Monday, July 27, 2015

Bittersweet Feelings: RW24 2015

The end of another amazing RW24
photo by Kelly Detweiler
It's been a bit over 36 hours since I crossed the finish line for RW24 for the last time as a team member. There are so many mixed emotions running through my body right now I'm not sure where to begin this post.  My love for this event, what it stands for, all the team members I've gotten to ride with, the co-garage team, the organizers and the volunteers has grown exponentially over the past five years.  This year, there were times I kept thinking "this will be the last time I...." and tears almost came to my eyes.  You see I am planning on volunteering as much as I can next year instead of riding--it's the least I can do to give back to the event which has given me so much.  There is a chance I'll ride solo the following year, but there's also a good shot I'll just end this on a high note and move on.

This year, for me, was all about team dynamics and just observing.  Almost as soon as last year's event ended, I began thinking about the team for this year.  Who would really appreciate the quirkiness of an event like this?  Who would find pleasure in pushing themselves while smiling?  Who could hold down bucket fulls of cheap beer, espresso, whiskey and junk food without falling into some crazy food/liquor induced coma? My team choice wasn't hard and I think it was set in stone sometime in February.  Sometimes, however, things come up and one of the team members from last year had to pull ten days prior.  I thought long and hard about just keeping that spot unfilled--heck, we rode with five members the first year and I didn't want to just put anyone in to fill the spot.  There was one person, though, who stood out in my mind for the perfect replacement.  He's a part of my regular riding crew and sort of fell into that group in a serendipitous way, so it only seemed ideal to have him join us--especially since he was considering riding out to just watch anyway. Honestly, it couldn't have worked out better.  We were now a well blended team of three vets and three newbies.  Put us in the same homebase with team Riverwestfalia (our gracious hosts, MKE area residents and a couple Madison friends) and I won't lie, there was some magic going on from the moment we got out of the car.

Practice lap before the main show
photo by John Mcneill

Our welcoming message on Chambers and Pierce

Much to two of my team mates dismay, we walked...yes, walked, to get our packets at Club 99 and eat dinner kindly donated by the Riverwest Co-op.  Sometimes I forget what seeing the event (pre-ride and all) was like my first time.  For me, this seemed like walking from my home in Madison down to the corner store--with lots of reunions along the way.  For two of the newbies it must have seemed a bit like an adult circus.  Little did they know.....

Gathering up for announcements

Dan, one of the owners of the garage we crash at and the best host ever!

One of my favorite parts of this event are the announcements prior to the start.  I know that sounds crazy, but to get to see and listen to the organizers really hits that gushy spot in me.  There is no way any of us could imagine what really goes into an event like this, and to see them up on the porch, reminding us each year in a different tone "this is not a race", makes me smile from ear to ear.  Each one of the eleven organizers has sacrificed so much--family, down time, blood, sweat and tears.  They will never take credit for their work--always deferring to the community and volunteers--and yet I'm guessing most of us know that if it wasn't for them, this could NEVER happen.  So in these 15 minutes before the ride, I have to fight the urge to yell "THANK YOU" at the top of my lungs.

As in past posts about this event, I won't go into every boring detail.  We rode, we drank, we ate, we laughed our asses off, and we made really good zombies.  Here are some of the memories still flashing through my brain:

-Seeing a couple with their baby--all dressed as lions (there was a lion somewhere loose in MKE so this seemed to be a theme) hide in the tall grasses on the Booth switchbacks.

-The mandala painted on Pierce just a couple blocks north of our home base.

-Getting to see Robert before he started his 24 hour volunteer stint at checkpoint 2 (he comes in from California to do this).

-Walking into Club 99 to pick up our packet and t-shirts and having the volunteers say "Oh, we've been discussing you and were wondering who had your team name."

-Watching a woman crochet a penny farthing on a chain link fence.

-Having friends from Madison and MKE, who were not racing, come hang out at the garage and drink a few beers with us.

Late night visit from Angus who came by to chill between laps

-Seeing the smiles on the newbie's faces when they found their niche and favorite route to the checkpoints.

-Taking hose showers after my laps--yep, that felt amazing!

-Watching a friend mix Gatorade and Southern Comfort know, to keep electrolytes up.

-Doing espresso shots and whiskey shots back to back and not dying from it (each year I play a bit of Russian roulette with this).

-Watching the two guys on my team, who I knew would be competitive even though they said "I'm not competitive", check our standings every hour or so on the leader board.

This was used for our "spreadsheet"

-Watching one of the team mates--again, one who "isn't competitive"--make a "spreadsheet"of all the bonus checkpoints in the first hour.

-Seeing Paul Reardon from Blue Steel Bicycles
get to not only wrench at checkpoint one but also mark manifests.

Paul Reardon on the right, working with organizer Steve Whitlow
-Riding full or partial laps with friends I only get to see a couple times during the year.

-Watching Beth, who won the female solo category, pound out lap after lap and never seem to tire.

-Seeing the creative names of teams.  Blisters of Mercy being my favorite this year.

-Stuffing myself silly with two friends at breakfast just after seeing another friend dance with Wendy, the organizer, to Eye of the Tiger.  I'm not sure which was better.

John and Wendy just ended their "Eye of the Tiger dance"
-Going with a team mate while he lost his tattoo virginity and watching another friend press his sweaty body up against the glass while we were inside.

Steve losing his tattoo virginity

-Seeing my new skull valve stem lights (a gift from a teammate) blink a brilliant blue all night long.

-Hearing Prince thump through the speakers at checkpoint 3 just when I thought I was going to fall asleep.

-And finally, the victory lap with both teams.  I think I looked upset in a some of the pictures taken during that lap when really I was just overly emotional.  I get that way when I have to say goodbye.

Victory Lap with both teams!
photo by Harald 

Jacob doing the Booth switchbacks on the victory lap
To all of the people who donated even one minute of their time to this event, I say "thank you".  This event has changed my life for the better in so many ways.  See y'all next year when I'll be volunteering!

Pre dawn and we're turning into zombies
John took the haircut checkpoint for us!
Pickle handups!

One of the many great bands on the course
Dan and Kelly making the "beers for volunteers" run

Friday, July 24, 2015

Roadie Douchbaggery and the pack mentality that feeds it

Two nights ago, I went out with a friend who used to be a regular in group rides.  This year, the switch was turned off and he pretty much said "I'm done with it"--mostly because the douchbag behavior of so many road cyclists is so strong.  When he told me this, I got it right away.  It's one of the largest reasons I left racing almost 24 years ago, and it's the main reason I hadn't done larger group rides again until this year (aside from riding with my ragtag group of friends).  I'm not going to lie, however, and say I wasn't a bit bummed.  Although I know, in every cell of my body, I could never keep up with this friend in a group ride, it's friends like him who have gotten me to pick up my pace a bit this year.

Since I've been averaging one faster group ride a week for the past two months, I've definitely seen my share of stupid and downright dangerous behavior.  Everything from riders wearing headphones, riding aero in a paceline, riding four abreast on a busy road, taking corners way too fast and almost going headfirst into traffic and not having a clue on how to "hold a line".  Hey, we've all done stupid things out there--I am absolutely at fault at times--but when you see repeat offenders doing these things time after time, it makes you wonder if you want to ride around them.

Last night, I chose to do the Capital Brewery bike ride.  I really had no business being there since I start a 24 hour urban race today, but I thought "what the hell, I'll take it easy and if I get dropped, no worries".  I set out with a few friends but after about 10 miles I had to make the choice of pushing it at the front of the "b" group, or falling off the back and riding with the main pack.  I chose to fall back, which now makes me think going balls out would have been a safer bet.  As the group engulfed me, I instantly started seeing poor behavior.  Riding 3-4 abreast on a busy road, not moving over when someone would yell "car back", and not holding lines.  To me, some of these folks looked to be riding drunk because as we climbed, they swerved all over the road making it difficult to even pass them.

By the time we got a few miles to the finish, I counted four situations with vehicles that made me cringe (all in less than 15 miles).  Each one I saw made me drop back a bit more, not wanting to be anywhere near this behavior, until finally I went to a complete soft pedal and let them move out of site.  For me, the ride was ruined.  I had enjoyed the first few miles with my friends, and I tried the best I could to recapture "why I ride" in those last few miles on my own.  To be honest, it was tough. I tend to work myself into a bit of a frenzy when I see cyclists blatantly riding in a dangerous fashion. It makes automobile drivers hate us which comes back to haunt me on solo rides later.

Needless to say, I came back home, peeled my gloves off and just sat down to process for a bit.  Is being connected to a group of riders like this even something I want--regardless if it makes me a stronger/faster rider?  This is something I'll be thinking about for sure in the upcoming days.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Not the best end to a great ride...

Lately I've had really bad luck with critters.  For those of you who know me, you know I am somehow more affected about the welfare of animals than most people.  It sounds terrible, I understand, but there's something inside of me which always moves towards living creatures that don't have a choice in what's happening to them.  It's not that I don't care about the people in my life, but animals give my heart strings a bit of a stronger pull--they have since I was a child.

Last week, on a lovely annual century with friends, we came across a adolescent sparrow in the road.  It appeared to be injured--although I couldn't figure out what was wrong with it--and I just couldn't keep going without seeing what I could do for it.  It was a hot day and the last thing I wanted was for it to bake on the road.  As I gently picked it up in my gloved hand and walked it to the side of the road, I knew it was stressed and dehydrated.  I considered ending its life right then and there--something I hate doing but my dad taught me as a little girl that it's the most humane thing once in awhile.  I couldn't do it.  I broke.  Instead, I took my water bottle and slowly fed it water drop by drop--watching its eyes dilate and perk up with each sip.  One of my riding friends, a nurse, knew it wouldn't survive, but knowing how I am with animals, kept telling me it might be alright.  I knew he was just trying to comfort me but it was such a kind gesture.  I set the bird in the grass, hoping a hawk would swiftly pick it up and make it a part of the food chain as quickly as possible.  As I rode off, I questioned if I had made the right decision.

Today, one week later, a starling got caught between two of us on a ride.  I felt it against my leg and knew it was most likely struck by the other riders behind me.  I pulled out of line instantly and went back for it.  If it was severely injured, I knew what I had to do since I still felt guilt regarding my decision the previous week.  I found it on the path, most certainly on its way out, but breathing very rapidly and showing severe stress.  After battling multiple demons in my head, fighting with myself if I should or shouldn't play "god", I chose to end its life.  Instantly the tears came and I felt like just sitting down next to it apologizing again and again.  I wanted to be alone, I didn't want to celebrate this ride and in some ways I hated myself.  When I finally decided to roll off, I thought of my dad.  I knew I got this sensitivity to animals from him.  I remember watching him choose to do the same thing to critters that were injured and those were some of the only times I ever saw him cry.  Part of me thanked him for giving me this sensitivity and part of me cursed him.  It's a rotten and unfair world sometimes but I have to find away to see this side of me as a gift.

The need for speed

There was a time, long, looooong ago, when I was pretty damn fast on two wheels.  I lived in the flatlands of Minneapolis, I trained with the junior Gopher Wheelmen team--which consisted of all boys at the time--and I did sprint repeats until I a) almost blacked out or b) tasted my breakfast come up.  I loved being able to go from being dropped on group rides to holding onto wheels to finally taking pulls in a paceline.  This feeling of tearing around the city, pushing my body and mind harder than I ever thought possible, was terribly addictive.  And although I loved this adrenaline rush, I got burned out on always trying to improve and never feeling fast enough.  The faster I got only meant there were new challenges and expectations and finally my brain and body snapped.

Fast forward 23, almost 24 years, and for the first time since I quit racing, I've had this little brain worm burrowing deeper, trying to talk me into giving racing a shot again.  Taking this step scares the hell out of me.  I'm not too concerned about the training involved--I know my body can take a beating. What I am concerned about is crashing and having to be off the bike for an extended time or coming to despise riding again due to over training--not unlike what I went through when I was 17 years old.

This whole "need for speed" thing started to rear its ugly head last summer.  I felt myself getting stronger on long, hilly road rides, began to find pleasure in reeling other riders in, and I thought " I still have a bit of that competitiveness in me?"  Since I quit racing, I purposely shoved any thoughts or feelings I had about being competitive into a deep, dark place and nailed a sign on it which read " CAUTION! DO NOT OPEN!"  But at some point, most likely when I was high off adrenaline, I took a peek and Pandora's box was opened.  

This year I got a couple new riding ones.  Friends who bring me close to the brink of either falling off my bike and going into the fetal position on the side of the road while crying like a little girl or making me attempt to tape lead bricks to their bikes just to even out the playing field a bit.  They are stronger both mentally and physically than me, and because I want to be able to keep up with them, they have naturally set the bait.  I think they can smell this desire on me to go faster--and so they keep pushing (to these "friends"...if you are reading this, it doesn't mean you should push me more).  

In this not so hidden quest to pick up my pace over a snail's pace, I've started doing some faster group rides with the Bombay Bike Club and the Capital Brewery Bike Club.  I can't say I enjoy riding in a tight group of folks I rarely ride with--trust is huge when you're 2 inches from another rider's wheel--but these rides have gotten me to not only pick up my pace a bit but also read and anticipate other rider's movement and this is something I'm going to have to get pretty comfortable with if I ever decide to race again.  

This whole "if" and "when" I race again thing isn't set in stone.  A riding friend of mine just took a nasty spill at one of my favorite crits to watch in Milwaukee.  Her bike was trashed and her body a bit injured.  I saw all the pictures, knew that could easily be me, and though "nope, I'm out".  So I've gotta take some time to weigh out the pros and cons.  In the meantime, I'll keep trying to tap into this side of myself I though I had slain and would never return.  Maybe it's not as scary of a beast as I thought.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Let the skeletons in the closet ride!

“Losing your life is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to lose your reason for living.” 
― Jo Nesbø

For over a week I've struggled with the thought of writing this piece...should I or shouldn't I?  It's not as if I haven't shared personal things in this blog before--allowing complete strangers, but a bit more nerve wracking, close friends, to peer into my most inner thoughts.  But then, several conversations with friends, spurred me into taking this giant leap and placing my fingers on the keyboard.  By writing this, my hope is to take away some of the stigma surrounding this very touchy subject.

About a month ago, some sort of switch was flipped in my brain.  I went from feeling quite content, with moments of elation, to a solid state of yuck.  There was no warning per se and within a couple days, I knew I was in trouble.  I woke, morning after morning, not even looking forward to my coffee or bike ride.  I knew this feeling.  I remembered having it back in 1997...and that scared the shit out of me.

Everyone has their own definition of depression.  I have friends who say "they never get depressed", and I wonder what that would feel like.  How would it feel to go through life never feeling this dark cloud follow me?  I'm not a jealous person by nature at all, but I'll be honest, I am quite jealous of the mental health of these friends.  For me, I have a very distinct line which tells me "I'm in trouble" or "this will pass".  Each year I'll have several short bouts when nothing seems to click, I don't feel connected to anything and it's a struggle to get myself moving.  These usually only last a couple days, and if I force myself to get on my bike or go for a run, and hang out with friends, everything clears up quickly and I feel back to normal.  Then there are those very rare spirals when the depression feels both circumstantial and biochemical.  It usually begins like the shorter bouts, not wanting to hang out with friends, ride etc., but quickly turns into having everything, aside from sleep, feel like pulling teeth.  I still get up, get dressed, go to work, and do chores, but anything outside of that becomes a false promise to myself and those I love.  My normal decisive self becomes wishy washy with even the smallest decisions and the brain power it takes to make any decision zaps me to the point of needing hours of sleep.

Until this past month, I hadn't felt this dark wave roll over me for over 15 years.  That one left me flat on my back for two months.  I was in Bend, OR, one of the most magical places I've lived--an outdoor lover's dream--and all I could muster was the strength to work.  At that point in my life, I didn't have the skills to cope or the knowledge to understand what was happening to me.  Each day I allowed to pass, the darkness settled in deeper and deeper.  I don't know how I found the strength, but one day I realized I had to do something, so I went out and bought downhill skis.  I had been backcountry skiing all winter, but some force out there steered me in another direction.  That same day, I signed up to volunteer at Mt.Bachelor ski resort to help set up race courses and marshall the gates, in exchange for a free ski ticket.  The switch was flipped.  I went from feeling the lowest in my life to feeling excited about life once again.

When I noticed myself having the exact same feelings as those I had in '97 last month, I created a plan right away.  I forced myself to keep riding since my bikes tend to tether me to the ground, I forced myself to still do some social things--although I still feel rotten for canceling on several friends--and I forced myself to tell a couple friends about my struggle--something I've rarely done in the past.  I also called my health care provider to set up therapy sessions "just in case", a safety net in a way.  Essentially, I told myself "I may not be in control of my emotions right now, but I am in control of how I deal with them".  In addition, I decided to make one giant change from '97, something that has worked for me during my small bouts of depression, and that is to fake being happy.  For some reason, if I fake it--and I'm not talking sugar coated, Pollyanna fake--my mind and body begin to think it's true...and then, usually, it becomes the truth.

So here I am, almost exactly a month from the beginning warning signs, and surprisingly enough I feel much better.  No, not everything seems to be great or normal again--the connection to my bike still isn't where I'd like it to be, I'm still craving junk food (almost always a warning sign), my sleep is still a bit fitful and I'm not partaking in as many social activities I normally do--but I'm doing the work and it's paying off.  I can't say where I'd be or what my mental state would be like if I didn't take these small steps, I don't really want to know, I'm just relieved I forced myself to take a U-turn so I didn't waste an entire summer.

Many thanks go out to my friends who were understanding and caring during this time as well as those who chose to share their own experiences/struggles with me (it is because of them I chose to write this).  I know it seems odd to profess my love and thank an inanimate object, but honestly, I'm not sure I could pull out of these funks without my bikes which I will now lovingly refer to as my life rafts.  Now, let the summer roll on!

*For those interested in reading about the actual effects of exercise and depression, this is a good article.  Since this was written, many more studies have been done--all coming out with the same results that prove exercise is one of the most effective forms of antidepressants.