awesome, just don’t tell her I said that.

What are they leaving behind? Does my dad think about these things?

What am I going to leave behind?
Because right now, I’m living for myself. My husband, my kids, my joy, the things I love to do and all my moments. They are all self-interested. Does it matter if I leave a mark on this world?
I’d have to say no. I’m not sure I care if I do. I’ll be forgotten in good time, and if I make it into an afterlife of sorts, I can be pretty certain no one on earth is going to give a damn.
Don’t be a jerk, doff your past hurts, pour love and gentleness and patience on everyone you can, and enjoy whatever you can while you can, as long as you don’t hurt anyone (including yourself) in the process.

So we’ll celebrate my new niece who is now 3 days old. We’ll celebrate my brother-in-law’s new bulldog puppy. We’ll play a million rounds of Monopoly and yell at all the World Cup soccer matches with my in-laws, watch all the movies and eat all the Chinese food with my parents.

I finished The Apollo Murders in a matter of three days, and Chris Hadfield is a man who has definitely left a legacy. I cannot remember the last time I finished a novel without repeated and extended breaks.

Tomorrow, we hit up the Big Apple for a bit before heading to the same island we went to in the middle of the pandemic. While in New York, I’m going to see one of my old university friends, who has been living in Dubai ever since, and happens to be in New York the same time I am.

Because the world is small and life is short.

Legacy shmegacy. Make it ’til tomorrow with a smile on my face and we’ll call it a win.
That, and don’t raise @ss-holey kids.
Win.

Banana-nah

Anyone remember this cartoon?

From Wiki: Rejected is an animated film directed by Don Hertzfeldt that was released in 2000. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film the following year at the 73rd Academy Awards, and received 27 awards from film festivals around the world.

The sketches were weird and a bit gross, but I thought they were brilliant.

Anyway, in this one, the banana comes in at the end of the scene and says, simply, “I am a banana!”

SO AM I!

I bought a banana costume.
After Halloween.
It’s a very versatile costume, and can be worn anywhere really, for laughs.

I expected a portion of my friends to think I was an idiot, though if they were truly my friends, they’d know that already.

What I did not expect, however, was the number of people who questioned me on how okay I was on the racist subtext of the banana.

I should note that the people who asked this question were all Caucasian, which to me signals that they’re pretty with the program, “woke” if you will, with regard to this term, because growing up, I thought the whole banana terminology was just something all us North-American-born Asian kids threw around for fun.

“Oh Crusty, you’re such a banana..” said my Asian friends with a mix of affection and pity, shaking their heads at my lack of knowledge about my own culture.

I didn’t know my Caucasian friends even knew about this, and suddenly, they’re worried about it and its racist undertones, though if any of them were to go out and buy a banana costume, they’d just be a banana, plain and simple. Nothing racist. No harm done.

For the uninitiated, Bananas and Twinkies would refer to kids like me who were considered yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. Not all immigrant children are as banana as I, and some are more banana than I. It kind of depends when your parents immigrated and how much of a priority it was for them to raise you in a traditional way. For kids who were second generation North American, they were *really* banana, many of them not knowing how to speak their mother tongue, or having familiarity with their home cuisine.
We liked to classify each other. Korean kids had a system where you were a 2 if your parents were born in N. America, a 1.5 if you were born here and a 1 if you immigrated as a little kid. Or something like that. I never quite got that system. If you immigrated when you were a bit older, then you’d be called a FOB (fresh off the boat) which was the most derogatory term of all. Teenage subculture is cliquey, so adding in a layer of race and “level of assimilation” was just part of it. In my circles at least, it was all in jest, and mostly just a funny way to cope with the way things were.

My parents immigrated when they were in their late teens, going to Texas (of all places!) to start. My mom worked as a server in the summers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana while doing her degree. For both my parents, it was: get good at speaking English quickly, and assimilate or die. How very Borg.

So keeping me abreast of Chinese festivals and finding the ingredients to make Chinese food in a province with a large population of oil-riggers and ranchers wasn’t a priority. It was about making sure I did well socially and academically, so I could do what I wanted with my life, skin colour and eye shape aside. This meant I got to go to sleepovers, play like a feral street child with the girl across the street until the streetlights went on, go trick-or-treating, and have turkey at Christmas. My brother and I were put in ski and snowboard lessons, ushered outside to learn to skate. My parents were, by Chinese standards, incredibly lenient and risk tolerant. I had few Chinese friends growing up, often because they weren’t allowed to do the stuff I was allowed to do.

I was, however, still put in extracurricular math programs, piano lessons, and Chinese language school. University was an expectation, but not allowed for arts or social sciences.

So I was a banana, but not fully.

Ultimately, all this hype has made me hesitant to wear my banana costume, because it’s innocence lost now. Am I going to trigger this “OMG does she know?” response in all the woke white people who see me in it?

OF COURSE I KNOW.

And it irks that it would only trigger this because I am Asian and wearing a banana costume, when anyone else in it would just be a freaking banana.

I just want to wear a banana costume every so often because it’s funny and gives me joy, and when my daughter decides to don it to watch TV, or just putter around the house, it makes us all laugh.

WHATEVER.
I’m just going to wear it.
I’m not offended.
It’s not racist. It’s a fruit.
So everyone else can just mind their own business.

Pilot light is out

Figuratively speaking.

My gas fireplace pilot light is actually out, but only because we’re redoing the surround and had to move some vent work.

But really, my bike pilot light has gone cold.

It was gloriously sunny this weekend, albeit a bit cold and frosty, but above my 2 degree Celsius (35.6F) limit to ride bikes. Did I go?
No.

Instead, I binge-watched Arcane. (It’s INCREDIBLE btw, soundtrack, graphics, story, everything.)

I don’t watch TV normally, but for the first time in ages, I didn’t have file reviews and reports hanging over me. I didn’t have a training schedule to adhere to. I didn’t have any obligations. So I sat there, on a weekend, under a blanket with my kids and my dog, and watched a cartoon. For hours. While my husband hustled at work. While the sun shone and the sky was blue. And I didn’t feel a lick of guilt about it. It was glorious.

I was stuck all day today and yesterday in clinic. Fourteen hours today, ten yesterday. I’m really effing tired and I just got an email with the subject, “Win a cheese advent calendar from Cheese Club Hong Kong!”. There is a woman out there who lives in Toronto, drives an Infiniti, whose name and email is startlingly similar to my own. She also apparently is part of Cheese Club Hong Kong. I get random emails from her friends. I’ve gotten receipts for cake orders, and the odd travel itinerary. I don’t know how to let her know, though sometimes I wonder if we’d be friends. Maybe she’d share her advent calendar cheese with me.

At some point this evening, I got a message in our little bike group. Someone wants to go riding tomorrow and is looking for companions. He is met with a few “out of town”s and “working”s.
I need to get outside. I’ll bite.

But then I don’t. Because I really do have work to do.
Mostly though, I don’t want to clean my bike in the cold. I hate how I’m sweaty-cold and muddy and my toes and fingers are frozen, and then I have to grab a hose and clean off my bike, then hold a scrub brush to clean the little things, then hold an increasingly damp cloth with my frozen fingers to dry off said bike, then lube it and put it all away. Then I have to rinse the mud off the pants and shoes, put shoes on a dryer, peel off cold wet pants, cold wet socks, damp shirt and sticky bra. Then it’s the pain of toes thawing in the shower, the frozen feeling in the core of my very being, yanking the gritty elastic out of my hair. Oh, then the laundry. And vacuuming/mopping my path to the laundry. It’s a lot of bloody work you know.

You will see, too, how someone has reacted with a princess emoji.

I will own this. Princesses don’t ride in the mud.
I will also point out that the person who posted this emoji also did not volunteer to ride, and I know he doesn’t usually work on a Wednesday.

My city riding buddy sent me a photo of his weekend riding crew out riding in the snow. They’ve got big grins on their faces.
“Where ya been?” he texts.
I’m here.
Sprawled on a couch.
In thick, fleecy sweatpants.
Dry.
Fat.
And okay with it.


I text him back: I’m done for the season. I don’t want to touch my bike. I’m all biked out. See you in the new year.
He gets it. He’s the one who almost died a couple seasons ago after smashing his face into the ground. He did the BC Bike Race two years in a row, and two years in a row, did not finish. He broke bits of his hand, then a rib, and this past year, was still dealing with too many concussion symptoms to attempt racing. This year though, he volunteered and waited at the end to put my medal on me, give me a hug, and cry a few celebratory tears with me. It was pretty great.

But WHAT?
Is it even possible to be all biked out?
I blame it on the bike race.
All the training. All the riding. I love it still, but I’m not willing to suffer frozen digits and muddy underpants in the middle of November for it. Not anymore. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Maybe I will sing a different tune in the spring when I actually miss my bike again.

In other news, I bought a big, long, puffy parka online today.

Because the pilot light is out.

What have I done?

I’m trying to do right by my kids.
This means I’m trying to limit their screen time.

My husband is a realtor, and he has to drive around a lot to meet with clients and show property, which means that when I’m busy or working or whatever, he carts the kids around with him. His default is to tell them to grab their screens so they have something to do when he’s talking to people.

Today, I decide I need to encourage my kids’ brains to remain solid, so I say, “NO! No screens! Bring a notebook, and I want the two of you to write a story. It has to be funny, and when I come to pick you up in an hour, I’d better be laughing when you read it to me.”

What you’re about to read is what they came up with. I feel like it embodies what it is to be an eight and nine-year old these days. So, here goes…

THE FARTING STORY
Once upon a time, there was someone named Yo Mama!!! Now Yo Mama was a funny, strict teacher. So one weird day at a Catholic school, there was a lady named Bob who had a whole lot of lady-like friends. Then one day there was a drop in the stock market. So the Catholic school prayed that it would go up again. Now during that prayer, there was Bob and all her friends and a guy named Gloria. Gloria was trying to hold a fart in but he couldn’t so he let it go. All of a sudden there was a loud fart. It sounded like this: Faaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrt. Now everyone was laughing and Gloria’s face was bright tomato red and Yo Mama was like, “Bruh, who did that? In the middle of a prayer.”
The End.

Ha! Finance, religion, potty humour and bucking gender norms.
Throw in some street slang and call it day.

Yo Mama! BRUH! It’s always a weird day at a Catholic school!

Also, we watched a thing about Sam Bankman-Fried this morning while I was on the trainer, reviewing the $8 billion hot flaming mess he’s in and there were a lot of dramatic graphs that only a deity might save.

You also ought to know that this happened in my 9th grade class when I was at a Christian school, only the kid who farted was named Tony. And I probably told the kids about this somewhere along the way, which is where I’m guessing they got the idea.

I don’t know what Bob has to do with anything.

I laughed. I hope you did too.

Stayin’ alive

I used to think about these sorts of skills on the regular. The artofmanliness.com has all sorts of handy little survival infographics. I don’t know why it’s only targeted to men, as I imagine women are just as likely to be buried alive, or in a rolling-over car, or tumbling off a waterfall.
On second thought, maybe not?
Anyway, if you find yourself tumbling off a waterfall, now you know what to do. Don’t tumble, for one.

I can’t say I’ve been in this exact situation, though I’ve definitely gone off little (very little) waterfalls in a plastic boat. If you do it right, they call it “boofing”, because “boof” is exactly the satisfying sound the plastic boat makes when you hit the water at the right angle. When I was learning to kayak, I remember being taught the Cannonball-Starfish. It’s what you do when you get stuck in recirculating water, typically after a waterfall feature or rock pour-over feature. You pull out of your boat, make yourself into a little cannonball, channeling density to drop to you to the bottom of the water circle, then starfish your body at the bottom, in hopes the water will pick up your surface area and push you out of recirculation so you can swim out to air and safety.
Physics.
I wish I’d paid a little more attention.
If you stay in your boat, you’re likely to get “window-shaded”, where you and your boat get rolled up and down and up and down like a roller-blind. It’s happened to a friend of mine once, and he vomited all over himself. Vomiting and trying to breathe and being semi-underwater aren’t the greatest combination.

It all requires calm and the werewithal to remember this and time it right, which, when you’re underwater and all you see is bubbles and maybe your life flash before your eyes if it’s been a little bit, can be difficult. I think that’s how it works with most adrenaline sports. You need to be able to stay calm when things go sideways.

When I finished that bike race a while back, and went in later to get my covid booster, a colleague of mine gave me the shot. She’s a family doc, and in her past life, an ex-pro bike racer, and has taken her fair share of podiums in numerous bike races in all disciplines. We get chatting.
“Ah,” she says. “The BCBR course is relatively easy compared to say, the Cape Epic [in S Africa]”.
I know she wants to talk about how she dislocated her collarbone in that race, still finished it, and took 2nd place.
I smile. Heck, if I did that, I’d want to talk about it too.
“But you did med school. You know prolonged suffering. Seven days is a piece of cake right?”

Ha.
Medical school is definitely prolonged suffering. That you paid for to boot.
The other thing it taught me (besides medicine and suffering), was to stay calm when things go sideways. Like if someone is dying in front of you. Or bleeding everywhere. Or if I’m underwater and holding my breath and trying to figure out how the heck I’m going to get myself out of this self-induced pickle.
You must never, never, never freeze in these moments. Because deer in headlights die.

Don’t die.

This is important, though I can’t articulate why. And this is my public service announcement for today, for anyone who needs the reminder.

Oh hi, Seasonal Affective, how nice to see you again.

I haven’t been riding my bicycle outside much.
It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s wet, my neck hurts, and I have such an incredible amount of work to do all the time it haunts me in my sleep. I’m not kidding, I woke up at 3 am last night thinking about how I was going to manage all this. Work guilt is so tangible it may as well be bags of wet sand.

It was a dreary, dull Saturday at home, staring at my computer reviewing files and writing reports, while my children entertained themselves, wandering aimlessly around the house, listlessly reading bits of their books, working on a few math questions, and ultimately defaulting to their screens to watch youtubers react to tiktoks. I was failing as a parent.

Sunday morning came suddenly, and after getting all my gear on to get on the trainer, I just about turned around and crawled back into bed. BUT NO. I have to do this. It’s dark and raining outside, and if I don’t get on that trainer RIGHT NOW I will dissolve into a puddle of sadness and self-loathing.

An hour later, I am only a puddle.

We go to church, and I sit slumped in the back.

A refugee family has arrived from Eritrea. They’ve come just in time for our dreariest, most depressing season, and I wonder how they will fare. We have been fundraising to sponsor their arrival for over a year, and now they’re finally here, but haven’t yet had a chance to see how wondrous and magical our town is, because for about six months of the year, our mountains are shrouded in cloud and our forests swathed in rain. Sometimes I wonder how helpful we actually are to these families, pulling them out of one terrible situation into another less terrible situation.
Does it just make us feel good?
We’ve just brought them into an affluent ski town where even locals can’t find affordable places to rent. They don’t ski. It’s really effing cold for them. We complain about the weather all the time because we are in the 1% and oblivious to real life problems. Sure not everyone in town is a millionaire, but compared to what this family left behind, we are spoiled children, playing in a wonderland and b*tching about everything else.

After my musings about first-world-feel-good tactics and volun-tourism when I ought to have been listening to a sermon, I start driving home with the kids. The hubs has trotted off to work. Here, work days are every day. There is no such thing as a “week-end”. I am dejectedly thinking about what I’ll work on this afternoon, when I ask the kids if they’d like to go to the pool instead. Or to a nearby farm perhaps?

Yeah, the farm. We haven’t been there in a while.
But you guys are too old for the little kid things. And I don’t want to go tromping through the muddy pumpkin patch today.
It’s okay Mama. Can you just buy us the bags of feed so we can feed the chickens? We just want to feed the chickens.

I buy them two paper bags of feed, and they go running to the chicken pen. The sheep are nowhere to be found today, and the pigs are lying there, muddy, dejected, lazy and fat. If I could manifest an animal right now….

I turn away from the animals, and take in the view.

It’s pretty beautiful here. The deciduous trees on the mountain look like someone spilled paint and it’s trickling down to the base. There is a fire in a firepit, burning hot, and a woman holds three sticks, each with a sausage skewered on it, over the flames. Her boys are on decrepit tractors, working up an appetite. My children have disappeared into a hay maze, and apparently befriended a child visiting from somewhere three hours away. My hair is going to smell like campfire, and I’m not going to wash it, so I can catch a whiff of it in clinic tomorrow and be reminded that there is life outside of the clinic, even though I am not going to be experiencing it again any time soon.

I am buried in the lives of people’s files I’m reviewing, trying to decide what stake the lawyer has in this, how to phrase a sentence to be clear enough, but not so clear to be absolute.

But for an hour or two, I am just breathing in and out, feet on muddy ground, body still, enveloped by the simplicity of being outside.

I ought to get out and ride my bike more. I know it will remind me how it feels to be real again, but to take two hours (three if you count the cleanup of riding in the wet) out of time where I could be working, two (three!) hours out of time I could be doing something with my family, I can’t justify it. Not right now. I’ve already stolen so much time to ride bikes all summer.

Work now, play later.

It’s late, and I ought to go to bed. I close my laptop, and my husband hands me a stack of documents.
We need to review these. We need to get them finalized by week’s end.

Wills. Powers of Attorney.

I am reading pages of more legalese, only peppered now with the names of our brothers, our best friends, and our children. All the provisions, all the in-cases, all the ifs-and-thens.
When it comes to the power of attorneys for health, I ask my husband what quality of life would be acceptable. What if you can’t walk? What if you can’t work? What if you can’t feed yourself? What if you can’t remember? What if only half of your body works, but your brain is fine? What if it’s the top half? The left half?
Suddenly there are tears streaming down my face.
I am imagining my life without him.
I am imagining my life with him but as his caregiver.

I see my dad, my mom, and their scenario plays out again. In sickness and in health. Until death do us part. Mama, did we do you wrong?

I email our lawyer. Let’s meet on Wednesday afternoon.

I need to sleep, but it feels like that is wasting time when I could be getting work done, so I can maybe squeeze in a bike ride later, somewhere between the next file and the presentation I have to put together for the weekend Continuing Medical Education event.

There are dinner plans to keep with friends, phone calls and texts I have yet to return. One must invest in the people you care about. Anything good needs maintenance. Work will wait. But that niggling anxiety. Wet sand gets everywhere.

I can’t wait to be bored again.

Delights

For the first time in eight years, the hubs and I went somewhere, overnight, without the kids. Sure, it was just to the city for dinner and a comedy show, but we had a fancy dinner and uninterrupted conversation with each other and a couple of our best friends, then watched Jim Jefferies make all sorts of funny line-crossing observations about the world, then went for oysters and drinks in the darkest hotel bar ever with said friends where we talked for another eon, uninterrupted, and then we went to bed, because it was well and truly past our bedtime, and slept uninterrupted. Then we woke up and went for a leisurely breakfast before driving the two hours back home.

On the way home, we listened to a podcast I’ve really come to enjoy. Ologies, by Alie Ward is full of interesting topics. I’ve learned about volcanoes (volcanology), scorpions (scorpiology), mortuary make-up (desairology), otters (lutrinology), wolves (lupinology), lightning (fulminology), and on this drive, Eudemonology, the study of Happiness. I listen to these podcasts on long drives and long bike trainer sessions, and never cease to be amazed.

So the Happiness podcast was chock full of great concepts: things like being happy with your life vs being happy in your life, how they can be divergent and still result in overall happiness, the idea of “time affluence” (the sense that one has ample time on a daily basis) and how this correlates to happiness, and even a brief bit about gut microbiomes as an up and coming research topic, and (very briefly) how some crazies out there can purchase poop from people to do their own fecal transplants. The biggest thing I took home though? The thing about gratitude journalling. Thinking about things you’re grateful for on the regular makes you happy.

We’re apparently evolved to always see the negatives, and there’s a survival component to that, so it requires conscious effort to find the positives. But it’s so self-help and cringey, a Gratitude Journal….So rename it. Look for things that delight you. Things that are delightful. She gave the example of her partner’s List of Reasons Not to Kill Myself, heavily in use when he was going through a dark time. Delights can include good coffee and lavender soap. Or, if you’ve ever looked in to Neil Pasricha’s Book of Awesome and the motivations behind it, same idea.

Delight: n. great pleasure
And to me, accompanied by the facial expression of eyebrows raised, eyes shining, smile wide and hands open and extended either beside the face or about to encompass the object of delight.

Delights come in the form of people too, and as I texted the same friend we were just hanging out with the night before about all this, she advised that she was sitting in the bath, trying to do more “yin” things, as various health practitioners had advised her to do. She works a pretty intense job with travel and stress and politics and careful navigation to optimize avoiding a glass ceiling in her own career advancement. She also wears a suit and heels all the time. I’d die.
“What are yin things you do?” she asks me.
What’s a Yin thing? Feminine energy? Moon cycles? I had my nails done. I exfoliated my face today.
“Ha. I think they mean relaxing energy. Like nature walks and swimming in the ocean. They have suggested evening yoga.”
I feel like coffee where I’m just sipping coffee and not reading emails/working at the same time also counts.
“They’re also telling me to chew my food 30 times a bite (what?)….”
Mm. I’ve tried chewing things 20x. Gross and impossible for my patience threshold.
“And mostly gross! It is just a paste. Yuck”

This friend is a delight. These text conversations are a delight.
Then I did a very non-yin thing and pedaled hard on the trainer for a strength interval session. That was not a delight, but my trainer that has ERG mode is a delight. And being strong for outdoor rides is a delight. And feeling my muscles work is a delight. And having my son beside me trying to do planks for the duration of each of my intervals is a delight.

So here we are, about to embark on another work week.
I had a few hours of the Sunday blues after we got home, but now my dog is next to me on the couch, and his paws have that familiar, cozy smell of corn chips, and he’s running in his dream and his little feet are tapping against my thigh, and my children are safely tucked in bed and my husband is brushing his teeth. I’ve gotten a few hours of work done tonight, and now I’m going to head into hopefully yet another uninterrupted slumber, and this, all of this, is truly, completely, and absolutely delightful.

Who matters?

I went to a wedding for an old colleague of mine this past weekend. ‘Twas an intimate affair in their gingerbread-cottage style home with only about forty people in attendance.

This colleague and friend is one of those people who is kind through and through, and if he is not kind, it means he is at the end of his tether and probably overtired and someone has really pissed him off.

When I first started my first grownup job as a neurologist, he showed me around the hospital, showed me where all the hidden computers were, so as not to be spotted and given more work. I got the inside scoop on hospital politics, the careful observations of personalities and how to handle them. Neurology, after all, is all about the story and observations. We used to trail run together, hours and hours through the woods, talking about all manner of everything. I knew his kids, his ex, his story, and all the cool neurological cases he’d seen. When I left that hospital and that practice, we sort of lost touch, because I’m terrible with the whole out of sight out of mind thing, and because somehow, as we age, I find we’re all pretty shite at taking time out of life to check up on our friends.

A good friend told me that as she was arriving to the wedding, her date asked her, “Alright, who matters?”

I liked this.
It’s bad because it implies that others don’t matter, which of course is never the case, but when walking into a social hodgepodge of unknowns, you want to know where to spend your time.

A lawyer friend of mine has always told me that at conference parties, where networking is key, you need to walk in with an objective. Know who’s who if you can. Have a few pointed get-to-know-you questions, and if you find yourself in a conversation that does nothing to advance your career or offer you a strategic contact, then have various segues to extricate yourself from the conversation and move on. Five minutes per person, no more. There are seminars with tips on how to exit conversations gracefully.

My attendance for the first time in eons at a wedding, comprised of a lot nerdy neurologists I used to know, some of whom are much older, retired colleagues, and me standing in heels and a dress, is a bit of different situation. I forgot all my self-extrication tactics, and so there were conversations that carried on a little too long, and a few that I would have liked to have jumped into earlier.

Mostly though, I did my usual thing of standing awkwardly by the food and eating. I don’t need to chat with you if my mouth is full, right? I had enough bite-sized things to equate to a substantial feast. Good thing my outfit was stretchy.

“The groom, my office assistant, and Crusty[me],” she’d replied to her date.
Awww. I’m honoured.
This friend is really smart and beautiful and sassy and athletic and fun. When I whine about my impostor syndrome, she always says, “Oh, we all feel that way.” But what she doesn’t realize is that I am significantly more of an impostor than she. I know a lot less than she does, and am legitimately muddling through more of my life than she is.
When I read her notes, or hear her answer questions in an academic setting, I’m always a little in awe. My complicated patients where I’m trying to make my bewildered shoulder shrug look educated, I send her way for another opinion. High profile universities are hunting her down in hopes of poaching her to head their own departments. She is a powerhouse. She pulls earrings out of her handbag for me to borrow and I immediately get a bunch of compliments on them from absolute strangers. Oh friend, you have no idea how much of an impostor I am.

What matters though?

My friend is hitched, happily so, and when his bride started down the aisle toward him, he was positively beaming. His phone rang mid ceremony and he reached into his pocket to turn it off.
“Is he on call?” someone asked.
Nah. It’s just another socially awkward doctor, lost, and calling him for directions. Said doctor arrives in a cloud of dust 45 minutes late, with the ceremony just ending. He generally means well, and we know this about him, so those who know him participate in a collective eyeroll.

There’s a musician in attendance, part of a band called Comeback Kid. I’ve not heard of them, but his wife describes them as “big-ish“, though she’s mostly pleased she’ll have time to hang with her girls while he’s on tour.

But really, in the end, who mattered?

The groom, our office assistant, and my brilliant and beautiful friend. They were the only real conversations I had that evening.
And they weren’t even remotely about bicycles.

Mindgames and Adrenaline

The other day, I went riding with a colleague. We’ve never ridden together before.
He built a trail a few years ago, as his therapy to mourn his brother’s death. He’d never built a trail before, and he’d only started riding a couple years before, but quickly excelled at it. His trail is a known spot amongst locals, but an otherwise closely guarded secret. Every year, he dreams up more and more features to add, all of them crazy and daunting and fun and potentially high consequence if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’d told him I wanted him to lead me down it, that I needed to see someone hit the features and ride the trail as it’s meant to be ridden, because the one time I ventured in there with a friend, we rode the first two features and nearly walked everything else because it was so hard to know what was coming and the right speed to go. I wasn’t sure how fast I’d have to go to flow over the gap jump over a creek into a corner and off a drop into another jump.
It’s a lot to process you know? And I’m a visual learner.

Anyway, this is the very first feature.

“You rode it last time, yeah?”
Yup.
“Ok, you wanna just follow me in?”
Um..I will follow you, but I will stop and look at it again.
“Ok. I’ll wait for you after.”
K.

Deep breath.

My brakes are squeaky. I thought I’d bedded in the new pads, but apparently not enough. Oh well.
I creep in to the entrance.
Where I am in that photo is the part where the rock steepens, and you release the brakes and lean in to take the forces of the parabola. It is a thrilling split second, where you need to just let go and trust your body and your bike and your skill set. It’s past the point of commitment, but when you’re dropping in to it, it feels like you’ve just thrown caution to the wind and are hoping for a miracle. Then the dirt catches you and momentum pulls you up the hill.
Miracle found.
I pull up beside him and he high fives me.
Then he tells me about how he’s armoured out the exit so it won’t get blown out, how he’s hoping it’ll last.

The next feature is a triple hump.
He points left, where the rock nub drops away into…air.
“I wanna build a drop here. Off that point. Start the exit ramp about there.”
He points again to thin air.
It would be a pretty sick drop. Definitely a puckerer.
But I can picture it, and it’d be doable. It would just require a good amount of courage and resolve. And confidence in your drop skills.
He turns back to the triple hump, hops back on his bike, flies down and makes it look so smooth. I follow suit, and am amazed that when I just flow into it, it feels as good as it looks. Yet if you break it down, it looks steep and lumpy and blind and ridiculous.

My knees are a little trembly, I tell him.
“Perfect. Means you’re having fun. Need a second?”
Yes.
Because the next feature goes down a rock hump and then up onto a bridge off a drop onto a rock slab.
He points out the slight angle of the terrain, tells me all about the conundrum he had when trying to haul stringers up there to build the bridge. How he had to add an extra stringer to get the right height. Finding deadfall and hauling them up. The brackets he had to find to hold the drop supports to the rock. Trimming branches to ensure a clean exit.

I’m in awe.
He’s a giant trail-building nerd, and building this trail has been a labour of love, entailing hundreds upon hundreds of hours. I knew he was a nerd, because I know how he is as a physician, but this is the first time we’ve interacted outside of work, and it’s a little strange.
Dude. When do you see your wife and kids? I think. I don’t ask it out loud though. This is his therapy. Why else do grown men go digging jumps in the woods?
Instead, I ask what the grip on the rock is like to land on.
He rides the drop to demonstrate.
I had it in my head that I was going to ride it, but I see that even though the drop is clean, the exit is fast and rowdy. I’m not sure I can hit it, and I say so, stating I’ll ride around the drop.
“I think you should ride the slab then. But no pressure.”
He’s built an alternate line to the left, a steep slab into a right-hand corner.
“Yeah, everyone kept hitting that tree, so I built a berm, but then it kept getting destroyed because you come off the slab so fast, so then I built a bigger berm and armoured it. See?”
Yes. I see.
Less talk, or I’ll lose my nerve.
I drop into the slab, my insides all knotted up, and somehow find the bodily control to miss the tree, but only by a hair. Good thing there’s an armoured berm there…

The big three, taken care of.

What follows is a series of jumps and hips and a little drop mixed in.
“So, from here, I’ve built it so you don’t have to pedal, and you can just flow it.”
What?
I am distracted, looking at a moderately sized wooden gap.
“Oh, that goes pretty smoothly. There’s usually a creek under it in the spring. I have so many drawings for that one. I was going to build a tabletop, or a bridge, but I figured the gap would be most fun. Only, the creek contacts this support post, and I’m worried it will rot. So I’ve been gradually moving some of those rocks around up there.” He points uphill.
So…you’re trying to reroute the creek?
“Yeah.”
Is it working? I laugh.
“Yeah. Kinda.”
He pauses and looks around.
“Isn’t it beautiful here?”
It is. It’s actually magical. The forest is carpeted in a bright green. It’s midmorning and the sun is filtering through the trees, and even though we aren’t far from the highway, it’s quiet and still.

We walk the whole line. We look at the drop, then the jump, then another gap. I’ve decided I’m not going to hit the last gap. It’s sizeable, but I think everything else will be okay. The landing must have taken an eternity to build. It’s made of neatly stacked, flat rocks.
“From this corner, two to three pedal strokes, jump, and you’ll clear. Light brake into that corner, no pedal on the bridge, drop, flow, jump. Go left to skip the last gap.”
I watch him until he goes off the drop and disappears into the trees. I get on my bike, take a deep breath, and follow his instructions.
And I ride the whole sequence.
It is smooooth.
It feels incredible, like floating. At speed. In a forward direction.
Okay, flying. Maybe.
He’s just started hiking his bike back up to watch me, and is suprised I’ve just dropped in and done it.
“HOLY COW THAT FELT AMAZING! It’s so smooth!” I exclaim.
“Right?! So smooth.”
“SO smooth!”
He beams with pride.

The last section has another steep-ish, blind entry rock sequence. We get off our bikes again and look at it. There are two chunks of rock I’ll need to manual drop, a technique I get right maybe sixty percent of the time right now.

I try the first one, botch it, and end up too far back, my back tire buzzing my butt resulting in a tumble into bushes that thankfully arrest my slide before I go off the edge of the rock.

He hears my fall but can’t see it.
“You okay?” he hollers from below.
Yup! Just got a little too far back!
“Whoa, you’re really in those bushes,” he observes, as he climbs back up and sees me disentangling myself.
All good. I hoist my bike overhead and stumble back onto the trail. I straighten my bars and dust myself off. I’m not going to attempt the second one. Well, not today anyway.

We ride out, where there are a few more whoop-de-do jumps before we get to the road, and I’ve got a huge grin plastered on my face. Hot damn that was fun.

Next up is another trail I’ve been wanting to ride for ages, but I never quite knew how to get there. He’s drawn me a map before, but I’m not about to go in there by myself. We shuttle part way, because my adrenals are working overtime this morning and I want to be fully on to ride this trail. I’ve heard things. Things that were maybe meant to scare me a little.

There’s a short, steep hike, and the entry is technical and steep winding trail. He rides up and waits while I push my bike up. At the top of the rock, there’s a bench to enjoy the view. We’re slightly lower in elevation than before, but the views are still pretty epic.
He wastes no time in addressing the rock ahead.
“Steep, straight, big G-out at the bottom. Go slow, be ready for it.”
Okay.

I follow him in but pull my brakes before dropping into the rock because I can see the huge compression at the bottom.
I’m picturing myself pogo-ing off my bike into oblivion. He stops and looks up from below.
“It’s fine, just hold strong. If you go slightly to the left, it’s not as big a hole. That’s why we do pushups right?”
I hesitate; debate skipping this feature. But then, well, I know myself. If I skip this, it’ll set the tone for the next feature, and I’ve wanted to ride this trail for so long, so damn well ride it then!
I get on my bike and ride it.
Unbeknownst to me, he’s filmed it, and looking at footage, you can hear me hit the compression and the stifled ungh of trying not to collapse into the bike. He laughs. It’s pretty bad.
Survived. Next?
“Follow my line, there are no surprises.”

What follows are a blur of slab after slab after slab, all big and steep and committing and beautiful, just the way I like’em and I’m just following his back tire. There’s a few double-black sanctioned trails I’ve ridden this way, blind, following a friend’s tire. It helps, because the next time I go in there, and I’m daunted by how big or scary something looks, I’ll know I’ve ridden it before, and it was fine, so I can ride it again.
We stop for two rocks, one that’s a bit dusty and heads into an armoured corner, and one that finishes with another manual drop. The first requires careful speed control to not fly out of the corner, and the other I opt to skip and ride around, but once I get to the bottom and take a look at it, I think it would have been easily manageable. Next time.
I tumble off my bike in a weird, rooty channel that leads into a decrepit wooden jump. He’s warned that I need to hop off the wood to the left to avoid the broken bits, but I’ve been thrown off my bike from the roots before I even get there. He watches again, as I get up and dust myself off, smelling of tree sap as I’ve just tumbled into a mess of it.
“I’ve fallen in that exact spot.”
Truly? You’re not just saying that to make me feel better? I don’t usually bail this much.
“No, seriously, I fell right there because those roots are weird. I debated telling you about it but then I figured then you end up thinking about it too much, you know? When people tell you?”

The final section is steep and fast, and as I am about to pop out onto the road, I realize that the trail legitimately spits you out onto the highway. Phthtooie.
I stop in the ditch, opting not to jump up the ditch onto the highway shoulder like he did, resulting in an awkward climb out of the ditch with my bike. We shuttle out and high five.
I think I just found my new favourite trail, and say so.

“Finally! Someone in the clinic who can actually ride!” he says. “I wasn’t sure, because you were being all hesitant about these trails, but you know what you’re doing. Glad you made it happen. Only took a year!”

Can I just say?
I am pleased as punch.


Back to bicycles

It’s been a solid week and a bit since completing the longest bicycle race I’ve ever done.

And on the seventh day…
I swung my leg over my downhill bike and meandered into the bike park solo with the intention of seeing if I could still ride jumps. Can I still ride my bike on allthehardthings?
It’d been two weeks of riding cautiously before the race, a week of non-technical riding during the race, and then a week off.
As someone who rides her bike four or five days a week, this feels both strange and wrong.

It’s been blue skies and sunshine lately, a rarity for West Coast Octobers, and oh! How glorious it was to get into the bike park on a weekday, without the summer crowds, and just ride without lineups and bottlenecks! I warmed up on a jump trail that has clearly not been maintained in months (our resort community is ridiculously short staffed) and as I loaded on the chairlift a second time, hoping the buzzing feeling in my hands would subside, I looked over and there, as if placed by a deity, were two friends I haven’t ridden with in a good long while. One is the husband of a friend, and the other one of his best buddies. Both are extremely talented riders, but jovial and no-stress and lovely to ride with. They ask me to join them, and I’m grateful for the invitation. What followed were a few hectic laps of double black tech trails and a few big jumps and drops on trails I haven’t ridden all season. I think they call this baptism by fire. They wait for me at every major junction, joking around and yelling out the proverbial, “You good?” before we’d drop into the next ridiculous trail following a breathless nod from me.

I loved every minute.

I missed being pushed like this. It’s steep, it’s fast, I’m trying to keep up, and wow that drop comes up quick, I don’t remember that corner being so clean, oh look at that alternate line!
I am legitimately hanging on for dear life, but I’m riding it all, and it all feels so good despite the fact that I’m sweating buckets into my armour and it’s all trickling down my back and my adrenaline is pumping (as it ought to be) again. This, THIS is why I ride. This thrill, this rush, this challenge. This is the kind of stress I’m craving.

We hop onto a jump trail for the final lap, and as I lean into the S-bend before the Moonbooter (a jump I’ve come to adore this past year or so) there is a small group of men pulled over and watching from the corner. I hear them holler as I ride past them, and I send it, throwing in a little bar tweak before landing, and feeling like an absolute champion.

Later, I see them at the trail junction, and they’re talking about that jump and the mental “no brakes no brakes no brakes” mantra that comes as you approach the long, steep lip, “But then, I couldn’t do it!!” one says in frustration.
We’ve all been there. That was me all last year on that jump, but until you take your fingers off the brakes, you won’t clear that jump.
Clearing it feels like taking flight. It’s called the Moonbooter for a reason.

I went back to the bike park the following day, but as it was a holiday, it was two mediocre laps with long lineups. I spent some time with a girlfriend I haven’t ridden with all season, and we got a chance to catch up. I told her about the race, and how cross-country stage racing was definitely not my bag.
As one of the few women in the sport when it was gaining traction on the North Shore, she noted that all bike races were like that when they first started, and that was why she stopped racing.
“XC races like that reward the climb, and you have to train on the road to build that kind of stamina. So you’ve basically got a bunch of roadies on mountain bikes who like to suffer.”
Well…there was an awful lot of lycra.
She laughs. “Forget the climbing. I’ve decided my next bike is going to be an e-bike.”

Over the weekend, after hiking with my kids and dog on a trail near our house, my son suggests we ride it. It’s a trail in an area known as the No Flow Zone; technical riding with no flow, and in my mind, equated with general misery.
“Really? Don’t you think this looks like janky uphill?”
“Yeah! Let’s ride it! It looks like it’ll be fun!”
I side-eye my son, because well, I thought he’d be able to read trails better than this.

We drop my daughter and my dog at home, and pedal back up to the trail.

Five minutes in, he is walking, and decides we ought to turn around. I laugh, and we ride back down the bumpy rooty bits as fast as we can.
He grins. “I still remember how to ride!”

Me too kiddo, ME TOO!