The Vital Importance of Smiles (and miles)

It's the end of the season...

Riding a Cannonade "Habit" I've named "Lady Bug" in the Black Rock Desert.

...and I took a long drive with Rich to the Black Rock Desert. Maybe the emptiness of the landscape beckoned for me to fill in that emptiness with words and thoughts-- and that is where all this comes from. I don't know, but this is the blog I felt compelled to write, for one reason or another.

I’ve been silent on the blog for a while, and in some ways, that’s appropriate. The 508 was my last “big” event for 2015, and I don’t have any plans to race this winter.  I miss it— the pounding of my heart in my ears, the sun on my skin and all those miles to conquer— but I’m (surprisingly) loving the CompuTrainer season and refocusing on form and efficiency in all my sports rather than raw power and placing well on a race podium. 

I also started a new job, writing for a company which manages schools for at-risk youth. I really love it so far: I get to work with language every day in multiple ways— in a more “technical” aspect for our proposals and applications, and more “creatively” for the educational materials for our students and for our marketing campaigns. For the first time in my life, I feel as though the skill in which I've invested so much of myself has been released into the world. My writing is public and important. I wish I could tell you how incredibly grateful I am for that, even if it took me quite a long time to get here. 

And… I’m mountain biking!

... And you know you're one MILLION times cooler if your helmet is tilted slightly off-canter like it's some sort of top hat. Black Rock Desert in the background.

This is beyond cool— and I love/hate it. Love because my Cannonade is an amazingly beautiful “Acid Strawberry” color (their description, not mine) which I’ve named “Lady Bug.” She and I climb hills incredibly well together, and I’m getting (slowly) better at climbing really uneven, rocky terrain. It’s the downhills I “hate” (or, not “hate” per se, so much as I “fear for my life” because the first time I fell on the bike was several weeks ago, and I still have a black-purple-bluish-bruised imprint of the seat on my butt. That hurt!) It seems like I fall all the time, but I guess that’s what happens when you start something new.  

And, I guess that’s where I want to begin: with something new. 


I <3 CompuTrainer.

In CompuTrainer, you ride like these Antelope run-- continuously and at a very high speed.


I always forget how much I love it until winter slaps me in the face with cold and dark mornings and dark evenings and there’s no way in hell I’m riding outside in that. So, onto the trainer I go with Bumblebee, my trusty Focus, the one who got me through the Triple Crown Stage Race, the 508 and Ironman. (I will always love the Bumblebee.)  

It’s the precision, I think, that I appreciate about CT. Or, how you have more data than you can every have on a ride outside just right in front of you, so you always know how fast you are going and how many watts you are putting out and, for uber-dorks like me, what the ratio is between those watts and how much you weigh, so you have a discreet measure of how “hard” you are working in comparison to the other people on the trainer with you. I also love that it’s non-stop effort— that the hills only go one way (up)— and that the no-coasting and no-stopping builds mile after mile, so a 65-mile effort is really more like riding 100 miles outside (and yes, someone who rides CT in the winter and who is better at numbers than I am actually figured this out using kilo-jules—measuring true “work” output— and came up with a mathematical ratio which basically puts CT miles as 50% harder than outdoor miles.) 

Tonight, I rode a class and couldn’t believe how much strength I have gained over this past season. Last year, I couldn't even think of breaking 220 watts for an hour long effort, and tonight I rode 245 watts with good, solid form and an efficient pedal stroke. That means if I was racing against myself at the same time last year, I would have truly kicked my own butt by A LOT.  And, it's weird to say: but, that makes me proud of myself. 

A weird digression. 

On Saturday, I rode 67 miles on the CompuTrainer. Then, Rich, Clark and I rode about 6 miles on the mountain bikes up a rocky jeep trail out into “true Nevada” which could be described as “the desert” for those of you who don’t live here (which cuts out a lot of the beauty, but unless I tell you about the shades of tawny and blue, the wide sky, the mountains, the VIEW.) And on Sunday, Rich and I drove to the Black Rock Desert to ride the mountain bikes in that area. I had never been, and he told me that he had always wanted to ride across the playa when no one else was there.

What can I say about that landscape? I'm not sure there is a word for it. The feeling of so much space and quiet bordered on spiritual. I guess, technically, it is just another example of high desert. Or, steppe. No matter what you call it, it's panoramic in every respect.

Rich, making the playa panoramic with a track stand.

The more I ride the Lady Bug (mountain bike) the more I slowly learn the pitches of roads, the million textures of dirt, gravel, hard pack, mud, boulders, scree, etc, and how each requires a certain speed and output. Riding across the mosaic tiles of the playa floor, my mind wandered to the million questions which circulate in my mind: "what if I'm too old to be competitive?" Or, "what if I do really well?" "What happens if I crash horribly?" And: "What will happen if I don't?"

But, here is my weird digression: my entire life has been a journey in developing some sort of specific set of physical skills which would allow me to be competitive in one way or another. And yet, when I think about the values or “norms” which are placed on young women, the body which resulted from all this training -- to me-- seems at odds with what is commonly considered “beautiful.” 

I really wish I could articulate this better— over the years, I’ve certainly tried. But today, after 40 CompuTrainer miles and a weekend of incredible mountain bike miles, I thought about the number of years I have spent embarrassed and sad about the various ways I fail to meet (societal?) standards of conventional beauty.  And yet, how those miles a source of pride and give me a sense of strength I'm not sure I would understand in the same way without them.

Petroglyphs en route to Black Rock overlook another dry lake bed. It's funny how desert was once an ocean.

When I was a weight-lifter and track athlete in high school, I was proud of myself that I could bench press more than the incoming Freshman boys (not by ratio, but by sheer pounds) and could out-pole-vault most boys, too. But, I hated how large my arms were, and how I couldn’t really wear a “normal” dress. Those muscles made me “big”— when “delicate” is what (I thought) girls are “supposed” to be.

I remember when one girl on the track team pointed out that I had “stretch marks on my arms and that wasn’t normal” in front of everyone. It was an incredibly painful moment (like, what do you say to that?)  But, she was right: I did. My muscles grew faster than my skin could stretch. That’s how I’m built, and that’s what my body does, if I train in a certain way.  Some people might call that a gift. For most of my life, it’s been a curse. 

So, I think about this now— where this drive for “smallness” comes from.  Now that have gotten stronger on the bike— my legs are “thicker” and I don’t wear the sizes allotted to “the beautiful.” I think about this even though I can push 245 watts for an hour, and even though I won the California Triple Crown Stage Race, and the Silver State 508 for the 2-man mixed division.

I keep wondering where these thoughts come from-- and, why I no matter how well I race, it's never enough. This past year, many of my relatives admit they are jealous of my strength— even though they have smaller frames and have that “delicate” look that I believe is beautiful— they told me that they admire what I do because it seems impossible. 

I wish I had some words of wisdom, although (with each year) I think I’m getting closer. I write for young people now, and I have a young person in my life (Rich’s daughter) and so I think about the ways to articulate all of this, to frame it somehow in order to make the journey if not less painful, at least documented, for them. 

What has come to mind, really, is a result of CompuTrainer: my muscles are a result of hard work and dedication to the journey. I will (or, try to) be strong on every climb I climb. Eventually, I might learn how to ride down them, but the beauty doesn’t come from a pant size, a watts-per-kilo-ratio, or (really) the time it took to complete a race. Those are all numbers, and numbers fade.  What remains, or has remained even on those days when the questions multiply far beyond the miles is the sense of gratitude and-- well, happiness. If I've spent a day cycling, running or swimming, it's a good day. 

And smiles, no matter their size, are beautiful.