Sunday, October 23, 2011

Grandma in Memoriam

I had a dream last weekend about my grandma. I had been meaning to visit one last time; I knew she wasn't doing well. In my dream, I was teaching at my new job when she came for a "surprise" visit. I was very surprised; afterall, I hadn't thought she was well enough to travel. We embraced, and with tears running down my cheeks, I told her how much I loved her. She said, "I know how busy you've been and how you wanted to visit so I came to you instead!" She reassured me that everything was fine. When I woke up, there was a voicemail from my dad with the news of my grandma's passing. Now I know she came to me in my dream to say goodbye.

My grandma was my hero. For the longest time, I didn't have a hero; I don't think I really knew what a hero was until I became an adult. Then, I realized that every time I looked at my grandma, she embodied everything a hero represented. I admired her, looked up to her, and wanted to be just like her. She had so many qualities I wanted to emulate. She was fiercely independent and not afraid to march to the beat of her own drummer. She was always positive and never scarce on smiles. When we would go out to eat, her upbeat attitude and high-energy would always astound us. We would joke to the water, "We'll have what she's having!"

She taught me to smile and exchange pleasantries with those around me. She taught me that you can live alone and not be lonely. She taught me that you should always be true to yourself. And she taught me that happiness isn't something that falls in your lap; happiness is a choice you make. I will miss her sloppy kisses. I will miss her redundant stories, retold so many times I knew them all by heart. I will miss her constant humming of old tunes, sung completely off-key. I miss Grandma terribly, but I will never forget the memories or the lessons she taught me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MTB Baja UltraEndurance Race

I did my first mountain bike race on Saturday. It was only the 2nd time I'd ever ridden my new mountain bike, Montana, and only the 10th time ever that I'd ridden a mountain bike. Luckily, I was too naive to be scared. I had no idea what I was in for.

Saturday morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn. Nervousness started to seep in for the first time. As we lined up at the start, I wondered: What have I gotten myself into?

We began riding, and, almost immediately, a young woman rode up next to me and introduced herself as Claudia. Relief washed over me. Her English was much better than my Spanish, and she clearly shared my desire for companionship on the ride. Although she claimed to be a beginner mountain biker, she was much stronger than me and started to zip off ahead as we reached the beginning of the first climb. I let her go, knowing this climb was going to last for about 8 miles. I watched her blue jersey become smaller and smaller, ever so slowly in the distance.

The going was slow but I was in good spirits. Eventually, the terrain steepened and became sandy and slushy. My wheels slipped and wobbled. This seemed like a good excuse to get off and walk. I had always thought the climbs on the road bike could be steep. Mountain biking climbs make the hills I've climbed on the road bike laughable. In mountain biking, apparently, it's not a hill unless it's over 20% and you have to lean all your weight over the front wheel to keep it from popping up. Ridunkulous. I pushed Montana ahead of me and slogged up the hill on foot. I'm not entirely sure this was much easier. The hill was so steep, its shadow cast me in darkness, as if I was walking up a skyscraper. Mountain bikers' favorite superhero must be Spiderman.

Although it had taken me an hour and a half to go 10 miles, I was sure the rest would be easier. Afterall, everyone had said the first climb was the toughest.
Then, I started the descent. Recent rains had cut deep rivets and trenches across the trail. Not to mention the hill was as steep as the one I had just climbed up. Only it was down. I took several deep breaths and tried to talk myself down, crouching into the descent position, weight back, chest down. Several nasty bumps, hops and skips later, combined with the sickening feeling in my gut that I was careening out of control, I slowly screeched to a halt and dismounted. Grumbling, I walked down the rest of the hill. I was not happy. I hate not doing something because I'm scared. I tried several different times to get back on the bike and resume course down the hill but to no avail. Unfortunately, once off the bike on a steep grade (up or down), it's difficult to get started again. Momentum and speed help stabilize the bike more than I had realized.

I finally reached the bottom of the hill, which matched my low morale. I looked desperately for a rock to crawl under and hide. How was I ever going to finish this thing? Was I going to be able to even finish? I remembered one person encouraging me at the start: "It will be hard out there. No matter what, you get to the finish, okay?"

I had looked at him in surprise, replying, "Of course." Now I knew what he had meant. It wasn't just me. This course was tough. I ignored the thoughts of despair floating around my head (a.k.a. "negativity drills") and, as I've done so many times before, kept on going despite myself.
The hillsides were gorgeous and serene. Unfortunately, not being familiar with the course (I hadn't even studied it on-line), I felt desolate and alone. There was a fork in the trail. I couldn't see another rider in front or behind me. Which way should I go? Suddenly, a rider appeared and zoomed down the trail to the left. The more technical, dangerous trail, of course. The timing was perfect as I had just turned the wrong way. I turned back and tried to follow, pulling up short in front of a sudden, enormous sink hole. Gulp. Cautiously, I walked through the obstacle, one of many.
The trail flattened out and became a well-groome dirt road. I breathed a sigh of relief. This I could ride! I flew through farmland, vineyards and small towns. It was like being transported back in time. A small white church dotted the horizon. Cows, horses, and donkeys grazed aimlessly throughout the countryside. I swerved around a few Holsteins and dodged a cocky rooster, strutting across my path.
Soon after, I reached another steep descent. The trail was sandy and soft as well as narrow, with several sharp turns. To make matters worse, the drop off on one side was steep and unforgiving. I tried, again, to urge Montana down the hill but he balked repeatedly. Disgruntled, yet again, I got off and walked down the entire dang thing. For a mountain bike race, I certainly was doing a lot of walking. I had to jump to the side of the trail several times to let other cyclists pass by. Watching them carelessly bounce and skid down the trail, millimeters from crashing or flying off the mountainside did little to boost my confidence or inspire me to follow suit. In fact, after watching them, trying helplessly to glean some last-minute tips from more accomplished riders, did nothing more than assuage my bruised ego and make me feel completely justified in walking. No way was I going to do that! Not today, at least.

Finally, I reached the bottom of the hill. I prayed that had been the nasty descent Blake had warned me about. However, I wasn't sure. What if it wasn't? I wasn't sure I could handle another nasty descent. As I rode easily through some more farmland, dirt roads, and beautiful orchards, I started to relax. Weaving through the bones of a massive bovine skeleton, complete with an intact skull picked clean, about 1/4 mile up the trail, however, I crossed my fingers and gulped. I hoped it wasn't an omen.

Soon, I was crossing some rocky creekbeds. Grumbling, I got off and walked. And then another. And another. Ugh. Are you kidding me? Suddenly, I was sick of walking. No more! I got on Montana, and with a burst of anger, fled through several creekbeds and deep patches of sand. Suddenly, I was laughing. I couldn't believe it had been that easy! Those loose rocks and slippery expanses of sand had seemed impossible to ride only moments before. Maybe I could finish this thing afterall.

I reached an aid station and stopped to refuel. I eagerly gulped down several orange slices and small, chocolate-flavored bars, reminiscent of Cliff bars. Quite tasty. I also slurped down several cups of some sort of carbonated soda/energy drink. Even though I had been eating and drinking, I didn't realized how famished I'd become. All of a sudden, everything was right in the world again. I zipped down the road with renewed energy. It was as if someone had brightend the color and wiped my lenses clean.

Until the climbing began. Again. No more, please. Uncle! I pleaded. My legs burned with lactic acid. Stubbornly, I climbed despite my quads protest. I focused on my form, breathing forcibly as I lowered my chest to the handlebars. My butt was so forward on the seat, I could feel the nose poking my tailbone. Fatiuged, I pedaled as slowly as I could, and surpisingly, discovered I could make my way to the top of the hill using this tactic.

All of a sudden, I was careening down the final descent. I knew I was close. My GPS read 38 miles. I could see the sprawling town of Ensenada rapidly approaching in the distance. Confidence building, I rode every hill, up or down, every rock, every bit of sand, refusing to get off and walk. I could do this. I was going to finish. I reached the dry wash that runs into town, the final stretch, and took off as fast as I could, zipping through shallow creeks and muddy patches. Droplets of muck splattered my face and legs. I started purposely careening through the mud and water like a kid splashing in puddles after a rain.

And then, I was at the finish, exhausted and exuberant. I had done it! My first mountain bike ride/race. 65km on a very difficult course, in another country no less. Tired, exhausted, and completely satisfied. Muy contento!
--The mariachi singers at the post-ride party. They were absolutely amazing. They actually did a stand-up job playing all sorts of rock. Here they are playing Pink Floyd!


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

New Year's Resolution

Rosh Hashanah was last week. It gave me an opportunity to reflect on what changes and improvements I want to start working on. The, when New Year's comes around on January 1, I can reassess. I feel like it's given me a head start.
1. Be on time!
I have a really bad habit of being late. Not only is it rude, but it causes me a ton of unneeded grief and stress in my life. I've resolved to not just be on time from now on, but to be at least 5-10 minutes early. Job interviews, tutoring, coaching Girls on the Run, appointments, and meetings with friends and loved ones--it's important to be on time! But how can a chronically late person achieve this? For one, I need to be realistic with my planning. I simply try to cram too much into one day. I've started streamlining more and being more realistic with my schedule. Second, I have a much more detailed daily schedule. I list what has to be done at what time, other things that need to get done, and less important things that I would like to done--in that order. Third, I work backwards from the time I want to get there. Then, I subtract 15 minutes for Murphy's law. I then add driving time, add an extra 10 minutes to that, then I figure out what time I need to leave my apartment...and add 10 minutes. For some reason, I go through a time warp when I walk from my apartment to the car in the parking lot, where I instantly lose 5 minutes. Go figure. That gives me the time I need to be leaving my apartment. Whallah! Guess what? It works! Since I've implemented my new procedure, I've been 5-15 minutes early for everything. (Okay, a few times I've been a few minutes late but that's still a vast improvement).
2. Wake up early.
I know, I know. I've had this on my list for New Year's resolutions for the last 3 years. I seem to make progress and move towards this goal, and then lapse back into my habitual, old night-owl schedule. Even though my circadian rhythm is programmed to be a night person, the truth is, the early bird does get the worm. I can't achieve #1 if I don't wake up early! Plus, I can be more productive. I've started setting my alarm (I know this isn't rocket science but believe it or not, I haven't been using one). Second, I actually GET UP!!! Having a morning workout planned at a set time with the clothes laid out the night before helps a lot. Having a loved one in bed next to you that wakes you up with a delicious, steaming hot cup of coffee also helps. The result so far? Vast progress! I've been waking up around 6:30 to 7:30 every day for the last week. Before? I'm embarrassed to admit, I would sleep until 9.
3. Avoid naps. Take only short naps, if absolutely necessary.
Sleep begets sleep. The more I sleep, the more sleep I seem to think I need. This has to stop. I simply have too much to do. Instead of taking a nap, I've been trying to do something productive. Planning a workout during these low-energy times revives me 10-fold more than a nap or cup of coffee does. The result? I've only taken 1 nap in the last week (which was only 1 hour).
4. Avoid planning too much.
I tend to overfill my plate. Then, I feel stressed and overwhelmed. I know when I start feeling that way, it's time to eliminate things from my to do list. It's better to prevent that overwhelmed feelign in the first place. Early this year, I decided to do some housecleaning. I streamlined by eliminating volunteering for animal rescue and riding horses. I miss it a lot but there will be other times in my life where I have more room for those activities. I've decided to focus on my teaching career. I still get to volunteer (Girls on the Run) but it's teaching-focused. I've also put my animal art business on hold. It was taking up a lot of time and money. I miss it a lot but I still paint and draw to relax whenever I have some down time. So, my focuses right now are teaching, training and my new relationship!
That's enough resolutions! I would rather have a few that I focus on and achieve than a million I half-ass.