It’s Like Riding a Bike

Who cries when they buy a bike?

Me.

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I cried when I bought this used southwestern-goldish-color 5-year-old Schwinn Voyageur 2 at a local bike shop on Monday. AND I cried when I got her home and hoisted her off the bike rack I bought (that cost more than she did) and the handlebar smacked me in the cheek. Happy tears/pain tears…either way, I now have a bike-friend again.

My previous bike-friend was a men’s Giant hybrid I called Bike. (Creative, I know.) We were together for 7 years. I knew all her idiosyncrasies. Bike gave me confidence. Strength. She helped me think. Bike made me feel less lonely and isolated after my divorce. We went on adventures to places I’d never gone alone before. She encouraged me to take chances.

The last time I rode Bike was in March 2013. I rode 3 miles on my favorite trail when my right knee gave out. It just…stopped working. I’ve had surgeries, I’ve had babies, and never have I felt the kind of pain I felt in my knee that morning. I was on crutches for a week, but when I felt better, I was afraid to ride again. Bike stayed perched in the garage, ready for another adventure, but I ignored her.

I moved in January 2014 and stored her in my boyfriend’s barn. But I was beginning to feel optimistic about riding again when I wrote “I Believe” on January 29, 2014. I was so sure that I would ride Bike again.

Four days later, Bike burned in a fire that destroyed the barn. Gone with Bike was a bike rack, helmet, lock, odometer, trail maps, tubes, tire levers, air pump, and the $5 and package of Kleenex I kept in the bag.

This is all that’s left of Bike.

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In spring 2014, I developed hip pain and I reasoned that was why I didn’t go biking. Truth was, I was mourning Bike and I didn’t have it in me to test drive a different bike. What if I failed? What if it hurt? What if I made a fool of myself? Bike would have told me to try anyway, but I couldn’t.

I had my hip replaced, which took away the reason I “couldn’t” ride. A local trail runs parallel to a road I frequently drive on and when I saw other people biking I got that twinge in my heart, that yearning to be them. Still, I wallowed in feeling cheated. My hip, my bike, poor me. It got to the point of ridiculous. It was a month ago when I went for a short walk on another beloved bike trail that I climbed out of the self-pity enough to ask, ‘What if?’

Like a person you love who dies, I believe Bike would want me to do what it was that made me happy. Given my propensity for adopting shelter pets, I went to the bike shop and test rode that somewhat beat up Schwinn. The minute I started pedaling, I felt free. I could see joy. It’s like I had a physical purpose again and a partner who would challenge me to take down that “I can’t” wall I’d built.

That evening, I practiced taking my bike on and off the new rack on the back of my Jeep. I researched local trails and decided on one not far from me. Tuesday morning, I drove to the trailhead, nervously watching my bike bob up and down on every bump in the road.

I felt like I was on a blind date. I tried to be cool by unloading my bike like I’d done it a thousand times. I attached my water bottle, loaded my bag, calculated my computer/odometer thingy, locked up the Jeep, only…when I got on my bike, I had no idea where I was going. I followed the signs, and after a stint on a road and a turn on to what the sign said was the trail, I rode slowly up a moderate incline. At the top, I saw this:

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Another steep grade…only steeper! Weeeee!!!! Yeah…but I’d have to come back up eventually.

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I negotiated briefly with my id and super ego and decided to give myself permission to walk my bike back up the incline rather than ride up, even if someone was watching. Judging. I hate that part. Defeated, I acknowledged that A) it’s been over two years since I’ve ridden a bike, and B) I’ve gained a new hip and a few pounds and I have not been exercising like I used to. My body’s in a different place and so humility was my best friend at that moment. Swallow it and move on.

The temperature was about 84 degrees and the humidity was at least 1000 percent and the trail was mostly exposed with very little shade. Plus, I’d selected to first ride the uphill part of the trail, but it was a little more uphill than I had bargained for. I got 1.5 miles in and decided it was best to turn around. I felt sad at first; betrayed, embarrassed. And then I stopped in this place and had a little talk with myself:

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“Lynn, here’s the deal. You have to push yourself slowly because you’re not in the same physical condition you were in two year ago. No, you won’t break any land speed or distance records, and you won’t be saying ‘passing left’ anytime soon. You’re starting from the bottom. You have no place to go but up.”

I had to think through the real reason that I love to ride a bike: it’s not for physical fitness as much for psychological fitness. I need to ride a bike. Without it the last few years, I’ve become more of a small self, an isolated self, an egoic transient wandering from fear to fear. I crave the movement, but moreover I crave the butterflies, the dragonflies and the indigo buntings, and swerving to avoid the chipmunks who skittishly venture out on the side of the trail. I crave the smell of the woods, the feel of the humidity clinging to my arms, the breeze that cools my skin. I need these things, and now, I am again part of them.

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Today I went to a new trailhead. On the West Penn Trail I experienced that exhilarating fear of wild, of no one around, of a bear could come out of nowhere and I was completely alone. I rode without my headphones, listening to the air and staying hyper aware of my surroundings. I heard every bird and every crush of the limestone beneath my tires. Three miles in, I turned around, even though I ached to go another two miles. I knew my legs would question that choice on the way back, and I wanted to do what was best for all of me. I put in my ear phones and turned on “…some music to start my day…” “More Than A Feeling.” Great tune.

When I got back to my Jeep, I was totally high. So happy and sweaty. A man was securing his bike on his car’s bike rack and he offered to help me load mine. I declined, thanking him and telling him that I had to get used to doing this again. We talked about the trail for a few minutes and I was reminded of another reason I love biking. People on the trails are usually really nice people. I’ve missed that camaraderie of like-minded people. We are like ships in the night. “Good morning!” we say as we pass each other. “Passing left!” It’s like a secret handshake.

I’m still part of the fraternity/sorority of people who love bike trails, even though my thighs, arms and neck are asking me why. I just rub them and say, “You’ll get used to it.” I will press on because I am not the same person I was three days ago. I am my old biking self. I am the person I’ve missed for two years. My goldish-color bike isn’t Bike, but I think Bike would approve of her replacement.

I need to give a name to this oldish-new friend. “Salvager,” perhaps. God knows she’s gathered all that was missing, and has assembled the bits and pieces of my former self into a funky collage. We have places to go tomorrow and I’ll think more about her name, but she’s truly earned her status of BBFF (best biking friend forever).

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Seven Times Slower

It’s been almost a month since my last bike ride, and in that time I’ve spent a lot of time logging miles in the Jeep, always with the intention of getting “there” as quickly as possible. So yesterday, when I got on my bike for the first time in four weeks and started pedaling, 10 and 11 and 12 miles an hour seemed really s….l…o…w. But as I rode down the familiar path at seven times slower than in my car, I became acutely aware of what I miss at 70 mph.

At seven times slower, I thought about how much I love this time of year, and that despite its bittersweet theme of death and decay, I cling to its promise of rebirth. At seven times slower, I smelled and heard the leaves above and beneath me.

At seven times slower, I noticed a cat slinking up a hill and I watched a pig sleeping in the mud of his large pen. At seven times slower, I became aware that a farmer, through whose land a mile of the bike trail cuts, found it necessary to post a sign, “Do not throw objects at turkeys.” What kind of person throws things at turkeys?

Anyway… At seven times slower, I said goodbye to my bike path friends for the season. The cows.

And the power lines that let me know I’ve reached the apex of that stretch of trail and it’s all down hill the rest of the way.

And the golf course the bike trail passes through.

And at seven times slower, I felt my body release its 70-mile-an-hour tension, fiber by fiber (even though I was pretty irritated by the whole throwing things at turkeys thing).

At seven times slower, I thought to visit my daughter and grandchildren. I see them several times a week, but usually always because of some need for one of them to be somewhere else. Yesterday, I sat in their presence and absorbed their essence (and snuggled with Claire in her genuine fire fighter hat that she sleeps with like a stuffed animal).

Tethered to my calendar of penciled-in appointments, yesterday was a gift gotten from a miscommunication involving school. It was like being set free, if only for a few hours, from the new tricks this old dog is learning. For many months I have been what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls a “human doing,” but yesterday, at seven times slower, I was a human being.

What Would Uncle George NOT Do?

Exercise has become so dull and predictable that I practically sleep through a workout. It’s the same old thing on the elliptical and recumbent – up and down, round and round, rote, like an actor playing Hamlet for the gazillionth time. I know every crack in the sidewalks around my neighborhood and every rut on the bike path. It’s Snoozapalooza!

It’s not that I’m slacking physically. I’m just not challenging myself psychologically through exercise, which is the very thing that makes exercise so important to my overall well being. Riding my bike in the same place, walking the same route, and reading books on my elliptical is safe. I like safe. There’s nothing wrong with safe. But safe can be pretty boring and unfulfilling.

I have no excuse other than complacency. I live near a park in which there are at 7 hiking trails, including 3.5 miles of the 35-mile Rachel Carson Trail. I take my grandkids to the playground there all the time, but I do little else than intend to hike there. Same is true for the infinite number of bike trails I’ve yet to discover in western PA. “Some day…”

My great-great-uncle George always used to say, “It’s plenty good the way it is!” George wore loose fitting dentures and had a heavy Norwegian accent, and he’d say “It’s plenty good!” with a dismissive wave of his hand. I loved George, but the man changed nothing. Not even his underwear. My mother used to sneak into his room and take his dirty clothes and wash them on the days he drove 35 miles to Sioux Falls to fill his tank because gas was two cents cheaper there.

I’m not knocking “plenty good.” Things ARE plenty good the way they are right now, but plenty good doesn’t translate to growth. And without growth, I would become complacent in more than just my exercise life. Good grief, the last thing I want to do is become that person who does nothing but talk about “the good old days.” That would be a big “Uffda!”

So last week, I got off my complacent butt and went to the park and hiked Pond Trail, which took me to…of all things…a pond. A really lovely pond with a wooden birding lookout made by a Boy Scout for his Eagle Scout project. It was a fairly easy hike, but the change of scenery was just enough to call out the part of me that welcomes and embraces change and challenge. That lead to this weekend in which I tried not one, but TWO new bike trails.

Saturday, I decided on a 13-mile stretch of the Allegheny Trail. I was a little nervous about it since I’d never been to the town where the trailhead was, and I didn’t want to look like a tourist. I wasn’t 100 percent sure (certainty is big for me) how to get to the parking lot described on the trail’s website, and Google was no help. So with nothing more than a good sense of direction, BF and I loaded the bikes and drove northeast.

A few miles in, Colton asked, “Do you know where you’re going?”

“Kind of,” I said, handing him the printed directions to the parking lot. “I can get us to instruction number 4, then you need to read the rest to me.”

“Ok, Puddin’,” he said. (That’s my nickname. Puddin’. No, you can’t call me that.)

As we got closer to the road to the parking lot, Colton said the directions were to drive past the entrance to the marina. What did I do? I drove into the entrance to the marina. Tourist! At least I turned around without running over the fisherman carrying a bucket of bait and an oar, and I eventually found the parking lot. We unloaded the bikes and started riding.

It started out pretty.

Then it got kind of industrial and urban.

When the trail stopped abruptly with no signs of where to go, I asked a biker who was coming the other way where the trail picked up. He said the next part of the trail went through town and that the gravel trail picked up at the power plant near the bridge. Goody. A bridge.

We followed his instructions and soon I could see the bridge in the distance.

Living here in the land of rivers, bridges are hard to avoid, so I suck them up and think happy thoughts when I’m driving over them or riding under them. Stopping to take photos was actually therapeutic. They’re concrete and steel, for cryin’ out loud. They aren’t going to grow legs and chase me, right?

We continued on into Kittanning.

Having passed – up close and personal – several bars and living rooms (there’s a stretch of trail in which the path itself is literally a front yard), we concluded we’d had enough urban and turned around at the 6.5-mile mark. We biked back to the car and agreed we were glad for the experience, but not enthralled. Too many people, too many roads, too many stop and starts.

Today, Colton wanted to head north of the Flannel Curtain to see his parents and do some work around their house. I really wanted to ride again, so I searched online for a trail near Meadville. I found the Ernst Trail, a rails-to-trails renovation that is 5 miles in one direction and runs along French Creek. No traffic, no towns. Perfect. Colton loaded up his hedge trimmers and I threw my bike on the rack and we were off.

I got to the trail at 2:45. It looked promising.

A quarter mile in, I was treated to this.

There was a slight incline all the way, which I knew would bring great coasting opportunities coming the other direction. And since the temperature was 86 degrees, the breeze would be welcomed.

The last quarter mile was steeper than the previous 4.75, and I had to downshift to 2. When I got to the top, I turned around and coasted down the hill. ‘You can do that again,’ I thought, and I downshifted and charged back up the hill. My thighs might hate me tomorrow, but the downhill was sooo worth it. I felt powerful. Best of all, I felt psychologically challenged again.

Tomorrow I’m going to hike a 2-mile loop in my local park. It is rated as easy-moderate, so I’ll probably do it twice. Or perhaps I’ll go back to the Pond Trail and do some bird watching. Either way, it will be my own personal mental-health-through-exercise adventure. Uncle George wouldn’t understand, but “plenty good” isn’t good enough anymore.

“What I Did On My Summer Vacation”

In grade school, we referred to the time between grades as “summer vacation.” It wasn’t defined by travel. It was simply time away from book learning.
I’m many years removed from 6th grade, but next week at this time – god willing and the creek don’t rise and I pass my finals – I will be on “summer vacation.”
In grade school, my only summer vacation plans were to sleep late and play flashlight tag as late as my parents would allow. My dad owned a grocery store, so of course I had to work, too. But it was a good gig and earned me enough money to afford as many Trixie Belden books and “Teen” and “Tiger Beat” magazines as I could read in three months.
This year’s summer vacation plans are a bit different. I won’t be tearing out posters of Shaun Cassidy and hanging them on my bedroom wall, but I will still read as much as I can. I will also work in the soup kitchen, blog more regularly, help my daughter plan her wedding, and take my grandkids to the park. A LOT.
I will also…..RIDE MY BIKE!
I know. Shocking. But it’s something I get so dang excited about, it’s hard to explain. I know many of you know what I mean. You’ve found your “thing.” That something you never dreamed you’d love to do, let alone get all mentally wrapped up in.
Biking is my thing, and every spring since discovering my love for biking, I get this angst of “What if?” I could never articulate it until I read “My Journey To Fit: A Forty-Something’s Weight Loss Journey” blog post yesterday. Shelley nailed my thoughts. I just substituted “bike” for “run.”
Here’s what she wrote: “Run the mile you are in”– Runner’s World posted that on their Facebook page yesterday, and it struck me: I seem to spend so much of my runs worrying about what’s around the corner – the hill (ugh, so high!), the distance (ugh, so far!),the wind (ugh, so strong!), the heat and humidity (ugh, TEXAS!)that I tend to not focus on and better still, enjoy the moment.  Because I really DO love to run. I think it’s just in my nature to want the circumstances to be perfect and easy…and we all know that doesn’t happen very often when it comes to running! But I am going to work harder on the mental aspect of it, and just BE a runner and stop fighting everything else that comes with it.”
What I will do on my summer vacation is all I noted before, PLUS, I will “just BE a biker and stop fighting everything else that comes with it” and bike the mile I’m in. There will be hills I’ll be slow to climb. There will be heat and humidity and I’ll smell bad and my hair will suck. There will be people on the path who don’t respect the rules. (Texting and biking? Seriously?) There will be flat tires.
But there will also be birds and trees and the rich smells of the forest floor. Most important, there will be freedom. That’s why I love to ride my bike. When I ride, I’m free – for an hour or two – from the everyday minutia. I am focused only on me. Just me. Am I hydrated? Do I need to stop and stretch that muscle? Spit out a bug? That’s freedom, my friends. That’s quality “me time.”
And speaking of “me time,” this weekend is the Pittsburgh Marathon. There will be thousands of folks out there concentrating on themselves for 3, 13 and 26 miles (plus a few yards), including my daughter Cassie, her husband Matt, Maintaining Diva Sondra, and my friends Jim and Kara. Good luck to them and to all of you doing your “thing” this weekend and every opportunity you have ! May you always live the mile you’re in.

Hello Bike Path!

This morning, I took one helluva test in Medical Nutrition Therapy. 100 points. Math was involved. Yuck. And it was timed. Afterwards, I was shaking and second guessing myself. ‘Dammmit, I should have answered that question another way. Wait…was she asking about PPN or TPN? Ugh! I’m stupid. I’ll never pass.’

It was 60-something degrees outside. Sunny, but a bit windy…25 mph gusts. I’d been up studying since 6 a.m. I watched the sun rise, I checked the weather a million times on my phone, and I thought about Bike. I’ve been eyeing her every time I pull in my garage the last few weeks, wondering if she misses me as much as I miss her. Bike needs a tune up, no doubt. But did she have enough oomph from last year to get me through a late winter ride?

Hmmmm…..

My mind was making me nuts. I had to get OUT of the house, and the only place to go that made sense was the Butler-Freeport Community Trail:  21 miles of personal peace. I worked out a whole lot of arthritis angst there last year. It was the place I said no to sciatica and yes to my thighs when they said, ‘Are you sure?’ while pedaling up a 2-mile incline along the outer edge of a gun range.  
I had to go there. So I slathered Vaseline on my face to protect it from the wind, and dressed in two layers of shirts, a jacket, leggings, and tennis shoes. I backed the car out of the garage and loaded up my bike on the rack. I felt strong and in control, even though it had been five months since I’d engaged in the bungee cords and straps ritual.

My body felt good hugged in form-fitting clothes. The snugness reminded me that I had one. A body, that is. It wasn’t lost in the perpetual layers of winter. And while I’ve gained 20 pounds since my lowest weight, my body feels stronger than it did at 125 pounds. I’m no longer afraid I’ll break. I felt so fragile back then.

With the sunroof open and the tunes cranked, I drove to the trailhead, wondering if I’d be the only car in the parking lot. I didn’t think so, but since I didn’t know the answer to question 17 of my MNT test, I figured what the heck did I know about anything?

But when I pulled into the lot, I discovered several people felt the same way I did. 
Fortunately, Creepy House Owner, who lives in the house at the entrance of the parking lot, was not outside. (For more info on him, read “ItSeemed Like A Good Idea: The Best Worst Bike Ride Ever.” More on him later.)

I took my bike off the rack and examined it. It was encrusted in last year’s mud and I wondered if it would carry me for the simple 40 minute ride I had in mind. I’d pumped up the tires before I left, and I had a tube and tire levers in my pack along with a pump attached under my seat, but it had been a year since I learned how to use them. What if I got a flat?

I stood there with my right hand on the saddle and my left hand on the left handle bar. The sun was warming my back, the air smelled so spring-like, and…ahhh!! I figured I’d walk the damn bike back if I had to. Nothing was going to stop me from riding. I had to. It was calling me. It’s like my body and the weather and the trail were a holy trinity offering salvation. Not riding was not an option.

I hopped on Bike my favorite way: with my left foot on the pedal and my right leg swinging over the seat like it was the back of a horse.

Hello picnic table! Hello campsite across the creek! Hello shelter that kept me and another biker I’d never met before and haven’t seen since dry in a torrential thunderstorm last year!

Hello ice and mud and the bug that just flew into my eye! Hello rapids!
Hello really tall bridge across Route 28 whose foundations are built like the legs of the Empire’s Imperial Walkers and scare me every time I ride under them!
Hello mile markers that remind me how far I’ve gone and challenge me to decide how far I’ll go! Hello Monroe Road that I pedal like hell across because people drive around the bend like they’re racing in the Daytona 500! Hello couple walking their dog off leash! Not cool, by the way!

Hello wind and sun and 65 degrees! Hello faint smell of woodsy western Pennsylvania! You’ll be in full smell soon.

I rode 20 minutes and turned around. While I wanted to go further, I knew my body and Bike needed time to “tune up” into the regular summer rides. I loaded my bike on the rack and drove home in the closest thing to a perfect state of mind I could achieve: Whatever happens, happens. School, weight, relationships, life. I’ll figure it out. Maybe not on the trail right now. After all, it’s early. It will rain and it will not doubt snow. But I rode Bike in western Pennsylvania on March 7, 2012 with no repercussion or consequence other than a lot of mud sprayed on my backside.

Bike will be going in for a tune-up next week. She deserves it and needs it. We have a lot of stuff to figure out this year!

If It Rains, You Can Only Hope and Pray It Doesn’t Pour

A few minutes after I posted my last blog about my rainy bike ride, my younger brother Matthew called to tell me that my older brother Marty had had the mother of all grand mal seizures. It happened as he was getting ready for work around 6:30 or 7 that morning, but living alone, no one found him until noon.

Marty will be 58 on August 14, the same day I turn 48. I always tell him I was the best gift he got that day. He tells me it was the transistor radio. In 1971, when he was 18, Marty was on a missions trip in Puerto Rico when the van he and his fellow missionaries were in crashed. Marty was thrown from the van and knocked unconscious. He was in a coma for 3 days.

A few years later, Marty started to experience these vacant moments in which you could wave your hand in front of his face and he would be completely unaware. The look in his eyes was cold and robotic, like he was dead with his eyes open. We know now that he was having petit mal seizures, but at the time he didn’t seek medical help. He just called them his “ghosts.” And they scared the hell out of him.

Then came the Des Moines flood of 1993. My brother and his kind heart ventured down to help the good folks of Iowa bag sand and clean the debris left by the flood waters. When all was said and done, he went back to Minneapolis, worked a few days, then wound up in the hospital with meningitis, which almost killed him.

A year later, he had his first grand mal seizure. It took several months and seizures for his doctors to fine-tune his medications, but once they did, Marty was able to drive again and enjoy a fairly normal life, despite chronic headaches.



Matthew helping Marty cut up his hamburger.

 Thursday’s seizure wasn’t like the others. The post-ictal period (the time during which the brain recovers from a seizure) lasted several hours, and it was the next day before he recognized anyone. Five days later, he has no sense of time and yesterday couldn’t remember the words “blue jeans” when Matthew asked him what he wanted him to bring him from his house.

Marty is aware, however, of his feelings, and the feeling he’s experiencing most is sadness.

“I feel so low,” he told Matthew and my sister-in-law, Tracy.

My family, taken at Dad’s 80th birthday in March

Marty is one of the most positive people I know. In nearly 40 years, he’s never let his epilepsy or headaches get him down. To know he’s sad makes it that much harder for me living 1,000 miles away from him. I can’t hug him. I can’t even call him. I can only hear about him through my family.

I went on another bike ride today and wouldn’t you know it? It began to rain. When I got back to the car, wouldn’t you know it? There was a message from Matthew. Marty’s doctors found a shadow on the part of his brain that affects memory. They’re going to do a spinal tap this afternoon to find out if the shadow is due to an infection. The doctors are hoping for an infection, Matthew said, because an infection can be cured.

Right now, it’s raining in Marty’s world. I hope and pray it doesn’t pour.

My brother needs all the positive thoughts the world can send him. No need to comment because it’s enough that you are reading this and have Marty, even for a moment, in your thoughts. I promise to update you on his prognosis and progress. Thank you for your help.
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Marty began writing essays several years ago after a little encouragement from yours truly. To hear his voice and get the essence of the kind of guy he is, I’m posting the essay he wrote in 2007 about his friend Leila who passed away.

“I Cried This Morning”
By Marty Haraldson

That may sound a bit unusual as a title for a personal essay, but this was an unusual day.

My Tuesday morning started out in the same way as most of my weekday, workday mornings. The short drive to the office through residential neighborhoods was pleasant, yet uneventful.

I made my usual stop at the corner Shell station for my cup of hot cocoa. Then, it was over the bridge, a right on Computer Av, and a left hand turn into our parking lot. Routine is a comfort to me. It helps me to be organized. Upset to that routine can be annoying.

After walking into my office, I set about my “routine” of getting things turned on and set up in preparation for the day of sales ahead. I moved my wireless mouse across my desk to rouse my slumbering computer. New emails had arrived overnight. The customary emails and spam dotted the screen. I was soon highlighting one email after another, then sending them all to the kingdom of “DeleteAll”.

One particular email stood out. The subject line contained one word only. It was a name
actually. It read, “Leila”. Even before I clicked to read it’s contents, I was certain what it would say. It was sent from Vesta, one of Leila’s daughters in Maine. I cried as I read it.
Back in October of 1991, I bought a small house in a quiet neighborhood in St Louis Park. My neighbor in the house directly to the south was a widowed elderly woman named Leila. I expect she was around 80 years old back then. Her daughters lived out of state. Leila did not drive. She depended on a volunteer agency in our city called “S.T.E.P.” to bring her groceries or give her a ride when requested. They would also send a volunteer over when a light duty repair was needed or to cut her grass.

I introduced myself to Leila one day while she was re-painting her front door trim. It wasn’t long before I began taking care of her yard, trees, and house. In the winter, I made sure the snow was cleared from her sidewalks and driveway. Eventually, I won Leila’s trust and favor.

The big event for both of us was our once a week trip to the big new “Rainbow Foods” store in Eden Prairie. Leila looked forward to that. She’d be waiting by the door, dressed up, purse in hand, ready for me to help her “up” into my big truck for our shopping adventure. It was a slow journey through the aisles of the stores. She had to look at everything while carefully selecting the items she wanted. One of the cashiers “adopted” us as her customers. She looked forward to seeing Leila each week as much as I delighted in bringing her by.

Years ago, an ambulance was sent to Leila’s house. She had fallen and had no idea where she was. After a stay in the hospital, her daughter Vesta thought it best to move her out to Maine to be close to her. There was a very pleasant senior care center in the country near Vesta’s house. Leila was moved to Maine. I never had the chance to say goodbye to her.
While her family was getting things in order to sell her house, I was invited in to select an oil painting that Leila had painted in her younger years. I did not know how talented she was. The picture I selected is a magnificent portrait of a mountain with trees and a lake. The frame is equally magnificent, made of carved and painted wood. In the corner of the painting, Leila signed her name. I was honored to receive such a generous keepsake.
I kept in touch with Leila and Vesta these past years. Although Leila’s eyesight had deteriorated badly she kept a photograph of me and my lawn mower near her bedside. Leila continued to believe that one day, I would drive out to Maine in my truck and take her back home to her little house in St Louis Park.

The email was short and meaningful. It read – “Hi, Marty. Leila died this afternoon. I think Leila’s body and spirit finally just wore out. She died very peacefully – just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Thank you again for your friendship to us through the years. It meant a great deal to Leila, who adored you. It meant a great deal to all of us who were not able to be close to her to know that you were next door, keeping an eye on her and helping with the things she was too frail to do on her own. Best wishes as you make your next life decisions.” Vesta

That closing remark about “next life decisions” albeit rather odd, really hit home with me. After 28 years in sales here with the same company, I have been wondering lately if what I am doing really matters? Perhaps I should consider partnering with a missions agency to do some “good work” overseas, whatever that may be.
Then, an email like this one comes along to remind me that my life has not been a series of haphazard accidents. No matter where I have been, I have had the opportunity of helping someone. That someone can be a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker, or total stranger. I need not think that there is some “better” place for me to be or people elsewhere more deserving of my time and talents. I am where I am meant to be.

I did cry this morning. I liked Leila. And, to hear someone tell me how much I meant to this elderly woman, was a bit emotional. It’s time for me to once again to look for the opportunities in “my world” where I can help to improve the life of someone else. I encourage everyone to look around them to see how they can help another. You’ll never know how much of an impact you can have in someone’s life unless you try.

It Seemed Like A Good Idea: The Best Worst Bike Ride Ever

I checked the radar. I swear I did. And all I saw was a little green blip 40 miles southwest of my house. I got dressed, did some strength training, then headed outside and loaded up the bike.

I was going to do my favorite little 14-miler today. The first half is a nice gradual incline, one I like to do at about 9-11 miles per hour, then I turn around and ride somewhat downhill about 13 mph.

The temperature was perfect – 74 degrees – and there was a nice breeze to keep me cool. I pulled into the parking lot and saw Creepy Next-To-The-Trailhead House Owner dude talking to a fellow biker who was loading his bike. I got out of my car and hoped Fellow Biker would keep Creepy House Owner busy until I unloaded and started riding.

Such was not my luck. Creepy House Owner, with his 5-day beard and breath of chewing tobacco, came up to me and said, WHILE REACHING OUT TO TOUCH ME (cue heebee jeebees), “Those look like rain clouds coming in.”

I shrugged him off my shoulder and worked as fast as I could getting the straps undone and lifting my bike off the rack.

“Yeah, well, I won’t shrink,” I said, as I locked my car and hopped on my bike before he could touch me again. I didn’t bother hitching up my iPod until he was well out of sight.

A few miles in, I was in my stride, enjoying the breeze and the dense foliage that has filled in so beautifully along the trail. Three miles in, I felt a few drops of rain. No biggie. I kept going. It got a little steadier a half mile later and I got off my bike under a tree to wait it out.

I didn’t take out my Blackberry to check the radar (as that would have been the prudent thing to do) because, as those of you who’ve know me longer than five minutes know, I’m as patient as a 2-year-old sometimes. Three minutes under the tree, the rain was still sputtering and I figured why waste my time? Just ride it out, literally.

I hopped back on my bike and continued up the trail. Another mile in, though, the sputtering turned steady and I was getting pretty wet. Frustrated, I turned around and headed back. Nine miles would be all I could ride today.

A half mile later, the steady rain had turned into a sheet of rain and my bike was kicking up so much dirt into my mouth and eyes I had a hard time seeing the trail.

I knew there was a shelter a few miles from the parking lot, so I peddled as fast as I could, never getting below 15 mph.

That is, until I saw the fawn.

She was a lovely little thing, standing on the trail looking toward me.

‘Awww…’ I thought as I slowed down to admire her.

The rain was pouring over me, but I was already soaked so I figured, ‘What does it matter, right? How often do I see a deer on the…’

Crack! Boom!

Oops. I didn’t anticipate thunder. And it was really close and I was really not close to the shelter. I still had at least a mile to go.

‘Um, Lynn?’ I said to myself. ‘Haul ass!’

I cranked on my bike like I was being chased by the devil. Sixteen, 17 mph. I was flying and it was pouring and I was having the time of my life. Soaking wet, cold, but damn, I proved I could be fast when I needed to be.

I saw the shelter up ahead and saw part of a bike sticking out. I remembered passing one other biker on the trail. A guy. I debated: Do I stop or keep going? Stop or keep…

CRACK!

I stopped.

“Holy crap!” I laughed as I got off my bike. “It’s really raining out here!”

I looked down at myself and saw to my total embarrassment that…well…I was in a t-shirt…and I was cold. You know…*ahem*…COLD. I held my arms nonchalantly over my chest as the man moved over so I could sit down. If he looked he never let on.

He had a nice face; a short graying beard and soft eyes. Looked younger than me, but I found out later he just turned 50. He opened his pack and handed me a couple of paper towels (I only carry Kleenex). I thanked him and began drying off my arms and face. We exchanged names and what do you do’s and rode out the rain in pleasant, fun conversation.

He’s been riding for a few years, just like me. He’d converted a 1970s 10-speed Schwinn road bike into a six-speed mountain-type bike. It was really cool looking. He asked if I’d ever ridden the GAP Trail. No, I said, but it’s on my riding bucket list. He told me about his favorite section of the trail and how it wound through several small towns.

“You’ll think you’re in Mayberry!” he said.

Mr. Shelter Guy was funny, smart, and articulate, and when the sun came out, we talked a little longer. Not a bad way to ride out a storm. He asked for my blog site, but since neither of us had paper or a pen, I told him to Google my name.

We got back on our bikes and he went his way and I went mine. I called over my shoulder, “Hey, if you find me online, write if you’d like a biking partner!” I think he yelled back, “OK!” but maybe that’s because it’s what I wanted to hear. I don’t mind biking alone, but it would be fun to go with someone once in awhile.

When I got back to the parking lot, I was even muddier than I was at the shelter.

Creepy House Owner was there waiting for me, too. I’ll tell you what, I’ve never put my bike on the rack so fast as I did today, and I did it while not allowing him to invade my personal space again. I mean, really. Ew. Who touches someone like that? Oh right. Perverts!

When I got home, I put my bike in the garage, closed the garage door and stripped.

Got in the shower and hosed off.

Not sure I got all the dirt out of my hair, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be digging black specks out of my eyes for the next several hours. But you know what? I’m pumped. Today’s ride was, by far, the best worst ride of my biking career. Even though that green blip grew into a massive red blob on the radar, hitting the trail was a really good idea.

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

“Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships.” From Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance

Biking is a “spiritual mountain” to me, but I’m not content, as the quote above contends, to merely stand in the sight of that mountain. I understand the importance of listening to others who’ve been there to learn how I might avoid some of the hardships. It occurred to me while riding the last leg of the Butler-Freeport Trail alone last week – having ridden six miles more than I planned and being very hungry but having no food with me and still nine miles from my car when I ran over a rock that I thought punctured my tire but didn’t – that perhaps…perhaps…I should learn something about bike maintenance.

Enter Lori and Kyle.

Lori (whom many of you know from Finding Radiance) is an avid biker and is my go-to guru with all things biking. I asked her recently what she takes along with her when she rides and how I might go about seeking advice on bicycle maintenance.

Her answer:

“First off, if you are by yourself the one thing you should do is tell someone where you are going – or at least close to the general vicinity. (Note from Lynn: I always text a friend or my daughter when I start and let them know my ETA from the trailhead back to the Jeep. They know if they don’t hear from me within 20 minutes of that ETA to come find me.)

“I have a bike bag on the back of my bike. I always take:

“Cell phone; spare tube; small hand pump (or CO2 cartridge inflaters); tire lifters (small plastic wedges to remove tires); something like hard candy in case I am out too long; water. For long rides, I also include: a bike lock; food; sunscreen; anti-chafing cream; hand sanitizer; chain lube.

“I would also practice taking off your tire at home so that if it happens in the field, it won’t be the first time. Most bike shops will have free classes on tire changing and maintenance, so definitely check them out!

“I would also recommend a book called Every Woman’s Guide toCycling. See if your library can get it for you.”

I Googled bike shops in my area and found Michael’s Cycles: “Independent shop on the outskirts of town… We are a small, family-run business that treats everyone to courteous service. One of the biggest complaints we hear about bike shops is that if you aren’t wearing spandex, you get ignored. Well, not here.”

I knew this was a place I wanted to check out, so after a sweaty 2-mile hike in 88-degree heat through horse- and deer-fly infested woods, I went to Michael’s Cycles. A good sweat makes me more confident, and I knew that I needed all the confidence I could muster because whenever I set out to do this kind of thing alone, my FFG (former fat girl) comes along for the ride, keeping me just off balance enough that I feel a nagging sense of self-doubt.

It was just my luck that when I pulled into the parking lot, a young man was putting a bike rack on the top of a male customer’s car. I like men, but their Y chromosome makes me nervous. It’s one of those self-instilled FFG reactions/assumptions I fight all the time: I’ll be judged/stared at/laughed at/ignored.

The customer was sweaty, like he’d just been on a ride. He was about my age and, of course, nice looking. But I bucked up and walked across the lot. ‘I am responsible for how I allow myself to be treated,’ I told myself. ‘You are a woman who bikes, not a woman with baggage.’

As I approached them, the young man looked down from the bike rack and smiled. “Hi! What can I help you with?”

“Well,” I said. “I used to bike with someone but I don’t anymore. I need to know some things about bike maintenance. Do you guys do that kind of thing?”

“Oh heck, yeah!” he said. “I’m Kyle. If you’ve got some time right now, I’ll show you how to change your tire when I’m done here.”

 “I have an appointment this afternoon, but are you around tomorrow?” I asked.

“Yeah, after 12,” he said, jumping off the top of the customer’s car. “I’ll get you a card.”

 As he walked into the shop, I turned to the customer and apologized for taking Kyle away from his bike rack installation. The man smiled and said it was no problem and asked if I’d heard of the Butler-Freeport Trail. ‘Yay!’ I thought. ‘Common ground!’ Any insecurities I had melted away as he talked to me as a person who bikes, not a person who was formerly overweight or even who had sweaty gross hair. I felt on equal ground. That hasn’t happened very often in my obese or even in my formerly obese life. It’s not because of other people; it’s because of me and how I allow my FFG to throw me off balance.

The next day, I took my bike to the shop and Kyle showed me how to change a tube and gave me tips on maintenance. I am now the proud owner of a 700 x 35-40 inner tube, 3 tire levers, a portable air pump (which Kyle mounted on my bike) and a primo pressure gauge that works with both Schrader and Presta valves (and I know what each of them is…*grin*).

“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

I’ve spent too much time avoiding that which scares me. Moving forward in spite of my fears and not waiting for them to dissolve, I’ve discovered the beauty of self-empowerment. Not only do I learn something – a concrete skill or something about myself – I change something about myself. Not a bad way to spend a life.

In what ways are you “in the scene” and not “just watching it anymore”?  

3.8 and 5.1 and Everywhere In Between

Meet my new biking partner:

After impressing her with my bike rack/bike tying skills (“Oooohhh, Grammy! My bike is so safe! It won’t fall off!”), I buckled her in her car seat and we were off to the bike trail. (Part of our conversation along the way: “I love my baby sister. We get to keep her!” along with her asking and me answering at LEAST 30 times “Are we there yet?”)

From the moment Cassie threw her positive pregnancy test stick on my menu at Applebee’s, I dreamed of this day. Me – post-weight-loss and in love with biking – teaching my grandchild the joys of a trail.

Today’s ride was everything I’d dreamed and more.

Claire – 3½ years old and 3½ feet tall – has taught me more than any human ever has. As we rode today, with me riding alongside her and protecting her from the edge (“You’re high up there, Grammy! You have a big bike.”), I felt not only the responsibility of being a grandparent, but an even greater love for her than I can possibly explain.

Claire named her bike Fast Star. As she peddled along the path right around 3.8 mph (which is a heckuva lot harder for me on a “big bike” to maintain than peddling 10 or 12 mph because of the balance factor), once in awhile she’d yell, “Go Fast Star! Go fast!” and get her speed up to 5.1. Talk about keeping me on my peddling toes.

“Don’t run over the worms, Grammy!”

“There’s a cardinal!”

“What’s that butterfly, Grammy?”

“A swallowtail,” I said.

“A shwallatale.”

“Yup.”

Taking a water break.

As we made our way to one mile and back again (“Where’s the parking lot, Grammy? My legs are getting tired.”), we took a break and I thought about when I first learned she existed. Thought I’d share what I wrote back in 2007

Welcome to Life, My Little Grandbaby!

You’re no bigger than a walnut, with webbed stubs and budding eyes, but you’re my favorite kid on the planet.

I love you because you are alive, multiplying cells, developing hands and feet and ears and kidneys and a liver and a brain. Somewhere along the way I hope you develop a good sense of humor, too. You’ll need it in this family.

I learned of your existence in a way only your momma would do. Grandpa Larry and I met her at Applebee’s for lunch three weeks ago and she threw her home pregnancy test on my menu, having secretly taken it a few minutes earlier in the restaurant bathroom because she suspected you were inside her, lurking. Yet even after we saw the faint blue plus sign, we read the instructions over and over again, making sure we were seeing it right. News of your life took a little while to sink in.

But exist you do, growing and turning into the little person I’ll teach to make lefse and bird seed cakes. You’re the little person I’m going to read all my favorite children’s books to and let stay up past your bedtime because we’ve made a tent in the living room. We’ll eat s’mores by flashlight and listening to Raffi and sing “Baby Beluga,” just like I did with your momma and Aunt Carlene.

You will be adored by many, but I, of course, will adore you above all others because I am your Granny Lynn. Your mom and dad will think you’re groovy, too, but I promise to love you like no other. We’re going to have a good time as you grow up, my little grandbaby. You are my future, my anticipation, my happiness, and delight. You’re showing me a new kind of love. My mother and my neighbor Martha told me I wouldn’t understand the whole grandmother thing until I experienced it, and they were right. I love your momma and your aunt and your uncles Kevin and Andy more than I can explain, but you are different. I love you in a way that is wild. We will talk together, laugh together, work together. Discipline will be negotiable between us.

You’re causing your momma to break out like she was 13. Good for you. Just try not to beat her up too much, ok? Be safe in there.

I don’t care if you get your dad’s bad sinuses or your mom’s bad hips, my lack of coordination or your grandpa’s taste in music. We’ll work through it. Just come out screaming and everything will be fine.

I’ll see you in October, little one, and not a moment sooner. Stay inside until every last cell you need is in place. I’ll be there, waiting to welcome you to the other side.

I Know I Can, I Know I Can

How appropriate that, in light of my recent blog – “I’m the Little Red Engine…”, my first official bike ride of the season yesterday was on a rails-to-trails bike trail. It was on the Butler-Freeport Community trail that, around mile 9, I turned “I think I can, I think I can” into “I know I can, I know I can.”
Ex-husband-turned-BFF Larry (the man who bought me my bike when I got to goal) and I biked 11 miles in an hour and change. This was down from our usual average of 13 to15 miles in an hour. But my body is different this year and so is my focus. As I said in the little engine blog, “Somewhere in me exists a balance between Hardcore Lynn and I-Don’t-Feel-Like-It Lynn.” Yesterday, I found that balance, and – shockingly – it felt right. The ride was challenging, but not killer, and the best part was that I saw so much more than I ever did peddling 13+ miles per hour.

The Butler-Freeport Community Trail has several trailheads five to15 minutes of my house. I opted for one about six miles west of the start of the trail, which put us in the downhill slope first. Downhill is normally not my favorite starting position on a rails-to-trails trail (I’d rather do the uphill work first), but this was my first ride of the season with a crankier-than-usual body and I had zero confidence that I could bike more than a few minutes or a few miles, especially on an unfamiliar surface – crushed limestone and, in a few places, mud. The trails I cut my biking teeth on in Venango and Clarion counties were paved. I knew that taking it easy the first half of the ride was just plain prudent. (This would be me thinking ahead…looking for balance…I think I can, I think I can…)

I bought a second-hand bike rack last month, one that fits over the spare tire of the Jeep. I’ve never owned a bike rack, nor have I ever attempted to load a bike on to a bike rack. In my bike-riding married past, that was always something Larry did.

Yesterday, however, I read the instructions and put the bike rack securely on the tire AND loaded the bikes AND secured them with bungee cord and a strap AND drove us to the trailhead…with NO major incident. Having this knowledge makes life so much easier. In the past if I wanted to ride my bike alone on a trail, I’d have to stuff it in the back of my Jeep. This took longer than the actual ride, and one or more body parts ended up cut or bruised and much cussing ensued. These days, with grandbaby car seats practically welded to the back seat, the space in the Jeep is very limited. If I want to ride on a trail, I either take out the seats (which y’all know is a big old PITA) or learn how to work a bike rack.

My handiwork:

At the trailhead. It only took about five minutes for me to feel comfortable riding on crushed limestone.

Massive tree down…lots of mud on the trail.

Little waterfall. This is what I meant about biking slower. I not only heard the water falling, I saw it.

Larry, as bad as his eyesight is, is an excellent birder. He can always spot the smallest of birds. Yesterday on the trail, he saw a scarlet tanager and stopped suddenly. I nearly ran into him. The bird flew away so I didn’t see it. So disappointing. But a half mile later, Larry stopped again. “Look! An indigo bunting! See it? See it?” Yes, I saw it. And it was beautiful and brave (it didn’t move even though we were just a few feet from him) and he’s now on my Life List.
We turned around 5.6.miles in. Here I am, getting my confidence together. It wasn’t going to be a bad uphill ride, but it would be constant, and given I’d not biked like that in several months and I was not quite the cardio queen I was a year ago, I was a little worried. But hey, what goes down, must come up, and I’d been down long enough. I took off the long-sleeved thin shirt I wore over my t-shirt, tucked my Blackberry in my pants (to take photos on the way back), and started peddling.

Minutes in, the lung rush and the increased heartbeat started, but it was familiar, like an old friend. I knew what was being asked of my body. I’d been there before. And despite a lack-luster, half-assed winter of “exercise,” I felt incredible. I stopped a few times to take photos, but I peddled and peddled and peddled and when I got back to the Jeep, I was a sweaty stinky happy-beyond-belief mess.

Since getting to goal, I’ve eagerly anticipated the first bike ride of the season (Here are links to the blogs in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010). I’ve been on dozens of rides in four years, but this one was the most “spiritual.” It renewed my faith in my physical self (I know I can, I know I can), and it affirmed what I’ve been trying to accept for many months, that less is better and that there is balance between doing everything and doing nothing.

What do you know you can do now that you didn’t know you could do before?

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More photos:

I never thought…all the times I crossed this bridge in my car…that I would be riding my bike underneath.

The creek at the end of the downhill.

The creek near the end of the uphill. (It’s down there somewhere.)

A very happy me 🙂