Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Heart Repair: Not so perfect after all

I spent a lot of time, as my marriage was coming apart, analyzing all the relationships that broke my heart from the time I was 15 through to, well, the present. I believe what I wrote about that is a 20-odd page document that won’t likely ever see the public eye. I never once considered at any point during this self-analysis that there may be boys/men’s hearts that I broke. After all, I was kind and relationship smart and always open and honest.

Yeah, right.

I never thought it was likely, that while guys were breaking my heart, maybe I was breaking theirs in return with my smart-mouthed uncensored ways.

I felt I had been hurt so many times buy young immature boys that snubbed me coldly on the rebound, who didn’t call, or couldn’t look me in the eye, or changed their minds, that I ceased to believe that guys could be hurt at all.

I’ve had recent cause to rethink my egocentric position on heartbreak. Sadly, many of the guys whose hearts I likely broke, I can barely remember their names.

Here is a brief tribute to all the hearts I’ve broken.

Kevin: this the first one I remember. I dated Kevin for a month when I was 16. He followed me home, stalker-like, from a Burger King baseball tournament. I was the first girl he dated and kissed. He said he loved me. I said it back. Just because. For me he was my rebound boy (ironically enough, from another Kevin). He sent me a rose one day and I felt nothing. I dumped him a couple days later.

Rob #1. (grade 10 about) he had a crush on me. I changed my mind.

Garth: I flirted with him mercilessly. And then proceeded to go on a ski trip and spend the whole time flirting with his friend. Male loyalty left me pretty lonely for the rest of that trip.

Stacey’s cousin: I can’t remember his name (Ryan?). He was a cute good looking country boy and he had a crush on me. I just wasn’t interested.

Jason: Around age 19. Jason was a mama’s boy who couldn’t go out anywhere without asking permission. I was the party girl who couldn’t stay at home long whose motto was, "I don't do homework on weekends." The day I met him, I found out that my ex-boyfriend had broke up with his girlfriend of about a year. That pretty much doomed me with Jason. Unfortunately, I think I dragged it out for about 3 or 4 months. I hated dumping people. I just hoped they would get the hint and stop calling. 

Ryan: He was a few years younger and super nice and fun and we talked a lot and I went to his cabin and slept in the same bed as him and he never made a move. And I just didn't look at him that way. He didn't exactly confess his feelings but we were at a social out in Killarney and I told him I didn't want to dance with him. He tried to drag me out anyway and I remember ripping my arms out of his hands and telling him to go away. He never really talked to me again after that. I see him once and a while now and he still acts like he doesn't know me. Maybe he doesn't.

Dave: he was a graphic artist and working for a living at 22. He bought me a 24 of beer prior to a social and he figured this would buy him my undivided time and attention for an entire evening. Instead I wandered and flirted with everyone else and drank his beer for weeks after. He was pretty pissed. Sorry Dave. Maybe that wasn’t a loss.

Rob #2. I was 21 he was 20. The guy was model. Girls swooned in his presence. He wanted me. I didn’t know why. I wasn’t ready and still cried over another one and I kept shoving him away. A classic case of approach and retreat. I didn’t like how he smelled. He didn’t smell bad, I just wasn’t drawn in by his natural smell.

Nurse boy: I’m disappointed I can’t remember his name. He was cute and nice and word got back to me that he was interested but I had my radar on someone else. Ooops. Picked the wrong one.

Brad: He was from Saskatchewan and I was from Manitoba and I met him at several lifeguard competitions over several years but we finally clicked in Canmore at a Canadian Championship. It was a pretty hot weekend. Enough said. We wrote letters back and forth for about 2 years without any committment. He told me he loved me and I told him that weekend we had wasn’t real. It was a fantasy. It would never work in real life and it would never work long distance. That was a loss. That was a dumb-ass loss. The next time I saw him, I was engaged to someone else.

The X: I loved him, I married him. He was my first long term, significant relationship. I had two kids with him and at the age of 35, after about 8 years of marriage, I left him (or more accurately, I made him leave) for many many complicated reasons, some of it because I was hurt too by what my marriage was never going to be. Two + years later and he is finally letting go of his anger.

My best friend: I cried on his shoulder about everything and he was so good to me, too good to me, and I fell in love in a desperate and needy way and I believe he loved me too in the only way he could at the time. But the timing was bad and the situation was disastrous and what resulted was a lot of hurt and anger. And while I recognize now that when he finally blew up at me he did it because he was hurting, I didn’t know it at the time. I’m sorry I hurt you. I didn't mean to. I didn’t understand.

The last: He loved me like I’ve never been loved before. He lay his heart on the table every day. We started to make plans for a future. He was ready enough for the both of us and he made most of those plans and I let him. I was barely paying attention to the progress, I was still hurting so badly from what came before. The relationship lasted a year but emotionally I only moved forward about a month in time. As he started to move stuff into my house, the same house I picked out with my X, I panicked. I wasn’t ready. I’m not ready. I wanted to love him the way he loved me so badly, I believed I did.

This is a long list. I’m shocked. I had no idea I could come up with this many names.

Time for me to be alone now. I’ve learnt my lesson.

I hope.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Riding Mountain MS Bike Tour: The 2009 Edition

There were a lot of things different about this year’s Riding Mountain MS Bike Tour. We lost some key team members. Mark moved to Qatar. Christine had a wedding. Michael dropped out days prior to leaving due to family commitments. Derek was absent with other obligations too. We gained Mike P. and his buddy Jim J. I went on this trip as the only female Red River Rebel Rider and all I can say is that the hills are still the same size and the ride is still the same challenge and we had dream weather.

Red River Rebel Riders:  Wayne, Jim, Mike, Yuri, Guy, Randy, Kim

I checked the forecast on Thursday prior to leaving and it called for days in the 20 degree range, sunny and with winds on Saturday blowing from the north (as we rode south) and blowing from the south on Sunday when we rode back north. How could this be possible?? But it was and it happened pretty close to prediction. Wind was a bit NW on Saturday and a bit SE on Sunday but it was still mostly from the rear and that was all that mattered. Summer had arrived, even in the North of Manitoba.


Guy and I drove up in the RRC van and arrived in Dauphin around 7:30. Wayne, Jim J. and Mike arrived shortly after 9 PM and we all headed for carb loading (i.e. beer and pasta) at Boston Pizza. I got a room to myself and slept well. I was up before 7 a.m., dressed and ready to go and wandered over to Parkland Rec Centre to register. As I am walking into Parkland I see someone familiar at a table near registration. That looks like Gyula, I think… hmmm… can’t be. Then I take a few steps closer and I can see that it is Gyula, and Esther and Stig… Wow, Esther and Gyula came.. Awesome! Apparently Stig had talked them into it in the weeks before and Esther made some phone calls and got them in to a supposedly full event, last minute. It is amazing what a little tenacity and persuasiveness will get you into.

I kinda screwed up at the start of Saturday’s ride. The UPHILL ride. I can be pretty strong , but hills add a whole new twist. I went out too hard and did everything I said I wasn’t going to do. I had it in my head that I was going to try and stick with Stig and Jim P. (Michael’s regular ride partners). The only problem was that I couldn’t find them. The last I had seen them was when they went back to their hotel after registering and breakfast to change and get ready. As it came time for the start, the usual calisthenics and warm up routine was acted out in front of me on the stage on the street in front of Parkland Rec. I figured Stig and Jim would work their way to the front to be with the lead guys. I chatted as I waited with a guy named Andre that I had rode with at the end of the Muddy Water’s 100 mile ride. I guess he figured we would be around the same pace and I was a somewhat familiar face. The warm up ended, and still no sign of Stig and Jim.

You can just see me and Andre chatting here at the start. I think we were supposed to be warming up and I was exercising my right not to do aerobics.

So off the horn went.

I catch up to the lead pack. We turn out onto Dauphin’s main road and I am still with the lead pack. Our speed is about 32 km per hour. Manageable. Then someone jumps and the next thing I know we are doing 40. There is another girl in the group. Nice to see another girl in the lead group, she says to me. Well, we will see how long this lasts, I say. One thing I know for sure about myself as a rider and found out explicitly at Muddy Waters when I fell out of the lead pack at 17km is that starting out hard is deadly. But here I am in the lead pack with one other girl and about 8 guys and we are doing 40 and I’m hanging on… barely. We settle into a more reasonable pace again. About 34 km/hr. I’m chatting with some of the other riders. We’ve lost a couple already from the original 10 during the first jump in speed. Just as I am getting comfortable with the adjusted pace someone jumps again and they start to pull away. I think I have enough in me to follow still at this point but I know I won’t have it in me to do it a third time. And there would undoubtedly be a third. I find myself feeling irritated. This is BS. I don’t want to ride like this. There is 12 km of flat before the first hill and I don’t want to give it all before going into that first hill. And I don’t have the skills as a rider to keep playing these games. I need to pace.

I was told later that this is what they do. The strongest guys play mind games with the pack. They do it to shake off the weaker riders. They make you think they’ve settled into a pace and then make a jump in speed when you least expect it, trying to shake you off the back end. What an evil evil evil testosterone filled sport. What the hell have I got myself into? This is an effing charity ride, not the Tour de France. As I watch the pack ride off I think about getting out my camera and recording this moment for posterity. I don’t but it is still embedded in my mind. I look down at the computer – 4 km of riding done. I slow down mostly because I have no choice but also because I don’t want to ride alone. More reasonable riders are certainly behind me.

That girl in the lead pack, she stayed there the whole way. I found out later it was Netty, one of the girls that stopped on Hwy 10 when I flatted out near Clear Lake the Monday after the Triathlon. I didn’t recognize her. I certainly didn’t realize she was a girl-rider in a class of her own. I remember her saying that day that she didn’t even know how to change a tire. But man, is she incredible.

Jim P. rides up beside me about a km later. Where’s Stig? I ask. Oh back there, he says. Well let’s see if I can stick on Jim’s wheel. I’ve recovered from my hard start but not completely. I can see up ahead that there is at least one other rider that has fallen off the lead pack. It is one of the other guys I had talked to when I thought we had settled into a pace. He had also doubted he could stay with them the whole way. I hang onto the back of Jim’s wheel and it feels comfortable. This is promising. We pass the one other lone guy who fell off the lead pack. Well you hung on longer than I did, I say to him as we ride past. I don’t think he tagged onto us. Not recovered enough I guess. I hang onto Jim’s back wheel for about 8 km all the way up the first hill but at the top I need to recover. I ease off and he slowly pulls ahead. I think about calling out to him but I don’t want to hold him back so I let him go and I am on my own again.

Jim makes it to the top of the hill. This was after I was no longer behind him.

I stay on my own until about half way through the big 10km of uphill. It is harmless heavy breathing behind you, a voice says from behind me. I’m breathing heavy too, I say. In fact, I’m not just breathing heavy. I’m grunting. I’m too hot with arm warmers on and I want to get off my bike and walk. My speed is 11-12 km per hour. I’m in the lowest possible gear in existence on my bike and I wish I could go lower. I have no draft and these are the first riders I’ve seen in about 6 km. But I am not convinced that draft is relevant in this part of the ride. How much benefit would you be getting at 11-12 km/hr? I keep pushing forward. The voice behind me is Bruce. He is with another guy Paul who isn’t climbing as well and I think Bruce is quite a bit younger than Paul. It is hard to tell. The only thing I can focus on are my legs and my lungs.

I tell them I’m glad someone caught up to me. I tell them the story of how I got dropped from the lead pack. Yeah, young guys will do that, Bruce says. Especially if there are girls.

These weren’t young guys, I tell him. They were old guys.

Doesn’t matter, Bruce says. I tell him I think that is dumb. But there I go again: 38 years old and still naive about men.

Me, dead, at the peak of the mountain. Don't be fooled into thinking that is a smile.

I slog out the rest of the hill with them. Somewhere along the way the guy Jim and I passed earlier (the one who had fallen off the lead pack after me) passes me back again. I’m not feeling great. I want to stretch out my quads which requires I glide. It is hard to glide when you are on an uphill. I have a cramp in my right side from lord knows what. I have visions of having appendicitis and having to be airlifted to Dauphin. Good lord, please spare me Dauphin hospital. It is gas, I eventually presume. It doesn’t go away for the rest of the ride.

With “the hill” over, I need to slow down. Just as I start to fall back from Bruce and Paul, Stig rides by at a good speed with two other guys on his wheel and says hello. We’ve been riding for 32 km and have just passed Moon Lake. He passes Paul and Bruce and they tag on the back. I yell, See ya later Stig but it appears they are slowing down. I push to catch up, and I do. I catch them but just as I hit their draft they jump speed and I don’t have the energy to follow. I let them go. I am on my own again.

Stig looking pretty strong hitting the top of the mountain. That's Pat behind him who I rode with at the end of Day 2.

One more guy catches up to me. Another Paul. I latch onto his wheel and ride there comfortably for about 5 km until we hit a hill. I find I am waaaaaay stronger than this Paul on the uphills. I ride beside him for a bit and notice we are both in the same gear. The lowest gear on the big ring. He’s grinding it out and breathing heavy and I am spinning and talking easily. His bike is 13 years old, he tells me. A relic. This Paul and I are not very well matched riders. I leave him in the dust on the uphills and he zooms past me on the downhill. We hit a bigger downhill that pulls him further ahead and I can’t keep up, but I can always see Paul up ahead. We reach the section 23 km out of clear lake where you ride up continuously for 3 km. More climbing. I catch Paul easily. I thought I’d catch you here, I say. He says he’s been waiting for me.

I don’t think this Paul much liked getting his butt kicked on the uphills by a girl. I don’t really get a good look at Paul until after the ride is over. He is late 40s in age, grey hair, very attractive actually. It all starts to make sense. We rode “together” for about 35 km but never really helped each other out. But I have a feeling he didn’t really know riding. After he took off on me on the downhill on that one big section and I finally caught him again, I didn’t bother easing up any longer to stay with him on the uphill. I would leave him behind and then he would promptly giv-‘er as we hit a downhill or flat and be sure to catch up and pass. And so it went for the final 20km. He was burning himself out making sure I knew that he wasn’t as weak as his uphill riding suggested. I tell him at the end that it was all bike. If he had a lighter bike with a modern gear ratio he would have smoked my ass.

Paul and I came in, by my mental calculation, around the 13th and 14th riders. I’m giving myself 13th spot as he fatigued on the last uphill, and I pulled him in on the last 2 km. Then it was time for the massage. They told me when I walked into Danceland in Clear Lake that I was the second woman (which I knew). The massage therapists had a hay day with my tight legs (they were students). I think they gave me far longer than my allotted 10 minutes. I could barely straighten up as my side hurt so bad. But it did eventually dissipate. I had chili and fruit and veggies and chatted with Stig and Jim. Total distance: 68.89 km. My total time was 2:25 (and change). Jim was about 2:17 and Stig about 2:20. Those guys were easily 20 minutes ahead of me the year before. My average speed was 28.3 km/hr. Not bad. I think I could have been closer to 30km per hour on average if I had felt like I had any legs. What do I blame this on? My 200 km two weeks ago? My cramp in my side? Esther arrived back while I was still on the massage table. She was kicking butt too and must have been 3rd woman in.


I tried not to over drink on Saturday night. I really did. Can’t say I was all that successful, I was having too much of a good time. I will let the photo’s tell the story. Enough said.

Esther, Gyula, Stig, Kim, Bonnie, Jim: On the peer at the lake

Fortunately, I did not feel all that bad Sunday morning. I had discovered I had a flat when I returned to my cabin to sleep. I get up early to fix it, discover I have the wrong tube size for my bike, “borrow” one from Wayne, break the valve and it starts hissing air slowly almost as soon as I finish pumping. I think I get it fixed but wait, on edge, for an hour and decide that the tire is not holding air. I take my bike to the repair guys and get a new tube and buy myself a little confidence for my ride.

I chat with Paul on the gravel road behind Danceland. He recognizes me (or my bike) not the other way around. This isn’t the Paul I rode most of the way with the day before who leap-frogged with me on the hills, but the first Paul, the one who rode with Bruce. He is 50ish in age, glasses, bald, over 6 feet tall. Massive legs. He says Bruce really worked him hard. He hopes to do the return ride in less than 2 hours. Me too, I say, except I don’t have high hopes of that. I rode 200km only two weeks ago and I haven’t felt strong since. I am just going to take this ride as it comes.

I think I might tag onto Stig’s wheel and see if I can hang on – five minutes behind isn’t all that much over 70km. I hoped Esther would hang on to me. I don’t want to ride alone. That was boring. I want company. Things, of course, don’t go as planned. I have a conversation with speedy Netty and remind her that we’ve met before. I’m taking a couple pictures at the start. I take what turns out to be a lovely picture of Esther and Gyula and I take my last picture of Stig and Jim. Stig whistles at me and tells me to put the camera away, were going. And there goes the horn and I am barely ready. As I am putting my camera away and getting my foot in my pedal a couple of riders who never should have started as far in front as they did, block my way. Stig and Jim are too far ahead to catch and off with the lead group. After yesterday’s experience, I have no interest in starting with the lead group. Maybe next year.

I follow Gyula out instead. I hope Esther is behind me but I see quickly that she isn’t. Gyula and I are basically alone. He’s breathing pretty heavy. A group of three guys pass us. I am in front of Gyula as I grab onto the last guy’s back wheel as he goes past. These guys know what they are doing. They have a smooth pace line going. This could be a good ride if the five of us stay together. Two of the guys are wearing FOG vests. At least I think they are FOG vests. I can only see their backs. As we move through the pace line, I end up second from the lead. We approach what I know is the biggest and longest uphill on the whole trip back to Dauphin and it is at the 5 km mark. Just as we approach the hill, the lead guy drops off. Thanks, I say to him. There is more than a touch of sarcasm in my tone. They’re going to let the chick pull up the hill, yeah right. So I drop my gears into my low ring, place my hands on my drops and I climb. I keep climbing and I keep waiting for one of these guys to be unhappy with my speed and overtake me. It’s not happening. My speed drops to about 19 km per hour. Oh yeah, here we go. Those boys aren’t going to let me lead much longer.

Then the next thing I know the road flattens out. I keep pedaling. I haven’t climbed at a killer pace. I’ve kept it comfortable. I take a quick glance behind me. There is ONE guy there. What the hell! And it’s not the FOG guys. It’s Paul. Not leap-frogging Paul but the first Paul, the one I had a conversation with on the gravel road before we started. I signal I want to drop back, he takes over the lead and it was like that for the rest of the ride; Paul and I together trading off. We are well matched. I couldn’t stay with him the day before but today I feel strong. There are no games and no showing off with him. There is one lone rider that fell off the lead group. He never gets further ahead and we never seem to get closer. I say to Paul that if that guy is smart he will slow up and work with us, he’s going the same pace and doing it all himself. We’ll catch him eventually, Paul says.

Two guys individually catch up and pass us. I would have let them go but Paul kicks it up both times to catch up and somehow I manage to stay with him. I am feeling strong. The first guy catches us at about 20 kms out, right before the road split and the 3 km downhill. We eventually drop him shortly after the end of the downhill. He at least chatted a little. The second guy, Brian, catches us not long after. He is with us for about 20km. I don’t think he said a word to us. We drop him too on one of the bigger uphills. Brian eventually catches us again and passes us on the big downhill. I believe he stays ahead and finishes ahead. He is a big guy and he takes his downhills well.

We catch the lone wolf guy at the 45 km mark. And if you know highway 10 you know this is right before the 10 km stretch of downhill, where, in reverse, 11-12 km per hour turns into 68. At least for me. (Jim got 74. Stig got 70ish.) I am sure that Paul and Pat (the lone wolf), hit higher than me as they were ahead of me on the downhill. I don’t know how to go faster than that. I’m tucking as best I can and I’m out of gears so no point in pedaling. I did hear someone else say he rode with 3 people and they all showed varying max speeds even though they were together the whole way down.

This is me and Paul, not on Day 2 but on Day 1 for that brief time I rode with him. The damn photographer was sitting right at the top of the steep hill so we all look trashed in those photos

The descent works in two phases. There is a stretch of downhill right immediately after the second worst uphill of the return trip, then it flattens out for about a km and then proceeds to descend again. The organizers have an RCMP car sit at the start of the second descent this year. We had been told this would happen to “slow us down.” The pavement has sagged and deteriorated greatly and they want us to be safe. So we see the RCMP, wave, and go. I keep watching for the broken pavement. Paul and Pat put on the breaks at one point up ahead of me and I follow suit thinking we are at the collapsing road, but it isn’t there yet. That RCMP officer sat in the wrong spot. He should have sat right at the crack. He was really about a km in front of it. Ah, there it is. I felt the drop in the pavement before I saw it as I flew through the rough section at probably close to 60 km per hour. Slow us down?.. Yeah Right. That worked.

And then when the big descent flattens out, there is the last hill out of the park and it is flat all the way back into Dauphin. Or, more accurately it is deceivingly flat, Paul claims it is on a slight descent. I glance at my watch and see that if we get back in 22 minutes we will crack the 2 hour mark. We have 13 km to go. I always base my calculations on averaging 30 km per hour. It is an easy calculation because at 30km per hour you do one km in 2 minutes. You double your distance to get your time. We needed 26 minutes at that pace. We would be back at 2:04. But as I keep pedaling, I notice we aren’t going 30 km per hour. We are going more like 37-40. Paul lets Pat pull us for a while but Pat is fatiguing. Paul takes over for a while and then it is my turn. I am a little slower and there is a bit of a side wind. I am going 35-37 km per hour. I signal for Paul to take over again. This is the final pull. Let’s take her home, he says. I am thankful for him doing that.

This is me an my broken bike... the tire was getting fixed

We ride into Parkland Rec Centre. I almost wipe out, I can’t get my foot unclipped. We compare times on our computers. Pat had fallen back on Paul’s last big pull. He was about 30 seconds behind. I see Pat now, he’s 30ish with what I would call rock and roll facial hair. Probably younger than me. Did we do it? Did we break 2 hours? I ask. We must have done it, I say. My computer says 1:56. But I had forgot to set it at the start. In the mess of getting my camera put away and getting off quickly I forgot to clear myself from the day before and we were out of Wasagaming and on the highway before I did. I figure I was only 2 minutes into the ride when I finally reset it (my watch said 9:02 at the time of reset – I remember that), but I didn’t know for sure. I didn’t know how my watch compared to the starter’s watch. The time on my watch said 10:58 when we arrived. Pat said we were 2 hours even. Paul had 2:00:56. So I will just say we got back at 2 hours even, seconds from our sub two hour goal. Average overall speed: 34 km per hour. Paul gives me a hug and thanks me for the great ride. It was a great ride and I had a great riding partner. I was 12th rider back. I’ll give Paul the 11th spot. He earned it.

So I hit the massage tables. Stig and Jim are already back and getting their massage. I am not on the table more than a couple minutes when Esther gets back and bonks me on the head. Yay Esther! I have a conversation with Netty how we need to make Rhonda (another triathlete) come out to this next year. My massage gets cut short because the riders start coming back in droves so I get exactly my 10 minutes. Stig asks what happened to me at the start. I got blocked, I tell him. We all go for showers. Have lunch and then home.

There is nothing negative to say about the weekend. It was perfect. I said to Wayne, Guy, Jim, and Mike night before the first day that I wanted to find something more challenging (and longer) next year but I don’t know, now, how I could miss out. This is just simply too much fun!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Riding Mountain MS Bike Tour

Hi Everyone,

Many of you know that in one week (September 12 and 13) I am participating in the Riding Mountain version of the MS Bike Tour. This ride involves about 140 km of hilly riding from Dauphin to Clear Lake and then back again over the two days. This is my second year pariticipating in the event for a team based out of Red River College known as the Red River Rebel Riders.

I know people living with Multiple Sclerosis and I have, as a nurse, witnessed its devistating long term effects up close. This is a disease in which its cause is virtually unknown and a cure is unavailable.

Last year I was able to raise over $1100 towards this cause entirely through the generosity of my friends and family. I hope to equal or better this total this year. Those of you who know me well, know that sending an email asking for money is a far harder hurdle for me to overcome than riding 140km over two days. Therefore I try and keep this request as low pressure as possible.

If you can help out in anyway, I appreciate your donation. Donating through credit card online through the link provided below, is the most efficient route but if that is not a desirable option for you I can take cash or checks in person. Just email or call (955-9744) and I will arrange a pick up.

Please check out my personal page for more information on how to contribute.


Thank you in advance for your generosity,

For anyone interested.... below is the write up I did of last years event and adventures, complete with photos. Happy reading.


It was an amazing weekend. Thank you to everyone who gave your support. As of this date I managed to raise a total of $1065 for MS. My team involving 9 “Red River Riders” raised a little over $8000. And those totals are still climbing as there are still two more weeks of pledges being accepted. A sincere thanks to you all for being a part of that. Many of you went above and beyond the call of duty and in the last couple weeks or so I have been surprised and overwhelmed by the response I’ve gotten by my request for pledges. I tried to be as low pressure as I could in my fundraising efforts. You are all AMAZING.

If you are interested, here is a little bit about the ride. WARNING I am pretty verbose in writing, as most of you know, so read when you have time . . . .

We left Friday afternoon at about 2:30 PM. Christine and I rode up with Guy (one of our teammates) to Dauphin. I had never met Guy before and he was great company on the ride up. This was Guy’s 5th MS bike tour so he was a veteran with lots of tips.

I was anxious about the ride. I wasn’t anxious so much about my ability to finish it but I seem to get like this before these kinds of events, so I didn’t sleep well the night before – I laid awake until I saw 2 AM and woke up at 5:00. I think I may have got 2.5 hours sleep, if that – quality of sleep – non-existent. In the morning we got to the Parkland Rec Center at about 7:30, got some breakfast and filled bike tires with air, Coffee to perk me up.

The ride started at 0900 and I had a conservative plan for the day. I estimated that I would take 3 hours to do the ride. This was the goal I had in my head when I started out. I also planned on at least one rest stop along the way. I’ve never ridden that far without stopping before. I really had no idea what I was capable of. My girlfriend Christine got off peddling before I did. I had trouble getting my feet in my pedals. I caught up to her and went ahead thinking she was right behind me but by the time I got to the highway I had lost her. There was another team of riders (Quads of Rock) that we had been hanging out with, people who were friends of Michael’s (one of our other teammates). So the next person I saw was Bonnie from this team. I thought I might stay with her but my adrenaline was picking up so I set my sites on Mark Walc (another teammate and team captain) and Jen (from Quads of Rock). I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stick with them because Mark has done this ride and rides of similar nature for 14 years running (Riding Mountain about 8 times) and Jen was a more experienced cyclist than I too. I had to push it to catch up to them and I was panting pretty hard for the first 12 kms which was essentially flat until the entrance to Riding Mountain National Park. Somewhere around that point I started dropping back a bit but caught them again on the first hill and stuck to them after that.

The thing you have to understand about cyclists at an event such as this one (in particular, elite ones) is that they can be a little ruthless if you can’t keep up. No mercy. You will get left behind. As you enter Riding Mountain National Park the road starts into this tremendous incline that lasts about 10 kms. Somewhere on one of the longest and steepest hills I was switching into my lower gears and my chain fell off my bike. Jen narrowly escaped crashing into me. But she and Mark carried on and I had to get off and manually fix my chain. It took me a couple minutes to get it fixed and after about 6 cyclists went passed me without stopping, one finally stopped and helped me get going. To give you an idea of how well organized this event is. There was a truck with a radio that pulled up beside me and was calling for bike support within seconds of me getting off my bike. The route is that well monitored. Why did my chain fall off? No idea. It is just one of those fluky things that happens. Gear adjustment usually fixes the problem but until I got into Clear Lake I was on my own.
I really think that the two or so minute stop I had helped me out because I felt like I had been working hard prior to stopping and suddenly I had new legs. I figured Mark and Jen were long gone. But with my new legs I started passing people. I passed all the guys that didn’t stop to help me with my chain (as well as the guy who did). And I did this on my own with no drafting. The trick to long rides like these is riding in a group and drafting each other. It was a light wind day and perhaps a tailwind as well so wind was not a huge factor but it is still easier to ride by drafting. Everyone takes turns leading and taking the brunt of the “draft”. I’m not a very experienced cyclist, I’ve done 80% of my cycling this summer alone. They have hand signals and routines that I’m just starting to catch onto. I am a little nervous riding less than a foot off someone’s back tire (what do you do if someone has to stop suddenly as I did when my chain fell off and Jen almost crashed?) But that’s what you do when you draft. I’m learning.

After the chain incident and after I starting passing all the guys who didn’t stop (in all fairness, we were on the biggest hill, it was HARD to stop because getting started on an incline requires some power), I thought – I’m going to try and catch Mark and Jen. I wasn’t sure it was possible. I had already dropped back from them and had to catch up once. They are strong riders. After about 5 km I could see them up ahead and after another 5 kms I was back with them again. The adrenaline rush I got from catching up to them alone probably explains what happened next. I had worked pretty hard to catch up and 90% of that work was done on an uphill. Mark said they had slowed down a bit (“but not specifically for you” – LOL). Mark said I might be strong enough to go on ahead but at that point I was ready for a break so I stuck with them for another 10 km or so. Then we hit the 3 km of incline which is 23-24 km out of Clear Lake and I was going strong. A couple other guys had caught us by that point so we were a group of five. Somewhere in the 3rd km of incline I could feel riders on my tail but I looked back and couldn’t see Mark or Jen anywhere. I didn’t deliberately “drop” them, I was so focused on climbing I didn’t notice they were gone. Mark said later that Jen was struggling and so he slowed down and stayed with her.

I rode in the last 20 or so km with two guys, Walter and Anko, who were strong cyclists. Walter apparently owns Lifesport and was a Junior national cycling team member in his youth (I would estimate he was in his 50s). He said he had broke his back a couple years ago and he did these rides “for leisure”. I think he saw his main focus as latching on to strong but inexperienced riders and helping them learn how to ride better and smarter in the conditions. So he took Anko (also in his 50s) and I to the finish and taught us stuff along the way. Walter would let me lead on the hills and almost always be passing me at three quarters of the way up. He had the largest calves I have ever seen -- Anko called him “big guy” – he was powerful for sure. (This is how you recognize people because the pavement is so crappy on highway 10 that taking your eyes off the road could be damaging – you don’t ever really see people’s faces, but you see bikes, shirts, and body parts. If I saw Walter and Anko on the street tomorrow I wouldn’t know who they were).

Me and Walter on the Saturday

Final time: 2:32 approximately. That takes into account the short stop. Derek and Michael from our team and Stig and Jim from Quads of Rock did the distance in 2:09 (Derek blew a tire along the way actually so he was a bit behind). I smashed my predicted time by almost a half an hour. I was on a high for the rest of the weekend. Christine came in at an amazing 3 hours. She did awesome, given that my bike gave her some gear trouble and she had to stop to get it fixed. We all missed the rain, thank goodness. I discovered there are benefits to arriving in the first group of 20-25 riders. No waiting for the massage table. It was awesome!

Most of the Red River Riders on Saturday Night in Clear Lake.... after a few drinks... and yes, there is a story behind why I am standing like that but it is not to be told publicly in print.

Saturday night was dinner and a reception and a bit too much wine (I contributed a bottle of “Red Bicyclette” -- pretty apropos and decent tasting too. Try it out.) and several funny moments and good conversations. Christine and I actually crashed pretty early (by about 11). I hadn’t slept much the night before. I couldn’t even nap after the ride I was so wired and caffeinated as well. I did sleep Saturday night but woke up at about 2 and didn’t get back to sleep for another couple hours. Still it was more sleep than the night before.

More Red River Riders Photo session... I have no idea what is going on here....

Sunday was cold and continuously threatening rain. We were taking team photos and I was shaking throughout. I took my bike to “bike support” and had them adjust my gears – I didn’t want my chain falling off again. I decided to start off with Jen and Mark this time. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle two days of heavy riding but I intended to “go hard” – as Michael kept saying to the boys the night before: What’s the plan guys? -- GO HARD. And there was the too-much-alcohol issue to contend with as well. Nothing that a bottle of water and a couple of Tylenol couldn’t fix. The problem was I had to pee something awful through the whole ride. It took about 10km for me to be able to ignore my bladder calling to me.

Red River Riders Team 2008 -- cold and shaking on Sunday morning in Clear Lake

Me and Mark

Mark and Jen and I pushed to get through the sea of riders who started ahead of us. When we hit the first hill I looked back and discovered that Jen was no longer with us. I couldn’t see her. In the end she ended up not riding – she pulled something in her glute and wisely stopped around 15 km before she made the injury worse in the cold. Later, I could tell she was pretty disappointed and ticked off. I would have felt the same. Mark and I pulled off ahead and pretty soon there were 6 of us riding in a group. Met up with Anko and Walter again as well as another guy named Michael (not RRC Michael) and Max who was riding a gorgeous looking Cervelo. (In case you’re wondering. And if you’ve managed to read this far, you might be . . . . (LOL). There is no big game of intros and handshakes on the road – we were all wearing name tags on the back of our bikes).

My riding group for most of Sunday until the end.

It was cold and the wind was wicked on the Sunday and picked up as the ride got closer to Dauphin. I led up one of the big hills and it just about did me in. I didn’t do much leading after that. I found myself struggling to keep my knees in as my quads were tired from the day before. It is bad to cycle bull-legged. Puts a lot of strain on your groin muscles. I still managed to keep up with these guys but at moments I barely kept up. Whenever I tried to lead in the wind, the speed dropped to about 24 km/hr. The guys never let me lead for long. Mark was super strong. I think he had been taking it easy the day before. I suggested later that he probably hadn’t drank as much as me. He said that was arguable. There were moments on Sunday that he deliberately slowed down to wait to for me. Those guys, Mark especially, kept me going on Sunday. I owe them.

The rumour is that this ride is mostly uphill on day 1 and mostly downhill on day 2. Well in reality that is far from the truth. There is a fabulous section of 10 km pretty much straight downhill but there is a lot of climbing to get to that. We lost Michael and Walter somewhere before the downhill. Michael’s chain fell off and he dropped off and when Walter discovered he was gone about 4 km later, he turned around to help pull him up. To give you an idea of how strong Walter really is. He passed me again before the end of the ride. He had done a similar back-track thing the day before on the big hill for someone else.

That downhill was fabulous. I wanted to turn around and do it again and on any other day, I might have. I just couldn’t have handled that uphill again that day (mind-you it would have been with a decent tail wind). Mark knew it was coming and he pumped his way into it. Anko was not far behind. Max and I were further back. Right before we headed into the downhill I hit a patch of uneven ash fault (there were many, as well as many huge water-filled pot holes), and the next time I looked down, my sensor wasn’t reading on my computer. I was getting weird mileage readings. At the worst possible moment I had no idea how fast I was going. Max was beside me most of the way. He said his max speed was about 59 km per hour. Without the wind and in better conditions others have done in the 80 km per hour range. Two years ago, Michael (RRC Michael) did 80 with a broken spoke. Mark hit 85 the same year. This year was not the year for speed.

Then you are down one last tiny hill and it is all flat into Dauphin. That would have been great any other day but against hefty winds on the open prairie, it was awful. I plopped down on my aerobars and tried to keep up with the guys but in that position other more sensitive body parts hurt more so I came back up and eventually I couldn’t keep up. There was no waiting for me this time. With about 8 km to go they dropped me. I did the last bit into the wind by myself. Everyone wanted to get home and be done. I could barely walk when I got in. Mark said we were even since I dropped him the day before. Not really true, he allowed himself to be dropped. If Mark rode more long rides to prepare (and perhaps had a better bike) he could have been keeping up with the fast guys of our group.

Time: about 2:27 (I’m guessing – My computer had ceased to function and was inaccurate). The fast guys were 2:04. We all only shaved about 5 minutes off our time from Saturday even with all that downhill. That’s how strong the wind was. Then it was time for bathroom, massage, shower, food, home. I was wiped out. It was an awesome and rewarding weekend. I met some really cool people. I had a great time. I’ll be back again next year.

Thanks for your attention. Thanks for your support. I couldn’t have done it without all your encouragement. Thanks for reading. Thanks to my awesome teammates and friends.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Summer of Firsts: The 200 km ride

As always I am long winded. I had my camera on this ride. I don't know why I didn't take any pictures. I guess because it is hard to take pictures while riding........

I’m still smiling. It’s been a summer of firsts: first big group ride; first foray into mountain biking; first 100 miler; first Olympic Tri; and yesterday the first 200 km. Today I am flying high. I almost didn’t go on this ride but the fact that I was so indecisive about it probably was to my benefit in the end. It meant I didn’t think about it too much, unlike the Muddy Waters ride where I signed up and thought about nothing else in a state of anxiety and panic from that moment on.

I rode my bike from my house to the meeting point for 7 a.m. I thought I was only a couple of km away but it turned out to be 3.4 km. Oh well. I would figure out at 196.6 km if that would be something I would regret. I wanted to ride gutsy this time, so the heart rate monitor stayed home. The heart rate monitor makes me judge my performance by numbers and I didn’t need that. Just the way so much medical monitoring equipment can create so much unnecessary hyper analysis of one’s health.

We got our ride cards and signed the waver form and paid our $10 (yes, that is not a typo) and were off by 0700. This Randonneurs club that organized the ride (Brian and Sue Leier, are the primary organizers and are the parents of Olympic swimmer Riannon Leier) set it up similar to how they organize similar events in France. You ride from town to town and get your card signed to prove you went through the town and then you carry on. I rode out with Andrea, south down Pembina Hwy, behind a lead group of 4 guys. There were probably about 17 riders total on this ride and I had no idea what the pace would be. If it was going to crank up to 38 or 40+ early on before I was fully warmed up, the way Muddy Waters did, I would be cooked. But when we caught up to the lead group of 4 riders they were doing about 30. When we turned onto Turnbull Drive, the pace stayed at 30, and once we got onto 200 it didn’t go much above 32-33. Perfect. With all this draft, this pace would be a piece of cake.

Once we turned off Hwy 200 onto 210 the roads got wet and muddy. We all got mud splattered, it had rained really hard early in the morning and chunks of mud off farm trucks littered the highways. There was the lovely aroma of pig farm too. I did my turn pulling the group and then dropped back and noticed that not everyone was with us. There were only about 12 riders in our group. Chantal wasn’t with us. I figured she could have hung with us at this pace and I’m not sure how she didn’t end up in our group. She and I did this pace at Muddy Waters for the short time the Provincial team guy pulled us along. Somewhere amongst the mud and pot holes on whatever provincial trunk hwy we happened to be on at the time, Michael hit one of the large water-filled pot holes and both his water bottles came flying out of their cages. Being right behind him, I had to dodge, the pothole, then bottle number one and then bottle number two. Michael stopped, Derek slowed up a bit to wait, and the rest of us carried on a little slower. It was Michael. He wasn’t going to have any trouble catching up. I think someone actually said that out loud.

There was a “secret control” I think around Beaumont around Hwy 310. This was at about 54 km in. Sue was sitting there at her little orange car with snacks and ready to stamp our cards. I guess this is part of the game. These are unannounced stops, I guess as proof that you didn’t short-cut the route. I ate a banana and some potato chips. I wanted to be sure I ate something every time we stopped. Derek and Jason turned around at this point as neither one of them could spend the whole day riding. As we left this control stop the second group of riders pulled in.

We rode from there to Richer, another 40 km approximately, which would bring us to 94 km. There were a couple of hills and people were starting to fatigue. We lost two riders at different points and then stopped for Breakfast at one of the truck stops in Richer at Hwy #1, arriving just before 1030. Cheap Breakfast and good coffee and working toilets (no bushes). We were there for about 45 minutes.

Unexplained Fatigue (and NO it can’t be because I’ve already ridden 100km+)

I was still feeling great at this point. Brian had left us before Breakfast to go to meet Sue at the next check point where they would trade off and she would ride. Brian rode the first 100km approximately and Sue rode the second half. We left Richer at just after 1100 and tore back down the highway. A lot of it was downhill. There was a slight incline all the way to Richer, so it really seemed like the pace picked up. We had places while heading west where we were doing 36 or 37 km/hr with a bit of wind behind us. It was not a solid East wind, it was somewhat North East. In this stretch I was finding any side wind really difficult and a bit of side wind combined with a higher pace felt deadly. I just kept focusing on the wheel in front of me and I did better the further back in the pack I was. I didn’t really understand why, suddenly, I was finding this ride such hard work. I hadn’t really found any of it hard work up to this point. I was thankful when just before LaBroquerie, Andrea announced she had to go to the bathroom and the group pulled over at the shell station at the corner of Hwys 302 and 52.

I was standing at Sue and Brian’s car and decided to pull out a gel. I know I had just eaten breakfast but I didn’t want to make any stops without taking in calories. I was burning many calories today. We were all chatting and waiting for those who went to the bathroom when Ben looked down and said, “You’ve got a flat.” YIKES, so I did. Good timing. So he and Chris helped me change my tire. I was struggling with my hands. My right hand was really swollen from gripping my handle bars and not keeping the circulation going well enough and I couldn’t get the tire popped out of the rim (not to mention the 10 pairs of eyes on me). But it explained my sudden onset of fatigue on the road. The tire wasn’t completely flat. There was a pinhole puncture in it. It had likely been getting flatter the whole previous 10km. But if one is going to get a flat, best it happens when you are already stopped... and that tire was the only tire casualty of the day in my group of riders.

And then it picks up

Sue was fresh and started to ride with us at this point. She led us out of LaBroquerie and held us at a pace of 35km/per/hour... she was incredible. I did my share of pulling here and there. I think the longest I lasted was about 5km and I didn’t avoid my turn at the front, even if I only lasted a minute or two. I never lasted as long as some of the guys but Sue must have pulled us along, with a bit of tail wind, for about 20km at that pace. I never could have done that, not even at the beginning of the ride. We had been in a double pace line up to this point but the rural highways were getting busier so we switched to a single pace line and in many ways I liked this better. Only one wheel in front of me to focus on. Like geese on a flight path.

From LaBroquerie we went through Steinback and onto Kleefield which is where the next control stop was. We started to lose people at LaBroquerie. Sue was pulling again and I was right on her wheel and at some point I looked back and there was a smaller group behind me and the next rider was about 10 yards off. I looked back again a few minutes later and they were all about 300m off. Andrea had dropped off first and Michael had stayed back with her and then the other guys fell off too. We were almost at the stop so we carried on regardless. We thought something had happened. Someone else got a flat maybe. (Sue doubted that she had dropped anyone)... but Ben and Chris who were not far behind didn’t know what was going on. We were about 144km into the ride at this point. People were just fatiguing. Andrea’s legs were sore. We all needed a rest. There was a lot of complaining going on about various body parts at this rest stop. I was good though. Nothing hurt abnormally or excessively. I ate a whole protein bar. Andrea contemplated taking Advil but opted not to in the event it upset her stomach. She sat on the ground and stretched. John was afraid to sit in case he never got back up again. He had dropped off before Andrea. I thought John’s problem was just not following close enough to get the full draft. John and I had rode together for about half of Muddy Waters and he wasn’t very experienced at group riding. (I said to him I was certain he had to have had a faster bike time than me in Clear Lake at the Riding Mountain Tri but he couldn’t remember his bike time. I’ve since checked..... he didn’t).

And we carried on down the Hwy. We lost John early. We started off in a double pace line and then ended up in a single again. I had tried to pull but we were going North at this point and the wind was kicking my ass and I wasn’t keeping the pace, not to mention we were a little jumbled at this point. Some were riding side by side and some were riding in singles. So I dropped back also to get some semblance of order. I ended up at the back behind Michael and Andrea. Not long after Andrea waved me past and dropped off. That was it for her legs. Michael slowed up to stay with her and I powered past to the rest of the group.

We carried on as 6 at that point: Me, Sue, Chris, Ben, Ken and Pete... Pete rode a recumbent bike. There was another guy Kevin who fell off too who also rode a recumbent. The recumbants were cool but not very helpful to the group in a pace line. They couldn’t pull because they didn’t sit high enough for anyone to draft off of. Pete had been the guy who had drawn up the route so there were times when he went ahead and pulled right before a turn to be sure we went the right way.

Sharing our Ass-ets

Being down to 6 was harder (5 upright bikes, one recumbent). I think Chris and Ben did a lot of work through this section. So did Sue. I always seemed to be at the back. I was still feeling pretty good, but I just found every time I went to pull that I couldn’t really keep the pace. We were fighting some wind along with our fatigue. Sue pulled us most of the way from Niverville to Hwy 200, then it was Chris again but he was tired and we headed into the wind at only 26 km per hour. I thought, “If Chris can pull at 26 so can I.” We were all tired, I was going to take my turn. So when Chris dropped off I plopped down on my aerobars and brought us up to 28 or 29 into the wind. I took us about 3 kms. I had hoped to take us as far as St. Adolfe but I didn’t quite make it that far before losing the pace. Ken was behind me and he lasted a bit at my pace and then he was down to 24 and then he was pulling off and then he was off the back. We lost Ken there.

Ben was next and he found some superpowers because there we were going 33-35 again. When he finally dropped off, I said, Holy Ben, where’d you pull that out of your ass? At which point, he proceeded to show me his ass. Twice – because I missed it the first time. And having a good laugh like that was good for bringing our exhausted bodies and spirits back to life. We stopped in St. Adolfe at the Esso. I ate my sport beans. Ken went on by without stopping. We talked about waiting for Andrea and Michael but we were there for over 5 minutes and there was no sign of them off in the distance. We had 17 km to go and were anxious to get them done. We passed Ken about 3 or 4 km in. Ben led us out. When I saw the floodway bridge I was excited because it meant we were really close. Sue pulled again for a while and I stayed on her back tire and, reminiscent of coming into Kleefield, we lost all the guys again. “See,” I said to Sue, “It was you! You did drop everyone.” Pete caught up and Sue, Pete and I rode it in to the end. Ben and Chris were not far behind. I found Brian snoozing on the grass beside the car back at the Shell.

Earning a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

At the end there were hugs and handshakes all around. We got home at 3:15 about. We left at 7 a.m. so we were on the road for 8 hours and 15 minutes. Ride time was about 6:40. My total distance on my computer reads 206km but my computer conked out for a bit on Highway 311 and I don’t know how far I rode before I noticed. I had calculated that I should have done 210 (this includes my ride to and from home). Average speed: 31+km/hr. We hung around, drank chocolate milk and talked war stories. Ken was about 10 minutes back. Andrea, Michael and John were about 20 minutes behind. We never did see the second group come back as we all left for home.

There is nothing that pleases me more than when I choose to do crazy pursuits like this and I surprise myself and go far beyond what I thought I was capable of. There have only been two times that this has happened this year (the FOG ride in May and yesterday on this 200km). I didn’t think I had it in me to come off that ride as strong as I did. I felt worse going slower at that Muddy Waters 100 miles but given all the negative talk going on in my head before that ride it is proof of how negative self talk has a huge influence on performance. This ride is going to make the MS bike tour (which is 70km per day for 2 days) in two weeks feel like a piece of cake. I wonder if I will be able to stay with those fast guys this year through all those hills? (i.e. Michael, Stig, Jim). I am certainly going to give it a shot.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A spo(R)ting life retrospective: A reflection on writing SO, SAVE ME

Periodically I will do this here in ths blog. I have pages and pages of stuff I wrote about various things dating back to the time I started writing my first novel. Some of them are fit for print and some of them are not. The majority of the original document I am about to reproduced was written in December 2005 which means that most of it was written prior to me entering into my the mentorship program at the Writer's Guild which means I used it in a way to work out what I was going to do in my 4th draft. It is 22 pages long, double spaced, so you can guess that the title of my first entry is entirly ironic. I know nothing about brevity. So what I re-copy here, I will edit. I, in particular am going to take out everything that discusses the plot. (That's me, by the way, above, doing my reading at the Mentorship wind up in June 2006.)

I like the rawness of this old document and the obvious emotion and excitement I was feeling while I wrote SO, SAVE ME. It is excitment I have only been able to reproduce recently when I do things like ride my bike 100 miles or chase 5 men down the highway on my bike at over 40 km per hour (with a bit of a tail wind) and actually stay on their back wheels for a couple km's..... It's like nerdy teenage giddiness. It was like seeing a band of your teenage idol's live for the first time and screaming your face off. It is an adrenaline rush you can never reproduce again doing the same thing. You always have to up the anti.

SO, SAVE ME is my first novel. It by far was and still is the best thing I have ever written in fiction. When people ask what it is about, I sometimes say it is about a girl who is trying to get laid without losing her sense of self. It is hard to summerize in one sentence. It is about a lot of things. It is about grief. It is about drinking too much. It is about figuring out what a good relationship is.

I can't take care of the day-to-day stuff but I fantasize about the big rescue. Like one day I will be some guy's saviour and maybe he will save me at the same time.

I wrote that sentence without really knowing what I was saying at the time. There were lots of sentences like that. Now I call them subliminal messages because I can now open up So, Save Me and see, not a young adult novel, but one big commentary about the state of my marriage........

A Reflection on Writing SO, SAVE ME (December 2005)
I’m not sure at what point it was that I knew I was going to sit down and write this. Sometime in the spring I was in McNally looking through the bargain book shelves and I came across the novel How to Deal, I can’t think who the author is at the moment but it was made into a movie with Mandy Moore, and I picked it up and thought, I should buy it and learn from it – but the part of me that has been repressing the need to write for way too many years won out and I didn’t spend the five bucks or so that it would have cost me to buy that book.

Around the same time I was browsing through the Children’s Hospital book sale shelves and I migrated to the young adult section as somehow I always manage to do because I am always looking for books that made me feel good after I read them, and I found an old book that I probably read for the first time when I was about 13. It was Francine Pascal’s My First Love and Other Disasters and I bought it for $0.30. And I think it started there. It started with me reading this very old book and thinking I am capable of doing this.
And then life went on. And I went to work and I did my thing and I revised that monstrously bland research study that was under review at Heart and Lung perfecting my ability to strip every sentence of any personality and interest and I came home and I did scrapbooking and played with the kids and cooked supper and quietly wondered if I could write an entire novel during my summer vacation. And then it was summer and I was thinking about what I would have to give up to write. I would have to give up scrapbooking for one. I would have to give up sleep for another. I would have to give up TV as a third and I would not be able to do my Ph.D. and I figured it was all worth it.

But instead of writing I read. I picked up books at Costco. I picked up The Year of Secret Assignments and the cover blurb said something about really great kissing and I thought, yep, that’s the book for me. And I read it over a couple of days and it was really clever (not much kissing though) and I noticed something about young adult books that wasn’t around when I was a young adult reading these books and that is that they were a lot more risqué than they were in the 1980’s. I believe the catch word of the day is edgy. They are much edgier now. And edgy is what I needed. I started writing what has now become So, Save Me when I was around 18 or 19 and while I was writing it back then in 1989-90 I kept thinking no one is going to want to publish this or at least not with all the swear words and the obvious sexuality and innuendo. You can do all that now – the sexuality and the innuendo. There is still a bit of cap on the foul language – it appears the F word is out – but I did see the word shit in Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and 12 year olds read that book. I did also see the F word in Catcher in the Rye – so who knows – I am thinking 15+ here.

So my summer went by and I hadn’t started writing and I went back to work and I was doing the final edits on that damn research article prior to publication and I just felt depressed because none of this was what I actually wanted to be doing. I manipulated my way into getting a lap top and I had been thinking all summer about what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about how relationships were not like they are on TV and how they are scary and you are rarely confident and because you aren’t confident you sometimes do things that are humiliating and insecure. And I had a whole opening scene where my lead character, a high school girl, was walking home with a guy and it is a guy she doesn’t know well and he is really friendly but she knows the only reason that he is walking home with her is because he is interested in her best friend and she knows that the only reason she is walking home with him is because she is interested in his best friend and it goes from there.

That is not the story I ended up writing about and I never used that scene – that one is in the archives for another novel. What I did instead was re-read all the stuff I had written when I was a teen. I read that start of a novel I wrote when I was 14, the one that has no plot and no ending and is just a bunch of things that happen. Then I read the handwritten pages that I wrote when I was 18 or 19 and they were extremely difficult to read because they were so honest and too reflective of something that actually happened to me at that age and I know I was writing them at that time as a way to relive every moment I spent with the particular guy that they are about (therapy as I say), and I also know that I quit writing them because I didn’t know how it all ended. I didn’t know at that time that I would get over him and I would turn out OK.

And it is those handwritten pages that really got me and they got the story idea flowing because I could take some of the incidents that happened in those pages and I could turn them upside down on their head and create a new story and the new story would be about a relationship-phobic girl who meets a messed up guy who is still grieving the loss of his mother, he has a binge drinking problem, and he drinks and drives and it just so happens that our make-out queen relationship-phobic girl has had a rather embarrassing fling with a very good friend of the messed up guy and as soon as she gets together with messed up guy the other guy pops back into her life.

I didn’t want the story to have a gimmick. There are too many teen novels out there that the driving force behind them is a gimmick which I define as some clever fantasy thing that happens that would probably never happen in real life to a real teen (like a pen pal handwritten letter exchange between two schools or a pair of pants that fit four girls of different shapes and sizes and they mail them around the world for a week at a time for one summer). But I did have to have these characters do something all together as a group on a regular basis. It couldn’t all be about house parties and going to the bar – even if that is what 18 and 19 year olds in university actually do (and I will admit that a good chunk of this book does take place at house parties and bars but alcohol is a big theme here so it was unavoidable). So they play baseball. I think at 18 if I had played softball that I would have played like Janey (I am but a shadow of the player she is as I describe her). But I knew I could do softball. I could talk nuances of softball and not look like I was pulling facts off a website.

The other thing that I knew that I was going to have to deal with was the whole French-English thing. I have known for a long time that I wanted to write a story about the French English relations in this city and how they play out socially, and the French underworld, so to speak, that the English people never even notice and I make a few comments about those issues in various places throughout the book. I didn’t want to make that the driving force behind the book but I knew it had to be an issue as well as the Catholic and religion issue and everything I say about those two issues are things that happened to me and are how I felt being in similar situations. And obviously the story’s perspective is the Anglophone perspective because I am Anglophone and I can’t do the other side. I am not sure I resolve those issues, and considering how the story ends I am not sure that it matters if they are resolved. I am also not sure that they are resolvable issues in this story or in real life either – they just are as they are.

And so I wrote. Getting started was the hardest thing. I was deathly afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do fiction anymore when I started this. And when I sat down and wrote for the first time all I could do was 2 pages and it was really slow but that didn’t concern me because I know from 20 years of writing that usually if writing comes too easy that it is probably bad writing. But never once, while I wrote the first draft, did I think I was doing bad writing. In fact I was quite frequently stunning myself.
I found the writing process all consuming. It was the only thing I could think about and I frequently found myself not being able to concentrate and I would start getting the shakes around 4pm because I couldn’t wait to start writing (it might have had a little something to do with too much coffee too – lack of sleep has been my middle name the last few months). Sometimes I would write when I wasn’t supposed to be writing, like at work, or when I was supposed to be cooking supper and I couldn’t resist because it was like a drug and I felt like I was addicted.

I also had this overwhelming sense that it was a do it now or never do it situation. I had looked into doing my PhD and I knew that if I started writing that I would not be able to do my PhD too because the PhD would kill all ability to write. I really had this constant sense that the time and situation had aligned themselves (like the planets) and that this was what I was meant to be doing right now and if I didn’t do it now the time would pass and it may never align itself like that again.

I plunged myself into a couple rather serious cases of the blues during the writing process. The first came when I made the very bad decision sometime just before or just after starting the first chapter, to go and re-read my journal from the period of my life that I was writing about – the summer of 1989 the summer after graduating high school before starting university. I was looking for catch phrases and slang from the time period but what happened instead is that I reminded myself of exactly what happened between myself and the guy I was with that summer and I felt absolutely horrified and for a brief period of time I put myself back emotionally to a time and place where I was in that relationship again and I read about how I reacted to that situation when I was 18 and I felt horrible for that person that I was, that sad, insecure girl who had so very little self esteem.

The second time was after I finished the first draft. I took about 4 days off before I wrote the last section. I really felt that I was going to go back into my manuscript and I was going to have to do no more than a good polish and I would have a solid manuscript. That was what I was used to with my writing – in my academic writing – I had gotten to a place where I could write a clean first draft and it didn’t require a whole lot of content revision or editing. I could write it well the first time. So after I read Stephen King’s book (On Writing) and I thought my writing was fabulous and I could let other people read it and they would think I was brilliant and the best undiscovered talent in young adult fiction to come around in a generation and all other kinds of delusions of grandeur.

Then I broke King’s number one rule. He said to let the manuscript sit for six weeks and not look at it – gain some perspective and distance – and as I read this in his book I was nodding to myself and thinking: of course, I do this all the time with my other writing – I always let it sit, I always give it distance. But it kept calling to me and I printed it out one day at work and then I started reading passages at random and it was horrible. It was awful. It was dreadful. It was worse than bad. It was embarrassing. Things that I thought were cool while I was writing them I thought were stupid and corny and they made me role my eyes and ooooh I can't stand books that make me role my eyes. My own book was making me role my eyes every five pages it felt like. I was afraid it was unfixable.

Obviously I got through that stage. I did a few of the things that I have been doing to get my inspiration back (music and TV shows did that, for one) and I did start revising and I convinced myself it was fixable and it turns out that it was. That was a bad one though. I almost quit during that one.

The third bout of the blues came sometime in the middle of revisions. I kept going back to the beginning because they kept calling to me from my subconscious. So I sat down at work one day when I should have been thinking about Epidemiology or something equally dry and I started reading. I haven’t ever actually read the whole manuscript cover to cover yet. I just keep looking at it in compartmentalized sections but that day I sat down and I read through the first 9 chapters without interruption and I started off excited because it was working and it was fabulous and I wasn’t hating it. Then I got into chapter 5 and I found myself drifting off and it suddenly occurred to me that the reason why I was drifting off was because I was bored and then it was like, Oh God, I am boring myself, what will my reader think? And I was at it again. I was in the just give it up and go to do your PhD mode, you’re a hack, you suck, you’ll never be a writer. GIVE IT UP.

But I figured out how to fix that too. I have always been a little worried that my academic background was going to be a detriment to writing fiction but I have learnt one important lesson in academic writing and that is that if something isn’t working then cut it. Just cut it out don’t try to fix it and that turned out to be the solution in part 4 too. I ended up cutting about 3 pages and that did it. I needed to get Janey back with Marc sooner than it was happening and there was a bunch of stuff in 4 that was not really necessary to the plot but all that stuff was preventing me from getting back to Marc and re-introducing Colin. Cutting fixed the drag.

But by time I started revising I started thinking about how what this story was really about was a girl of contradictions and about being in the wrong relationship and not recognizing it and the reason why she is in the wrong relationship is because she is hoping to save Marc in some way, to rescue him, to fix him and the fact that he needs to be fixed emotionally is what attracts her to him in the first place and then somewhere around revising part 8 I was listening a lot to Forty Foot Echo, two songs in particular, Save Me and Brand New Day, and both songs are about basically the same thing to some extent, about trying to hold on to who you are as a person while at the same time having regret and needing to pick up the pieces and carry on and recognize the need to change and evolve from your mistakes, and the chorus in Save Me actually starts off “So save me” and I thought if you think of that line with a little bit of attitude like you are giving someone a dare – So, save me – I dare you to try, that it would be a better fit for this story because Janey starts off trying to save and she ends up being saved in a way by both guys.

So then that begs the question that all writers get asked about their writing at some point and that is how much of me is in this story. How much of it is real life? It would be fair to say I have been through every single emotional circumstance that happens in this book. I have felt jealous of my friends, I have felt like I didn’t belong with my friends, I have felt that my friends didn’t get who I was, I have felt irritated by them, I have felt like my feelings were being discredited by someone I was in a relationship with, I have felt like the way a guy was behaving towards me stifled my personality and made me feel like I didn’t know how to act, I have said mean things about another person not intending to be overheard but I was overheard and I had to face the consequences and apologize afterward, I have felt like I was freaking out over sex, I have been in sexual situations where I did things and went to a certain “base”, so to speak, and didn’t really want to go as far as I let myself go. I am the only non Catholic amongst a group of very Catholic friends and I pretty much feel no affinity to religion. All my friends growing up worked at Canadian Tire (two different ones though) and I worked at Safeway. My friend’s Dad was the manager of a Canadian Tire. I hung out in a French Canadian bar for a short time that was above Le Rendezvous called Canot which is basically exactly like I describe it. All that is semi-autobiographical.

I worry about being too crude in places because my sense of humour can be crude and sometimes I don’t recognize when I am being crude and I, to this day, say things out loud that shock people and I don’t want the humour to be toilet humour but it is quite possible in places that it is toilet humour or borders on toilet humour (e.g. the big guns not being her breasts; the part about Marc being the same guy who’s had his hands in her shorts almost every night this week). But I did kind of always want to write the kind of novel that was honest and real and really reflected what my life was like with my friends and how we really talked to each other and how sometimes you make bad choices and not every teen has the goody-two shoes response to morally wrong situations and you kiss people for the wrong reasons and how you size up every guy you meet by his sex appeal and you do sexual and intimate things with people when you don’t really want to, and there is always the guy that every word that comes out of his mouth is a sexual advance and so on. I wanted to write a book that the kids whispered about in the halls – “Pssst you gotta read this book. Your parents will hate it” – like Catcher in the Rye was or Are You There God It’s Me Margaret? Or Forever.

It’s a long process, this writing thing, and I am learning something every day and it’s not finished yet, but I needed to get these reflections on paper so that I can look back and see how far I have come when it is finally finished. It’s time to let this thing sit for a while, catch up on preparations for term 2, and get some sleep. It’s time to let some people read it. That is the hardest thing for me, to let other people read it, in particular my husband who makes fun of my obsession with teen culture. But I will never know where there are truly gaps until I start farming it out and piloting it to readers. That and if I don’t stop picking at it now while I am the only one that has seen it then I will end up polishing the life out of it. At least as time goes by less and less things about it wake me up in the middle of the night screaming at me to change them and fix them.

It just feels so personal. I feel very fragile. I feel like my whole self esteem is wrapped up in this project. But on good days – like today – I feel excited. I feel like I could go somewhere with this and you can’t be a published author by sitting around and thinking about writing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I’ve been putting this off. Like all things that have the potential to get out of control, I’ve procrastinated to the point of inaction. When one starts a blog one should make the first entry about, “who am I?” and what do I plan to write about and why the hell should anyone care? I hate writing these things because there is always a huge story and far more details within every nuance that makes up who you are. But I will give brevity a one-time shot:

I’m just a thirtysomething* mother of two – closer to 40 than 30. I was married and now I am not and this has not been a bad thing. I’ve been through all the phases of Eat, Pray, Love without having to take a year off and travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia. I can do Italy, India and Indonesia inside my imagination. You’re bound to hear a lot about my marriage indirectly. What you will not ever hear is me bitch about my ex. He’s a fine man and a good father. He just wasn’t for me and it took all the strength I had to walk away and live my life.

In no particular order I also adore the following things... I mention these only because you are bound to hear about them a lot.
My bike:
Or shall I say bikes. I started cycling just over a year ago and it very quickly became a part of my identity. I started because a friend at work was into it and I loved how he talked about how he felt on his bike. I wanted to know what that felt like. I bought one bike as a birthday present to myself in April 08 and by August 08 I was craving (and gave into purchasing) a more expensive upgrade. It turns out that, for a nearly 40 year old chick who’s only been cycling for just over a year, I’m not half bad. OK, I am better than not half bad.... but I can be better yet.

Road cycling addiction led to an experiment in mountain biking. I thought I was kamikaze enough to hit those trails and be just as talented as I am on the road. Not so, buttercup. In fact, I quite suck at sharp turns and roots. But I am learning and every time I go out I get better.
And if I could, I would go out right now and buy one of those single speed commuter bikes... but alas it is not in the cards for now.
I write:
My life started onto the path I am presently taking when I started writing my first novel about 4 years ago in September. Writing taught me how to get by on 4 hours sleep, how to be addicted to words, and how to drink lots of coffee (something I never did my whole life until I started to write). I can’t explain what writing did for me at that time. It sustained me. It brought me back to life. My first novel got me into a mentorship and it got me a high level Provincial writing grant. It was viewed by 3 agents in full, by two in part, and by two publishers, all of which ultimately turned it down.** It is a tough world out there. I’ve since written a second novel which still needs a lot of work. I need to write more and I have ideas burning in me all the time. Hence the blog.
Other miscellaneous athletics, none of which I like nearly as much as cycling:
I started as a runner. I can be moderately fast but cycling has killed a lot of my speed (big muscular thighs are hard to drag across pavement). Running and cycling got me into triathlon and I joined a Triathlon club last fall. In triathlon, I am kick-ass at the cycling part and am decidedly mediocre at the other two sports. As for swimming, I am a good swimmer; I am just not very fast. Otherwise, I will try pretty much anything. Next on the list: a 200 km bike ride this weekend, a 6 hour adventure race, and a full marathon. The list of goals never ends.

My children:
At the time of this writing my children are Emma (age 8) and Nolan (age 5.5). While I am not a mother who lives vicariously through and derives her entire identity from the activities and goings-on of my children, they are the centre of my world. I'm good at motherly things like teaching them stuff and encouraging independance. I am not very good at standing around the kitchen and making them food at their beck and call. They will become who they are destined to become. They will not try to turn them into mini versions me. Believe me, one of me is more than enough in this world.

My friends:
I have lots of them and I know more people that I ever thought. Facebook taught me this. I used to think I knew no one and had few friends. Some of my friends have amazing stories to tell in their own right. I have learnt in the last few years that opening up a little of yourself goes a long way to bringing you closer to others.
I write for me. I talk about what is on my mind at the moment and if it happens to agree with what is on your mind then you are guaranteed to like. If not, then skip, and maybe you’ll like the next one. Sometimes I’ll complain, sometimes I’ll be excited, sometimes I’ll be sarcastic, and sometimes I’ll be sad. I write from a really deep place and I’m bound to be overly emotional and too revealing. I’m far too honest for my own good and my life has been more than a little dramatic in recent years (some of that you may hear about but most of it you will not). I can’t tell you where I’m going to start or where I am going to end up. But come along and I’ll show you where I am at.***

*running the word together and the italics is not a typo. I watched that TV show religiously when I was in my teens and early twenties (which probably suggests that I have always been an older soul than my chronological age) but it seem few people really remember it. I’ve tried to write things in other domains where I’ve used that phrase with the word run together and I always get edited out. I guess it no longer counts as pop culture.
**technically, the second publisher hasn’t turned down the novel. I’ve just never heard from them. They requested it three years ago approximately, told me it was on a “shortlist” and every time I checked back they said it still hadn’t been read by their editorial board. The last email I sent checking in never received a reply. I’ve gotten tired of waiting and I’ve stopped checking in. But this is how publishers work. You are at the beck and call of their whims and whatever they think they can sell. I really should check in again, though.
***I'm still figuring the technical details of blogging out. I don't know how to place pictures in the right spot or how create clever headings or backgrounds. I'll get there. Be patient with me.